B. G. Kubacki(irondeav)Poland
The recent developments in the Kickstarter campaign from CMON’s Death May Die have left the crowdfunding division of community in a state of uproar. The company that has been bringing us plastic zombies, Vikings and extra-terrestrial invaders has caught a lot of flak – some probably well-deserved.
A side effect of the lively discussion that ensued was also the rekindling of a certain sentiment, namely that big publishers should leave Kickstarter for good. I’m here to tell why this would be a major disservice to Kickstarter backers – and to small creators as well.
We all know what crowdfunding is for. Dream a project, find people ready to back you, and make it a reality. It’s a romantic notion, one that feeds off an almost universal desire to see the underdog succeed. However, when established publishers start throwing their hats into the ring, it seemingly becomes almost impossible for the little guy (or gal) to really break through.
Well, not necessarily.
I believe we can safely say that board games truly made it to Kickstarter for the first time in 2010. It was then, during a 60-day period between April and June that the first edition of Alien Frontiers was funded. It was a game that – for a time – took our imagination by storm.
Almost everybody was surprised that someone was able to put a board game on Kickstarter, receive almost triple the funds needed to print and deliver copies to backers, and then put it on store shelves, albeit for a blink of an eye, before players hungry for some dice-based innovation and retro sci-fi atmosphere gobbled up the first printing.
Now, stop for a moment and tell me if you remember how much Alien Frontiers made on Kickstarter? If you don’t (and chances are, you probably don’t), do me a favour and don’t check yet. Just try to recall what the perception of its initial success was – and hold on to that though for just a while more. We’ll get to it in a few short paragraphs.
I’m a project creator myself, so – using the default Kickstarter tool that tracks backer activity of a live project from within – I can vouch for a certain negative influence the biggest projects have on the smaller ones. If you ever ran your own campaign while a new CMON monster landed on Kickstarter, or when a game like Batman: Gotham City Chronicles launched, you definitely felt the ripples.
Some of your backers had to make some hard choices and left you for a bigger, more shiny box. At that moment it’s easy to state that the larger project sucked some life out of a number of smaller ones – and that statement would even be - in essence - true. Good projects of smaller size survive this short turmoil with but a few scratches. Projects fighting for their life usually suffer a mortal wound and go down forever.
Regardless of how many big projects are there on Kickstarter at any given moment, success still breeds success, and repeated failures almost uniformly push projects into a death spiral. The presence of bigger, louder and bolder games only enhances what is already a part of our nature: to change our mind and pursue things we perceive as better.
Still, when you compare a project like Death May Die – one that was actually pretty troubled when compared to the smoothness of other CMON’s vehicles – to a game of a small creator making their first steps in the world of board game crowdfunding, it’s easy to think that they stand no chance. After all, they will never get even a half of the money made by a big publisher. They will often make less than one tenth. Yet, with your help, that will be enough.
Remember when I asked you to hold on to your perception of how much money Alien Frontiers originally made on Kickstarter? It's time to tell you exactly how much: $14,885.
It may come as a bit of shocker. Even if you take into account that it was over 8 years ago (and adjust accordingly), you still end up with an amount that pales in comparison to what many projects today reach. And yet, it was enough to (pardon the pun) kickstart the game, which has since proven a commercial and critical success.
With Kickstarter being as popular as it is today, receiving double the backing Alien Frontiers had received back in the day is probably easier than it was in 2010. Competing with the likes of CMON is a whole different issue, but becoming a successful project creator is simply a matter of a lot of work, and a bit of knowledge.
The knowledge is suprisingly easy to obtain. You can ask around, and many project creators will share their experiences, allowing you to better prepare for the exprience of crowdfunding a game - and often avoiding their mistakes.
Kickstarters are now built for a more active audience, and one that is also a bit more "trained" in spotting their weaknesses. In fact, it's more difficult to make it with a good idea, and little actual preparation, which - in the end - works out well for both creators and backers. The latter are not left with a sub-par product (or a complete no-show) for their trouble, and the unready creators - when they inevitably fail - are left with a learning opportunity for the future.
The big companies often set the bar. They draw in more audience. They make Kickstarter more professional. And as much as we like to believe in the crowdfunding dreams, we're all better off sticking to current realities.
When one designs and published board games for a living, one tends to rant a lot about it. This is where we do that, the folks involved with Board & Dice and our special friends and supporters. We'll post here our ideas about gaming, about life, about gaming more often than not, about the specific challenges of making a business out of a hobby and... did we mention games?
Archive for Błażej Kubacki
20 Aug 2018
- [+] Dice rolls
26 Jun 2018
It is true, Snowdonia is making a comeback – and the countdown has already started!
If you’re a fan of the game, you’ve probably already seen this information in a news feed, but this time we are coming back with some details, and some dates!
If you don’t know Snowdonia, here’s all you need to know: Snowdonia is an awesome worker placement game – a modern classic of laying tracks and building stations in foggy Wales, and a work of art – polished and expanded with new scenarios (which will take you on a wild ride around the world), micro expansions and promos since 2012.
Out of print for some time now, Snowdonia will return in a glorious Deluxe Master Set edition: a huge box filled with pretty much all of the content ever published for the game, and with components upgraded to the deluxe level.
Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set will be launching on Kickstarter on July 3rd 2018 – a week from when this post is published.
What will Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set contain?
- All scenarios ever published for the game: 12 in total (2 from the base game, 10 published separately).
- A completely new scenario: The Bluebell Line by Mr Tony Boydell himself (so, a total of 13 scenarios right out of the gate).
- Over 360 wooden components: cubes, discs, wooden tiles (for player ownership markers) custom made labourers, surveyors and generals, custom made work rate markers (shovel and track piece), as well as specially designed scenario markers like water droplets, dynamite, daffodils, coffins, and more. Yes, this means that you no longer have to use player ownership markers in different scenarios, so you can play them with up to five players!
- Almost all of the promos ever published (excluding those which were printed for charity auctions, and a few which would infringe upon existing intellectual property), which – when added to all the scenario cards – make a whopping total of over 400 cards!
- A two part plastic box insert (both pieces coming with transparent lids of their own) for superior box control, as with the aforementioned 360 wooden components and the aforementioned 400 plus cards you will definitely need it!
- A new board, new cover art, deluxe player aids, two rulebooks, and a nice, big cloth bag for all the resource and event cubes!
- A new giant box (if you own a copy of Exodus: Event Horizon, you already know how huge), to house all of the components.
As you can see, when we say Deluxe, we in fact mean Deluxe. Still, if you’ve been a fan of the game for years, and you don’t want to purchase the whole Master Set Deluxe edition just for the new content, we will have a special veteran pledge level. Right off the bat it will include the Bluebell Line, but as the campaign grows, any stretch goals adding new, never before published content will also be included.
Finally, one more important piece of news: due to an insane number of components, we will be limiting the sales of Snowdonia Master Set Edition to Kickstarter, and to some direct sales after the project is over. Like other Kickstarter Limited content, you will be able to still purchase the Deluxe Master Set directly from us mainly at conventions, but the game will not enter regular distribution.
So, if you want to be on top of things, you can bookmark our countdown page available here. Once the campaign starts, it will lead you where you need to go!
- [+] Dice rolls
30 May 2018
As it has been a tradition for NSKN Games for the last six years, we are once again coming to UK Games Expo, where you'll be able to find us in hall 1, booth K-2. Here's some of the cool stuff we have to show you.
Let's start with some big games, shall we?
Firstly, there is Teotihuacan! The game by Daniele Tascini (the designer of Tzolk'in) is now in production, but we have an in-house prototype, which you will be able to see, touch, and - most importantly - play!
Secondly, Dávid Turczi's Dice Settlers! Our newest Kickstarter is being manufactured as we speak, and we will also have it available to try out. So, if you're a fan of light 4X and rolling loads of custom dice, definitely come by!
If you're curious about the newest entry in the Aestemyr (also known as the Mistfall universe), we will have an early production copy of Chronicles of Frost (by Yours Truly) for you to try out.
Finally, we will also be showing and selling Dragonsgate College - a game of dice drafting, where you're in charge of training wizards, warriors and rogues in a school of magic and mystery, from the designers of Yedo.
The above should satisfy the true heavy gamer, but we also have some great stuff for more family oriented among you:
Have you played Scare It!, our incredibly versatile game of scaring house pets (and elephants)? 15-minute gameplay, 1-8 players, different modes of play, and some amazing art, which has been a staple of Strawberry Studio for some time now.
If you're interested by upcoming titles from Strawberry Studio, you will also be able to try out Little Monster that Came for Lunch and Stayed for Tea, a new game of monstrously good fun from Robin Lees and Steve Mackenzie, as well as Bon Appetit! - a bidding game for the finest meals on the planet.
Okay, that is a lot of games, and we will be demoing them at different times of each of UKGE's three days. If you're there, come by booth K-2 in hall 1, we'll be happy to say hello, and have you seated for a cool gaming experience.
We're hoping to see you there!
- [+] Dice rolls
23 May 2018
If you’re reading this, chances are that table top gaming is one of your favourite pastimes, and that you are what society considers an adult. It’s also quite possible that at least once in your gaming life you caught a funny stare when you admitted to spending your personal time over what many consider a toy.
This is by far not the first time the way “regular people” look at gamers is explored. Dig long enough here on the Geek, and you’ll probably come up with stories of people forced to explain that they don’t wear elf ears to gaming nights (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing elf ears), or that a responsible adult would not consider game a worthy pastime unless they could make a few bucks winning. Still, most of those stories would be kind of old.
Gaming and “general geekery” is in a different place than it was five to eight years ago. Board games seem more widely recognized as an actual idea for a fun evening, as opposed to be the straw desperate parents clutch on a hopelessly rainy Sunday afternoon to somehow manage potentially destructive, boredom-induced tendencies of their offspring. Our non-gaming friends usually know what we do in our free time, and we’re not considered as weird as we were back in the day. Society, it seems, has accepted us as its fully functional members.
I bet that after reading the above paragraph, there is somebody there thinking about proving me wrong. Honestly, I would not be surprised. From what I see here in Poland, even though designer board games are available in chain bookstores and supermarkets, there are still people thinking that each of them is based on the idea of rolling a die and moving a pawn that many spaces, and – as a consequence – games are “only” toys.
So, perhaps something else has changed? Perhaps the fact that being a geek is no longer truly an insult, we ourselves are mellower when it comes to dealing with people who know all about our hobby having played only Monopoly, than we used to?
Finally I’m able to arrive at what I wanted to ask all along, but needed a few paragraphs to set the stage: does it really matter to you, how your pastime is perceived? Do you feel the need to prove that gaming is something people can treat seriously, as seriously as they treat more “adult” pastimes? If so, do you feel that your experience is somewhat lessened by other people looking down at the fun you have?
- [+] Dice rolls
11 May 2018
Kickstarter is about creating what otherwise would probably not exist at all – with the help of backers. For a creator, it’s about coming up with a creative idea, presenting it to a group of enthusiasts, and making it a reality. For the backer, at least until the promised game is delivered, it’s about participation.
Over the last few years, I’ve written a few “Why back now?” sections for a few of the NSKN Games Kickstarters, as well as for a handful of campaigns we helped to create. One of the reasons that would always make an appearance was: “to make the game better for everyone”.
I don’t think I was the first to come up with the “better for everyone” idea, but I am certain that I had used it, before I bumped into it on other Kickstarters. I believe it’s an idea many people came up with independently, and it does not surprise me one bit. After all, it’s not only a good thing to say, it’s also something that is generally true.
Unless it’s not.
As backers, all of us love to participate in the game expanded and grown before our very eyes, and as we speak our mind, we get to be part of a creative process. As creators, we have an opportunity to use the suggestions of people already in love with the game to make it even better. An opportunity we sometimes have to ignore.
Backers often don’t react too well to being told that the thing they want is not going to happen. With multiple interesting projects running on Kickstarter almost any given day now, it’s also easy to see how those unhappy with the answer they got pull their pledge and take their business elsewhere. Hard as it may be, sometimes the only right option a creator has is sticking to their guns.
Responsibility is the key here, for when a project has a few hundred backers (and we all know that a couple of hundred backers make for but a small Kickstarter), a creator of a mid-sized campaign will usually communicate with perhaps a few dozen backers on any given day. It’s easy to forget that there are hundreds (if not thousands) others, who are slower or less eager to communicate.
Listening to a fan base in the making is incredibly important. Interacting with backers makes the creator form a bit of a bond with people who are helping to bring their project to life. Saying no to people who genuinely want to make the game better for everyone can thus seem like saying something inappropriate. Nonetheless, it’s something that sometimes it has to be done, no matter how dirty it feels.
- [+] Dice rolls
04 May 2018
As a company, we pride ourselves on delivering our Kickstarters on time. It’s not that we’re never late, sometimes even the best laid plans end up one contingency short of a perfect ending, but the few times we’ve slipped (out of a dozen or so projects), the delays were rather small – and we worked hard to minimize them.
For most creators, however, delays happen due to bad planning. Optimistically assuming that every step of brining a game from a prototype to a product is the mistake made most often – and one grievous enough to ensure that no amount of extra work will help minimize delays that keep on piling up.
The truth is that, as backers, we’ve come to almost expect Kickstarter projects to be late. After all, Kickstarting a game often changes it enough to force the creator into devoting extra time for unexpected design and development – and that is something very difficult to properly schedule for. Still there is a bigger problem that makes backers wait for most of the games: their own expectations, and how creators deal with them.
As I said, we almost expect Kickstarter games to be late, and while creators do not account for delays, many backers often do. Simply put, when you see a waiting period of six months, you often immediately assume you’ll probably have to in fact wait for eight to nine months, because – hey! – delays are a part of Kickstarter.
It is a kind of a vicious circle. Many creators now are able to accurately assess the time they will need to fulfil a Kickstarter project, but putting a realistic timeline requires actually telling the backers that it is realistic. In the highly competitive crowdfunding landscape of today, games you’ll have to wait for longer than for others – similar in scope, complexity and component lists – can easily earn a pass by a prospective backer internally accounting for inevitable delays.
It’s a global problem that is hard to fix. After all, Kickstarter is the place where amateurs get their shot at becoming pros, and some mistakes are bound to happen. Still, urging other creators to build realistic timelines is something we do when lending a hand or providing consulting.
Building better communication is important for all Kickstarter creators. Hopefully, with more projects delivering on time, the circle can be broken for good, allowing backers to expect their pledges to arrive on time(or a late by no more than a few weeks) – and not having to mentally adjust for obligatory delays.
- [+] Dice rolls
27 Apr 2018
Last week I talked about Kickstarter exclusive games – including those which are so difficult to find outside of Kickstarter that are widely considered exclusive – and hinted on another topic I’d like to touch on in a separate post. The topic was board gaming Kickstarter today, and companies using it to crowdfund their games.
Board games were certainly not a big part of Kickstarter about ten years ago. Now tabletop gaming is kind of huge. Some of the biggest projects on Kickstarter – which means biggest crowdfunding projects in the world – are board games.
Large companies making Kickstarter exclusive games becoming a thing re-sparked a certain side-topic of many discussions: is Kickstarter still what it used to be, and do small publishers and creators still stand a chance against large companies competing for backers’ attention – and having the resources to steal it?
Well, Kickstarter is not exactly what it was ten years ago, and that’s actually great! If it stood in one place, our hobby – and our industry – would not be growing. More and more games are pitched, funded and delivered to backers’ doors, and that indeed means that competition might be fierce, but it is as it should be.
In fact, it is not only a natural course of events, it’s also highly beneficial to backers. A creator or small company who has already managed to successfully deliver a quality product is automatically more trustworthy of future pledges, and with the bar raised by competition, scammers (or creators who are simply incompetent) are much easier to spot.
As I said in my previous post, Kickstarter exists to allow products (games) that would otherwise never exist to become a reality, and it still serves that function for pretty much anyone who is willing to give it a fair try. It is only by comparison with the most funded projects that smaller and less established creators seem to suffer, as they are usually far from today’s highest funding levels.
Still, while analysing the situation, it’s worth to research funding levels of games that were considered smash hits back in the day (around 2010 to be exact). Alien Frontiers, the first big hit made with Kickstarter made a whopping $14 885 – a funding level now easily beaten by Kickstarter first timers.
Apart from the odd lightning in a bottle, a creator nowadays has to do pretty much the same thing anyone has to do to be successful: work hard, be ready to invest (some money and probably a lot of time), possibly receive a bit of help from their friends, and have a bit of luck. With that much – and a reasonable idea for a game – Kickstarter will still make you a published game designer and/or a publisher.
And by “Kickstarter” I mean backers – gamers and dreamers, truly passionate about their hobby, and interested in being a part of the creative process of making a game – people whose numbers were never as high as they are today.
- [+] Dice rolls
20 Apr 2018
Totally new developments on Kickstarter seem in short supply these days. Apart from an odd project that ends up with a pile of money nobody had expected it to raise, few things make everybody discuss a single game. One of them is still the idea of a Kickstarter exclusive game.
You probably know how we feel about Kickstarter exclusive content for a game that otherwise normally hits your FLGS shelves: we don't like it, and we don't really do it. There’s little that seems to have the power to turn people away from a game so effectively as the knowledge of paying for something that’s been essentially flayed: deprived of some key gameplay features, which you will never be able to get your hands on.
However, a game that is Kickstarter exclusive is a whole different story, and following the discussion that blew up with the launch of Monolith’s Batman, I felt deeply puzzled on more than one occasion. I don’t want to make anyone’s opinion seem irrelevant, but I do want to contest at least some of things I’ve read.
The Kickstarter exclusive game probably (but kind of unofficially) started from Gloomhaven. While you could get the game in some stores, during the second Kickstarter it was rather obvious that most of the copies will be sold and bought as part of the project. Stores were given the opportunity to pledge, but everybody knows that when those wells run dry, new copies won’t be available, unless via another Kickstarter campaign.
Still, the discussion really erupted not with Gloomhaven but with CMON’s Hate: a game that was advertised as something you’ll be able to get your hands on only with Kickstarter, only to intensify when Monolith announced the KS only Batman: Gotham City Chronicles, and then was kept alive as the game went live all through to the time when it closed on a formidable 3.5 million dollars, with much more to come in the pledge manager. Now that the dust has settled, the whole thing warrants another look.
It’s obvious that a Kickstarter exclusive game is paradise for all who like to make a few extra bucks and selling off their pledges after the game is fulfilled, but it’s not what was levelled most heavily against Hate and Batman. It was something much more perplexing: that a game which cannot hold its own on store shelves, should not be Kickstarted at all. Especially a game as lavish and expensive as Batman.
Here’s where I’m a bit lost. Kickstarter has always been a place to go with a great idea, a bit of money, and a lot of hard work to make one’s dream a reality. Creators could transform an idea that was otherwise either impossible or extremely difficult to realize into actual product. That is how the legendary Alien Frontiers came into being all those years ago. That is how many games are still being made.
A product deemed unworthy of attention, too risky or too niche always had a chance to go from an idea to reality thanks to crowdfunding in general, and with a game like Batman – one which aims to provide a lot of content wrapped around a very expensive property – the whole endeavour does not seem very far away from the idea of bringing to life something that could not exist otherwise. The only difference is that it does not start small, does not come from an underdog, and does not suprise everybody with its success.
Finally, there is yet another matter which reared its head while discussing the huge Kickstarter exclusive games, and that is the one of making crowdfunding less accessible to smaller creators with less resources. And that, well, that is a topic for a whole new post.
- [+] Dice rolls
One of the most exciting things about adventure games is exploration. One of the most annoying things is the randomness. You can’t really have one without the other, but you can still have a damn good game running right through the middle.
From the first time I played the prototype I knew that Chronicles of Frost would be a game that plays fast. I also knew that its nature would require me to condense some of the fun adventure genre staples in a way that would not destabilize the whole construct.
Exploration in games is always a difficult thing to do right. Give randomness complete rule over discovering new regions, pieces of the star map or encounters, and you wrest the reins away from the players. Reduce randomness too much, and you’re running a risk of annihilating the magic of discovery from the game.
Right from the start I knew I wanted the world to grow as the game unfolds. The first solution was simple: exit your current location into the unknown, draw a new location from the deck, and place it on the table. As you can imagine, with different location abilities this was a very swingy mechanism – and one that I eventually left in the game, but only as one of two rather different options.
The new option was literally born mid-game: how about I let the players choose one out of a few locations whenever they explore? After all, the Mists have made their world unstable, and reaching a specific destination (on time or at all) is never a certainty. You can still just wander off into the unknown, and see where fate takes you, but you can also put a little bit of effort into trying to look before you leap into what lies ahead.
In a blink of an eye an already aptly named “scout” symbol became one that would allow you to not only draw from your own deck, but also from the deck of locations, in order to choose what specific place will land right next to your hero. And to spice things up, to make exploration even more exciting, I decided to add one more thing to each location: a discovery effect.
Simply put, the discovery effect is a one-time bonus which you receive when you place a new location. You get to draw a card, you get some extra Resolve (that allows you to buy more cards), you get to heal a little – you get a small but useful effect designed to reward you for being an explorer. None of these effects will turn your game completely around, but resolving the right one at the right time can be most useful.
What about people who want a faster and more risky approach? Well, you can still just ignore the more ponderous exploration in favour of just going blindly into the wilds. You still get the benefit of discovering a new location but you have little control over what it actually is, as you simply topdeck a location into the play area.
Since one of the driving mechanisms of Chronicles of Frost is a quest system that requires players to find either specific types of locations, or their inhabitants, scouting is important, but you can still come up on top if you choose mobility and resilience over preceding research.
And the best thing? The way exploration works in Chronicles now makes it possible to approach expanding the map either truly strategically, or more deliberately, and it’s only up to you how you will learn the current shape of the lands of Valskyrr each time you sit down to play.
- [+] Dice rolls
03 Nov 2017
Last time I told you about Chronicles of Frost, I mentioned two important features of a hero: the heroic skill we look up to, and the determination we relate to. There is however one more important element without which a mythical hero would simply not be: the myth itself.
Great games are rarely invented overnight. Chronicles of Frost came to life in a matter of hours, but it would only be its earliest life. The next few weeks from December 2016 to late January 2017 were a time of making and remaking prototypes, playing different versions and thinking if the game will end up actually presented to somebody, or in the bin.
Okay, the last part was never true. I knew from the moment I heard Chronicles’ heartbeat that it was something worth working on until it was ready to be published. And it would be ready.
When the concept of Chronicles of Frost materialized in my mind, it came with some more or less basic ideas: cards you’d build your deck with would mostly be discarded after use, apart from a few rarer ones that would linger in your player area. The board would be built as you play, the players pushed to expand it by the quests each hero starts the game with (you’ll get to know more about this later). There was still one thing missing from the deck-building aspect.
Third or fourth prototype of the game was already working really fine, when suddenly I got hit by the idea that would make it all complete: the junkyard where removed cards, completed quests and destroyed enemies would end up in. The junkyard which would not be a junkyard at all, but an integral element to the game mechanisms – and to its theme as well.
And so the Chronicle was born – inspired by both the pursuit to create a more complete gaming experience, and by the title of the game itself. Believe it or not, that is the order those elements materialized in the design process: first there was a title, then there was the mechanism that would become a part of the game itself.
Part of what the Chronicle is in fact a formality: finished quests and felled foes would work equally well without a named area to keep them in. Part would be something more, as removed cards which usually go to a bland afterlife of “removed from the game”, “returned to the box”, or simply “trashed”, would now become a source of points – and an account of the journey itself.
So, what is the Chronicle? It’s a pile of cards and tokens, with some of the cards (the ones you start the game with, and the ones you acquire as you play) becoming worth more victory points as they are purged from the deck.
I know full well that this is not a never-before-seen mechanism. It appeared in other deckbuilding games, and it makes its appearance in Chronicles of Frost, creating a layer of extra gains from simply removing cards from one’s deck – and a small thematic push, as players get to build not only their game, but also its later accounts.
With the Chronicle, the true basis was there, and the game revealed itself to me in its fullness, making me – the designer – finally find out what it was about in its purest essence. And that is what I will discuss the next time, together with one more thing: how Chronicles of Frost compare to Shadowscape – especially for those of you who love (or hate!) my previous venture into Aestemyr – the world of Mistfall.
- [+] Dice rolls