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The 4 most absurd and useless things ever to appear in a Kickstarter box

Anthony Faber
United States
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If your eyes glaze over when you see a wall of text, you can listen to a discussion about Kickstarter bloat and absurd and useless Kickstarter bling on the Two Wood for a Wheat Podcast, which also includes a review of Level 99's Empyreal Spells & Steam:

We all know about Kickstarter bloat - the phenomenon by which everything in a game company's closet ends up crammed into the oversized box to fulfill the inexhaustible necessity of stretch goals or deluxification. Today I'm not discussing the pros and cons or the value proposition of Kickstarter campaigns; I'm simply going for cheap laughs about some of the dumbest things I've ever seen.

Before I start, I should mention that I'm citing 4 unique examples, all from campaigns I've personally backed. I'm avoiding items that are common enough to be categorizable, which is not to say that there isn't a lot of ridiculous stuff repeated across many campaigns. For instance, my top 4 includes none of the following:

- Art Books

I don't begrudge anyone who likes to look at nice pictures, but I don't like it when publishers include the art book at a key pledge level so I'm forced to pay for something entirely unnecessary in order to get the full game. Mostly though, these are add-ons, so I don't really care.

- Soundtracks

I don't quite understand the reasoning by which publishers think consumers would like to purchase their music of choice from a game company. They make approximately as much sense to me as Proctor & Gamble including music with their products to listen to while squatting on the toilet. Game companies, unless you're Ryan Laukat and are skilled at literally everything, think twice before getting out of your lane.

- Miniatures that do nothing

I'm not talking about miniatures generally, though a certain subset of gamers certainly do think that all miniatures are useless. For me, miniatures used as playing pieces, if done well, can strongly add to the enjoyment of and immersion in a game. Not so much for miniatures which aren't actually placed on the board and just stand off the side to indicate something. Like many of these examples, that seems to me a bit like just lighting money on fire. Vindication, I"m looking at you.

- Overproduced First Player Markers

A subset of the above are the paperweights of the Kickstarter world, the first player marker whose 'deluxification' is an inevitable stretch goal in a large campaign. No matter how lovely or impressively heavy the enclosed object is, it's invariably forgotten when one actually plays the game.

Before I get to my truly unique favorites, I should mention that no matter how foolish you think some board game Kickstarter reward is, rewards for video games tend to embody stupidity on another level of magnitude entirely - go look around Youtube for the best ones. My prrsonal favorites are for the remake of the Shaq Fu fighting game, which for the low low price of $30,000 you got Shaquille O'Neal himself to DJ your party, and the remake of Night Trap, where a $200 pledge scored you digital copies of legal documents created when asshat Joe Lieberman used the original Night Trap as a reason to start hearings about violence in video games in congress.

Anyhow, here are my favorite four:

4. Empyreal: Spells and Steam - the postcards

Board Game: Empyreal: Spells & Steam
This game from Trey Chambers and Level 99 combines simple route building and pick up and deliver with a thousand and one wacky magical powers. It sounds like it shouldn't work, but it does, beautifully, as a simple system which gains depth and imaginative play from the myriad variable player powers and the engines which can be built from them.

Unfortunately, the game was less successful on Kickstarter than it deserved, perhaps because the Venn diagram overlap of people looking for pick up and deliver train games and people looking for wacky magical powers is rather small. And more to the point of this essay, perhaps people weren't interested in paying $130 for a light train game which came in a near Gloomhaven sized box.

The reason the game makes this list is the postcards. The game has eight postcards representing the cities of Indines, Level 99's fantasy world. I must confess I'm charmed by these things - the art is very nice - but that doesn't mean they aren't absurd and useless. Who is sending post cards in 2021? Who is thinking that what there board game really needed was proof of the degredation of the U.S. postal service? In attempt to get full value from my product, I sent a card of Empyreal City to my co-host Pat. After two weeks, my card has not yet arrived. Thanks Louis DeJoy.

3. Dwellings of Eldervale - the sound effect bases

Board Game: Dwellings of Eldervale
Another big box extravaganza from last year, Dwellings of Eldervale had a deluxe level pledge will held the full content of the game hostage to an eight year old's toy: electronic bases which attached to the game's monsters which make a roaring sound when you place the monster down. That's it. For this, you pay an extra $40. And by the way, the bases are not subtle or seamless. They are ridiculously huge, like floating islands the monsters ride around on.

The extra game content you got at this level probably counted for a tiny fraction of this cost. Game publishers: don't make us buy useless crap in order to get the full version of your game. Yes, I'm a Scrooge. If you want to sell Mattel toys, fine. Just don't make me pay for them. By the way, the only reason this isn't number one on this list is that technically, the sound effect bases are a game component one could derive pleasure from. The rest aren't even game components.

2. Dinosaur Island - Pogs and Slang Tokens

Board Game: Dinosaur Island
There's a trend here. Kickstarters that include useless nonsense come in enormous boxes so as to be able to hold all the useless nonsense. Dinosaur Island didn't have a box as big as some Kickstarters, but the publisher made up for it by managing to cram 20 pounds of stuff into it anyway. As a consequence, the game box never actually closes all the way, at least with the Kickstarter version.

When I say 'useless crap', you may suspect me of hyperbole, but I believe that harsh expression is perfectly accurate here. Dinosaur Island included a large set of pogs with the game. If you're not groaning, you're probably thinking 'what the hell are pogs'?

Look, I understand that the designers were going for an early 90s nostalgia think here with their neon colors and Jurassic Park ripoff. But pogs? That's a bridge too far. If you don't know what they are, they are just small disks, cardboard or plastic (cardboard in this case), with pictures on them. That's it. There's nothing else. Well, there's supposedly sort of a game based on milk caps, slamming something down to flip them, and kids apparently collected them.

But come on. Not every flash in the pan cultural phenomenon was cool. Some should just die. But that's not all folks! Because in addition to pogs, there are cardboard tokens with corny slang expressions on them! What for? I don't know. I just don't know. There's no other game which quite says so clearly 'we don't give one hoot about the environment - we are just printing as many cardboard sheets as we can to fill landfills.'

1. Lisboa - signature stickers

Board Game: Lisboa
This is perhaps the saddest chapter in this tale. In the Lisboa campaign, for $10 more than the regular pledge level, backers were promised that copies would be signed and hand numbered by Vital Lacerda himself. Apparently, it ended up being unfeasible for Lacerda to be at the warehouse where the games were to sign them. Eagle-Gryphon Games' solution? When the games arrived, each backer who paid the $10 received a sticker signed by Lacerda instead, which you were (I guess?) supposed to slap on your box. Yes stickers. Because what backers really wanted was the beautiful Ian O'Toole artwork on the box partially covered by what looked a lot like a nametag sticker. Hello my name is....Vital Lacerda.

The nerd rage in response to this ridiculous snafu was comical. I'm still wondering - what's the aftermarket value of a Vital Lacerda signature? Can I pawn mine at some dark corner of Essen Spiel? I have this sad image in my head of Lacerda spending hours signing a thousand stickers. Who thought this was a good idea? EGG tried to blame the problem on the strangely thematic warehouse fire which apparently destroyed 3,000 copies of the game, but it was clear that the burned copies hadn't been signed, so perhaps the fire had thrown off the timing of the Lacerda/EGG rendezvous? Some secrets may never be known.

Okay folks, I've only backed a tiny fraction of what's out there, so I'm sure there are dozens more absurd and useless things included in board game Kickstarters which I have no idea about. What are they? Let me know in the comments below.

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