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The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Crowdfunding Board Games

Hitchhiker's Guide to Crowdfunding

There is no denying it, sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have become a huge part of board game development with many publishers now using the platform to get a head start on some of their bigger titles. There are conflicting opinions on whether Crowdfunding has been a positive influence on the development of board games but one cannot deny that it has had a huge impact in the genre. Some developers are using it to help fund their first foray into the tabletop market whilst larger publishing companies use it to act as a glorified pre order store.

I have written this roughly explored trail guide for people who are either new to Crowdfunding or are unsure on what to look for when using the services. Along the way I will give some examples of mistakes that I have made and what things I look out for now. Spoiler alert, I don’t back as many games as I used to a couple of years ago.

It’s My Kickstarter And I Can Back If I Want To

One of the very first games I backed was from a company called Red Genie and their game The Brigade. The premise was attractive and the game components looked nice. They had a good pitch but I neglected to actually look into what the gameplay consisted of. The result was a game I didn’t find particularly engaging. I was hooked on the cheap price and the attractive display. Like a moth to headlights I backed it, and like most things I backed, promptly forgot about it. The company were very good with communication and kept regular updates, production was fine and the game set to release on schedule. But with many first time developers there some complications when dealing with the manufacturing companies.

With board game production there are many things that people don’t take into consideration when backing their game, such as production targets and shipping. Some developers will announce premium luxury cards or highly detailed miniatures before coming up with plans on who will produce them physically. I’ve even seen some games pitch hand sketched artwork for miniatures before even beginning to properly produce them. Wiser developers get all this sorted out before the funding and have a detailed and concise description sorted out once the campaign begins.

Red Genie had a few teething problems with production. A cutout model of a university was supposed to house some of the building cards but due to manufacturing problems, it was cut too small and too weak so the entire thing fell apart upon construction. There were not enough stickers to attach to the meeples provided and bizarrely there were some extra coloured cubes in the box that were not mentioned in any of the updates. To Red Genie’s commendation however, they are fixing the problem and shipping replacements for free. Whilst the company will learn from their mistake, it goes to show that backing first time producers does not come without risk.

As a rule of thumb if I am even contemplating backing a first developer I check out their entire story, if anyone from the company has developed on Kickstarter before and do they have their production and shipping plans in check. Oh, and always read the rules and make sure they have a comprehensive grasp of what their own game should be, some crowdfunding proposals can have the most attractive displays but when reading the rules it becomes clear there is no plan on actual game play.

Crowdfunding Guide - The Brigade from Red Genie Board Games (Credit: Red Genie)

Hello My Name Is Compulsion And I’m A Fundaholic

The second destination on my crowdfunding journey was the reputed developer CoolMiniOrNot (CMON for short). Having discovered my love for the pulpy ameritrash game that is Zombicide I decided to back their latest entry into the zombie adventuring epic, Green Horde. Every week they would display a new update featuring a shiny new character to unlock and another expansion to pour more of my money into. It was a very well run campaign from a marketing perspective and ended up being one of Kickstarter's most profitable entries.

I ended up spending just a bit too much money on this. There was an entry level backing price and then lots of expansions and extras that could be added on top of the original price. This hit the right part of my brain that said “You need to collect everything from this now” and I promptly kept adding in pledge money as new features were unveiled. I went All-In.

Now this is a very common practice among the bigger board game developers, in which they add in some features that are only available during the crowdfunding phase and can invoke in buyers a term called FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out. Now looking back on it, whilst I would have still backed the game, I would not have gone for any of the extras. Considering how much I’ve actually played Green Horde and how, if any, of those “Kickstarter exclusive” features have impacted the actual gameplay, I would say it generally not worth it. Most features don’t stay exclusive for long and the second hand market for such things tends to stay alive for quite a while. If the game is any good to begin with then you don’t need those additional features unless you play the game so much that you need to add variety to it.

Batman: Gotham City Chronicles managed to capitalise on this quite well. Offering numerous free and paid expansions to their base game, however the end result was over $320 dollars to obtain everything in a one versus five mission based brawler that was exclusively available if you backed it on Kickstarter. Effectively this turns what is supposed to be a website to help games get enough revenue to be published, into a compulsive FOMO inducing pre-order store for premium shelf filling material.

I’ve Come From China And All I Got Was This Lousy Meeple

Living in the United Kingdom, one of the things that I look for in a crowdfunded project is the company policy on shipping costs. Most of the games that I have backed have been from the USA and as a result have had less than desirable shipping costs. Often going well over the budget that I set for the game originally.

Some projects will state the shipping costs in the description and the really good campaigns will incorporate it into the initial backing value, ensuring that you know much your final cost will be before you click the fund button. However, I have backed projects in the past and overlooked this only to be stung once the pledge manager opens and have to pay a large sum of money that I could have saved by waiting for retail and using the shipping money towards another game. For heavier games such as Gloomhaven or products with lots of components such as Green Horde shipping can become quite pricey, especially if going to a country with stricter border regulations.

Most if not all crowdfunded games are generally late. This comes as a standard, even experienced companies go over their shipping date and mostly this happens due to circumstances out of their control. Manufacturing companies will have set backs and shipping companies often can delay shipments. Most developers will keep you updated on this generally with about five updates offering apologies (each one with a comment section of people complaining like mad about it) however if you have done your homework you will know that you will get the game eventually.

Crowdfunding Guide - Gloomhaven (Credit: Isaac Childres)

Conclusion or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Wait For Retail

This article sounds very negative on the concept of Crowdfunding in general but I am still a fan of the format. It gives genuine developers chances to get their games funded in a market where they could have gone overlooked. Some great games have come from crowdfunding that might not have had a chance, such as Root, Scythe or Dinosaur Island. A 30-day window of funding is a great marketing window but it can be abused by either bad developers looking for a cash grab using familiar title names and shiny exclusives, or by existing companies looking to gain marketing capital and promote more of their brand. This is great for people making board games, but can be confusing for the average backer who only has a limited budget looking for something that appeals to their demographic of game play.

Either due to age and wisdom finally kicking in or tracking the amount of money I have thrown at Kickstarter, I now tend to tread a bit more carefully among the minefield of board game crowdfunding projects. If a game has enough going for it that I feel my money would be well spent getting the game earlier than retail, and it comes with enough extra material to enhance the game without over-burdening it then I’ll probably back it. Sometimes expansion crowdfunding campaigns have a good deal getting the original games alongside the original, which if it is something I’d been looking at for a while then I’ll probably back it for the bundle.

My absolute golden rule these days is that if the group I have won’t enjoy playing it, then regardless or whether I think it’s good or not then I won’t back it. Board gaming for most is a communal activity that despite all the rapturous attention one will get for having 20,000 highly detailed miniatures, might not play well with your fellow gamers. If that is the case then it’s not worth any amount of money you might invest.

To recap, check the developers out, read the rule book, make sure the extras don’t over-weigh the game, calculate the shipping costs and then make a decision. It’s your money and your entertainment, use it wisely.