Adventures in Crowdsourcing

I resisted the Kickstarter craze in boardgaming for a long time, both participating in and writing about it. There are several reasons for this, both philosophical and practical. On the practical end, I have plenty of games already and I have no business adding to that. There are just too many new games flooding Kickstarter for all but the most dedicated fans, and I frankly feel like I can barely keep up with the more traditional releases. In a more abstract sense, I’m rather ambivalent about the effect that Kickstarter has had on the hobby. On one hand it’s theoretically possible to get something outside the box and fresh. But in practice I think it usually results in “with a twist” games, where you have a game that has worker placement, but with a twist. There’s nothing inherently wrong with “with a twist” games, but they aren’t going to set the world on fire.

It’s not really a topic I’ve touched on much in writing. I did review one Kickstarter game, but it ranks among the worst games I ever reviewed. If I were theoretically to review another, it would only be after it appeared on store shelves. Besides that, Kickstarter has become a surprisingly polarizing topic in some circles, drawing out people who are sure it’s the best thing that has happened to gaming and those who swear it will bring down the hobby.

But one place that I do feel Kickstarter works well is in the realm of reprints. It’s a good way for publishers to gauge demand for a game that might be too niche for a major release. Last summer Jolly Roger Games announced they would be Kickstarting a reprint of the 1980s classic, Kremlin. I’ve written about my love of that game, and the entry point was surprisingly affordable. So I Kickstarted my one and only project. On one level I thought it would be a lot like preordering a game, something I’ve only done a few times. That’s not totally inaccurate, especially since funding the project was never really in doubt.

There were, however, a few strange tendencies I noticed about it. First of all, because I have a financial stake in the future of the game, it gave me something of a rooting interest. Jolly Roger has been good about giving frequent updates, and each update and hiccup in the schedule is a big deal. Doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad news, it’s just fun to get an update on where my $25 went. In that sense, I can imagine it would be somewhat harrowing for a project you backed to be lost in the ether. I can especially see it being a disappointment if you invested over $100 in said project, but surely people don’t do that for games they know next to nothing about? Right? Please tell me they don’t?

There are still parts of the whole subculture that don’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s often said that you aren’t preordering a game, so much as you’re investing in an idea. Let me be clear: I am in the Kremlin Kickstarter purely for the game. I would never have posted my money if I didn’t want that game in my hot little hands. (Thankfully it’s in production right now and will probably be on the boat to the US before too long.) It’s not like we’re talking about some kind of big artistic idea that would never see the light of day with the vast majority of board games. Mostly it’s just some nerd’s version of deckbuilding, and really who cares? At the very least, that’s not some vision that’s worthy of my investment. And it’s not really an investment, is it? It’s not like I’ll share in the profits or anything. I just get a game for my money. How is that not a preorder?

I’ll regret writing that last paragraph probably. I’ve shaken the bushes now, and I’ll get several people who will helpfully explain all of those questions to me. My experience on Kickstarter has been pretty uneventful and reliable, so I don’t personally have anything against the system. If someone ever puts up another major reprint I might post the money for that if the price is right. (Die Macher?) It’s hard for me to declare whether the who movement has been a bane or boon for the hobby. I do worry that there are more mediocre forgettable games, but it’s also easy to ignore without breaking a sweat. We’ll see how long that’s the case.

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in Crowdsourcing

  1. I kickstarted a board game I knew next to nothing about: Escape. Every time I’ve taken it to a game night it has been a huge hit. And because I kickstarted it I got several expansions and promos for the stretch goals ($ goals past the initial goal for the project to succeed), that most other people don’t have or can’t get. I love it.

    I got addicted to Kickstarter for a while (until it was costing me too much), but I love the idea of supporting specific books, bands, games or projects that I personally think are worthwhile. A few didn’t really deliver in the end, but most have given me a limited edition, signed, unique piece that I prize.

    That being said, I’ve only kickstarted two board games, and it was 50/50. Escape was great, the other was only so so.

    • Queen Games, who published Escape, is a weird example, because they are an award-winning established company. They did fine before Kickstarter, they are just using it to remove risk. It also allowed them to directly distribute their games in the US without having to go through Rio Grande Games for it.

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