Kickstarter, in case you aren’t aware, is a “crowdfunding” website, where people can propose a product and ask other folks to fund it. If you decide to “back” a project, you agree to put up some money in return for whatever that backing level gets you. You’ll only have to pay if the project makes its goal. So far it’s done pretty well, I think.
It’s especially caught on in the world of boardgames. There’s a list on BGG tracking Kickstarter boardgame projects that currently has over 400 items in it, and I’m pretty sure it’s incomplete. Many of those are still up for funding, many didn’t get their funding, and many of the ones that did get their funding haven’t come out yet, so there’s not a huge number of Kickstarted board games actually out and about yet. I’ve played, so far, seven: Alien Frontiers, Eminent Domain, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, The Manhattan Project, 1955: War of Espionage (which I own), Triumvirate, and Sunrise City. Of those, my favorite is probably The Manhattan Project, which I think I’m going to grab a copy of sooner or later. But all of them aren’t bad games.
I’m not surprised that boardgames have taken to Kickstarter. It’s a way for an outsider to get his own project noticed not only by the community but by publishers and distributors. I’m one of the few boardgamers, it seems, who isn’t interested in designing his own game or hearing about how games are designed, so there are a lot of amateur designers out there to take advantage of this platform. Of course, since this is an “of the fans, for the fans” type thing, there’s a huge emphasis on steampunk and zombies in the game themes.
I haven’t backed any games on Kickstarter and didn’t even pay much attention until after I played The Manhattan Project. I was impressed enough with it that I signed up for Kickstarter and had a look around. That lasted only a few minutes, since their interface is godawful and doesn’t make it easy to find things. So instead I subscribed to the above list on BGG as an easy way to keep an eye on Kickstarter games. That lasted a little longer, but the other day I unsubscribed.
Part of the reason was that I had underestimated how much garbage was there. I’m not just talking about the umpty-jillionth Zombie Apocalypse* game, but the hapless “my family played this and they think it’s fantastic!” or “a fun way to learn about Scripture!” nonsense that also showed up. Yes, I know all about Sturgeon’s Law (or, as I have come to think of it, “The Nerdemburg Defense”), but that’s an explanation, not an excuse, and it doesn’t mean I have to sift through to find the ten percent. Of the things that were for real non-“awesome” games there were zero of them that I even wanted to click on to find out more about, much less consider throwing money at.
There were also a number of things that happened at this point that kind of started to sour me on the whole thing, as opposed to before, when I was merely apathetic. First, Steve Jackson Games, which is an established company that can get its products onto store shelves without asking for handouts, showed up on Kickstarter to fund a deluxe version of Ogre, an out-of-print classic that people wanted reprinted anyway. They claimed that for some reason this was the only way they, an established company, could reprint a known and popular game, and the Kickstarter campaign went like gangbusters. I found the whole thing pretty distasteful (granted, I’m already somewhat biased against Steve Jackson Games). It felt to me like Wal-Mart driving an 18-wheeler into the Farmers’ Market and selling vegetables out of the back of it.
Also around this time there were a number of high-profile Kickstarter misfires mentioned on BGG. The utterly incompetent (and aptly named) Mayday Games, in addition to a bunch of bizarre, misleading, and downright shady Kickstarter projects, released Eaten by Zombies, which got shredded in initial reviews (it seems to have bounced back from this.) Miskatonic School for Girls similarly got trounced, and the Glory to Rome Deluxe Edition made its funding a while back but has yet to produce a game to the people who bought it.
It also came down to my game buying habits. I am fortunate that I have a large pool of people I game with and a lot of opportunities to try new games out. It’s not often that I buy something I haven’t already played somewhere, and even then it’s usually after I’ve gotten a pretty good idea that I and my friends will like it. I’m just not into buying games I haven’t tried out yet, much less games that don’t yet even exist. I am perfectly happy with letting other people put up the cash and take the risk and jumping on later if it turns out to be a good thing.
* — I’m sorry to have contributed to the lifespan of this played-out phrase, but I have to report the truth.