Talia Rosen: Kickstarter Curmudgeon?

Montage Cover Artwork

I’ve always thought of myself as a Kickstarter curmudgeon, but then I woke up one morning recently and realized that I was awaiting about a dozen games from recent Kickstarter campaigns.  It seems that I’ve changed my tune in just the past year without even realizing it! 

My Kickstarter journey started way back in 2011 when Gryphon Games launched a campaign to bring 1973 classic Montage back into print.  It was an exciting campaign for a long unavailable and unique game, and it caused me to bite the bullet and finally sign up for this new-fangled Kickstarter thing.  This was before Kickstarter dominated the industry and the BGG rankings, but well after many others had seemingly taken the plunge.

After that pleasant experience and receiving that fascinating game, I actually waited over two years before backing another project.  Despite that long gap, 2013 turned into quite a banner year for my Kickstarter engagement.  Both Coup and One Night Ultimate Werewolf came to the platform, and I jumped in headfirst for some quick social deduction fillers. Keyflower brought a mini-expansion to Kickstarter, and Tim Fowers brought crowd favorite Wok Star back into print.  I’ve ended up enjoying all of those, and I was glad to have helped each of them see the light of day.  In 2014, there was the clever Coup Reformation expansion, followed by One Night Resistance and the One Night Ultimate Werewolf Daybreak expansion in 2015.  Here’s where I started to get into territory of backing things that didn’t end up hitting the table that much.  My completionist tendencies with respect to backing expansions and sequels does not align well with my practical tendency to usually just play the base game or move on to different games entirely. I’m so often teaching games to new players that expansions don’t see table time much despite my aspirational buying habits. Read on to see where my crowdfunding journey has taken me in the past few years and how my curmudgeonly attitude has seemingly shifted…

Lean Years

The next couple of years were pretty lean, with Agility being the only game backed in 2016 and Gloomhaven the only game in 2017.  I ended up selling both of these after a few plays because they were not my cup of tea.  By the same designer as the adorable Morels, I was excited for Agility, but it didn’t have the replayability or staying power on my game table.  Having enjoyed my Descent: Road to Legend and Mice & Mystics campaigns, I was looking forward to Gloomhaven, but the gameplay fell really flat for me and I didn’t have the same group readily available at that point either.  It may have been a totally different experience at an earlier point in my life when a consistent and frequent group for a campaign was more feasible. The people gathered around the table certainly made those earlier campaigns shine!  After all of those 2015-2017 missteps, it was a couple more years before I backed anything again.

Root: The Underworld Expansion Cover Artwork

But then one of my all-time favorites Root launched a Kickstarter for the Underworld expansion, and I had to be in on the ground floor, having totally failed to notice the original game’s campaign the first time around.  I didn’t learn about Root until I saw a few copies arrive at the FFG HQ during the 2018 Netrunner World Championships strangely enough. I’ve played it 47 times since then, and I’m confident it will break 100 plays in the next few years. Around the exact same time, another favorite Terraforming Mars launched the campaign for the Turmoil expansion.  2019 saw me get in on both of these expansions, but as it turns out, I love Underworld and I don’t care for Turmoil.  While I adore many of the Terraforming Mars expansions, Turmoil did not add enough interesting and meaningful decision-making to balance the complexity and cumbersome nature of the design.  I’ve previously written more about that perspective here: Expanding Mars: A Guided Tour of the Red Planet and Beyond.  By contrast, Root Underworld stayed incredibly true to the feel of the base game, while offering something fresh and new, especially with the topsy-turvy nature of the new crow faction.

The Year of No Self-Restraint

From 2011 through 2019, it appears that I backed only 6 full games and 6 expansions.  So it would seem that 2020 has been the real tipping point.  I suppose there are some lurking variables.  In 2020 alone, it appears that I have backed 10 more full games plus 7 expansions, more than doubling my total for the past decade!  That is surprising and more than a little unsettling, especially given my spotty record with enjoying and keeping past Kickstarter games.  In general, I’ve always thought that Kickstarter tended to remove the critical development process too often from game publishing, even if my actual buying habits don’t match that belief. Then again, under-developed Feld and Wallace games get printed regardless, so perhaps I theorized a connection where none really exists. Let’s see what I’ve backed this year:

  1. Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
  2. Pax Pamir, 2nd Edition

It all started reasonably enough with these two games.  Given my love of all things Root, it was too hard to resist Oath and Pax Pamir.  I even got to try a friend’s copy of Pax Pamir beforehand, and I’ve since played the game two more times, and I think it is absolutely a keeper!  Oath, on the other hand, is one that I’m a bit more nervous about.  It’s an expensive game and an untested concept that seems like a high-risk, high-reward scenario.  I ended up jumping in based almost entirely on this session report / review.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of Martin Wallace’s Tempus from 2006, which built up expectations so very high… too high.  SeaFall was similar in 2016.  Of course, these comparisons may be entirely unfair to Oath because I know little about it.  I’ve intentionally avoided diving into all of the print-and-play options and publisher updates because I want to experience the final product fresh when it eventually arrives.  I’m of course hoping for a transcendent experience that provides a hitherto unknown gaming journey, but I’m also of course wondering if it ends up gathering dust like various past Kickstarter busts.

  1. Biblios: Quill & Parchment
  2. Nanga Parbat
  3. Mining Colony
Nanga Parbat Cover Artwork

Just like how Cole Wehrle as the designer drew me to the first two games, Steve Finn drew me to these three games.  It used to be Knizia, Jurgen-Wrede, Dorn, Feld, Kramer, and Gerdts that drew me to a game, but they’ve been back to the same well so many times that it has run awfully dry in my view.  Steve Finn, on the other hand, seems to be striking out into fascinating new terrain with these games.  As an enormous fan of Biblios — and having lived through the challenge of trying to track down the obscure original Scripts & Scribes in its VHS case — I don’t want to miss out on any new Biblios content ever again (especially given my newfound and unexpected love of certain roll-and-write games described below).  I was originally only going to back the Biblios sequel, but the videos for Nanga Parbat convinced me otherwise.  Doctor Finn’s Games did a great job of promoting these other games through pre-production videos, and after Nanga Parbat got added to my pledge, it just seemed natural to see if Mining Colony could end up being a fun, thematic Ubongo-style puzzle too.  All in, I suppose that I now have three new Steve Finn games on the way next year…

  1. Votes for Women

This looks like a fascinating game from a new designer that I am eager to try.  The theme, art, and overall concept of the game was just too unique and interesting to pass up.  Given that the publisher is also planning to publish my design, First Monday in October, next year, I am confident that the production values on Votes for Women will be phenomenal and that the attention to detail will be second to none.

  1. Railroad Ink: Lush Green Edition
  2. Railroad Ink: Shining Yellow Edition

(plus Electricity, Engineer, Future, and Sky expansions)

Railroad Ink Challenge: Lush Green Edition Cover Artwork
Railroad Ink Challenge: Shining Yellow Edition Cover Artwork

I have apparently turned into a Railroad Ink fanatic.  Since unexpectedly learning the game at a local convention in January 2019, I’ve played about 40 times, and I could see this game easily hitting 100 plays in the years to come.  I’ve written about Railroad Ink previously here, but this Kickstarter was just mind-boggling in its scope.  It reminded me of the character Stefon from SNL and his description of night clubs.  This Kickstarter had everything!  It had sequels, it had expansions, it had solitaire, it had stretch goal dice, it had new goal cards, it had colored markers, it had drafting rules, it had an app, it had a giant storage solution, and it even had epic huge boards!  Obviously, I went all in on the top Collector pledge, and I don’t think I’ll regret it.  I love Railroad Ink so very much, and I expect to be enjoying it for a long time. I need those epic boards!

  1. Cartographers: Heroes  (plus Nebblis, Affril, and Undercity expansions)
Cartographers Heroes Cover Artwork

I have a similar affinity for Cartographers, and I’m similarly excited for the Cartographers sequel and expansions.  The Kickstarter was not quite as mind-blowing as Railroad Ink, and the game does not get to the table quite as often due to its slightly greater duration and complexity, but I do really love the creative and engaging experience of playing Cartographers, and I am eager for more scoring cards, maps, and other content to create even more variety from game to game.  This Kickstarter seemed like a good deal to get more content for a great, proven game. Count me in!

  1. Herbaceous
Herbaceous Cover Artwork

This is the game that prompted me to write this post because this is when I realized that I might have gone too far.  While this is the least expensive game on the list, it also seems like the one most likely to disappoint and the one that I probably had the least compelling reason to back.  It’s not necessarily fair to single out Herbaceous since I know very little about it, and it may be perfectly lovely, but I backed it on a total whim.  I’ve been disappointed by both Arboretum and Lotus, my two past ventures into botanical card games, and I’m wondering if Herbaceous will suffer a similar fate.  The quick card game space is also very crowded with gems like Schotten Totten, Jaipur, Fox in the Forest, Capital Lux, Aton, Biblios, Fugitive, Dazzle, Khmer, Mandala, and many more… so Herbaceous might just be crowded out by incredibly stiff competition.

I am looking forward to trying Herbaceous and the rest of the games above, but then again, most of these games do not arrive before mid-2021 (and probably later due to the global pandemic on top of normal Kickstarter delays).  Historically, by the time a Kickstarter game arrives, I’ve often almost completely forgotten about it, which is both a blessing and a curse.  It’s great that I get a surprise game that I paid for long ago, but it means the excitement and eagerness has long since worn off, and I’m sometimes left scratching my head about why I bought the game that’s sitting on my doorstep.

Having finally at year’s end noticed my unexpectedly deep dive into Kickstarter in 2020, I’m going to try to be more circumspect in my pledges going forward.  In years past, I had decided to try to only buy games that I had already played at least once.  This was a great resolution for several years because it weeded out many games that I thought I’d enjoy, and it made room to purchase games that were pleasant surprises.  I continue to amaze myself at how bad I am at predicting whether I’ll like a game!  So backing games before they exist may not be the right approach for me generally, even though it’s exciting to help bring a designer’s vision to fruition and to get one of the earliest public copies.  There’s also always that fear of missing out, but then again great games are almost always eventually reprinted, so I have to train myself not to pledge just in case a game might eventually be great and unavailable.  In reality, the game will probably be either great and available, or mediocre and unavailable.  All that being said, I am still so excited for more Railroad Ink and Cartographers, more Cole Wehrle and Steve Finn, and all the rest of my impulsive acquisitions.  Here’s to a thriving board game industry along with the joys and perils of living in the golden age of board gaming.

What board games have proven to be your best personal results from crowdfunding?  What have been your biggest disappointments?  And what games have you backed that you are eagerly awaiting in 2021 or beyond?

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3 Responses to Talia Rosen: Kickstarter Curmudgeon?

  1. pdowen3 says:

    Hey, Talia! I’ve had a similar feast-or-famine relationship with Kickstarter over the last nine years. I’ve backed about 26 games, of which 24 have arrived and the other two (“Votes for Women” and “Divinity: Original Sin”) are in work. I think my biggest win was Oceans (North Star Games), although I certainly have many other favorite staples that regularly hit the table. The biggest disappointment was the Geiger expansion to Compounded (Dice Hate Me Games), which seemed rough-hewn and chaotic to me. The base game is terrific.

    Thanks for sharing your crowd-funding saga!

  2. Mikel says:

    “I continue to amaze myself at how bad I am at predicting whether I’ll like a game!”

    Same here…

    Biggest kickstarter succes is I think either Medici or wavelength. Biggest disappointment the enigma box (if it counts) or through the ages (delivered mere weeks before they announced the new version…).
    Eagerly awaiting detective city of angels, plus expansions.

  3. Rick Soued says:

    Hi Talia — I have to say that seeing your mention of our production and KS for Montage brought back great memories for me. Montage was the first KS project we attempted. In 2011, KS had only just begun and I think we might have been only the second games publisher to use the KS platform.
    My oh my, was that a primitive effort on our parts! (But it was the thought that counted, right?)
    Since then we have done over 100 KS projects and gotten a fair bit better at these presentations (along with thousands of other games companies). It really seems hard to believe that the Montage KS was only 9 years ago. Thanks for supporting us then and since then.

    Best regards — Rick Soued, owner, Eagle-Gryphon Games

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