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Kickstarter and the rise of tabletop games

So Newcon 2018 is done and dusted, I've had a chance to wind down (because being a people person for three days takes it out of me), and I've got a brief window before we start to gear up for Central Coast Comicon. Which means it's time for another blog!
Newcon was our first tabletop gaming convention, and the game geek in me really wished I wasn't manning our stall all weekend so I could get my hands on a few of the boardgames and rpgs floating around the tables.

The great D20 roll off at Newcon Oz


One that really caught my eye was a new game called Mythic Battles: Pantheon, co produced by Mythic Games and Monolith Board Games. From a distance the setup looked very similar to Blood Rage, a game I recently picked up and had a lot of fun with when I debuted it at games night. Turns out the game is made by a totally different company, with very different mechanics.

The similarities though? Both use (gorgeously sculpted) miniatures, both involve deck building to improve your forces, and both were funded by Kickstarter.

Blood Rage in action


Since its beginning in 2009, Kickstarter has gone hand-in-hand with the resurgence in tabletop board games. The industry has been making a slow comeback since the early 2000's. Now it seems that game developers are steering away from using established companies to fund their products and are instead appealing directly to the public.

This isn't a totally new idea though. Old favourites of mine Cheapass games used a technique of providing the bare minimum with their games in the mid '90's. Working on the theory that most gamers already had a collection of dice and tokens, they instead offered a series of games that used a skeleton of cards and rules that were fleshed out with existing pieces from other games.
Their flagship game – Kill Doctor Lucky – won an award for Best Abstract Board game in 1997. While a lot of their games are now being distributed by other companies, at the time the idea that you could release a game without needing Parker Brothers, Ravensburger or Hasbro to fund it struck a chord with upcoming developers.

In 2016 ,the board game market worldwide was valued at $9.6 billion worldwide, a far cry from the $99.6 billion raised by the video game industry. There is a crossover though, from the successful mobile adaptations of several successful boardgames. If you're reading this, chances are I'm preaching to the choir, in that you probably have a few games on your phone or PC that are based off physical games you have at home. I know I found my Android version of Dominion a good way to pass the time – without the painful setup of shuffling all those cards. Games Workshops Blood Bowl has made a comeback in the last few years along similar lines, with the Steam based version of the game being released in conjunction with an updated version of the tabletop game.

I'm not going to insult you by going over the history of Kickstarter, it's been around for nearly 10 years now. A current search shows over 2,100 results for 'board games'. Even removing the personal drives for funding conventions (and travel to conventions), there's still a massive amount of ideas floating around that people have invested time, creativity and (obviously) money into.

I'm not going to tell you they're all good, either. For every success like Cards Against Humanity or Conan, both of whom surpassed their goals in a matter of hours, and rewarded backers with expansions, exclusive figures and bonus packs, there are dozens of games on display that look like something a dodgy app developer threw together while drunk. You know the sort – Call of Pickup Duty Battlegrounds Angry First Person Crush Saga.

After a lawsuit in 2015 against a Kickstarter project that left its backers hanging, it pays to do a bit of research into who you're supporting. The fact that unfilled drives must refund all pledges if their goals aren't met on time is only a mild consolation if you've invested yourself emotionally into a release.
A parallel would be the online game DayZ, which released an unfinished version on Steam in 2013 for customers to alpha test, and 5 years later there is still no confirmed release date.
For larger companies to use Kickstarter as a test for the viability of new game ideas makes sense financially for them, but can have an effect on customer loyalty after a few bait-and-switches.

So where am I going with this? Pointing out the good and the bad of crowd sourcing for boardgames is basic due diligence for anyone thinking of putting money into a development.

Frankly, I can see no real downside to the increased availability of good quality games, save the traditional herding cats aspect of trying to organise a games night these days. My bank balance may not thank me either, with expansions available for just about every game I own or play regularly. It's not a cheap hobby, which is where the beauty of Kickstarter again comes into play. Find a game you like the look of, throw a few dollars at it and help a lot of people have a good time. I can think of worse ways to spend money, and the crowd at Newcon would probably agree with me.

Ben the Design Monkey

Ben the Design Monkey

World reknowned* industrial designer and self confessed geek, Ben is the design guy for Enstaved. Using his love of comics, gaming and pop culture to create the designs we sell. *(in two countries)

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