My name is Haoran and I am a board game addict.
You probably already knew that.
But I'm just as addicted to something else: to the seductive appeal of the Kickstarter board game.
I see this all the time. Because Zuckerberg knows what I like.
I like being part of the in-crowd. I love the idea of being in on the ground floor. Of having some influence over the final design and production. Of knowing about the new cool thing before everyone else does, and having it, owning it, smelling it.
I'm addicted to the email updates and the photos of games in production, that continue to whet my appetite. I'm addicted to those stretch goals, which promise gorgeous real metal coins, deluxe wooden, silk-printed pieces, gorgeous art and the near-ubiquitous 3D figurine.
I'm addicted to receiving emails from Australia Post or DHL or Toll, and the joy of receiving a package in the mail, and more joy as I realise it's a present to me, from me, via a game designer on the other side of the world.
My current tally is ... well, I'm not going to tell you. Definitely in the double digits. Hopefully not near triple digits yet. Some have been great. Some have been terrible. Many have been mediocre. All have been exciting.
Having said that, I've had my share of bad experiences too. I've learned lessons the hard way. School of hard knocks, and all that. Someday, you too, might want to buy one of these games. In which case, this article is for you.
Please. I have made these mistakes so you don't have to. Heed my warnings.
Gameplay trumps game pieces
Look, I love pretty components as much as the next nerd, but at the end of the day, some of the best games in the world are just a stack of cards, and a few wooden cubes. A pretty game is no guarantee of a good game.
Conversely, there have been some horrific games with delightful pieces. A few years ago, I made a blanket rule of not backing any game with 3D figurines, because that told me they'd spent more time on style over substance. Fortunately, that situation has been improving in the last few years.
Once you know it's a good game, then you can pimp your game to the nines. For that reason, I'm quite fond of kickstarting Deluxe editions of existing games that are a known quantity. Quite often it'll be an exquisite and collectible re-print, but which has had plenty of reviews and high scores on BoardGameGeek.
Read the rules
The devil, as they say, is in the details. The details are in the rules.
Or at least they should be. If there aren't rules, avoid the game like the plague.
Read the rules. Figure out if the game designer has lovingly crafted decent rules, or if they've slapped together nonsensical rubbish. Because really, you want to figure out if this game is fun. More importantly, figure out if it's your sort of game.
If possible, try to watch a review and a playthrough. If they've provided a print-and-play PDF, even better.
Life's too short to play bad board games.
Back proven performers
Much as Kickstarter originally came about to let amateurs crowdfund dreams that might never have been made professionally, there are so many Kickstarter horror stories out there that the backer must beware. The fact is, even the best game designer in the world might be hopeless at publishing and producing board game.
There a million ways in which publishing and producing a game can go wrong—getting burned on shipping, factories closing down, underestimating the cost and over-estimating efficiency, going bankrupt.
I've had one Kickstarted campaign take 2 years to deliver, only to go bankrupt shortly after. I've also been on the end of a scam where the crowd-funder was reprinting a known, very good game (Odin's Ravens, a classic 2-player-game). They took the money and ran.
If you want to be assured you're going to get what you paid for, go with a known designer and/or a reputable publisher who've published more than one game in the past.
Being mindful of the above, please back a game, and not a concept.
Let me give you a checklist:
- Are there rules?
- Is there a working prototype?
- Has it been play-tested?
- Have they finalised the rules, or are they still changing things?
- Is there a game publisher?
- Have they had it reviewed by anyone reputable?
Bonus marks if they've provided something you can Print and Play, so you can check for yourself if this is a game you want to back.
Replayability is not all it's cracked up to be
Many Kickstarter campaigns tout replayability as one of their design features. This is an overrated virtue, methinks.
That might be the case if you only ever Kickstart ONE board game, and play it once a week for a year. But let's be honest. You'll get your all-time favourite games to the table fifty, one-hundred times. But if you are
an addict a collector, you'll have many many games on your shelves. There are other games, superb games that will sit on your shelf and get played 10 times.
So budget for 5-10 plays. A learning game or two, a handful of games with an experienced group.
The game designer, however, will have play-tested their game hundreds of times. They will appreciate the benefit of a randomised start—perhaps a board with tiles like Catan that you can shuffling and arrange. But that's just one more level of complexity, and for me, the best games are elegant and simple. Games with replayability often come at the cost of simplicity, and that is a grievous sin.
Me, I'd prefer to have one optimised board, crafted for the best gameplay from game one.
Similarly, don't be tempted by stretch goal expansions. I have strong opinions about board game expansions. If it improves the game, it should have been in the original. If it doesn't improve the game, then don't add it at all.
Avoid the Australia tax, part 1: Look for the Australian-friendly logo
You know about the Australia tax. Board games, which have a high weight-to-cost ratio, suffer from both the Australia tax, as well as large shipping costs. I once tried to Kickstart a game for USD$15, which is an absolute bargain. But the best shipping they could do (allegedly) was USD$65. I slowly backed away.
Things are better than they were. Some companies will now offer Australia-friendly shipping. Which is to say, knowing there is a small but vociferous board-gaming community in Australia, will arrange to ship a pallet of games to one of several local distributors, who will then arrange for shipping to your door. This allows them to ship a game such as Gloomhaven, a 9.8kg monstrosity which is double the size and triple the weight of many of my other board games, for only USD$10, which is an absolute bargain.
Avoid the Australia Tax, part 2: and team up with other Kickstarter-addicts
On BoardGameGeek, I discovered a group of people who organise Kickstarter orders to Sydney. Because if you're buying one game, sometimes you're paying $50 for a game, and $50 for shipping. But if you're pooling together buying ten games, You only end up paying $10 for shipping, and suddenly you no longer just have a Kickstarter exclusive, you also have a Good Deal (TM), and seriously, who can resist a good deal, eh?
I could go on, but I won't.
Look. I have my problems. I'm working through them. I'm backing less games and backing better games. I'm chasing that elusive trait known as self-control. I'm trying to only buy board games I'll love.
Don't waste your money on bad board games. Buy good board games, because there's just so many out there. And as sure as night follows day, there'll be more coming soon, to a Kickstarter near you.