Once upon a time, in the good old days when patchy line drawings on badly cut punchboards were all the rage, it used to be that simply playing games was enough. Then with the resurgence of popularity in boardgaming, lead without doubt by quality productions from the German market, it became all about building a collection of great games that were well-designed and accessible. Words like 'elegant' and 'compelling' were bandied about. Things have shifted once again with the recent exponential explosion of publishers facilitated by crowdfunding, this time to a place where people are designing and publishing their own 'ideal' games regardless of whether or not they have the skill to pull it off. As there is seemingly no end of a thousand fools ready to part with $100+ on the back of unfinished rulesets, snatches of incomplete artwork and a plentitude of promises, more of these are coming to fruition than ever before. Let's face it, many of us have been one of those fools at some point or other.
The hobby has attracted it's fair share of people with a collector's mentality, and popular websites like BGG have helped to fuel the hype machines that feed on this by building up the desire to acquire and play the latest products. We have reached a point where many purchases are being made largely sight unseen, buying into vapourware before a finished product even exists, and not just through crowdfunding sites - we are committing to purchase games from established traditional publishers on the back of industry previews and early enthusiasm from distant places such as Origins or GenCon.
But is this really any different from those good old days? Before the advent of clicking a mouse or tapping a screen to make a purchase it was a requirement to visit a brick & mortar store in person, and to make decisions purely on the basis of back-of-the-box blurb. Misguided and misled purchases have always been inevitable; the only difference today is that the advent of online shopping and crowdfunding have made it easier to persuade us to buy games en masse, with more choice, easier access, and most significantly the intangibility of not having to weigh a box in one hand with cash held in the other. The purchasing impulse may now be harder to resist, but at least we can have a better impression of what a game will be like out on the table so that we can at least feel more confident about what we are investing in.
And it is that sense of false confidence that entices us to commit to games that don't meet the standards of quality that opened the hobby up to widespread appeal in the first place. Games may look prettier but competent design and development seem to have taken a step backwards, or at the very least the good designs are being drowned by the ever-increasing flood of vanity projects. The cheering backers encouraging everyone else along are often unwittingly hiding behind the sunk cost fallacy to dispel the notion that they may have squandered next week's grocery money on what will later turn out to be a healthy dose of buyer's remorse. Confirmation bias kicks in and others jump on for the ride, and so a mass of cock-eyed projects build a momentum that makes us believe something must be right if so many others are onboard; and then we end up with the likes of Up Front or Doom that came to Atlantic City. Or, even worse, just some very poor games that have now lowered the bar of what is considered acceptable standards of design and development.
With crowdfunding on the rise, particularly with it becoming an outlet for traditional publishers to speak directly to consumers, what lies ahead for the future of the hobby? Only one thing is certain, we will still be at The Apprentice every Wednesday playing games both old and new alike.
Dry-erase hexy bingo (Thanks Tom)
I arrived to find everyone in situ with I Love Trains and Coup (oops, add that to the burgeoning list). Luckily, Amanda turned up soon afterwards and we decided to situ down for a quick game of Traxx, from the designers of Quixx, soon to be joined by Dan and Noel. As said by Dan, it is essentially dry-erase hexy bingo but a rather enjoyable exercise at that.
There's a nice balance in terms of trying to maximise the number of hexes that you are able to use from each card, keeping your options open for the next turn (to avoid getting stuck in a dead end or too reliant on a certain colour being drawn *cough* Noel *cough*), and attempting to hit the big scoring hexes before anyone else. A good start to the evening with Amanda the victor.
Show Manager (Thanks Tom)
With the arrival of Jon, we had five (with others starting Specter Ops and Throat Clearing: The Card Game) and settled on a game of Show Manager. Now this is a game that I played when I first joined the club all of those years back and remember liking but not being wowed by. Having revisited it, I have to say that I don't think that I'd be turning down a game in the future. The rules are intuitive, there's a nice amount of tension in terms of drawing the right cards for your production and which production to put your bets on (in trying to secure a favourable city), and a little bit of push your luck with flushing out the market. It also didn't overstay its welcome with five.
As to the game itself, Amanda "played like a girl" (Jon's words not mine) insofar as she just focused on what she was trying to do and not getting one over on the rest of us. Despite investing heavily at the outset and having to draw on funds, three big productions (one of which was in New York) saw her triumph with 47 points. I came in second with 41. Noel and Dan tied for 3rd with 40 (after Dan stripped his money out of the Rats production sacrificing four victory points to me). Jon refused to divulge his score - merely referring to a badly chosen order for his production run.
Specter Ops (thanks Paul A)
Specter Ops is another entry in the "dude sneaks around, other dudes try to catch him" genre. (See Whitechapel, etc.) As such it's one of the better entries: the agent has targets to reach, both sides have powers they can deploy, the agent is likely to get wounded a bit and escape the hunters for another showdown ... like all examples of the type, it could be a little brittle (make a bad decision or get unlucky and the game is over). But it's not bad.
Duelling reports this week for this hoary old club favourite.
Noel: "Bryan watched out the dying embers of a torturous Show Manager as everyone tried to eke out more/any points by flushing the draw pile in attempt to catch Amanda. The 6 of us then broke into two threes with Noel and Jon opting to take Bryan through his first play of Kingdom Builder. Both Noel and Jon, keen Kingdom Builders but also 'real gentlemen of IBG' kindly pointed out pitfalls and traps to Bryan in the first couple of turns.
The bonus cards were Shepherds (2 points if the settlement you are building is not next to any empty terrain of that kind), the largest area & 1 point for settlements next to Mountains. The Quarry tiles were also in play and Noel and Jon quickly grabbed these thinking they would be helpful to close out areas and pick up the Shepherding bonus.
Noel started with one of the Nomads tiles that allowed him to place in lakes so he began with an immediate 4 points for 2 settlements in closed 1 tile lakes. Jon picked the Nomad tile that allowed him to remove 1 of each others players settlements. He duly removed one of Noel's next to a bonus tile meaning he lost that bonus but was a little kinder to Bryan as the teaching continued.
a few turns in when Bryan constructed a complex move of moves and builds for multiple bonus points Noel and Jon realised the teaching had been well and truly completed and Bryan was a quicker learner - game faces on. With the shepherd's bonus and the quarry tiles to think about each turn there were multiple options and this was one of the most crunchy Kingdom builders yet played. The Quarries were very useful in a 3 player game as they closed down some of the territories, leading Noel and Jon to wonder if they would be a useful variant to give a set number to all players in a 3 player game.
When the game ended Noel was out in front having gained the most Shepherd bonuses. Jon caught up with the mountain builds while Bryan was just a little further back. However, in his last few moves Bryan had managed to connect 35 of his settlements bringing in 17 bonus points to shoot well into the lead. Although Noel closed the gap to just 2 with his castle points it wasn't enough and Bryan took his first win in only his 2nd game at IBG. Noel and Jon shook their heads and wondered what just happened... Bryan 64, Noel 62, Jon 52 "
Jon: "Noel's friend Bryan joined us for a 3-player game of KB, which can sometimes be a bit sub-optimal due to the spacious nature of the board. However, this game involved the Nomads expansion, with the 'Quarry' ability (build stone walls to block areas off) which both Noel and Jon picked up. This combined well with the 'Shepherds' scoring card, which gave 2 points every time you built a settlement which wasn't next to an empty hex of the same terrain type. At first glance, this didn't appear that interesting, but it soon became apparent that there were a number of possibilities for creating situations where this would score.
Consequently, the game became more 'thinky' than usual, but Bryan picked it up at a canter. Before the final scoring, Noel was ahead purely on the Shepherds points. Jon did well with the Miners (next to mountains) but scored poorly with building next to the Citadels, which Noel maxed out on. However, Bryan had been quietly building one large settlement area, and scored an impressive 17 points for his Citizens - enabling him to win by 2 points from Noel. Jon had used his stone walls so effectively that he had hemmed in several separate areas, meaning that he scored a measly 4 points for his Citizens and finished well behind.
Noel cam up with an idea for 3-player games that players should always all be given a number of walls that they can build during the game, which would increase flexibility, and effectively reduce the map size. Very interesting.....
All in all, I think that I'm falling in love with this game all over again - even if I am pretty rubbish at it! "
Rhino Hero (thanks Paul A)
Rhino Hero (a.k.a. SuperRhino) was there in all it's brain-burning analysis-paralysis glory. We were tested fiercely by it and barely survived.
Evolution (Thanks Tom)
After Show Manager had finished, we were now six with the arrival of Brian and decided to break into two groups of three. Both Dan and I were eager to try James's copy of Evolution and drafted Amanda in as our third. We learned the game from the rulebook and this was intuitive enough as the game is really rather simply once you get the basics down. We were scuppered by a misunderstanding about how carnivores work and the unfortunate decision not to make clear on the Intelligence card that it wasn't dual function but it's function depended on the species being a herbivore or carnivore. I'd be up for another game (bring it along next week, James) as I really want to explore the combination of traits and the hand management issues that the game obviously wants to create. I am currently a bit worried though about the time that the game will take without playing trait cards simultaneously.
As to the game itself, Amanda again "played like a girl" and this led to her carnivore being rather ineffective, due to its love body weight. I over-expanded with my species but somehow managed to keep them all alive thanks to constant feeding of high cards into the watering hole. However, with the advent of my super predator (with high body weight and Pack Hunting), I managed to start eating a lot of food and reducing the population of some of Dan's species. This saw me to the victory with 108 points, with Dan on 80 and Amanda trailing in the 50s.
Deep Sea Tentative Treasure Collectors (Thanks Tom)
Rachel and Phil wondered over having finished doing something or other in Renaissance Florence and Dan suggested Deep Sea Assholes. We managed to play two rounds before Fake Artist was produced for end of evening fun. I was a little disappointed by this to be fair as I didn't see where the Asshole part of the game would occur. This might be from picking up treasures on the way back up but frankly with five players, there was so little time to do anything before having to get back to the ship that this didn't really happen.
Is it a Strawberry? (Thanks Tom)
This was great fun as always other than my constantly getting over-excited and forgetting that there was a spy in our midst. As a result, my observations of "that's not a very good Strawberry" or "someone finish Jon's church" where not helpful in that context. I'm also very disappointed that Noel wasn't the spy for Christmas Day as it would have made my day to see him draw a happy little sun in the top corner for the third time running. Although I enjoyed it, preferred this with a few less as the downtime from having to write out eight individual clues led to a little too much downtime for my liking.
Also played: Fields of Glory: the card game, Coup G54, Isle of Trains, Valley of the Kings, Florenza: the card game
On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!
On our Boardgamegeek guild page James has initiated an open Q&A session with a new question each week. Feel free to play along at home, and even if you are not a regular IBG attendee you are more than welcome to join in with your own answers!
Last weeks question: "what are your thoughts on crowdfunding and its current place in game development? Have you backed any games on Kickstarter and the like and, if so, how did they work out?"
Jon: "In terms of Kickstarter, I'm afraid that I'm probably in the minority, being rather apathetic about the whole thing. I like the concept of indie designers being able to get their product to market via crowdsurfing, but all it seems to have done is produced a massive influx of games that are here today and gone tomorrow. For collectors that's great, but I'm rather of the 'quality over quantity' camp....
But then again, it's Monday morning and I'm probably feeling a bit 'bah humbug' about most things until I have that first coffee of the day... "
Tom: "Although I myself have engaged with Kickstarter to some degree, this has tailed off quite a bit since it first came on the scene in 2012.
There have been some real successes out of this - Sushi Go!, Sentinels of the Multiverse & Fleet - but also some flops!
At present, I'm more than happy to err on the side of caution and wait for the games to hit the retail stores unless I know that there are possible issues with getting the game or if it's a publisher I want to support, such as Tim Fowers (Burgle Bros & Paperback) or Grail Games (Too Many Cinderellas & Elevenses).
In respect of the latter, those are two publishers that may still be able to get their games produced without the assistance of crowdfunding, e.g. by way of pre-orders, but would have a lot more difficulty in doing so. On that note, I consider that crowdfunding is something to be lauded. On the other hand, you have your Queen and Eagle-Gryphons who I think are using KS as a glorified pre-order system in of itself which I don't agree with.
I hold no truck with Kickstarter exclusives and the like. Frankly, if a project takes me two minutes to scroll down to look at all the various stretch goals, I'll generally move on unless those goals relate solely to component quality or minor additions to existing gameplay components (e.g. the extra character cards for Harbour). At the same time, I think that Paul A will be able to attest to projects with give you tens of hundreds of extra miniatures!
It is interesting to look at the number of projects on which I pledged and then withdrew - very happy that didn't pick any of them up (other than perhaps Council of Verona)!! Ultimately, it's a case of backer beware. If it's a first-time designer, without any third party input in terms of design or logistics, then don't be surprised when they don't deliver on time or the game is a pile of rubbish. "
Paul A: "Jon, I don't think you are in the minority - there is a growing feeling that while KS is generally a Good Thing, it has lead to the creation of a lot of games that we could have easily done without. As well as acting as a pre-order system for companies that don't really need it (*koff* Queen Games *koff*).
KS preys heavily on the gamers fear of missing out, and you see this sentiment expressed a lot in discussions: jump onboard or you'll regret it! It's also allowed publishers to effectively recruit gamers as publicists, with people trying to attract more pledges so stretch goals can be reached.
I'll cop to being as vulnerable to KS hype as the next person. I've not had any outright bad experiences, but it has been mixed. I dived in on a game that on reflection I really didn't need (Ground Floor), got an old favourite that was long out of print (Last Frontier: The Vesuvius Incident), had one small project where the creator just upped and vanished (Stab City), a few that ran more than a year overdue (Incursion, Guide to Glorantha (Two Volume Set) et al.), one game that was just mediocre (Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster). On the upside, Omen: A Reign of War, Where Art Thou Romeo? and Heroes of Normandie delivered more or less on time and are nifty. But, coupled with some late preorders on other fronts, I'm more or less done with KS. "
Dan: "Kickstarted boardgames seem so full of promise but the overwhelmingly vast majority end up being under-developed, poor quality and derivative vanity projects. A couple of successful small publishers have used KS to get their business started (>G and Indie B&C for example), but seeing as they had good product and good business sense they could have succeeded quite admirably had they gone the standard route of business financing.
I too have pulled out of far more than I've actually bought, and Council of Verona is the only one that I would also regret were it not for the fact that I picked up a copy in trade very shortly after they were sent out to backers. So I'm kind of glad that I didn't back it as I ended up getting it more cheaply than the KS anyway.
Sentinels of the Multiverse was a great one for me; I like the game and got all the things more cheaply than retail plus some very profitable KS exclusives that I sold on. Plus I made a lot of new friends within the >G community, which is worth more than the game any day. Heroes of Normandie I have mixed feelings about, I like the game but it just doesn't get played, then again I sold most of the extraneous material for more than I invested so technically I got that game for free. I'm looking forward to Thunderbirds, fully confident that will be a good purchase. Cinderella was a good punt, plus I got some expansions for Flash Point quite cheaply although not a great buy as I don't play it much anymore.
The only turd that I actually paid good money for was Kremlin, thank god I managed to sell that on quickly without a loss. All in all I have been extremely careful with what I choose to back and have had a good ride so far as a result. To be totally honest though, the only KS game that I would ever consider citing as genuinely great is Council of Verona, even then an established publisher would no doubt have improved on it by toning down the extravagant production and included the Poison tokens instead. "
Paul D: "My only experience of kickstarter was a positive one with Greed. But I'm not sure it was too much better than waiting another few days - James came up with a copy shortly after so not sure why I really bothered.
I do like the idea of giving indie designers s chance but I'm not sure that it's happening as the. Campaigns need to be fairly pro to get anywhere. I could try it again but don't feel the need to.
But I'm really interested in Mr Horabin's comments on the matter having kicked quite a few. "
Gary: ""KS preys heavily on the gamers fear of missing out" - Great point. This is absolutely what happened to me backing several games, but particularly Forge War.
As someone new and enthusiastic to boardgaming and having a collecting (and somewhat obsessive) mentality, Kickstarter was an irresistible pull for me.
Once I found it, I couldn't stop backing new, shiny stuff that looked great on paper. Also the feeling of being involved that you can get from some projects and designers can be very rewarding.
HOWEVER (and, as you can see, it is a big however), I think I am pretty much through that phase now! I have backed quite a bit of stuff on Kickstarter in the meantime, mostly as family games. (I've just looked it up and I've backed 19 games since my first pledge in November 2013.) One didn't deliver (bloke went bust) and another looks to have gone that way too. Most of the others have been all a bit "meh" and haven't really been played more than once or twice.
I am finally starting to get it into my thick, collecting-obsessed skull that more is not better in boardgaming. And it is very rare that "better" can be associated with Kickstarted projects in any event.
As others have pointed out, there are some exceptions, mostly through those independent game publishers who have used Kickstarter as their business model for distribution. So Harbour, by TMG, is great (though I could equally have gotten it retail) (though Dungeon Roll has less legs). Among the Stars is OK too, as a family game, and Artipia is also a publisher that uses Kickstarter a lot. Viticulture Collector's Edition is quite good (and Jamie Steggmeier does a great job with his campaigns), but I didn't really need another worker placement game.... And Province has been a nice little microgame to take to the coffee shop for $5.
But I can honestly say in retrospect that it would be no great loss not to have Kickstarted any of these games. It is clear that the mainstream published game industry still produces much better games in 99% of cases.
(The less said the better about Queen's antics - though just to mention, if you didn't see it, that Donald X commented on their current Kickstarter for Kingdom Builder Marshlands that (a) they only had the licence to produce it if they did so by the end of June 2015 and (b) as he hadn't been paid by them for 2014 he wasn't feeling inclined to extend that licence....)
So, I do think Kickstarter is great. But, as always, buyer beware. I may still back the occasional Collectors Edition (I'm still waiting for the Collector's Edition of the family game Tokaido) or something if the Stretch Goals are a real pull (eg Among the Stars), most likely if it is an established publisher.
But I think I'm mostly over it...
Now let me see which retailer I can order copies of Voyages of Marco Polo and La Granja from.... perhaps I haven't yet shaken the collecting bug altogether... "
James: "Kickstarter... most of my thoughts have already been said.
Great if you can avoid the postage costs
Not good if there are a ton of exclusives, and a high postage cost.
Seems obsessed with games including miniatures
Generally reliable, but can get stung (cough - Up front - cough)
Don't like major game publishers using it as a pre-order service
A few good games, but a lot of dross... but I tend to support anything that takes control away from the bigger players and allows creativity to flourish.
Would games like Essen 13, Evolution, Council of Verona have been published without it ?"
Soren: "There is a lot of tat and hyped pre-ordering on Kickstarter, but also some good, worthy games if picking carefully. I have generally been happy, and games such as Alien Frontier, Sunrise City, Krosmaster Arena and Xia have been great buys and may not have happened at all without Kickstarter."
Noel: "No real interest at all for me in Kickstarter, when buying games I like a bargain and often to know I like them so will usually have played first. Kickstarter to me means Heroes Wanted, Super Dungeon Explore, ScoVille... overproduced and disappointing...
Maybe I would get in on a reprint on something I wanted or an expansion to a favourite game, but there are no shortage of great games to play and would probably just wait until it arrived in the normal way. "
This weeks question: "Who are your favourite game designers, and/or the ones you consider are the ones to watch in the coming years?"