Everything in its Place

Today I’m thinking about small games and air in boxes.

I’m slowly playing my way through my game collection, culling the unworthy, and enshrining the blessed. As I play even more games than usual, back-to-back, I’m struck again by the wide variation in how games look once you get the box open, and how much each production team has thought, or cared, about this. And, importantly, how much that matters.

Final state of a recent solo game of Villages of Valeria. Only used 10 adventurers, as per the revised solo rules. Using all of them makes the points silly as I can almost always take them all. As it was, I scored 75, which is about normal for me.

When it comes to what stays and what goes, the calculation is baroque and, in detail, probably unexplainable. Not in every aspect though. One of the more quantifiable features of a game that comes into question is the amount of space it takes up on my shelf. I have perhaps five or six times as many games as I have shelves to comfortably put them on. If I cram them in Tetris style, maybe only four times. That’s still not good. Each game must therefore justify the amount of space it takes up, and the larger its volume, the harder it is to convince me to keep it (or buy in the first place – a different, but related discussion). Put simply, the physically bigger the game, the more it has to prove itself on the table. And games which take up only half their volume with actual game are just making life harder for themselves. Ain’t got room for boxes of air.

Speaking of these space hogs, the traditional excuse for a big box full of a lot of nothing and a little game has been that it needs to have shelf presence in the stores. It’s true that this problem seems to be less prevalent these days. I suspect this has more to do with shipping and the greater cost of getting stock from factory to distribution now that the bulk of games are printed in China rather than Europe or the US. However, I digress.

The reduction in the number of games being sold in retail, over the counter, during 2020 is for obvious reasons. In a broader sense, a large and increasing fraction of sales are now online, where you cannot rattle the box, or even tell how big it is from the image on the site. Without the context of the rest of the shelf, you could have a game in a matchbox or a coffin and the art would look the same in the thumbnail. This, I expect, has also played into why gamers end up buying less air these days: less need to impress in person till after the sale has been made. Spend the money on better art instead. But it still happens, and it’s a pain when it does.

Note that you can go too far the other way too. It’s rarer, but it still happens. The North, for example, is so tightly packed that it’s something of a challenge to get the cards out and back in. And then there is the question of whether the obviously planned or even simultaneously released expansion will fit in the core box or not. The fact that several publishers are now producing larger boxes to cover a whole game range, often with bespoke inserts to pack things in carefully, tells you that I’m not the only one after this sort of OCD form of storage. It’s not always easy to get this right when you don’t know how popular the game will be, and therefore how many expansions the income will encourage you to produce.

And there are plenty of other considerations that production teams need to consider. What size are their other games? That will matter when they need to ship mixed cases (the big outer brown card box they ship several games at once in). And speaking of cases, it’s always cheaper to be able to standardise and buy your cases in pre-printed bulk, in standard sizes. This sort of hidden cost is usually invisible to the end user, but someone pays for it. The brown card boxes you throw away don’t come free.

And if we’re getting into cases, there are questions of how high they can be stacked and how they’re palletised, impacting again how the games inside are stored and packed. How much packaging material of what sort do you want to use? For wholesale shipments and individual customers? Not always the same thing. There’s a lot to consider (and a lot which is often ignored or done at the last minute). You *can* do this all at the end, but it’s more efficient to at least consider things like how you will ship and deliver the end product while you’re deciding on the size and robustness of the retail box.

I wasn’t taken with sleeves round game boxes to start with. However, with smaller games especially they help to keep everything in the box when you cram it into a shelf at an odd angle because it just fits that gap…

The game on my table today is Villages of Valeria. If I look at it critically, without my usual side order of mercy, then it’s not the best game ever. It’s too light to retain my attention for more than a few plays at once. Nonetheless, in this case that’s fine, and it’s staying in my collection. Why? A few reasons. One is because although it’s a simple puzzle, and each play is much like the last, I enjoy it just as I do sudoku, or various forms of patience. It’s the answer to a particular frame of mind, when I want something not too taxing, with rules I can refresh myself on in 2 minutes, and which is up, done in a comfortable and familiar way, and back away in half an hour or less. So, it scratches a particular itch. That’s not enough to stay in my collection though. I need to be harsher than that to fit everything in the space I have. So what else?

It’s also an attractive game; a statement that’s a little odd for me to make because I’m not a fan of the artist’s style. Even so, for whatever reason, it works for me here. Maybe because the main cards are buildings and not people.

The inside of the box is neither overly crammed with components nor full of air. It’s got just enough room that if I wanted to sleeve the cards I could, and everything would still fit. It’s a good compromise size.

In the end though, the thing that excuses its lack of technical shine is its size. Had it been in a large box full of air it would probably have been traded away by now. As it stands, it takes up so little of my painfully limited shelf space and fits so well for that particular headspace, that it stays, lurking quietly till I need a quick fix of a familiar game I don’t need to think about too much. It comes down when more technically worthy games that I’d give higher marks to stay to gather a little more dust, waiting till my brain or mood (or both) can cope. And there is probably space for this sort of thing in your collection too.

Games shouldn’t really be measured against a single scale. They’re never 10/10 for every occasion. They need to fit different groups of friends, moods, and time slots.

And yes, they also need to fit on the damned shelves.

If you’d like a second weekly dose of all the game-related wisdom you didn’t ask for, this time focussing on the designs I’m working on myself, then you can find it over on my Patreon. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here next Tuesday for another exciting episode…

Posted in Board Gaming, Game Design Theory, Tuesday Thoughts | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Something Fishy

Kohaku has turned out to be one of my better choices on Kickstarter. It’s a charming little tile-laying game that looks lovely and has a light brain sizzle in both solo and multiplayer. 

Image of Kohaku
This is taken from the publisher’s website. Unfortunately all of my own pics (below) are a bit dark. It’s all the lowering thunderheads of our northern winter.

Now I’m not going to write a full how to play or a review here: there are plenty of those around already. For this and other Tuesday posts that follow, I simply want to pick out one or more aspects of something I’ve come across recently in my gaming, and share my thoughts on it with you.

For Kohaku, there are three things I’d like to discuss:

  • Components.
  • Simplicity.
  • Solo.


Kohaku is a handsome game, full of chunky pieces of brightly coloured acrylic. It comes in a solid box with an insert that actually holds all the components sensibly for once without acres of empty space. The central board is made of edge-stitched neoprene and feels like a quality thing. The shaped scoring tokens and reference cards are nicely made too. Nothing feels cheap. Of course, the main act is the acrylic tiles themselves. 

The tiles are shipped with a protective clear film on both sides. It can be removed easily enough. Fingernails will help. It’s not absolutely necessary to take it off, though it does make the tiles even more bright and shiny, so I’ve removed it from mine. There are layers of image printed on each tile, giving them some depth, which makes them look more striking than flat print on card. The fish are, naturally, on the bottom layer of a tile, with dragonflies, lilies, and ripples on top. Some creatures like turtles are partly in and partly out of the water, and the structure of the multi-layered printing shows this too. Overall, it’s a very nice job, a clever use of an unusual technique to mirror theme, and adds lots to the visual appeal.

This is all visible from the front/top of the tile. The backs are painted with either a koi or lily pad silhouette to show which of the two tile types it is: koi or feature. That’s important for gameplay.

One question I’ve seen raised in comments online is about the robustness of the acrylic tiles. Without the film will they get scratched? Are they too delicate to use at all? Some of my tiles had damaged film, presumably doing its job of protecting the shiny acrylic surface below. Once removed, none of the tiles I’ve got show damage on the top surface. The back has a ding or two on some of the paint (which is applied differently to the top surface that looks to be heat sealed), and one has a scratch in the white base colour along one edge. They’re also not 100% uniform colour. To be honest, I don’t think it matters. Could I memorise which tile was which using the marks? Probably. Would it be of any real use? Not really. While I could technically give myself an edge by knowing this, it’s not how or why I play, and would be a complete waste of neurons to bother memorising which pattern of speckled dings or shade of grey marked which tile. Just not important. Far more interesting and likely to improve your final total is spending the effort working out what you can score with the combinations of what’s available now, and how that will set up future scoring opportunities. 

So, could the face of the tiles get damaged? Sure. Will they? They seem pretty tough. I would be very surprised if they got any more damaged than card or paper components would when confronted with similar force. Plus, the acrylic tiles are waterproof, which card is not, so against sticky fingers and drinks they’re probably more robust than most games. Overall, I’m very happy with the robustness of the tiles and I think the contrarian comments are barking up the wrong pond. As far as I can see here, the difference between acrylic and cardboard is all win for the acrylic.

My player pond at the end of a solo game. As before, apologies for the crappy lighting. The game looks way brighter in real life.


I like games that pose a lot of interesting challenges with few rules. When you’re designing a game it’s always worth asking yourself whether each new rule you add is pulling its weight in terms of adding something cool to offset the additional effort required in learning and remembering. Here, Kohaku does really well. The rules are brief and straightforward. In fact, the scoring takes up about three-quarters of the actual rules. How you play is simplicity itself. Once you have internalised a very simple process (take two adjacent tiles from the central pond, add them in your pond) all your thinking goes into working out not how to play, but how to maximise your score. And that’s great. They’re also clearly explained and the reference cards for each player list the different ways to score, which is all you need. Sure, it’s much easier to get rules and reference right when you’ve such a light mechanical footprint, but I still see it done badly all the time. So, well done here too. 

Another final pond. This time from a two-player game.


I’ve played this solo, and also (despite the vile pestilence that washes over our blighted lands) managed to get a couple of two-player games in as well. The experience is very similar as interaction is minimal. Overall, I think I may just prefer solo play, though it’s a close run thing and a fun game in either context. 

The scoring for the solo game is the most interesting bit. You play as normal, and the AI does its own thing, picking a random tile each turn from the supply and then snaffling any matching tiles of that type from the main pond. It’s unpredictable, lightning fast to resolve, and gets in the way of your cunning plans about the same as another player would. The really nice part comes at the end of the game when you score the AI three times, each time slightly differently, to give you three opponents of increasing score to beat instead of one. It’s a simple idea, and one that I’ve not seen before. It’s well worth borrowing though as it feels very different to come in second out of four rather than just beating or losing against a single opponent, or having to beat a static value. And second out of four is where all my solo games have been so far. I can beat two of them, but I haven’t yet managed to pip the hardest of the AIs at the post. 

I’ll get him next time.

The four of us on one of my solo games. The AIs scored 100 (yellow), 120 (red), and 137 (black). I’m in white with 123.

As always, if you are interested in hearing more about my own design work, you may want to consider supporting me on Patreon where I discuss exactly that along with deeper dives into the inner workings of game design in theory and practice.

Posted in Board Gaming, Game Design Theory, Solo Gaming, Tuesday Thoughts | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Trying Something Different

I’ve got a bit jaded with Kickstarter of late, hence my stopping talking about it. Maybe I’ll come back to it. Maybe not.

In the meantime, I thought that I’d use this space to talk a bit more about other people’s games that I’ve been playing, my thoughts on those, and any lessons I’ve learned or had reinforced.

Stuff about my own designs, WIP, beta rules and whatnot is mostly on my Patreon these days. Don’t all rush to join this week though – I’m in the middle of changing the tiers to. simplify things. More on that anon.

Also, I might want to discuss some miniatures that have caught my eye and wallet. And, at some point, I’m going to have a go at painting. Again. So that might happen. See if my crappy eyesight is still up to it.

Also, also, while I wasn’t looking, WordPress has changed its interface. That’s uglier than it used to be. So this post is partly an experiment to see if I can still post stuff and where all the necessary bells and whistles have been hidden this time…

I’m aiming for one post a week, on tuesdays. My intention is to pick one game a week to talk about in some depth rather than skimming through them all. We’ll see how that works.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

Kickstarter Cogitations 6

We continue to have a good number of campaigns on Kickstarter’s tabletop section, and plenty of them are doing very nicely. However, for some reason I’m just not feeling very inspired by the last week’s crop.

It’s not that I think none of them would be fun to play, or that they aren’t nicely illustrated or presented. It’s not even that their campaigns are poorly run. At least, not all of them. In the end, it’s just that they lack that magical something which marks a project out as one for me. You know what I mean. It’s different for each of us, and it’s impossible to bottle.


Familiar Alchemy may be the way to distil the essence of cool. As you can see, they’ve finished a sample piece of each type, and show the rest of the art as sketches. 

There are a few things I’d like to point out as interesting though. As we’re talking about capturing magical essences, let’s start with Familiar Alchemy. it’s not really offering anything new in terms of the game itself, but you’d have thought that they’d do a bit better than they are. I’m hoping (and not believing) that it’s not related to their incomplete artwork. Asking for the crowd’s assistance in funding this sort of thing is, after all, why Kickstarter is here. Unfortunately, these days you’re not likely to soar very high if you aren’t doing a passing impersonation of being finished and ready to print before you start. Visually, at least.


This shows two finished pieces and gives you a better idea of what the end result might look like. In the game you grow plants and then trim off bits as ingredients for your potions. 

I think their plan of showing a finished example and then sketches for the rest is not unreasonable and is a prudent use of resources. Why pay a lot for art you can’t use if the project fails to fund? And the finished art looks well done too. The game itself looks fine if not anything new, but competently done and if I hadn’t already got a dozen things that could fill this slot in a gaming night I’d be tempted. Anyway, just thought it was interesting for the art question. Does this mean that your campaign needs more finished art, or at least to hide any that isn’t? Sadly, I think it does.


You Get What?

Occasionally, people cram all manner of extra gubbins into a higher tier pledge. This is stuff like coasters, badges, T-shirts, and posters – none of which is part of the game and all of which tends to pass me by entirely. Give me the game play and keep the tat, thank you.

This week I saw something that’s a new one on me – at least bundled into a game tier: a robot bully to call on to help win your online arguments.

Antematter Screenshot.png

The text speaks for itself.

I don’t think this is bad per se; it’s just weird. The campaign it’s from is Antematter, which is otherwise moderately interesting and could be entertaining to play. I like the idea of planets moving. I’ve tinkered with that idea too, and it creates some interesting effects on the board, especially if several planets orbit at different rates and you therefore have to plan with their various future alignments in mind. In fact, I’m expecting the imminent arrival of another KS game that uses this idea, though with a very different game: Solar Dominion Fleet Commander.


Oddly Tempting

I’m always drawn to dungeon scenery, and this means that I’m also always needing to stop myself from buying sets I’ll never use. The latest in this line of tasty morsels to resist is Dungeons & Lasers.

This looks like a solid and practical set, and I can definitely feel the gravitational attraction between it and my wallet. Even so, I have resisted because I think it’s the 16-year-old me wanting it to tart up the D&D games he’s running, not the slightly older version who’s not likely to be doing so for some time, if ever. Skirmish, you say? Yeah, maybe. If I could get my solo skirmish rules to work the way I want them to, then maybe…


Dia de Muertos

I’ll finish with a very striking game called Die of the Dead.

This is boldly illustrated with the characteristic skulls and flower motifs of the Dia de Muertos, and the overall package is strongly themed. Unless I’m missing something, the game seems a bit random for my taste, and while I used to go to a gaming group that this would have fitted perfectly, that was many years ago. These days I don’t see it getting on the table. It’s a not-uncommon reason for me passing on games that I would have wanted years ago. Not so much that my tastes have changed or that I’m no longer willing to play X or Y, but that the opportunities to play them have changed as I moved to a new city, house, job, or whatever. The pandemic has pushed me towards solo play, true, though I’m still looking forward to (and buying things for) playing with friends. It’s just that you need the right group of friends for each game…


Posted in Kickstarter | Tagged | 3 Comments

Kickstarter Cogitations 5

It’s nice to see that after a summer break, the numbers for Kickstarter campaigns are right back where they should be. That, plus the reported rise in overall funding total, says that KS is in a healthy place, despite the end of the world.

Or maybe because of it.


One of many modular tables from Wormwood.

Speaking of money, the Wymwood gaming tables are currently at over $7m, which I find a little bogglesome. This is vastly more than any of their previous campaigns, though their consistent slick productions over the years make this feel like it was all building towards where they are now. I have zero interest in their offerings, but hats off to them for a massively popular campaign. What is of interest to me is that they may be on track for taking the crown off Frosthaven within a few months of the coronation. It’s harder because they’re making handmade stuff and the amount this slows them down by is hard to gauge. Possible though. Watch this space.

Moon and Stars

All handmade from Moon and Stars.

Alongside this unstoppable juggernaut, it’s worth noting that there are tiny projects like Moon and Stars. This is ostensibly the sort of thing that Kickstarter was designed to support in the first place, and I do enjoy watching them. Sadly, it’s not a game I’m particularly taken by, though I should note that it’s the gameplay rather than the aesthetic that puts me off. Happily, he has found enough of an audience to fund it without me.

Final Act

More of a Trojan Horse than a tank.

Another smaller project that has yet to find enough of an audience is one of two that I’m currently backing: Final Act II.

What I like about this is a couple of things. Firstly, I do rather like the handmade toy vibe to it. It looks like they’ve put a lot of care and thought into the presentation and it has a smidge of nostalgia for me even though I’ve never played it. Nicely done.

Secondly, having watched Marco’s excellent review of it, I can see a very clear audience and definitely imagine playing it. The toy-like quality of the pieces acts as a perfect Trojan Horse to sneak this one onto the table with people who would balk at accurately rendered tanks. And, once so snuck, you can play a game which masquerades as a trivial piece of family fun whilst actually having some serious tactics puzzle inside. Sure, it’s no Drang Nach Osten, but not every game can or needs to be. This offers me a chance to play a game with a friend who might not be up for playing something more obviously wargamey, and allows us both to enjoy a middle ground.

Finally, the mechanic that most caught my eye this week is in a Japanese game called Izayoi. The sweet touch to a simple game about influence is in having each player paired with a master, and then penalising players for embarrassing their masters by doing better than them. Very Japanese, and a lovely touch. I can see that making a very interesting game. That’s why it’s the second one I’m backing.


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Kickstarter Cogitations 4

This week, I want to talk about just one game: Twilight: 2000.

Twilight 2000 boxed set

Normally I don’t talk about RPGs much as I haven’t played in years. I still read them though, and back in the day I used to play and run a lot, and write about them occasionally too. Post-apocalyptic games were one of the genres I enjoyed, and I played all sorts; from the silliness of Gamma World or Paranoia, through Morrow Project to Aftermath, and, of course, Twilight 2000. That was back in the day when the year 2000 was the bright future rather than the vaguely remembered past. Dear me, I’m old.

What’s interesting is that while the rest have largely blurred together as various shades of normal people in exceptional circumstances, the Twilight 2000 games always stood out as something a bit different. In this, everyone was a trained soldier. Sure, you might be an engineer or a pilot, but you were still combat trained and familiar with the basics. And you had guns. Lots of guns.

Fifty cal.jpg

And tanks.


Lookit! Tank!

Anyway, I hadn’t paid much mind to the game since the 80s, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it on Kickstarter. What’s especially interesting is watching my own reaction, because I’m thinking “Oooo, I could play that. That would be fun…” Then some rationality kicks in and I think “Nah, never going to happen. Where would I get the groups together, and… oh. Solo rules. Now that is interesting.”

So, on the one hand I am confronted with the power of nostalgia. It’s a great seller, and we’ve seen quite a few reprints of classics on Kickstarter in the last couple of years, and many of them have done very well. What’s even more impressive is when people can capture some of that nostalgia without being a straight reprint of an ancient relic. That’s really clever. And hard. I’ve tried.

On the other hand, is the idea of solo RPGs. For me, that doesn’t entirely make sense as I was always more about the playing-the-role bit and less about the game. It just seems a bit weird doing that on your own. But if I think about it more as a game than roleplaying, then it’s a really enticing idea; being able to fight once more in the intriguing setting of the WWIII that never was.

Will I back it? Who knows? I’ll certainly take a closer look at the rules and see what they offer about how the solo game might work. I may get a pdf for reading anyway, just to remember the good old days, when nukes rained on Europe and we all had to walk back to France from Poland. In the rain…

Rainy walk.jpg

Before I go it would be remiss of me not to mention my Game Design Mastery Patreon. If you’re interested in reading in-depth articles on all aspects of game design, why not come along and join us? So far there’s about 20,000 words of in-depth advice in the GDM library, with more added every month. Each article is on a topic chosen by patrons, and if you can’t wait for the next one then you can always ask in the private Discord server. Certified troll-free!

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Kickstarter Cogitations 3

People use the word unique way too often in marketing blurb. It’s not a complicated word to understand, but it’s often used incorrectly. This makes the people using it look sloppy and careless.

If you’re writing advertising blurb and you’re tempted to use the word, think carefully about whether it’s accurate or not. Unique is a big claim, and very often it makes you look like either a liar, or someone who doesn’t know the market. Neither is good. It’s a fair rule of thumb that whenever you make that claim, someone in the audience will be happy to point out your error, and where that rule has been used a dozen times before. In reality, little is genuinely new in game design, and that’s absolutely fine. A game doesn’t need to include a unique new rule to be brilliant.

Raygun Raptors

When people abuse innocent words we send in the heavily-armed rotating dinosaurs. 

Of course, I’m talking about this because I’ve been reading Kickstarter campaigns again, and it’s cropped up several times. In no case was it true.

Also, while I’m on my soap box, unique is not a word you can qualify. You can’t be a bit unique, or very unique, or most unique, or more unique than them. In fact, you can’t be anything unique. You’re unique or you’re not. Exactly like its very specific meaning, it stands alone.

Rant aside, I was going to say that I hadn’t been especially inspired by Kickstarter this week. However, when I come to write this, it turns out that I’ve actually got quite a few interesting campaigns worth mentioning today.

One recurring theme is STL files for printing 3D miniatures and scenery. There seems to be an especially plentiful crop of these campaigns at the moment, and if you have a 3D printer you are spoilt for choice. I don’t, but I still like to explore them because I’ve always been a fan of miniatures. Raygun Raptors struck me as a particularly slick and well-presented example of the type, if you’re after an example.


I’m Currently Backing…

As I write this, I’m backing the Spirits of the Forest: Moonlight expansion. In the end it was the fact that the wooden version was KS only which made me back it, despite the fact that with tax and shipping it will be very overpriced. I already have the wooden version of the core game, so if I want this expansion then I’m not left with a lot of helpful choices. It feels a bit forced, but I could always say no.


That finishes in a couple of hours, so I’ll be back to backing zero campaigns again. Strange for me.


Also of Interest

There are a lot of intriguing campaigns on at the moment.

When I read through the KS campaigns, I watch the main video, then a how to play or review video, and quickly read the page. Unless it’s standing out at that point, I discount it. It had its chance to impress and it failed.

Of the remainder, I keep them on an open tab to look at more closely over lunch breaks and whatnot. This is where most of the following are currently sitting, so I’ve not been through them all in detail yet. Still…

Looters of the Labyrinth

Looting that Labyrinth.


The first one reminds me of Ricochet Robots, which I’m very fond of. This new one is called Looters of the Labyrinth. What I like here is the clean and simple design. It’s pared back to the bones of the idea, and that’s just what it needs. No unnecessary frills. There’s a month left to go on this, though it’s unlikely he’ll fund. Shame. Let’s hope he comes back for a second try.


Another simple abstract that caught my eye was TACTICUM. As with Looters of the Labyrinth, I can’t see me getting it on the table, so I’m not backing it. However, I am fond of clean and elegantly presented abstracts, and these both tick that box. I almost backed them anyway. TACTICUM does an especially nice job of being small and physically contained without sacrificing what it needs to be in terms of game design. Unlike Looters, it’s funded too. Congratulations to them!

The minds of monsters look a lot like D100 tables

Finally, there are a couple of very different campaigns I’d like to mention in the RPG neck of the woods. One is the straightforwardly-named These Monsters Have Minds Of Their Own. This is an AI system for taking a bit of the load from the GM by automating some of the monsters’ responses. It’s a neat idea, and one that I’ve done versions of myself, which is partly why I’m interested. I have a professional curiosity to see how they’ve tackled design problems I’m familiar with.  It’s the sort of thing I might buy to read, and never expect to use in anger.


Calm and pastoral art from Wanderhome.

The second RPG campaign I’m still looking at is the very successful and somewhat eclectic Wanderhome. There’s a bunch of sample files to download and read through, which is a sensible approach for something nonstandard. Always fun to see someone exploring variants and pushing envelopes, so I look forward to reading these. Again, it’s unlikely to be something I play myself, but it could well be something I back to read.

And that’s all the Kickstarter thoughts I’ve got for you this week. I’m off back to finish the corrections on my latest article for the Game Design Mastery Patreon. If you fancy reading an in-depth discussion on Narrative vs Balance-focussed Game Design or one of the other topics I’ve already covered, then why not pop on over and sign up?

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Kickstarter Cogitations 2

Starting my thoughts on Kickstarter today with an idea that’s related to one of my old jobs: Editor. Years of being professionally picky makes me very aware of typos in anything I read, and whilst I’m sure I spot stuff most people neither notice nor care about, properly written rules are part of getting the best out of your project.

When you’re writing promotional copy for adverts or your Kickstarter campaign, it’s usually done quickly and so is even harder than usual to be 100% perfect. Those pesky typos will sneak in. Having said that, there are some areas of a Kickstarter page that need checking a bit more carefully than others. This example is from a how to play video – one area on a KS page you can guarantee a lot of traffic.


The moral of the story is simple: always use a spell checker. Also, remember that a lot of spell checkers ignore ALL CAPS words. Another good reason to be sparing with that ugly and unhelpful format. And, let’s not forget the humble proofreaders and editors. Spell checkers only look for some errors, and grammar editors are good, but not yet great. Skilled humans trump them all.

Other than that aside, things are relatively quiet on Kickstarter at the moment. 10% or so fewer campaigns than average; no vast campaigns. There are a lot of the smaller dice and RPG expansions which have limited appeal for me as a backer. As a lone creator myself though, it’s nice to see individuals and smaller teams using the space to get to an audience. It’s a tricky business, and Kickstarter has provided a far easier way for people to dip their toes in the water than ever used to be the case. Best of luck to them all.


Friends in the Right Places

Currently most popular game on Kickstarter, and second highest funded (it’ll be the top in a couple of days) is Escape the Night. This is an excellent illustration of how a creator can bring a non-KS audience with them and convert it into cash. Here, the prodigious Mr Graceffa has leveraged a large YouTube audience and readership of his books into a successful KS campaign despite no previous campaigns* and having backed zero other people. Received KS advice is to always back a few campaigns to make sure it at least appears that you’re part of the community. Clearly that’s not a major drawback if you can import your audience.

As a clear demonstration of this, look at the number of new backers for Escape the Night:

Escape the Night backers

On most campaigns new backers make up a single digit percentage. For example, this is CMON’s Ankh.

Ankh backers

The difference between a game that exists essentially within the KS bubble and one that can bring in lots of backers from the outside is striking. It’s also sobering when you consider how few of the outside audience makes it to being backers. Escape the Night is a programme on YouTube Premium with several seasons under its belt. Presumably that has quite a few fans. Mr Graceffa has 2.7m followers on YouTube, and his books are on the bestseller lists, and that’s not all he does (busy chap). He clearly has an audience. When you think of it like that, bringing in just over 2k backers from outside KS isn’t so impressive after all.

Just something to ponder if you’re thinking of running a KS yourself.


I’m Currently Backing…

I went for the Moonlight expansion I talked aboutlast week, as expected. That’s all at present. I am, as usual, considering some others.

The first one is the Petrichor expansion. Cows. I backed the original KS campaign, so I already have most of this. The new clouds are interesting, though I’m not tempted at that price.

A rather different project is the second edition of In Magnificent Style. I’m still not back to playing games with other humans, so solo is something I’m thinking about a lot, both in what does hit the table and what I’m designing. I wasn’t aware of this particular game before and even if I don’t back it, I’m happy that the campaign brought it to my attention so I can add it to my wish list.

In Magnificent Style 2e

I’ve been on a journey with it though. At first glance, I thought that a game about Pickett’s charge looked a bit limited. After all, it’s about one tiny piece of a single huge battle in a war that lasted years. Would it have any replay value? My initial thought was that I was very unlikely to back, but the more I looked at it, watched reviews, and saw how it actually played, the more I could see myself enjoying it (and playing it more than once). It has some clever core mechanics and looks quite exciting. It’s got a fair amount of random in, which fits the context well. All told, it’s a clever piece of design on an unpromising topic. However, I can’t say that I’m a fan of their new board. They’ve made it bigger and added all the reference sheets onto it. That’s not a bad idea in principle, but my eyesight is not good, and I just can’t read the small writing from any distance. I often have this problem with cards on the table as well. Having the reference on separate sheets (as was the case with the first edition), actually helps here as I can hold it as close as I like – not something I can do with a board. But then they’ve also updated some of the rules, and those sound like real improvements. So, pros and cons. Do I hunt down a first edition, back this second and print my own QR sheets, or give it a miss? I’ve got just over a week to decide if I want to jump on the KS.


The Turd in the Swimming Pool

Despite my interest in both of these campaigns, there is the problem of Brexit. One of the fallouts of that poltroonery is to increase the cost of many KS campaigns to UK backers. Until the end of the year we still benefit from companies that offer EU friendly shipping, having our VAT paid for by the fulfilment company. That’s great. However, virtually nothing physical that I back now will be delivered before then, so I need to check. EU friendly (probably) means nothing to UK backers after December, and VAT is 20% on pledge cost + shipping cost, and on top of that they’ll charge you another £8 (last I looked) for the privilege of collecting it. All of this can easily double, and in one case tripled the nominal pledge cost of a game on KS. Of course, this is not a new thing, but it’s gone from a few campaigns to nearly all of them. This additional cost has encouraged me to wait for the retail versions of several games recently, and I’m not going to be the only backer who does so. That doesn’t help creators of physical products to hit funding, and it may mean that some of those games don’t ever happen. It’s not the fault of the creator or the backer, but it is a problem. I suspect that this, and the ever-rising shipping costs, are major factors in the steady rise of digital product campaigns for STLs and PDFs.


Also of Interest

Finally, despite the shrill claims of marketing departments, most weeks don’t see technical innovations or genuinely new mechanics. This week has.

Swapping cards

The campaign in question is the otherwise unremarkable and weirdly-themed Shaka Shredders. The innovation in question is two-part magnetic cards that can be reorganised before and during play. Fancy cards or no, the game does nothing for me, and judging by the response I am not alone. However, swappable magnetic cards sounds like a fun trick I could do some interesting designs with, and it feels like there is a gem waiting to be uncovered here, lurking somewhere in the concept. Worth pondering. Obviously, this isn’t going to fund, but I very much hope the idea survives.

Of course, I could have told him this before he’d gone live if he’d joined me on my Game Design Mastery Patreon. And he’s not the only one. You should come along too. Let me help you to make your game the best it can be.


*Actually, he has run at least one earlier campaign. It’s strange that he appears to have two creator profiles, with one campaign on each. Not the normal approach at all. Perhaps the new one was set up by one of his staff.

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Kickstarter Cogitations

There’s always something interesting going on in Kickstarter. Sometimes it’s a new trend, other times it’s a specific campaign, and there are always fun new games to look at. It’s a revolving shop window of shiny toys.

As my job and my passion is games, I look at the Kickstarter tabletop section most days. My aim is to at least skim every campaign that goes up, regardless of whether I think I might want the product or not. After all, you never know where a clever new twist on an old rule will turn up, or who will find a neat new way to engage with the audience. Learning can sneak up on you from anywhere.

All of this means that I have lots of ruminations about gaming on Kickstarter and being as how I’m hiding away in a bunker at the moment, I thought that I’d share some of this online. In-depth analysis and advice is what I do for the clients I consult with, but I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the more prominent trends and notable campaigns with you guys too. So, in no special order, here’s some of my current thinking on where tabletop games are on Kickstarter. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments below.



Having taken a hit in raw numbers of campaigns when covid-19 arrived, shed some staff from the losses, regained the campaign numbers briefly, announced that revenue was actually up, they’re now down in campaign numbers again. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.

Presumably the decreased numbers and increased revenue are both effects from lockdowns, with people spending time at home, away from their work and teams. Can’t coordinate launches as easily, but there’s no trouble clicking to pledge.

None of this seems to really pose any major threat to the platform; it’s just something to keep a weather eye on. It does strongly suggest that launching during the pandemic is not something to worry about from the POV of potential support. And, as a corollary, if you had a campaign that underperformed recently, you need to seek the scapegoat elsewhere. The pandemic is not an excuse for a lack of campaign performance.


Product Types

Kickstarter’s tabletop games section was originally dominated by board games. There was always a sprinkling of other things, but their numbers were small. This is neither bad nor good, it’s just what it was. Now it’s changed.

The trend is for increasing numbers of non-boardgames in the tabletop games section, mostly RPG supplements and lately STL files for 3D printing. The latter is part of the rapid march of this technology and has been fascinating to watch develop from nothing only a few years ago. Nowadays 3D printing is central to the workflow of many miniature companies, and this is only going to grow. Mind you, that’s a big topic for another day.

Screenshot 2020-07-23 at 09.43.24

As I write this an STL campaign is the most popular campaign in the category.

There are also occasional amusements like Cthulhu bottle openers. Not sure how that belongs in the tabletop games category, but that’s where it is. I’m not saying we should rush out and report it; the campaign’s not doing any harm in the category and you can see how its potential audience will have some crossover. What I’m wondering aloud is really whether there’s much function to categories when they’re being ignored. Again, this is really a bigger discussion about finding information in the internet age.

This trend of changing focus for the category does make me wonder whether it would be a good idea for KS to split tabletop games into subcategories. After all, we already have a separate category for card games, and we have more RPG campaigns than that.

I’m somewhat torn between thinking that the cross-pollination between games all being in the same place is better (arguing to roll card games back into the mix) and splitting them up making it easier for backers to find what they want and not miss a potential gem in the wall of irrelevancies. What do you think? Would it be easier or harder to find what you want if, say, RPG and STL campaigns were in their own categories?


I’m Currently Backing…


That’s weird as I’m usually backing something. However, all the tasty morsels I’ve been supporting of late have finished and there’s nothing I’ve jumped on yet. I’m still considering a couple though:

Dead Reckoning

Yo ho ho and all that jazz.

Dead Reckoning. There’s lots to like here, with clever use of overlaid clear cards and an unusual combat mechanic (this latter feature is likely to be a bit of a love it or hate it thing). Clear cards have been used for a while now, though never by many people, and they offer some fun options for the designer. If you’re interested in game design, then it’s definitely worth watching the videos to see what Mr Clair has done. In the end, I’m leaning towards not getting it though. It’s mainly a balance of the cost compared with what it adds to my collection. While this is an intriguing-looking game and I’m sure it plays fine, I’m not convinced that it scratches an itch that none of my other games don’t already. I’d happily play it, but I probably don’t need my own copy.


The other one I’ve been contemplating is the Moonlight expansion for the very pretty Spirits of the Forest. It’s an attractive and simple game I bought from their previous Kickstarter because I could play it with non-gamers like my mum. That’s not happening at the moment, but I’ll probably back this expansion because I’ll hopefully be back to socialising with other humans by the time it arrives.


Also of Interest

One last campaign to mention this week: a foldable D20. (kickstarter.com/projects/mythroll/mythroll-armorys-foldable-metal-d20-for-rpg-tabletop-gaming):

Foldable dice

The sheet fits in your wallet and folds into this dice. Neat 🙂

Not sure whether it was foldable flat again so you could stick it back in your wallet after you’d played. That would make it more useful. Still, the idea of an emergent game of D&D just breaking out like a flash mob tickled my funny bone.

Enough of me rambling. Have you noticed anything cutting edge and cool on Kickstarter lately? Are you backing anything special?

Finally, if you’re interested in discussing games at length, or are working on a design of your own and have some questions, why not join us on Patreon at Game Design Mastery?

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Patreon’s Progress

GDM server iconI just posted another article to my Game Design Mastery Patreon, and I thought that I’d talk about a few lessons from the first however long it’s been. 6 weeks? Something like that.

Overall it’s been great, though it’s not gone entirely as planned. Mostly what I mean is just that it’s taken a lot longer to get going than I’d hoped. The vast majority of this is down to stuff outside the Game Design Mastery project, so my slowness on Patreon is, in some ways, collateral damage from that. However, some of the pace is intrinsic.

It would have been easier if I’d waited till everything was in place to start, with all the initial articles written and so on. That would have been easier, though I don’t think it would have been as useful for the patrons, which is why I didn’t do it. To start with, I’m very happy with my last-minute idea to get the patrons to choose the topics for the GDM articles. That meant I needed to start and find out who the patrons were and what they wanted before I wrote things. However, it also meant that the articles I did write were the ones they voted for, so presumably they’re more useful to more people – and that’s the whole point.

The other GDM thing that’s slowed me down is the length of the articles. That’s entirely self-inflicted. I was originally thinking of them as the sort of thing I’ve written on here, but a little longer. In fact, they’re turning out a great deal longer. I’ve finished two so far: the first on adapting multi-player co-op games to solo play was 3,000 words. The second, on structure and uses of playtesting, was just shy of 5,700 words. I’m working on the third and fourth now, and they’re not small either. This all comes from my approach. Basically, I’m trying to channel 30 years’ worth of experience into my answer to each question, because that’s how I think of the topics the patrons choose. They’re a question about something: “what do you know about…? Do you have any tips or tricks for…? Is there anything I should know to avoid when…? So I’m trying to cover as much as I can each time. In addition, I’ve not got a specific number of magazine or book pages to fill, so I can write as long as I’ve got something to say. This means that each article is as long as it needs to be, and I’ve no idea what that will be when I start. I’m sure I could have thought of a way to make this easier, but then they wouldn’t have been as good and I’d have felt like I was short-changing folk. In other words, the extra effort is entirely selfish.

I also delayed myself by trying to get them laid out nicely using software I wasn’t familiar with. That’s just me biting off more than I could chew and it wasted a bunch of time. My bad. For the moment I’ve uploaded them as Word pdfs, just to get the content up. That’s 90% of the value. The rest is mostly just prettiness. I’ll revisit that at some stage, once all the content is up and being added to as promised.

Finally, I had this idea that I could do a weekly snapshot of behind the scenes design and development. Turns out that’s way harder than I thought. I suppose the primary issue is that thinking and computer work aren’t very photogenic, and that’s the bulk of what I do. More time spent in prep would have uncovered this. Still, I’m not feeling too bad about this as it’s forcing me to be creative, and I’ve made some progress. Expect to see more of that aspect soon…

Overall, I’m very thankful to my select band of loyal patrons. I think of these brave souls as my elite recon team, volunteering for a secret mission from which they may never return, and in the event helping to scout out the dangerous wilds of Patreon. They’ve been invaluable. We’ve had some great chats on the Discord channel, and I look forward to many more. Hopefully we’ll also get some more volunteers to join their ranks.

Overall, it’s been a bit of a choppy start in places, but we’re still here, still making progress, and we seem to be out of the worst of it now. Once this initial tranche of articles is done it will be much easier to keep up with the regular monthly addition I’d planned, plus the odd bonus one. All told, the good ship GDM Patreon is looking at a bright horizon now, and clearer sailing ahead.

If you fancy joining our merry band, just click the link or read the article to see what’s it’s all about. We’re waiting to welcome you on board!

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