Is there a tabletop gaming Kickstarter bubble?

Posted by Grantt Ennis on

How do you choose your games?

It’s the start of a new year; a time when many gamers may be considering their 2018 hobby project, or what competitive scene they want to try and master, or simply what else to add to whatever they received for Christmas - whatever it is, a lot of us are beginning to consider “what next”?

After reading a great article about the influx of boardgames in 2017 over at Tabletop Gaming, I started to see an interesting pattern in how board games and video games have grown into their markets. Video games began as exceedingly fringe, then exploded into a horde of small studios each working on different projects back in the early nineties. These studios all produced excellent games, but over time clear market leaders developed, who in turn began to buy up all the other studios. Now we have a collection of huge digital studios, like Ubisoft, EA and Bethesda, who dominate the market. 

I think board games right now are at the small studios stage; 2997 board games were successfully funded on kickstarter over 2017, which suggests that there are currently thousands of designers out there creating content. I would predict, for the vast majority of those designers, creating this one game through kickstarter will be their only gaming project; not because their creation isn’t excellent, but because the market is so saturated that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for them to live off of their creation while the next big thing is always around the corner, there to grab your interest. It takes an enormous amount of effort to produce a successful kickstarter, and without the right motivation, I can imagine a fair few designers feeling reluctant to ride the rollercoaster a second time. 

Instead, I can see the larger studios taking over, potentially buying up the IP or recruiting the designers to work on other projects. In many cases this has already begun happening in the wargaming world; 2017 saw the loss of Vesper On games, Spartan and Hark Wargames, each subsumed into another, larger company. CMON consistently uses Kickstarter as a platform to launch brief titles (whether you disagree with this practice or not, it’s still successful each and every time), and often these titles struggle to maintain titles once released. 

For boardgames, this isn’t so much of an issue; once you have the game, you don’t usually need anything else; a core box of Kingdom Death provides everything you need (though the expansions are awesome, and my acquisition of them has become an addiction). For wargames, however, this becomes a little more complicated; will the excitement surrounding that game remain a year or so later when the game is finally released? Will the company be able to continue support of the game once the kickstarter has been fulfilled? A war-game, or miniatures game, requires additional support afterward, both in the creation of more units and choices and factions, but also in the creation of a gaming community. Without a community, a war-game won’t survive, but a community can’t adopt a war-game that isn’t properly supported; Kickstarter gives a designer a huge sum of money to get their game noticed and initially off the ground, but what happens after fulfilment? 

Take two examples; Guild Ball and Dropfleet Commander. Both saw (relatively) huge kickstarter success (Dropfleet made more than six times what Guild Ball accomplished, but two years later, during what could be imagined was the height of the Kickstarter buzz), but both experienced completely the opposite outcome a year after their kickstarters were fulfilled. For Steamforged Games, Guild Ball became a stable, exceptionally supported game, with strong sales and a thriving community; Hawk Wargames was purchased by TTCombat following continuing issues with fulfilment and mounting issues with distribution and stock levels. Both games were fantastic, with strong rules, great miniatures and a hardcore fanbase - how they managed their business became the deciding factor in their outcome a year later. 

I’m keen to find out how your Kickstarter habits have changed in the last few years; personally, I used to take a regular punt on kickstarters, often getting a few little bits and bobs to help designers out and grab some of the cool miniatures or bits that were released. In honesty, of the eight or nine I’ve backed since 2014, only one has remained a game I regularly play (for my sins, I didn’t back Guild Ball at the time), which has lead me to stop using Kickstarter in general - not just for gaming, but for books, board games and accessories. How has it changed your habits? 

 

Necromunda is awesome! 

I couldn’t write the blog this week without mentioning how much I absolutely love the new Necromunda. I’ve been a very vocal commentator on Games Workshop and their business practices in the past, but I can safely say that I am suitably impressed with this latest edition. I didn’t think I would be; the lack of terrain in the box; the lack of support for all six gangs at launch; the terrible Toxin rule; all these things made me think that I was going to be disappointed, and that I would get wistful for the good old days.  

But I was pleasantly surprised. Games are fast, slick and exciting affairs, low on complication, but high on narrative outcome, where you suffer at the hands of brutality, but still retain enough agency to make a difference during games. The campaign system is still just as fun, and includes lots of great little rules to help combat the imbalance that always occurs during a campaign - keeping that divide between the strong and weak gangs as small as possible for individual games. 

It’s "Necromunda Lite" right now, lacking a lot of the content of previous editions, but the release of the Gang War supplements over the next year will see a major influx of new rules and ways of playing that will constantly breathe life into the game. As long as sales continue to be as strong as they are (and don’t be fooled, the sales are very strong), then hopefully we’ll continue to see this receive support long enough to see some Outlanders appear (I’m looking at you, Ratskins).

I also hope and pray that they release a big rulebook later on - searching two different books for rules is a little irritating, and will only get worse as we see new Gang War supplements appear. I’d buy it, even if I already owned the others - I’ve no problem supporting a game by purchasing things these days, and prefer useful paid for supplements to frustrating searches across multiple pdfs (it’s why I loved the Frostgrave Fiend Folio). 

Needless to say, I’m very excited to see further releases for this game, and fully intend to immerse myself in all the local Turf Wars that kick off.

Next week! 

Well, this was rambling! Next week we’ll be taking a look at how to build a fun Necromunda Campaign (Slack-Jaw is dead; it’s time for a new leader to rise in Sump Tenk!) and we’ll be finally introducing our latest project; a little something we like to call Game On!

Until then, go peruse the store and use the code “newhobby2018” to get yourself 10% off an order! 

Happy Gaming!


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