Kickstarter: Congratulations and Commentary

The Kickstarter for the tabletop game Between Two Cities (B2C) finished yesterday. It was a tremendous success: it raised $221,265, more than 10 times its $20,000 goal; it attracted 5,287 backers.

Congratulations to the designers, the publisher, and the community of backers. The post will focus on the publisher, Stonemaier Games, and in particular on the work of Jamey Stegmaier, the creator and curator of the Kickstarter project (but I certainly don’t intend to slight the game itself, which I consider excellent, or its designers).

As B2C was about to Kickstart I, along with many other people, was confident that B2C would fund quickly, and go on to achieve a multiple of its funding goal. It did indeed make an impressive start, despite Kickstarter going down for some of its first day. Each of the links in this paragraph goes to a previous post here. A third post describes stretch goals and other forms in which Kickstarter creators can offer additional content, using B2C as an example to describe the SAVES (stretch goals, add-ons, variants, expansions, and siblings) framework.

The thing that struck me most forcibly about the B2C Kickstarter was Jamey’s use of updates. He made 9 of them over the 20-day course of the project, then a tenth just after it finished. Every update had some compelling content, and started a distinct conversation with and among backers. That’s impressive, given that it means an update every 2 or 3 days.

Two updates in particular stand out for me, even though neither of them delivered big news.

  • #2 was about seating positions (e.g., Jamey sits between Ben and Matthew), and in particular about a potential deck of cards, each providing a rule for seating. I personally am not interested in this, but it is clear from the extensive and enthusiastic discussion that many backers are.
  • #8 was about the sides of the game box. That’s a comparatively small issue for most games, but Jamey’s partner Alan Stone pointed out that it was worth improving the design of the B2C box sides. Artist Beth Sobel came up with an improvement, and Jamey included some of her sketches in the update. This update showed concern for detail and improvement, and showed that Alan and Beth each share this concern with Jamey.

Although I am very impressed with B2C and its Kickstarter, there are a couple of ways in which it was a little disappointing. Each relates to the stretch goals set in update #1. First, the stretch goals themselves, with the notable exception of the 1-player Automa deck, weren’t very exciting. Most were variations in tile art.

The design of B2C seems to just beg for variants and expansions. I mean this in a good way. I certainly don’t think that the base game is incomplete. So another variant or small expansion among the stretch goals would have made things a lot more interesting to me.

B2CbackingSecond, strange though it may be to say, I was surprised that B2C didn’t raise even more. The original stretch goals went up to $250,000, and I think that project creators tend to set goals they consider achievable, if ambitious. Early on, that was the number I had in mind. With about a week to go, I thought that the project would come in a little under that. (Had there been a competition to estimate the final amount, my entry would have been $244,444).

I expected the last few days to show an sharp rise in backing. They certainly showed a rise, but didn’t come close to matching the initial funding frenzy. The first day alone saw over $69,000 raised: the last three days together didn’t match that. It may simply be that the preparation and launch were so good that some people who are usually “wait and see” backers backed B2C right away.

Given an adjustment in stretch goals during the Kickstarter, the $221,265 raised was just under the highest stretch goal: the seating deck, at $225,000. I was wondering what would happen about that deck. It ended up in the box, with all the other stretch goals.

I would have seriously considered making the seating deck an add-on. I know that there are backers who are very enthusiastic about it, and that some of them contributed their own ideas for seating rules. I also know that there is at least one backer who isn’t interested in the deck (but who understands that others are). Those distinct tiers of interest, and the fact that the seating deck doesn’t affect the game once it starts, seemed to make the deck a candidate for an add-on. But…

Stonemaier knows best. That’s my conclusion on the matter of the seating deck. It’s also a pretty good topic sentence for the last paragraph of this post about the extremely well-run Kickstarter for Between Two Cities.

Kickstarter: What To Do With Additional Content?

Often the appeal of a Kickstarter project is enhanced by content additional to that offered as rewards to backers helping the project achieve its funding target. This content may take the form of a stretch goal higher than the amount necessary to fund the project; if the stretch goal is reached, backers receive the stretch goal reward, as well as the funding reward.

The tabletop game Between Two Cities (B2C) provides a current example: its Kickstarter is just past the mid point, and is approaching a stretch goal. A previous post described its start, and the early achievement of its $20,000 funding target. If and when it has raised $150,000, B2C will include cards to enable solo play.

A Kickstarter project creator may offer additional content in one or more of several different forms, namely:

  • Stretch goal
  • Add-on
  • Variant
  • Expansion
  • Sibling.

This yields the acronym SAVES. The first S is for Stretch goal, defined by Kickstarter as follows.

A stretch goal is a funding target set by the project creator beyond the original Kickstarter goal. Stretch goals as a term and a practice emerged from the Kickstarter community as a way for creators to “stretch” beyond the initial, official goal of the Kickstarter project and raise more money (and often make cooler stuff!).

The A in SAVES is for Add-on. Add-ons are similar to stretch goals in that each involves more money for creators, and additional rewards for backers. Add-ons differ from stretch goals in that they are finer-grained. An add-on is an additional reward with a specific price. For each add-on, each backer decides whether to pay the extra and get the extra.

The solitaire version of B2C could have been offered as an add-on, rather than as a stretch goal, at a price of, say, $8. The additional content would be sent to backers who paid the extra $8, and only to those backers. In contrast, the solo stretch goal will be sent to all backers, at no extra charge, if and when the target is reached. Stonemaier Games, publisher of B2C and creator of the project, is very sparing and selective about add-ons. Co-founder Jamey Stegmaier is very open and clear about this (and about many other aspects of running Kickstarter projects).

V is for Variant: an alternate form of a game that may involve new or modified rules or pieces. Of the five types of additional content, this may be the most boardgame-specific. The definition is quoted from, and links to, the glossary at BoardGameGeek.com.

Variants turn B2C from a game for 3-7 players into a game for 1-7 players. The solo variant, as noted above, requires extra components and is included in the project as a stretch goal. There is also a 2-player variant, which was “in the box” as part of the $29 reward from the start of the Kickstarter.

The variants described above are “official,” in that they are defined by the project creator. B2C, has unofficial variants as well as the just-described official variants. An unofficial, or used-defined, variant is an instance of crowdsourcing, just as a Kickstarter campaign is an instance of crowdfunding.

E is for Expansion: additional equipment for a game, usually sold separately. Even though the B2C Kickstarter is still in progress, and rewards are not due to ship for another 8 months, there is discussion about expansions. An expansion might include components and rules introducing a new type of building, such as a port, to add the existing types such as houses and factories.

Finally, the second S in SAVES is for Sibling. B2C may turn out to be the first member of a family of games, including siblings such as Between Two Planets. The Kickstarter project page refers to this possibility, using the term horizontal expansion rather than sibling. I use sibling because it is consistent with BoardGameGeek, which describes games related in this way as a family. There may in the future be a B2 family, similar to the Tiny Epic family; the TE family currently consists of three sibling games (TE Kingdoms, TE Defenders, TE Galaxies, each funded using Kickstarter).

The genetic material shared by the B2 silblings would be the novel mechanism introduced in B2C. The number of cities (or planets) is equal to the number of players, but not in such as way that each player develops one specific city. Rather, each neighboring pair of players cooperates to build a city between them. Hence, if you play B2C, you will cooperate with the player on your left to build one city, and with the player on your right to build a separate city. As you do so, you will be competing to win the game against these two neighbors and against every other player in the game: such is the genius of the mechanism.

SAVES, then, identifies 5 forms in which a KS project creator may offer additional content. There are many relationships between these forms. Some of these take the form of decisions for project creators. For example, should already-developed additional content be offered as a stretch goal, as an add-on, or saved for a later expansion?

I intend to use SAVES as a framework for further discussion of Kickstarter. Any specific questions, answers, or other remarks might well help set direction for this; so your comments would be particularly welcome.

Project Takes Off, Kickstarter Crashes

The project in question is the board game Between Two Cities. (Here are links to B2C at Kickstarter, Kicktraq, BoardGameGeek, Stonemaier Games, Changing Way).

B2C launched on Feb 25, on schedule, with:

  • A funding goal of $20,000. I expected that the goal would be in that range, and that it would be met within the first day.
  • The game for $29. That includes all stretch goals, and shipping to anywhere in the USA (such as Maryland, where I live). I expected something in that price range.
  • A special edition at $39. I wasn’t surprised to see a “special” funding level. I was surprised not to see a bigger difference between the standard and special rewards. I expected that if there was a special edition I’d be unable to resist it. But, looking at what each reward level includes, I found the special edition very easy to resist. At the time of writing, those of us in the resistance are in the minority, with special edition backers ($39 each) outnumbering us standard edition backers ($29 each) by about 3 to 1.
  • A closing date of Mar 16. I expected a longer campaign, since most tabletop game projects at KS seem to run for 28 or 30 days. But a shorter campaign makes sense: the most intense funding days for Kickstarter (KS) projects are often the first few and the last few.
  • Stretch goals to be announced in an update the day after KS launch. I was initially surprised that stretch goals weren’t specified at the start of the campaign. Then I reflected that if I were running the KS (and was as KS-smart as Jamey Stegmaier, who actually is running the KS), I would have done the same thing. Having some news at the start of day 2 helps preserve the early momentum. And I might want to see how funding is going before I map specific stretch goals on to specific funding (or other support) targets.

As soon as I found out that B2C’s KS had started, I clicked over there. I saw that hundreds of backers had beaten me there, and that the project was closing in on its $20,000 goal. A few minutes later, I was clicking to confirm my $29 backing. By that time, the B2C project had funded.

I tried to check back on the B2C KS a little later, but Kickstarter was down. There was some joking that the downtime might have been caused by widespread enthusiasm for B2C; but if any specific project sent KS down, it must have been the Pebble Time Smartwatch (which I’m not backing).

Jamey Stegmaier, creator of the B2C KS, was understandably pleased by the takeoff of the campaign, and displeased by the crash of the platform.

We got a nice onrush of previous and new Stonemaier backers, and the project reached its $20,000 funding goal in 38 minutes. The next 42 minutes went well too, with the funding level eclipsing $30,000.

Then Kickstarter crashed… I swear it wasn’t us…

I’m writing this post after Kickstarter has been down for 75 minutes (and counting). I have to say, it hasn’t been easy. Momentum is everything on crowdfunding. In the last 75 minutes, I’m sure that plenty of people have clicked on links to Between Two Cities … That may be the one and only time they click that link. That sucks.

I suspect, and hope, that B2C didn’t lose many backers while KS was down. Jamey did such a good job building awareness and demand before the KS even started that people who clicked during the downtime will be reminded of the project, and most will click again.

There may be projects that suffered horribly from this KS crash. The most obvious are those that also launched just before the crash, but did not have a launching pad as impressive as the one that Jamey had built for B2C. But what about projects that were in their last day, or last hours? Ouch, with spikes on. (I hope that there were no such projects, but…)

If B2C follows the usual KS project pattern, its daily funding level will slow down, remain comparatively slow for the next couple of weeks, then accelerate sharply in the last couple of days of the campaign. You could help Between Two Cities buck the trend by backing it now

About To Kickstart: Between Two Cities

Starting tomorrow, and continuing for about a month, many hundreds of people, most of them strangers to each other, will jointly fund a new product. If that sounds surprising to you, welcome to the world of crowdfunding. If you’re already familiar with crowdfunding, you’ll probably have recognized the reference to Kickstarter, and will be wondering which specific product I have in mind, and why this particular Kickstarter project is so interesting.

This particular Kickstarter (KS) will fund the production of a board game called Between Two Cities. I can’t link to the Kickstarter project yet, since it won’t start until tomorrow (February 25). I can, however, link to the game’s page at BoardGameGeek, and to its page at Stonemaier Games.

Stonemaier Games is the publisher of Between Two Cities, and one of the reasons for my interest in this particular Kickstarter. Jamey Stegmaier (the maier in Stonemaier) knows how to Kickstart boardgames, and is more than generous in providing KS lessons. One of those lessons is that you need to start your KS project months before its start date on KS.com.

I am confident that Between Two Cities is ready to Kickstart. That confidence rests on three main pillars. First, there is the firm pillar provided by the track record of Stonemaier Games. Second is my encounter with one of the designers of Between Two Cities. Third, and most important, there is the game itself: a print and play (P&P) version is available.

I’ll follow up with further posts after the Kickstarter for Between Two Cities launches. I should post this now, to make sure that I post before the project launches…

The Rime of the Ancient Harbour Town

A poem inspired by the tabletop game Harbour.

Gullsbottom is a harbor town.
I’ll tell you of it, mate:
The leading occupations there
Are crime and real estate.

Why do you ask? You’re moving there?
Crime’s not for you, you think?
You’d like to talk of property?
You’re paying for the drinks?

Don’t flash your cash in Gullsbottom—
Unless you want to float
In harbour deep, with money gone,
And slash across your throat.

How do you buy your buildings
Using neither coins nor notes?
You sell goods from your warehouse,
Which are loaded onto boats.

The money gained by selling goods
Buys buildings the same moment;
So you don’t have to carry cash
To be violently stolen.

When goods are sold, the prices change:
The goods just sold go down.
And that may inconvenience
Your rivals in the town.

You’ll start with just a few goods.
You will visit various buildings.
With swift and shrewd and simple moves
Your warehouse you’ll be filling.

So it’s all about the buildings:
You will use them to get goods;
Which you ship to buy the buildings,
To be big boss of the ‘hood…

Which you’ll be when your collection
Of bought buildings is the best;
And I’m certain that your actions
Will be smarter than the rest.

You say it’s time you must set off
Toward your new abode?
Gullsbottom bound you are now?
Let’s have one more for the road!

Thanksgiving (Is) For Games

I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…

Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”

So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.

“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.

Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.

Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.

If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.

Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.

The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.

But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.

Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.

  • Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
  • Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
  • In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?

Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,
Andrew

ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014

Kickstarting, Not Jinxing

Do you have any superstitions? I have one: the jinx. The NY Times reassures me I’m not alone: “people… tend to believe that negative outcomes are more likely after they “jinx” themselves.”

So when, just after I posted approvingly about Kickstarter, the site’s security was breached, I felt a little guilty. I knew I was being irrational. I also knew that I would feel less guilty if I backed something. I backed the boardgame Lagoon: Land of Druids.

Lagoon went on to meet stretch goal after stretch goal, closing with 3,503 backers and more than seven times its initial funding goal of $20,000. No jinx there. But my irrational belief in the jinx lingers. That’s not an entirely bad thing: it provided an excuse to get an excellent deal on what looks like a very good game.

Kickstarting

KSlogoOne of the problems with restarting posting is that there are so many things I intend to post about. Kickstarter is more appropriate than most for the restarting phase. KS is “a funding platform for creative projects.”

I have backed a few projects on KS, most of them in the Tabletop Gaming category (i.e. boardgames or cardgames, videogames go in the category next door). One of my first was Eight-Minute Empire: Legends. As its KS project page shows, it met its funding goal of $10,000, and so was produced. It also met several stretch goals, attracting over $40,000 in funding. So I feel a little foolish that one of my reasons for funding was to make sure this worthy project got produced. Another reason was to get an early copy. Yet another was to get extra boards, and so I went up to the funding level at which they were included.

TanStatesMore recently, I backed Tangram States, in the Illustration category. I’ve always been fascinated by maps, and this one seems particularly cool.

Kickstarter is an example of crowdfunding (links to Wikipedia and to Forbes). Comments on KS, or on crowdfunding in general, are welcome…

The iPad and the Board Game Geek

I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.

I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.

The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.

TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.

Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.

So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).

The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.

Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.

Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.

Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).

Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.

Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.

So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.

Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.

A Game and a Game and…

Blokus has one of my favorite qualities in a game: the rules are simple, the decisions less so. I played it yesterday for the first time in years, with my almost-six daughter, her similarly-aged friend, and my three-year-old son.

Well, Max, didn’t make all his own decisions. When his turn came round, he chose one of the pieces in his color, and I chose where on the board to place it. Yesterday was a landmark in his game-playing development in that he seemed to understand and respect the concept of waiting for one’s turn.

So what do you do on your turn? You place one of your pieces on the board so that it touches one of your previously-played pieces at one or more corners. It may not touch another of your pieces along an edge. It may touch another player’s piece. You start the game by placing one of your pieces in an empty corner of the square board.

The game ends for you when you cannot legally place any of your pieces. The game ends altogether when no player can play. The aim is to get all your pieces onto the board. Failing that, you do well to be left with only a few small pieces unplayed.

The photos show a four-player game going from first moves to what I’d consider the end of the opening (or the start of the middle game, as the players meet in the middle of the board) to game end. They show how colorful and attractive the board becomes as the game develops. The visual appeal, along with the simple rules, makes this a good kid/family game.

If, after reading the above, you’re interested in buying Blokus or games like it, you have several broad options. One is to buy it from an online game store. I think I bought my copy from Funagain, where Blokus is currently on sale for $20.

I’m glad to say that Blokus and games like it are more widely played and sold than they were when I was doing a lot of game-buying. New online game stores, such as GameSurplus, have sprung up.

I should apologize for my parochial bias in linking only to USA-based sites. But instead I’ll become yet more parochial in linking to a few stores near Roslindale (and hence near Maddie’s friend Hannah). Eureka! is a good puzzle and game store in Brookline. Near Eureka in Coolidge Corner is the toy store Magic Beans, and nearer to us, in Jamaica Plain, is the toy store Boing! I think I’ve seen Blokus in each of them, although I’m more sure about Beans than about Boing.

Then, to return to online retail, there’s always Amazon. The selection of games there is a lot better than I’d have expected (and found) a few years ago. Amazon even has a video promoting Blokus.

Blokus is an example of a game that’s been successful, and has been part of the wider increase in interest in board games. That wider change is worth a post of its own, and will probably get one soon. But right now, I’ll remain specific to Blokus, and remark that there’s a series of Blokus games.

There’s the smaller version, called Blokus Travel or Blokus Duo depending on the edition. (It’s currently available at Eureka! and at the online retailers mentioned above.) There’s Blokus Trigon, and… but you can go to the official Blokus website and find out more.

In closing, Blokus is excellent as a family game, or as a light filler for groups who usually lean toward heavier games. The basic game strikes me as best with its maximum number of 4 players, but I’ve heard positive reports of it for fewer.