Sturgeon’s revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
There have been close to 15,000 projects for board games on Kickstarter. If we just go with the ones that were successfully backed, we’re probably at about 60% of that number, and at least 90% of them are crap. Today I’m here to talk about some of the ones that aren’t crap, and some signs that the game project you’re looking at may be part of that 90%.
Game 1: Scythe – Steampunk, alternate WWII, and engine building (2-5 players; 7 with expansions)
When most people look at Scythe, they see a wargame with sculpted mechs and characters. This is not a wargame, if you go in expecting a lot of combat and dice rolling, you’ll be very disappointed (especially as there’s no dice in the game). Instead, Scythe is a game of efficiently expanding and building up your faction to score the most points when the game ends. In fact, the biggest random element of the game is the setup, where each player is randomly given a faction board, and an action board. The faction determines your starting location, special abilities, and piece color. The action board is where the meat of the game is. Each action board has the same 4 top and bottom actions, but they are not paired the same across the boards. On each players turn, the player selects an action, performs the top action, and then (if they are able and want to) perform the bottom action. The top action items are:
- Move – Move two to three units one hex
- Trade – Pay one coin to get two resources of your choice or gain popularity
- Produce – Select up to 3 hexes that you control to produce resources
- Bolster – Draw combat cards or increase your power
While the bottom actions are:
- Upgrade – Pay oil to move an upgrade cube from the top of your board (making a top action better) to the bottom of your board (making a bottom action cheaper)
- Build – Pay wood to build a structure on a hex you control
- Deploy – Pay metal to place a mech on a hex you have a worker on
- Recruit – Pay food to get a recruit, which will give you a bonus when players on either side of you take a specific bottom row action
The bottom row actions will also give you coins (between 0 – 3). You cannot take the same action two turns in a row. All of the players are isolated to their own 3 hex peninsula at the beginning of the game, and they all have different methods to move off of that to the center of the board. As people are taking their actions, they can move to claim encounters (which usually provide a small reward, a big reward for a cost, or a small reward for a cost). As people slowly expand their faction, they are working towards goals. The game ends immediately when 6 stars are placed by any one faction. Stars are placed for any of the following:
- Completing all of your upgrades
- Building all of your buildings
- Deploying all of your mechs
- Recruiting all four of your recruits
- Producing all of your workers
- Completing a secret objective (each player is dealt 2 at the beginning of the game)
- Winning combat (up to 2 stars for this one)
- Reaching the top of the Power track
- Reaching the top of the Popularity track
The Power track is used for combat, there are combat dials that allow the two factions involved in a combat to secretly decide how much of their power they wish to spend for the combat. Each player may also play combat cards based on how many units are involved in the combat. Both players reveal simultaneously, spend the cards, the power, and the winner is decided. The winner is the player who’s total power spend was the highest, with the attacker winning ties. The losing player’s pieces are all returned to their starting space, and the winner now controls the hex. You may have noticed that I’ve talked about controlling hexes multiple times so far. The reason the control of a hex is important is that unlike most games, resources stay on the game board, and can be spent from any hex you control.
The Popularity track is critical in this game. There are three tiers of Popularity, which give you three different values for items for end game scoring. Popularity is hard to gain, but can be very easy to lose. If you attack someone, and force their workers back to their home base, you lose popularity. Encounter cards that give you a big reward for a small price, that small price is usually popularity.
One other special location on the board is in the middle. It’s referred to as the Factory. Whoever controls it at the end of the game counts it as 3 hexes for end game scoring, and as a faction moves their character model onto the factory they are able to select a Factory card to add to their action board. These are usually better options than the standard actions, and have a move that allows you to move a single piece 2 spaces instead of just one.
At the end of the game, you count up victory points by paying out coins for hexes controlled, every two resources you control, placed stars, and building locations (based on a tile that is randomly selected at the beginning of the game). The player with the most coins wins.
Game 2: Roll Player – Character creation has never been so fun. (2-4 players)
Have you played Dungeons and Dragons at any point in your life? Then the theme of this game should come very naturally to you. In this game, you are building a character. You won’t be using the character for anything (although the expansion due out later this year has you fight at the end), but you can see who’s character stuck closest to their “theme”. Each player starts by either selecting (or randomly being assigned) a race board. These are your standard elf, human, dwarf, dragonkin, etc. races, each of which has some attribute bonuses and penalties. After that, each character draws a dice from a bag and the color of the die indicates which class card they select. Each class card has two sides, and the player selects which class they want to use. Then each player is dealt a backstory, and an alignment card. These cards are where players will earn the majority of their points. Class cards have attribute goals, an ability, and a class color. Backstory cards have different color dice assigned to different columns in each of the attributes, and Alignment cards have positive and negative points at different locations. As complicated as it sounds, the iconography is really well done, and makes it very clear what your goals are. The last part of setup is that each player draws out starting dice from the bag equal to the number of players plus four. These dice are then rolled, and players start placing them into their attributes. Finally, a market is built out of cards equal to the number of players plus one. The game is then played in phases:
- Roll Phase – The starting player pulls dice equal to the number of players plus one, and rolls them. These are then arranged on Initiative cards in order. So the lowest roll go on the lowest numbered initiative card, and the highest roll go on the highest initiative card. If two or more dice come up with the same number, the starting player chooses the order for those dice.
- Dice Phase – The start player then selects one of the dice and it’s matching initiative card, places the dice in an attribute row, and (optionally) takes an attribute action. I’ll get to the attribute actions a bit later.
- Market Phase – In initiative order, each player may either buy a card from the market, or discard a card from the market and get two gold. There are different types of cards available: Weapons, Armor, Skills, and Traits. I’ll explain those in a bit more detail later.
- Cleanup Phase – Each player may refresh a skill card, the remaining die goes back into the bag, and the leftover market cards are discarded. The start player then moves to the next player clockwise.
The game continues until all of the players have filled up their character sheet. As players place dice into the various attributes, they are able to perform special actions based on the attribute:
- Strength – Flip any die on your character sheet over
- Dexterity – Exchange any two dice on your character sheet
- Constitution – Increase or Decrease the face value of any die by 1
- Intelligence – Reroll any die you wish, keep either the new or the original value
- Wisdom – Adjust your alignment in one step up, down, left, or right
- Charisma – Spend one less gold buying a market card this turn
Why would you want to decrease a die? Remember when I said that each class card has attribute goals? If your goal is 14-15, and you have a 16, you’re failing that goal. There are some goals that are 14+, and others that are a single number. Generally speaking, the harder it is to reach a goal, the more points it’s worth. Your attribute values, dice placement, and alignment can grant you quite a few points (~20 for hitting everything exactly); however, you can also score a good deal of points based on the cards you’ve purchased.
- Weapons – Grant special abilities or bonuses going forward. The will have a picture of one or two hands on them, you may not have more than two hands worth of weapons at a time (but you can discard them as you wish)
- Armor – Set collection, and grants points based on how many pieces you’ve acquired, with a bonus point if it matches your class
- Skill – Special abilities that you can use as long as you can move your alignment tracker as indicated on the card. You only refresh one each turn, so although you can do a turn of using four skills, next turn you’ll only have access to one of them.
- Traits – Here’s the big points. When purchased, these will adjust your alignment (if possible), and at the end of the game can be worth a large number of points.
At the end of the game, players total up their points, and the highest value wins.
What are the warning signs you can find in a project?
- It’s a first time creator – You’ll have quite a few projects where it’s the creator’s first project. That’s a big warning sign (especially if they haven’t backed any projects). The less you know about something, the easier it seems. You’ll see first time creators having their printings being done in China, and be ignorant of the shutdown that happens during Chinese New Year (a full month). Or they’ll have been way too optimistic with the costs for things, shipping isn’t cheap, nor is art.
- Lots of flash, no substance. – Lots of buzzwords, lots of mock-up images, lots of stuff to draw you in. But what’s missing? Rulebooks, play test descriptions, notes on balancing. They may have a great idea, but it’s hard work to translate that into a good game, let alone a good game that you’re interested in paying for with the hopes of getting it.
- Previous projects have complaints about fulfillment in the comments – Always take a look through the comment sections on the creator’s previous projects (if they don’t have any, refer to warning sign 1). After removing those who are the overprivileged backers (“It’s been 12 hours since I posted this comment, and you haven’t responded yet. I demand a refund!”). Look for complaints of poor/no communication, delays being improperly managed, late fulfillment (or no fulfillment at all).
Also realize that most of the good games on Kickstarter will eventually make their way into retail, albeit at a higher cost then you may have paid if you backed the Kickstarter (and without promos). I know I’ve slowed down a lot on my Kickstarter backing, generally going for obscure expansion (hello King’s Forge), and reprints of games that are out of print.