Kickstarter and Roll Player

As you may have noticed, Roll Player has been on my mind a lot as of late, but something I haven’t really talked about in regards to the project is the Kickstarter campaign itself. I feel like, in regards to board games, Kickstarter has become something of a touchy subject, with the BGG community feeling fairly divided over how the website has been used over the past few years. So, as we reach the 2-week mark of the Monsters and Minions campaign, I want to take a look at how it reflects the state of Kickstarter in this day and age.

Again, a disclaimer that I have backed this project and have been involved with it for some time. For some of you, this may discount my opinions altogether, and I respect that, but I feel I still have some valid points to make that I’d like to take the time to share.

The first thing I ask myself when faced with a project is whether the individual or company using it truly needs Kickstarter funding to make their project happen. It’s easy to buy into a project that interests you without paying attention to such things, but Kickstarter becomes more and more diluted by big names looking to get even bigger bucks for the games they can already fund but would rather have the public pay for. Thankfully, Thunderworks Games is one of the rare examples of a pre-established publisher using Kickstarter appropriately. It’s a smaller business that isn’t often able to make print runs of their games, let alone releasing new content, making this process their only way of releasing their ideas.

Next, the presentation of the page. It’s no question that Roll Player has some gorgeous artwork, and the campaign page is peppered with them, both showing off the quality of what’s being released and helping to inform potential patrons of what they are buying into from the moment they click on the link.

But perhaps what’s infinitely more important is the communication this allows for. While the video provides a succinct overview of what Monsters and Minions looks to deliver, every aspect of what’s to be included is carefully laid out. A “what’s new” section immediately clarifies the additions being made. A components list and image lays out what you’ll be getting. The rulebook and PnP version of the expansion are provided for you to deduce for yourself if this is a project worth your money and time. Previews have been arranged for to show off components and initial reactions of known faces in the industry. Sections that establish why Kickstarter is the venue being used and Add-On options. And there’s a section on explaining Roll Player to those unfamiliar. Everything that needs to be clarified can be found here, and it’s all laid out rather nicely.

My one gripe about this, though, is how the stretch goal list is basically the first thing readers now come across when scrolling down the page. Don’t get me wrong, I understand this decision, as it’s an easy way to incentivize people to fund the project in hopes of reaching another goal, but it says suggests that selling more content is more important than what’s already here. Rather than have the material regarding what’s already included in Monsters and Minions front and center, newcomers will be presented with the fact that reaching more stretch goals has become more of a priority (at least, that’s the impression it creates).

Moving back into the realm of communication, Thunderworks Games has been great in terms of updates. Since the project’s release on May 23rd, patrons have seen seven updates (at the time of writing), meaning that there’s nearly been an update for every day the project has been live, speaking to how informed patrons have been throughout. And within those updates, patrons have been not just been given sneak peeks into the progress of the campaign, but the active ability to interact and partake in the process, which I’ll touch on later.

However, this is a pretty standard, expected process since the campaign is still being funded; I’ll be curious to see how this continues once the campaign is over.

Okay, let’s move on to the elephant in the room; stretch goals, by far the most heavily debated aspect of any Kickstarter project.

Briefly, I want to note that nothing in the Monsters and Minions campaign is Kickstarter exclusive, which is an important distinction in my opinion. The practice of making certain pieces of content trapped behind a pay-wall that is also only available for a brief period of time is both insulting to the customer and frustrating to those who didn’t know about the project until afterward. The inclusion of Kickstarter exclusives is a practice that needs to not happen anymore, and while it’s unfortunate that I can praise something for doing what most people should expect, it’s good to see no exclusivity here.

Now, I’m not one of those people who abhor stretch goals and see them as a company selling out in order to get some easy money from eager gamers. Sure, this can be the case at times, but not always. Rather, stretch goals, while a way to extend a project’s ability to fund itself exponentially, allows publishers to use those funds to make more exciting content for the product they are creating, using the support to make more of what people wanted in the first place. Funding a project that wouldn’t otherwise have the money should always be the first goal of a Kickstarter project, but allowing for the continued support of the game is just as important, as long as those rewards are meaningful.

That caveat is incredibly significant and separates the good stretch goals from the manipulative. Monsters and Minions has presented examples of both so far, with 14 stretch goals unlocked at the time of writing.

Before I delve into examples of these two extremes, I just want to take a moment to briefly mention the middle-ground, the stretch goals that aren’t anything exciting or amazing nor are they terrible, namely the Alignment cards. Here’s a reward that has cropped up three times so far, and presents four Alignment cards to be added to the pool contained in the base game. At most, they add variety, which is nice, and allows for the random set-up for each game to have even more options. While some might be bothered that each set of 4 are just mirrors of one another, it makes sense in the context of these cards, as there’s already a fairly robust selection that mirrored one another as well. There are only so many combinations possible with this card type, so it makes sense to do this.

There are two types of stretch goals that have been keeping me checking the Monsters and Minions page on a daily basis, elated to see what new additions will crop up, but both boil down to a single important factor: patron interaction. As I mentioned above, with many of the updates patrons have received, Thunderworks Games have provided those backing the project with options in terms of how the campaign will continue to grow.

The first of these is the addition of new races. Now, this option immediately gets me revved up, as I just adore the idea of personifying various species. Yes, the effects of them on the game are minimal outside of the two modifiers present on any given board, but they look so cool and feel so satisfying to use. Anyhow, when each race board is unlocked, patrons have an opportunity to vote from a selection of options to determine which races will be included in the finished product. This not only provides a new exciting reward to backers but allows them to have a say in what is being added. This also accentuates the community, as we all try to promote the races of our choice and discuss what would be most interesting. Even after the voting has concluded, backers are talking about how the different races should be named, allowing for the community to be bolstered even further. At this point, this has only appeared as a stretch goal twice, but I wholly hope that we see more of this down the road (and no, not just because I REALLY want to play as a bird-person).

The other great example of this is with the Backstory cards. While similar to the Alignment cards in terms of how much they contribute and the limited customization of these cards, patrons were given the ability to submit their own Backstory cards to potentially include. This takes a fairly bland and average goal and makes it something that everyone is working towards or providing feedback for, helping one another as everyone looks to include new and exciting ideas. This stretch goal has now appeared three times, but backers still await to hear which submissions have been selected for eight of the twelve Backstory cards, making this a stretch goal that continues to give.

Now, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that, of those 14 stretch goals unlocked (as of writing), almost half of them fall under the underwhelming category of more cards. And before anyone points it out, yes, Alignment and Backstory cards are, in fact, cards. What makes this different is, as I’ve mentioned, Alignment and Backstory cards allow for more variability but doesn’t change anything fundamental about the game. They are, for all intents and purposes, more options in a pool of possibilities. The inclusion of Minion, Trait, and Weapon cards, on the other hand, work to mess with the balancing of the expansion as is and helps to perpetuate an issue already present within the game.

As an example, let’s take a look at the Unholy Flail, a card that can be found under the 6th update for the campaign. Unholy Flail is a 4-cost one-handed weapon card that provides a player with +1 to every battle they fight. A nice addition certainly, with some potential advantages if you are a battle-ready player. However, when thought about, this ability sounds and feels rather weak. Unless a player is off of a goal by 1 point, this card becomes useless. It requires that, during the random roll of the dice, you happen to roll in a way where you are exactly off by 1 point, giving you that slight boost. In other words, it’s a card that requires you to get slightly unlucky in order for it to serve any purpose. I’ve seen a few posts from other backers that see this card as underwhelming and not terribly interesting or useful.

Similarly, the Thieves’ Tools, a card found in the 2nd update, is a 2-cost one-handed weapon that allows a player to untap all Skills at the start of a turn, an incredibly powerful ability for certain classes for a paltry cost. If a player is already specializing in a Skill-focused game, especially if they are the Rogue class (which enables you to ignore the cost of a given Skill), this card can theoretically break the game for a particular player. We can’t know that for sure, though, because these are cards we, as backers, can’t really playtest, at least not easily, leaving us to trust that these cards, each of which sounds overpowered or useless, will accentuate the game in some way.

The addition of these cards also perpetuates the issue of the Armor cards. As I mentioned in my review of the Monsters and Minions expansion, there’s already an issue with the Armor cards being incredibly diluted, resulting in that method of getting points feeling nerfed to a degree. This only helps to make this issue more of an issue, at least regarding the Trait and Weapon cards.

On top of that, many of these cards are being offered individually as stretch goals. With many of these cards feeling underwhelming and problematic already, making an entire stretch goal one, even two, cards feels manipulative and unrewarding, especially when compared to the fantastic race boards and Backstory cards. And with the earliest of these stretch goals being the four Trait cards, the later stretch goals feel as if someone took a stretch goal that had four cards included and stretched it out into multiple. While this may not be the case, that’s how it makes me, as a consumer, feel.

This last bit may sound biting and negative, but I still wholehearted support this campaign, and only make such critiques to help it grow moving forward. Overall, Monsters and Minions is an example of a well-maintained and thoughtful use of Kickstarter with some glaring exceptions. There are still two weeks left, meaning there’s a lot more excitement to be had. That being said, moving forward I hope to see the stretch goals move away from the cards as rewards and return to more backer-involved options or even component upgrades. We’ve already started to see this with the potential for upgraded combat dice, and I hope more of that is on the horizon, even if they are a bit more spread out. I’d take some nice metal coins as a component upgrade over a bunch more Minion or Trait cards any day.

If this is something you would like to see more of down the road, please let me know, as this is the first of its kind. Any feedback, good or bad, is appreciated. For those of you interested in backing Monsters and Minions, be sure to check out their page here.

We’ve been on a bit of a Roll Player kick recently, but next Monday we’ll be releasing the last of the Monsters and Minions coverage on our end with an interview with Keith himself; be sure to check back then!

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