My Criteria for backing board games on Kickstarter

I have become a pretty big fan of kickstarter. Being a fan of a service that is a way for game designers to get their games financed is a great thing to support, but can also be a problem for the wallet. The core problem being that there are a lot of great looking projects being made; each vying for your precious dollar and the attention of the masses. I would like to give my money in so many different places, help so many awesome people get so many great games made, but I just can not, and frankly I should not. Not every game is worth the investment, but how can anyone possibly know where the dollar is best spent on a site where unproven games, indy games, known developers and popular remakes all stand shoulder to shoulder? I have come up with some basic rules I follow.

Proven games don’t need to work too hard

Often times there are kickstarter project that are either remakes or reprints of a game that already has a track record Usually these are good track records hence the project to get a reprint or make of the already beloved game. This is ultimately a higher tier of kickstarter for me. It is a lot easier to put a games like this up against a game I might buy at my FLGS or online. The games tend to have reviews, fans and atleast someone on /r/boardgames who will say it is their absolute favorite game ever (for whatever that is worth) — but I digress. Say you like the game, watched the review are excited for the game and are ready to spend your money – however, there is still one catch. The difference between paying for shipping or taking the time to go down and get the game is the wait required by a kickstarter project. Most projects you will be waiting for at least a few months, maybe more. There are production runs that need to be approved, previewed, finalized and produced and this usually applies to cards, boxes, tokens and many other details. This waiting time can be worth it for getting a discount (below msrp prices) or, if the game attracts a big enough following, by offering stretch or earlybird rewards – but more on these later.

Proven games I have backed: Odins Raven’s, Werewolf, Coup

Indy games need to play the crowd or bring the price down

Now, what I am saying is based on nothing more than my history as a kickstarter backer. I have not run a campaign, I have not done in depth research on the subject of kickstarter effectiveness or crowd funding. I have read and considered almost every board and card game kickstarter for the last 6 or 8 months and I have voted with my dollars.

What I have seen is that the indy game maker (and I love you guys) needs to work harder to make their kickstarter work. Just throwing a game out that has nothing but a description a rule book and a video of play-through does not do enough for me. I am buying into a game that hasn’t been printed yet, hasn’t won any fans or awards and I have very little insight into the testing process or really anything about the company behind the game. So we start on shaky ground. Investment into art is nice to see, a play-through of the game, especially one where people are having fun playing the game, is also great. But more importantly if I am going to back you on your project that may be the next big hit, and may be the next big flop, I want a few things.

  1. I want to be getting a deal. Listen, I know I am going to be one of the first! I could even have my name in the rule book. I don’t care. You are getting to hold on to my money for as long as it takes to get the game made right? I want a deal on it. It doesn’t have to be big, and I know margins are tight, but I want a deal, you knock 5 dollars off what you will sell it for later and I am already starting to get interested.
  2. I want rewards. I know rewards are typically given as prizes for having a good campaign, and that is fine. I need the game to be gathering steam as you go (yes, I will tell friends and co-workers to help out). If you are gathering steam and rewarding people while you pick up more and more sales, yes, get those rewards out make them fun, make them cool. You don’t need to reinvent the game, get sleeves for the cards, get new art, more art, better art. Give away 1 more role card, better meeples, bigger meeples. Little things like that that make you feel like you are getting something extra for my support go along way.
  3. I want an experience. I know you are busy and you have things to do. So do I, and while I’m at work, it is pretty cool to get an email every couple of days updating the project, where you are, what strech goals have unlocked, what ones are coming up. Even remind me to tell my friends or like it on facebook. I have stuff going on and I can’t watch your project all the time. But email detailing the experience you and hopefully your supporters are having is critical to make me continue to support (and maybe even add more funding) to your project.

Are my criteria for backing a game sharp and strict? Possibly. I have a lot of things I could be doing with my money and even a lot of other games I have yet to play or add to my collection. Kickstarting can be a really fun experience for everyone and if there is enough of an incentive and your game looks fun (don’t forget my previous statements are predicated on if I think the game looks fun) I will back your project wait out the production of the game and hopefully you will make some money for your hard work. I want you to be successful, I just have to be a consumer, not a charity.

Indy games I have backed: Dungeon Roll, Compounded: Better Gaming Through Chemistry, Dragon’s Hoard.

Alhambra: Game Review

Players: 2-6
Ages: 8 and up
Play time: 60 minutes

AlhambraIt was a couple weeks ago when I spent the afternoon drinking beer samples with one of my good friends and fellow gamer at the Winter Beer Dabbler. After a long day of drinking in the cold and being in a good proximity to our FLGS (Friendly Local Gaming Store) we decided to make a visit. I more or less knew I was going to get a game, but, my decision came down to Tsuro or Alhambra. I had seen both of these games on Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, both looked like fun, but, ultimately I went with Alhambra.

I have now played Alhambra ten or so times with my wife, my regular gaming group, my brother and some family friends. So far the games have been competitive, new players have been quick to pick it up with a little help, and the games have all been an hour or less of unsolicited fun and some mild name calling.

Premise

Alhambra drops you into ancient Granada, Spain where the  sultans and other royal Moorish people built lavish Palisades known there as an Alhambra. Players race each other on who can build the most lavish Alhambra with the most Towers, Arcades, Seraglios, and Gardens, Pavilions and Chambers  as well as the longest exterior walls. Tiles, such as gardens and towers are added to each players Alhambra by buying them from the market. The market sells one tile for each currency. There are four currencies represented by four different colored cards. Players can draw these cards from the available money off the top of the deck on money cards.  Players can then use their currencies to buy from the four different markets selling the different tiles. These tiles are then added to the players Alhambra’s and scored in one of three different scoring rounds.

Instead of getting points for each tile, players score points for who has the most of each type of building on the first round of scoring. The second round of scoring scores the top two players and the final round of scoring scores the top three players for each type of building. This sounds rather complex but, the score cards do a nice job of walking you through it and it turns out to be sort of fun to randomly have to stop the game to count the points.

If you want some more in depth info here are the official rules, and if you are so inclined here is the boardgamegeek page for more info.

Critical Review

Once again here is what I am looking at in each category. Scored out of 10.

  • Point of entry – The ability for new players to get involved. This also will take into account the rate at which a new and experienced player will become competitive.
  • Mechanics – The stuff that makes the game work. The way the game flows, the turns pass and how the board or structure is organized all factor in.
  • Replay-ability – The ability to play the game many times with enough variety of play and competition to ensure many more enjoyable plays.
  • What comes in the box – The tactile game pieces, the box organization and the way which they compliment the game.
  • Aesthetics – The design elements including colors fonts, white-space, etc.
  • Fun factor – Is this game fun to play? What makes it fun, who will most enjoy it and when it is best played.

Alhambra.Point of entry. Alhambra is not the hardest game to get started on, nor is it the easiest. Some of the rules are pretty straight forward while others can be hard to explain at best to a newcomer. Some of the nuances of how buildings are placed can be a little hard to explain. I personally enjoy the puzzle aspect of that game within a game that is actually building your Alhambra. However to new players, especially non-boardgamers, these tile placement rules can be difficult to understand on a first playthrough. The scoring and when it happens is also a little difficult to get used to for a new player and can leave the first couple rounds of scoring feeling a little stange at best. The plus side is, if you are will to play 2 games, by the second game everyone will understand the flow and have a blast with it. Score 6/10.

Mechanics. Alhambra offers quite a few nice mechanics in each part of the game. For instance scoring rounds are triggered when scoring cards, planted in the deck are drawn. This makes scoring come up at random and as a player you are always waiting for the score cards to come up, planning when you should place or buy tiles based on when you think scoring cards will be drawn. Buying tiles is pretty straight-forward but the game adds the stipulation that if you buy with exact change you get to go again. This makes tile buying very interesting, do you wait for exact change or do you overpay to get what you need now? Constructing an Alhambra would be an easy job if there weren’t rules around how walls can and can not be used together, sometimes there are tiles that you can buy that wont fit in your Alhambra. The game would be pretty bland if it weren’t for the mechanics that give players a lot of choices to make along the way. Score 9/10.

Replay-ability. I don’t think I have played enough games at this point to know from personal experience if I will be playing this game for years to come. I do know there is plenty of excitement and different scenarios in every game. The smart mechanics make the game interesting and there is enough strategy to keep things interesting. I believe this is one I will hang on to and teach the kids some day. Score 7/10.

What comes in the box. The tiles, like in Carcassonne, are solid, think compressed cardboard. The cards are thick and good quality. The storage the box offers, though not incredibly well organized, is plentiful and the tiles come with their own bag to be drawn from and stored in. The one place I am disappointed with the base game compared to the ‘big box‘ is the scoring board is not well setup. The score spaces are printed in a twisted back and forth pattern and I can’t say how many times I have accidentally moved a player piece the wrong way subtracting instead of adding points. The Alhambra Big Box, instead of having 2 boards, a board for the tiles and a board for the score, has the board all as one piece and the players are scored around the outside avoiding the problem. Score 6/10.

Aesthetics. Everything is visually similar and really gives the feel for time period and the type of climate/region that is represented. The one knock here is on color use. At times it can be confusing with green money and garden tiles which are also represented with the color green. It is hard to not see a green garden tile and want to pay for it with green money even if the tile currently sitting on the blue currency market space. Other than that little nick the game looks wonderful. Score 6/10.

Fun Factor. This game is fun there is no way around that. There is plenty of good strategy to be used thanks to the good mechanics. The slight confusion on first play-through quickly drops off and leaves you with a game where you are racing to build the best Alhambra and usually having a blast yelling at people who steal “the piece I needed” just when you have exact change. Everyone I have played with has enjoyed the game and I will continue to bring it along on game nights as an option for the foreseeable future.  Score 9/10.

Final Thoughts

It might not be heralded as one of the great gateway games of our time or anything, but I believe it is one any new gamer should add to their collection and share liberally with friends and family.
Average/Final Score: 7/10.

Odin’s Ravens Kickstarter

I just wanted to put a line out on a game I hope to be playing within the year. However, I wont be if the Kickstarter doesn’t get funded. The game is Odin’s Ravens 2nd Edition. Odin’s Ravens is a 2 player card/board game that has had earlier editions – last published in 2002.

Thorsten Gimmler, Odin's Ravens, Second Edition.

The game looks like a great way to spend time with a friend or significant other and previous editions have been very well received. There is also a great video on their Kickstarter page that explains the game and it’s mechanics.

What got me to contribute via Kickstarter was the simplicity of the game. I find the best strategy games open a player up to find strategy among simple mechanics. This is a simple, “know when to play the hand you’ve been dealt” type game that looks like an absolute blast. The goal is to fly your raven across the twisted random path before you all the while attempting to hinder your opponent from following the same path in reverse.

If the Kickstarter Campaing for Odin’s Ravens is successful I am sure I will be updating everyone when I get a chance to play through it. Check it out on Kickstarter, or read more about the game on Boardgamegeek.

 

A gamer in transition

I have always been a gamer, I think looking back it is one of the few things that have defined me throughout my entire life. At maybe 8 I was playing super Nintendo on a mini trampoline in my basement. When I was 10 I got a computer and began my early life as a PC Gamer. By 12 or 13 I had rebuilt it into a formidable gaming machine and was playing original Starcraft, Counter-Strike, Half-Life and eventually World of Warcraft. PC Gaming is still my strongest passion when it comes to gaming, but it is slowly ebbing away.

I am entering a phase of my life where not only do I have an added amount of responsibility and family time (see posts about my daughter). I now have somewhat less time to sit on the PC for hours at a time. I have less time to play whatever new games there are and honestly somewhat less desire. I find my hands, or more importantly one hand occupied much of the time and my erratic sleep schedule leaves me going to bed early and not spending late hours of the night racking up wins in Starcraft2. I realize this may just be a temporary setback in my gaming time, but, even so, I am starting to expand my gaming palette.

Enter Tabletop

I really have to give a lot of credit to Wil Wheaton’s “Table Top” web show. I started watching these out of mild curiosity and quickly began discovering a whole new world of gaming possibilities. Around that time, I began playing D&D 4th Edition with some fiends who also turned me on to my first “Euro Style” board game (Carcassonne) and my first true indie game Pushfight!. I found myself thinking, “holy shit, there is a whole world of games out here I had no idea about.” I was honestly taken aback, I had no idea even what I was missing. As a kid we had played Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Apples to Apples and the like and I always sort of felt demeaned by inferior gameplay and childish themes. I had no idea there was this world of deep, strategic, fun board games out there.

How board games fit

Some of the advantages to board games feel a little obvious but, I think as someone who never fathomed enjoying them, they are worth pointing out.

  1. Board games have a certain deep subtlety about them that my “gamer” side really appreciates. Sometimes it is hard for me to look at cardboard cutouts, dice and cards and think, ‘hey, this is some advanced thinking going on here,’ when I was used to the insane complexity of an MMO or a good RTS game. However, sometimes complexity is not always the most fun. Complexity can also be crude and complex just to seem like there is a lot going on. The depth and subtlety of board game is apparent when simple mechanics such as tile laying, card playing and piece moving can have a complex strategy behind them. Suddenly moving a piece is as interesting as controlling and building an entire army.
  2. Board games are inherently social. And granted, many games are now played online. In fact I spend most of my life online, talking over chat and on the phone and that is where board games are very refreshing. I find myself craving interactions face to face. Sitting at a table with friends or family over a game is a wonderful way to talk and get all the humanness I can soak up in our increasingly digital world.
  3. Family playtime is something I’ll probably find ways to bring up all the time on this blog. But, as a dad and a husband, I find myself looking for ways to spend more time siting together, playing together, talking together. TV is both good and terrible for this. We sit but we don’t talk, we don’t use our brains, we don’t interact. Board games are something I enjoy playing with my wife (and thankfully, she enjoys them too) and one day I hope to share with my children. Again, I will write more on this at another time, but, I believe strongly, the family that plays together, stays together.

So now, I can proudly announce I have started; my collection has begun. I am now a collector, player and advocate of board games. I have a boardgamegeek collection page started and I play and share games whenever I can. Will there always be room for computer games, sure, but, somehow I don’t care as much about missing my time sitting alone playing Starcraft or Skyrim. I look forward just as much to playing board games and card games with friends and family when it comes to getting my gaming fix.

A collection of boardgames

Sounds like a big difference to me

In my earlier life I put a lot of emphisis on durability cheapness in my compuer periferals. Duribility mattered for traveling to lan events, cheapness was because my bottom line was very low. I hated to see good equipment broken and when it came to cheaper headphones that was something that happened all the time. Now however I have learned the value of the expression ‘you get what you pay for’, and then some. I have become a headphone snob/junkie.

Now, when I say snob I just mean, I am beginning to care more about quality than anything else. There are some people out there posting on amazon saying, “I had this and this headphone and the decible output on the base was less satisfactory at 1200 mhz.” F those guys, you think that helps me figure out of this is a good pair of headphones or not? No way! I want to know are the headphones comfortable, do they have good sound (I don’t care how many mhz’s) and are they going to last long enough to make them worth the hundreds of dollars they sell for.

Enter the Sony MDR 7056 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones. Some good advice from a former soundboard student these headphones were recommended as good sound, great durability at a reasonable price. Now 80 bucks is nothing to scoff at but I needed help at work. With a large wide open room and only crappy little earbuds to protect me I had a hard time getting work done for not being able to concentrate. These headphones saved my butt and the sound they produce I think is quite awesome for the price. I didn’t think the headphones would make that much of a difference but man, was I wrong. With these headphones at work, I knew I needed better headphones for home and gaming.

I did a lot of searching around the internet over the period of months looking for a good pair of headphones with a good microphone for chatting and comfortable enough to wear for hours on end.

This is what I found.

Christmas Headphones

The Sennheiser PC 360 headset for Pro Gaming was the result of my efforts researching. What stood out about this series? The headphones are full ear covering but not noise canceling which means air can get in and out and keep your head from getting too warm. Another advantage is that these headphones have no control halfway down the cable for volume controls, rather the volume control is on the right earpiece and the boom actually works as the mute button; when it is down, it is active, when it is up, it is muted, easy enough. Finally, instead of leather ear cuffs, which can feel a but sticky and hot at times on your face, these ear pieces are felt, comfortable and cool.

The sound is excellent, even my friend’s voices on Skype sound better and I didn’t think those could improve, heeeyooo! The point is, I now know that a good pair of headphones is sometimes worth the price for good sound and better comfort.

I think a cheaper pair which also might be just as good is this one here. The Steel Series 7H also looks like a great pair of headphones and a shade cheaper than the Sennheiser, I haven’t tried them on, but my research extensive as it was for gaming headsets makes me think this would also be a good pair.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a new game!

I’ve got my tree up, I’ve hung my stocking, the manger scene rests on the windowsill, my house, the neighborhood are all decorated and teaming with Christmas spirit. Family, friends and coworkers are in the holiday mood and yet, something is missing – or at least is was. To me, it’s just doesn’t start to feel like Christmas without the Steam Holiday Sale, fortunately, it started yesterday and I’ve already begun to reap the deals.

If you’re not using steam to manage your digital copies of most of your pc games, where have you been? Steam has been around since the early 2000’s originally being developed to help distribute and update Valve games such as Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic and Day of Defeat. Slowly though the steam platform has grown to house around 1,400 games and is estimated to manage a 70% share of all digital game distribution. Needless to say, if you’re not on steam already, you should be.

Moreover, on the week of, and post Christmas every year, steam puts on a fantastic sale featuring massive discounts on all the game titles of the past year.

Any games you hadn’t yet purchased throughout the year might end up being a part of a sale. These titles change every day at noon so it is a new gift every day to see what games you might be able to curl up with on the cold winter night to come in the new year. I picked up Amnesia the Dark Descent already and who knows what else I’ll find this year.

Happy Holidays and a very merry steam holiday sale to everyone!