For the rest of us, even one unplayed game should be sign enough that we should slow down in our spending. These aren’t video games; most can’t be played in single player. Too often I’ve tried to do so, playing both sides of the table, switching persona when it comes to take my turn as player number two. I’ll guard my cards, peer across the board trying to read the poker face of the empty space seated opposite. What should be a pleasant gaming experience–two friends enjoying one another’s company–becomes a twisted journey into the psyche of a man at war with himself. As the game progresses I start accusing my other self of playing unfair, of cheating. I call him names. We come to blows. Everything ends when the light comes on and some passerby roused by strangulated screams finds me throttling myself over a Thunderstone box yelling: “You’re getting the light rule wrong on purpose, you bastard!”
So Kickstarter is the last thing any of us needs in our lives. It’s an online funding system whereby creative people can have their projects funded by the great unwashed. If I had an idea to make say, steak jam, but couldn’t afford premises in which to cook vats of the stuff, I might go to the food section of Kickstarter, film a twee video explaining the concept behind steak jam (“It’s jam, but for men!”) and wait for the donations to roll in. People willing to sponsor my idea would receive gifts in return: a five dollar pledge might earn them my thanks; ten dollars might net them a badge or button to wear in the shape of Moo-licent, our happy-go-lucky mascot; for thirty bucks they might get a collector’s set of our steak jams in plain, peppered and teriyaki variety; and so on, all the way up to hundreds, nay, thousands of dollars, at which point the sponsor would pretty much be paying for both of us to go on holiday to Romania, to take a course on traditional Romanian butchery.
Board games designers have leapt upon Kickstarter with talons and fangs glistening. Best suited to high quality productions produced in limited quantities, Kickstarter’s the perfect place to fund tabletop games. It’s also a place that doesn’t sell games themselves, but rather, the promise of games. In the same way you and I and everyone we know keep buying games we might never play, thanks to Kickstarter we can now fund games that might never be made.
It’s all terribly appealing.
And while there’s no gambling involved (if the project doesn’t reach its goal, you’ll back every penny you donated) donating creates a strangely tense frisson that totally scratches the gambler’s itch. What if the game turns out to be rotten? For the most part these are first-time designers who’re using Kickstarter, ordinary people betting on their own ideas. Thanks to your donation you might end up buying a sponsored dinner with someone who made a game you absolutely despise. Just as likely, you might be spending it with the creator of your new all-time favourite game, a game that wouldn’t have existed if you hadn’t believed in it.
This year I’m trying not to look forward to games that aren’t out yet. Hype is an expensive habit; frankly I don’t have the cash to spend on games I know I’ll never play.
But I have funded a game via Kickstarter: Agents of S.M.E.R.S.H, a story-telling board game set in the glamorous world of ‘60s espionage. The creators hit their goal in early January and if production goes smoothly it should be shipping in March. It’s too early to discern whether it’ll be a good game or a $70 lemon–what sparse indicators we have show it could swing either way–but good or bad, I and hundreds of other backers had a distant hand in making it. In the smallest possible way, we’ve changed the course of gaming history.
And if nothing else, hey, at least Tom Vasel will have another game box through which to do the doggy paddle.