Crowdfunding is great – a way for creatives to avoid the hassle of publishing companies and other bureaucratic obstacles, instead simply making what they want and delivering it to fans. And I am not the only one who thinks so. Over the last few years the crowdfunding phenomenon has exploded, with sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Pozible becoming flooded with projects. To help you wade through this flood, I will share with you my pickings from the Tabletop section of Kickstarter, in the hope of providing an interesting and varied sample of projects you may find exciting.
Dino Dude Ranch – A Prehistoric Adventure
This set-collecting and resource management board game looks like great fun for all ages. Players take on the role of Dinosaur Rancher, competing to wrangle the most valuable dinosaurs. As creator Dan Letzring explains, Dino Dude Ranch aims to fill that niche between games for kids (which are torture for parents to play) and engaging strategy games (which might be too much for the kids). The cartoonish, cheeky dinosaurs look great, and gameplay is simple – evidenced by the fact that it can be explained in a 2-minute video. Each player rolls the dice to determine the number of resources (food to capture dinosaurs), cards (which allow you to perform special, bonus actions), and tar pits (penalties which clog up space on your ranch). Players may then perform any combination three actions – capturing dinosaurs, playing cards, or buying cards using resources. Play ends when all dinosaurs have been captured or once any player has filled up their ranch. With the rules already fully designed, including 3 variant play modes, Dino Dude Ranch looks like a great investment.
GRIM – A “Roll For Your Life!” Dice Game
After awaking ‘nearly dead’ alongside a group your friends, you must battle one another – and then Grim himself – to escape the dire fate he has in store for you. The first thing to strike me about Grim was the professional quality of its design. The minimalist and polished box and pieces look great, and gameplay seems engaging. Each player receives 10 tokens, their aim being to rid themselves of these tokens, challenge, and then defeat Grim faster than any other player. The game’s dice feature a blue, green, and red side. Red is a strike – you do not want to roll this! Blue means your die is frozen – also not good! Green is good – you can use green rolls to get rid of your tokens, or draw cards that allow you to take special actions. Play continues until someone has run out of tokens, after which they must duel Grim. Winning this duel will end the game, or in the words of the designers, “you become immortal and everyone else is doomed.” Losing lands you with a fresh 10 tokens to get rid of. Play continues until Grim has been defeated. All this takes about 15 minutes to complete. Grim has mischievous charm, and this, alongside its visuals and snappy game-play, sets it above the pack.
Pillars of Eternity: Lords of the Eastern Reach Card Game
Zero Radius Games
Pillars of Eternity: Lords of the Eastern Reach Card Game is a resource management and dungeoneering strategy game for 2-4 players, created by experienced designers Chris Taylor and Scott Everts. If you are a fan of games such as Baldur’s Gate, Fallout or Neverwinter Nights, there is a fair chance you will have heard of Obsidian Entertainments Pillars of Eternity video game. Released earlier this year, Pillars of Eternity is the game that many of the developers behind those classics have always wanted to make. Clearly inspired by tabletop role-playing game classics, with an original, lore-deep setting full of interesting characters, RPG buffs will likely love Pillars of Eternity. Lords of the Eastern Reach Card Game looks very much to be a card game version of the fun you can enjoy in the recent video game. The gameplay consists of five phases – combat, resources, build and hire, discard, and draw. Throughout the course of these phases, players build up their kingdoms and form parties to explore dungeons or attack other player’s kingdoms. The campaign is highly professional, and as the original funding goal has already been met, there seems to be little risk in backing this project. The only drawback, for Australians at least, is the shipping cost. For $39 you receive a full copy of the game – an excellent price! If it were not for the additional $25 shipping fee.
This visually impressive project seems to walk that difficult board-game versus role-playing game tightrope, yet come out on top. Middara professes itself to be an “ultra-modern” fantasy game (read: not set in some vaguely medieval time), which allows for a deep level of storytelling, and sees players make decisions with true and brutal consequences. Boasting a “full blown novel’s worth of narrative,” this cooperative game sees players adventure through a campaign together with the aim of improving the fate of their family’s kingdoms. Combat operates through various dice combinations. What you roll is determined by your character’s traits and equipment. Aside from this, not much detail is available regarding gameplay; however, if the quality of the design is on par with the highly impressive visual quality of this project, I do not think backers will be disappointed.
Middara features highly customizable character leveling, and emphasizes the fact that players cannot simply ‘lose’ the game as the result of losing a single encounter – instead the consequence of their particular failure will be woven into the thread of the narrative. In order to cater for gamers who may be drawn to Middara for the adventure, rather than the story, the game also features Crawl Mode – in the words of the developers, this is a mode for those who just want to “kill stuff, get loot, and level up.” The game also features rule variants for one player and five player modes.
Unconventionally, the project features only one backer tier – $100 for the entire game, all stretch goal content included. In a kind gesture, they are also offering shipping discounts for international backers. I’m a sucker for story-heavy games, and Middara looks set to impress.
Swarm! Totenkopf’s Counterattack
This (sort of) co-operative card game for 2 to 4 players involves assembling a team of giant robots, gearing up, and venturing out to defeat waves of enemies. Although you and your teammates must work together to defeat these waves, each enemy you defeat is worth victory points, so stealing kills from other players is a totally viable strategy if winning is important to you – and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to win? Combat works through dice rolls, and has clear role-playing game influence. For a one-man project, Swarm! is very impressive. Creator Jeff Gum is responsible for everything that is Swarm! Dedicating himself to every role necessary to bring this game into existence – designer, illustrator, playtester, et cetera – Swarm! is clearly a project of passion, and that passion seems to have translated into a quality project with great design and art.
Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma
By far the most unique amongst this bunch, Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma is a fantasy themed battle-card game, based on real world medical knowledge. The Lords of Pestilence, aka infectious bacteria, attempt to infect and destroy, while The Apothecary Healers, aka antibiotics, must use their wisdom and foresight to protect villagers. Every character and card is named with a real-world disease or drug, and what is effective against what is based on up-to-date medical knowledge. The core team behind Defenders of Soma consists of Arun Mathews (an actual doctor), Brandon Patton (game designer), and Raul Gonzalaz (graphic designer). Together they are Nerdcore Medical, and this is not their first tabletop game designed that incorporates real medical knowledge. Although some of their previous titles have been educational, Defenders of Soma requires no medical knowledge to play – rather it passively teaches the players “which drugs interact with which bugs, and what drugs belong to what groups”.
It aims to be a strategically rich card game – similar mechanically to games like Netrunner, Shadowrun: Crossfire, or Star Wars: The Card Game. The Lords of Pestilence must infect a certain number of villagers to win, and the Apothecary Healers must thwart these attempts. The high fantasy art of this game is stunningly impressive, giving what looks to be a solid strategy card game with an interesting twist, incredible polish. At first glance, Defenders of Soma looks great. Upon deeper scrutiny, it looks fun and strategically rich.