Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Carnival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carnival. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Washington Post reports on Scurvy Dogs' quest for venture capital

How seldom do we read about boardgames in major media, and yet in Monday's Washington Post, Monica Hesse's article "Pirate boardgame creator rolls the dice on a jolly good pastime"* features game designer Darren Gendron and his appeal for funding to launch his first game, Scurvy Dogs, via Kickstarter.

Many game-familiar readers may already know of Kickstarter, an internet phenomenon for generating venture capital for self-published games and other creative enterprises.  Kickstarter allows aspiring self-publishers to seek contributors in exchange for promotional interests such as copies of games, supplements, and other bonus paraphernalia at graduating levels of contribution.  (Kickstarter's scope extends far beyond games to a broad variety of creative enterprises, such as art, photography, dance, film, and fiction.)

Scurvy Dogs:  Anne Bonny
by Obsidian Abnormal
Monica Hesse finds Darren Gendron and his associates Alex Chambers and Ralph Pripstein in their playtesting laboratory, up to their elbows in pirate iconography, one eye patch short of a cliche.  Clearly they enjoy playing the game, honing its rough spots, and indulging in their tabletop roles as buccaneers.  Gendron intends to publish his creation himself once he has a finished product, but that will require some capital outlay, on the order of $20,000 by his estimate.  And it is through Kickstarter that he hopes to find that funding.

I'll add that I found Gendron's assertion, "We had seen a few games involving pirates before," to be either understated or naive.  A search for "pirates" on boardgamegeek turns up three pages - hundreds of entries - including the recently popular Merchants and Marauders.  Gendron sees a gap among pirate-themed games with respect to the land-based exploits of pirates and seeks to create something new in the pirate game genre.  Nevertheless, Brian Tinsman, author of Game Inventor's Guidebook, warns that a key failing of many new game designers is not adequately researching the market beforehand.  As much success as I would hope Scurvy Dogs to find, I'm not sure I would throw yet another pirate game onto the pile.  (Still, my friend Paul R. insists that market saturation is in the eye of the beholder; even if there are a hundred pirate games, the best game is still the best game.)

Monica Hesse betrays a certain naivete of her own regarding the boardgame world.  Early on, she characterizes Gendron's effort in the context of Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Sorry!, Pictionary, and Clue.  No regular gamer would take this comparison seriously.  Late in the article, though, she puts Gendron's game more properly in the realm of
"designer games" or "Eurogames," most of them published by smaller companies in Europe and North America.  While some have become successes - Ticket to Ride is closing in on two million sales; Settlers of Catan has more than 15 million - it's still a niche market, filled with hundreds of obscure games trying to land on top.
Gendron's Kickstarter campaign appears to have promise of success, even as it approaches its 6 September deadline.  At this writing, the game has over $15,500 in pledges, which is $4000 more than at the time of the Washington Post article just two days ago (and helped, no doubt, by that bit of publicity).

One of the most successful recent enterprises in this regard is Far West, a game set in "a fantasy world based on the tropes of the spaghetti western and Chinese Wuxia, mixed with steampunk elements."  Go figure.  This unlikely-themed concept attracted nearly ten times its $5000 goal in pledges.  At WBC, DiceHateMe featured Carnival, the set-building card game by The State of Games' own Cherilyn "Monkey238."  Carnival's funding currently exceeds its $5000 goal more than twice over, less than two weeks since its kick-off.

But Scurvy Dogs, Far West, and Carnival are not alone.  By my unofficial count, at least 83 games seek funding on Kickstarter at this writing.  There's an interesting question of entrepreneurial economy here:  Just how many games (let alone other creative enterprises) can the world of venture capitalists lift off the ground in a matter of weeks?

So here's to the success of pirates and carnivals and all other conceptions of game themes.  More to the point, here's to the broader exposure and acceptance of quality games among the general public (not just us boardgame geeks).  All the more to play.  Semper ludere.  

*At this writing, this link to Hesse's article is available at washingtonpost.com, but it is reasonable to expect that at some point the article will be archived and the link changed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Theme matters? Maybe for getting me to open the box

Last year, when Worthington Games first showed me the box art for Trains Planes and Automobiles, I wrote a post on the importance of a game's cover to getting me to open it and try it out.  Lately I've started thinking the same thing about the theme of the game.  Recent discussions with publishers, vendors, and others at game conventions have made me aware that there is a heightened industry interest in certain themes that seem to sell to American audiences - or at least that the publishers hope will capture interest.

Zombie games seem to be in vogue.  A search on boardgamegeek.com yields over a dozen independent titles related to zombies.  Some time ago, our good friend Grant G. gave our kids a copy of Zombies! (designer Todd Breitenstein, artist Dave Aikens, publisher Twilight Creations).  My reactions to this game have been mixed.  For me, the zombie theme does nothing at all; if anything, I find it a little off-putting.  But I understand that people are into the zombie thing.  Now, the gameplay is rather fun.  Players make their way through a gradually-revealed city trying to find the airport and escape or combat the somewhat-randomly emerging zombie horde.  The tension is quite reminiscent of the classic zombie movies, in which our lowly protagonist only has so many shotgun shells, and you never know when he or she will discover another zombie - or six - around the next corner.  But I have a hard time with the action card art, which is just a little too grotesque for our family's taste.  So we haven't played it nearly as much as the fun gameplay would suggest we might.

(c) Worthington Games
Used by permission

There's a whole vampire thing going in the film and book media, as some readers may have noticed, and that can translate to publisher interest in finding a vampire game that catches interest.  Again, a boardgamegeek.com search yields dozens of titles.  It's hard to tell if any of them is any good; I can't remember anybody saying, "you've got to play this great vampire game..."  On the other hand, if box art is any indication, BloodLust (designer Mike Wylie, publisher Worthington) has got an eye-catching cover.

Space games have been around a long time.  I think their numbers have waxed and waned with general public interest in science fiction movies.  I've posted here a couple of times about my concept-in-progress called "Gold on Mars," as just one example.  It seems a number of new games have come out based on a space theme lately, and I wonder whether it's part of a new trend or just a transitory fad.

If there is publisher interest in seeking designs based on certain themes - zombies, space, vampires - does that mean that people buy games based (at least in part) on theme?  Or is it true that a good game is a good game, and the theme is immaterial to gameplay?

(c) Dice Hate Me Games
Used by permission

Let's consider some unlikely themes - and by that I mean, games I'd never give a second thought based on the game topic.  I mentioned recently that at WBC I playtested a game called Viva Java (designer T.C. Petty, developer Dice Hate Me).  I had read about this game on Dice Hate Me's blog, and really had almost no interest in looking at a game about developing coffee blends.  But my friend Keith F. and I gave it a shot, and we were both surprised at how fun and innovative the game turned out to be.  So in this case, an unlikely theme might have masked a potentially really good game.  Dice Hate Me also recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for Monkey238's design, Carnival.  Again, managing a set of amusement rides never struck me as a particularly engaging theme for a game, and yet the more I read about the nature of the game, the more I want to give it a try.

Sometimes a theme really gets in the way of my acceptance, even if I read a strong review on the gameplay.  The Opinionated Gamers recently posted Jonathan Franklin's first impression review of Perfect Stride (designers and artists Kay Darby and Jeff Timothy with T.K. Labus, publisher Fun League), which he describes as "meatier than Mille Bornes or Gamewright's Horse Show [but] lighter than Dominion or 7 Wonders ... an excellent family game."  As I read his description of the solid gameplay, I kept thinking that it would be a game I would enjoy playing - except for the fact that the game art and theme are obviously tailored to appeal to girls who love horses.  That's fine, and if I had a daughter, I'm sure I'd pick it up, but for some reason, in this case, I just can't get past the target audience.  It would be like playing Mystery Date, which could have the best gameplay mechanics in the world, except that I'll never know because I'll never play it.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
In another Opinionated Gamer review on an unlikely theme, Tom Rosen revisits an October 2008 look at Fairy Tale (designer and artist Satoshi Nakamura with Yoko Nachigami, publisher Z-man) in an exploration of games that seem to start simple but gain depth with subsequent plays.  To read Tom's description, the rules are very simple and the game very easy to learn, but as the players gain an appreciation for the card interactions, Fairy Tale becomes more interesting and complex.  For my part, I can easily accept a fairy-tale theme for a game with that kind of emerging depth.

Bruno Faidutti designed one of my favorite recent discoveries, Citadels.  He recently posted an interesting discussion of thematic consistency and the degree to which a poorly constructed theme can get in the way of the acceptance and enjoyability of an otherwise well-designed game.  Dinosaurs are an obviously appealing theme to some audiences, but Faidutti complains that they are terribly misapplied in Carl Chudyk's Uchronia, set in ancient Rome.  Dinosaurs in Rome?  Yes, Faidutti's point exactly.

(My friend Grant G. recently called my attention to a new series of miniatures involving World War II German troops mounted on dinosaurs.  Okay, whatever.)

So like box art, game theme serves as both an invitation and a filter to the potential buyer or player.  Some people will buy a title based on the theme with no other knowledge of the game.  On the other hand, there are some themes that I simply won't touch, no matter how good the game, for reasons that I can't entirely explain.  But in the general case, once I'm playing a game, the theme can become secondary to the gameplay depending on the nature of the game.

In a subsequent post, I'll explore the question of gaming vs. simulation and the role of theme in each.