Kickstarters and Show Stoppers: The Escalation of Crowd-Funded Board Games

by Corey Whelen
7 August 2019

Earlier this month, CMON wrapped up their ground-breaking Kickstarter campaign for Cthulhu: Death May Die. Backers who pledged $250 USD (more than double the price of the game itself) for the R’yleh Rising expansion got a special bonus in the form of a Cthulu “mini” in at a whopping 57 cm tall. That’s nearly 2 feet of molded plastic, and while it certainly looks impressive, it’s causing a bit of an uproar in the board game community.

While the R’yleh Rising expansion isn’t necessary to play the game, it is being advertised as the “final episode” of Death May Die, and it’s also a Kickstarter exclusive, meaning fans who didn’t hop on the 2.4 million dollar campaign might never have the opportunity to experience the game in its totality. According to CMON, the statue adds quite a bit to the game, such as “drastic changes” to the game’s rules, as well as extra cards and tokens. Players can even move their pieces around on the base of the statue, leading to a memorable climax for the game.

Of course, since this is happening on the internet, opinion is divided. Some people absolutely adore this gargantuan game piece, others see it as an expensive and unnecessary addition that doesn’t add enough to the game to justify the substantial price tag. Regardless of what people think about it, this statue symbolizes a recent trend in Kickstarter board games- the growing market means these campaigns have to resort to bigger add-ons, more expensive rewards, and even novelties like a giant Cthulhu statue to make their product stand out from the crowd.

Kickstarter continues to grow in leaps and bounds, and their biggest category over the last few years has been (drum roll)…. GAMES! What’s even more surprising is that even though this category includes both board and video games, the latter is absolutely dominated by its analog cousins. Board games received over ten times the amount of funding video games did in 2018, raising over 165 MILLION dollars for new and creative games!

Of course, this sort of money is a huge draw for many companies, to say nothing of the other benefits Kickstarter provides, like an early indicator of product demand and a relatively risk-free environment to test the market. Kickstarter was originally intended to be a showcase for independent creatives and start-up companies, but it becomes difficult for these people to fund their projects when large companies can put together a professional campaign with dozens of pledge tiers and sensational add-ons. Among these larger companies, Kickstarter has basically turned into an elaborate pre-order system for games that likely would have been made anyways, and it’s important to note that CMON is owned by Asmodee Entertainment- a virtual juggernaut in the board game industry. In addition to CMON, they own Fantasy Flight Games, Days of Wonder, Plaid Hat Games, Z-man Games, and Catan Studios, some of the most profitable board game publishers on the planet.

There are a TON of advantages to backing a game on Kickstarter, and you can’t blame the consumer for taking the best deal, but there’s also a huge element of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) guiding some of these purchases. Monolith’s recent Batman: Gotham City Chronicles game cost $320 USD for the “All-in Pledge” that included the base game and 4 expansions, which is a LOT to pay for something that was still in development. Still, consumers happily forked over the cash for add-ons like the Batmobile and a T-rex (???) because of the very real possibility they would never get a chance to do so again. Some Kickstarter games do end up on store shelves, but many see only one printing before they fade into obscurity and the prices for second-hand copies shoot into the stratosphere.

This creative deluge is a double-edged sword though, and some see this brave new frontier as being full of possibilities. The board game industry reaches dizzying new heights everyday, millions of dollars are being pumped into creative, unique, and all-around wonderful new games that would never have seen tabletops otherwise. We have the Kickstarter model to thank for games like Zombicide, Exploding Kittens, and, most notably, Gloomhaven, a modern classic that has been the number one highest-rated game on Board Game Geek for almost a year now.

The market is growing in leaps and bounds, in ways nobody would have thought possible or even imagined just 20 years ago. The growing sensationalism in Kickstarter games is a natural escalation of the things that made the platform so successful. Consumers want the best deal, and producers want to make a buck, especially since profit margins on board games are pretty thin historically. Having lots of different products at different price points is a sign of a healthy market, and I myself have backed a number of Kickstarter games, and will likely continue doing so in the future.

It’s interesting to consider the future of not just Kickstarter, but hobby board games as a whole. I believe the two are inextricably linked at this point. Where do Kickstarter campaigns go from here? Are quality games being lost amidst their showier, more reward-laden brethren? Should large companies be allowed to utilize Kickstarter? Should Kickstarter change their terms of use? Will a crowd-funding competitor step up? How big can a mini get and still be considered a mini? Fascinating questions for a fascinating time.

Remember to stay informed and vote with your wallet!