Each day for the next 3 days, I’ll be recapping my PAX Unplugged experience.
I’m writing this while chilling in my hotel room on Saturday. I’m also writing it on my phone, so I’m gonna blame that for any problems or text issues, as opposed to my own ability.
Ed Note: Now I’m editing it on my computer post con, so uh, that excuse doesn’t work anymore.
Friday started off with a bit of a struggle to get into the building, but once I was in, lines were quick and easy. PAX Unplugged is enforcing masks and a vaccine check this year, so you have to get a little black wristband to enter. I haven’t seen any issues or folks being jerks about masks, so hopefully this signals some sort of path forward for big conventions. Realistically, we’ll want to wait a few weeks to make sure a NYCC doesn’t happen here.
Okay, so games. I started off by playing Robot Quest Arena by Wise Wizard. It’s a neat 2-4 player arena combat deck builder. It’s not out just yet, and while a few of the interactions were a bit hard to remember, I enjoyed it. Trying to edit links on Mobile sucks, so here’s the Kickstarter page. The short version is that you build up your deck while also moving a little robot around on a grid, and scoring victory points primarily by damaging and knocking out other bots. One big thing I enjoyed is that the game doesn’t ever eliminate players. Instead, when you get knocked out, you just come back in right at the start of your next turn. It’s nice to see a combat game without elimination, but where getting hit and knocked out still feels meaningful.
Next up was Knights of the Hound Table, by We Ride Games. This game is also a deck builder, but with a very different vibe. Instead of battling robots on a grid, you’re leading an army of dogs to battle. I was interested enough after the demo I played at their booth that We Ride Games loaned me a test copy of the game that I need to remember to return to them tomorrow, hopefully after playing it tonight.
Ed Note: While said night game never happened, I did end up playing it, and getting a copy. There will likely be a full review at some point in the near future.
My last two games were right next to each other, but we’ll go through them one by one. First was Valiant Wars. It’s a head to head push your luck deck builder. (Yeah, there are a lot of deck builders this year.) The oversimplified description of it is that you flip cards out at the same time as your opponent until you either choose to hold and use the cards you’ve currently drawn to buy units, or bust by flipping up two of a card called a Dark Omen. It’s interesting, but I didn’t get a chance to play the full game, so I don’t have an opinion on it quite yet. While it’s already out, I’m linking to the Kickstarter page, mostly just to match the other games I’ve linked to.
Finally, the last game of the day was Iconoclash. It’s by Quinn Washburn, the same fellow who made Valiant Wars, and it’s a Smash Bros style board game. While I played a full round, I feel like I’d really need to play a few more to figure out how I feel about the game. I believe the version I played is a prototype of something headed to production shortly. Frankly, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.
As far as I can remember, that wrapped up all of Day 1 of PAX Unplugged. Did I do other things? Yes, but they weren’t game related. And as much as I’d love to write some sort of love poem to the food of Reading Terminal right next to the convention center, I’m not sure that really meshes with the tone of this blog.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about Crowfall for the last few days. Let’s start with my opinion on the game: Crowfall is too fucking expensive to be worth playing. And when I say expensive, I mean both in terms of money and time.
If you want, you can close this article now, because the rest of it is going to be an extensive exercise in dead horse beating. If you’re still here, please grab your stick and join me.
I want to start by talking about the easiest part of Crowfall to quantify: the simple monetary cost. Crowfall is $40, and it also has a monthly VIP system that costs about $15 a month. This puts it about on par in terms of pure cost with its competitors. Final Fantasy 14 is $60 for the full game with 4 expansions, and a required monthly subscription of about $15. World of Warcraft is $40, and also $15 a month plus the incalculable cost of knowing you’re supporting Activision-Blizzard, making it cost effectively infinite money. New World is $40 and the knowledge that you’re adding Jeff Bezos’s draconic horde of wealth.
This is a problem, because on a scale of “Virtual Disneyland” to “Digital Version of Detroit,” Crowfall is the latter. It wants to be a hardcore PVP game, with fights for territory, resources, and areas going on constantly. It has castles and landmarks that you can build up and guilds to join. As soon as you’re out of the pure tutorial world, when you die you drop 50% of your gold.
In the normal world, when you die, you drop half your inventory.
I have a bunch of small problems with Crowfall, but I have small problems with almost every game, so I’m going to talk about the big problem I have with Crowfall: the game expects you to do everything with other people. And not just a few other people, a lot of other people.
Let me give an example: One of Crowfall’s big ideas is that you are a “Crow,” a semi-immortal soul repeatedly brought back to life by the gods in order to fight for them. In terms of in-game mechanics, this means that to level up past a given point, you need to get and fuse with a new body.
Getting these bodies requires that you start by digging up body parts. In order to do this and get anything that’s not garbage, you’ll need the grave digger discipline. I believe it counts as an exploration discipline (more on that later). However, in addition to that discipline, which is a socketable rune, you’ll actually want an upgraded version of the grave digger, which you get by… farming random rune drops from digging up corpses. This requires you to have an intermediate shovel at a minimum, which means you’ll need to craft yourself a shovel, then upgrade it, which means you’ll need to mine and quarry stone, because those two are different. Once you have your upgraded rune that you got from RNG and upgrading (and you’ll need to socket Runecraft to actually upgrade it, I believe) you can actually start grinding again. Now, when you’ve finished grinding, you’ll have the body parts. You can’t use them yet, of course, you need to remake them. This means combining them with some other body parts, and also Ambrosia, which you’ll need an alchemist to make. Now that you’ve got all your body parts collected, you can finally combine them into a new vessel.
Hooray! Did I mention that doing this requires that you collect the right type of each body part for the right race of character that you want to create?
So why are we doing all of this? Well, because without doing it, you can’t actually play in a Shadows World, which is to say the big boy world. Up until then, you’ll play in what is basically a tutorial world. That’s right, this multi-step process just to create a character is more or less before you can actually start playing the full game.
Remember how I said we’d come back to that bit about minor disciplines? Well, you can only actually have two equipped at once, and you can only change them out in a temple. Long story short, there’s no reasonable way to do all of what I described above as a single person, or even a pair. You’ll need a guild or another group to work with. Without one, you’ll most likely have to stay in the beginner world, where drop rates are lower, and buildings seem to reset daily.
Now, it’s entirely possible you read all of this, and go “Wow, that seems like the game for me!” And maybe it is. Maybe you’re all excited about PvP, farming for random items for hours, and ganking other players.
One tiny problem: remember how I mentioned the devs hiding the player count up above? Well, that might be because the servers are incredibly fucking dead. In my time spent during the trial, I feel like I saw less than 30 players total outside of the spawn area.
Yeah, the game is not highly populated.
I have some other problems as well. The auto-attacks put all of your other abilities on cooldown, making combat super frustrating. The number of enemy types in PVE are really low. There’s no form of inventory sorting, meaning that your inventory more or less ends up looking like Minecraft. Speaking of mining, your auto attack and your harvesting abilities are bound to same key, so if you don’t click on that boulder correctly, you’re now in combat until that cooldown wears off in a few seconds. Oh, and if you try to put items of a type you already have into your bank, but don’t have an empty bank slot, you can’t. Even though you already have those items in your bank.
So yeah. Crowfall is an attempt at a sandbox, heavy player interaction MMO, but because there’s nobody playing it, and it takes forever to do anything. It’s filled with small annoyances, and systems that don’t feel fun (I’m looking at you, obscenely fast gear decay). Some of its ideas are decent, but on those bones sits nothing of interest.
I recently got a chance to chat with Max Seidman from Resonym about their recently completed Kickstarter for the board game Surrealist Dinner Party. Max is a game designer and manager at Resonym, and has worked on several released games, including Mechanica, Monarch, and Visitor in Blackwood grove. Resonym’s Surrealist Dinner Party Kickstarter finished with just over $30,000 in pledges.
The discussion mostly centered around board games and Kickstarter, with a few questions about Surrealist Dinner Party. Some of this interview may seem a bit scattershot, but the general categories of questions and info can be found below.
Production of Board Games, and various costs
Some Interesting things about Surrealist Dinner Party
The Changing Meta of Kickstarter
1. Producing Board Games
F(Fritz Wallace): So, this is more general, but just to start off, let’s talk about scams and failures on Kickstarter. There have been a lot of projects that don’t get finished in the game sphere, mostly video games. And even in the board game space, we have things like Glory to Rome which just imploded. Do you think these have impacted use of Kickstarter as a platform for board game projects, and for people pledging?
M(Max Seidman): From my standpoint, no. Games in general is the single biggest category on Kickstarter, and board games are a much bigger than video games. Failures in video games don’t really impact board games.
F: Let’s talk about cost. I was kinda shocked when I looked at what KS takes in terms of cut. Using Kickstarter ends up costing about 10% of money raised on the service, 5% in Kickstarters fees, and between 3-5% in payment processing fees. How high does that end up feeling?
M: So from our standpoint, this is not bad at all. One thing to keep in mind is the standard supply chain for a board game works something like this:
You take your game, and you sell it to a distributor at 40% of MSRP. The Distributor then sells it to stores at 50% MSRP. Then your local game store or Amazon or whoever it is sells the game at MSRP. So, let’s say you make a game that retails at $50. This means the local game store most likely bought it at $25. They purchased it from the distributor who bought it from us for $20.
So, for a game being sold to stores, this means that if we want to make money, the cost of production and shipping the game has to be about $10 per copy, for us to even stand a chance of making money on a MSRP $50 game.
Now let’s consider a Kickstarted game, from the same lens. Let’s say you pledge $50. Well, Kickstarter and fees take their 10%, leaving us with $45. And now that $45 is the combination of what we can use to both make money, and to actually produce the game. So let’s say manufacturing and shipping ends up costing $35, because we can now afford to throw in more components, more pieces, nicer print runs, etc. We now have three times as much we can spend per copy manufactured, relative if we were to go with the traditional supply chain, and we’re still netting the same amount of money profit. For some creators, this is what Kickstarter lets them do.
Now, we don’t do that at Resonym. We want to make games that can be enjoyed by a wide audience, and as such, we want to be able to sell them at mass market prices, which means they end up going through the supply chain mentioned above. But this is why with Kickstarter versions of a game, you might see nicer tokens, extra addons, or other things that make the game better, but might be cost prohibitive otherwise.
The other reason to do Kickstarter is that we simply do not have the money to do these print runs otherwise.
ED Note: The TLDR here is that direct sales (like through Kickstarter) are much more profitable to the publisher than retail sales, which I found fascinating.
2. Some Interesting Things About SurrealistDinner Party
F: You’ve made games before, including Mechanica. Whats been the hardest thing about making Surrealist Dinner Party?
M: One of the longest parts of Surrealist Dinner Party has been getting the right to the actual Surrealists in the game themselves, specifically the right to use them in a board game. It’s a complicated process, and none of us are lawyers. My understanding is that state of the rights to use their likeness and name can depend on where they lived, where they died, and bunch of other factors. We got a lot of help from the Artists Rights Society in figuring things out. While there are some artists who we might have been able to use without asking permission, we didn’t want to do that.
In addition, getting the rights to use them in a game was tricky, and was different on an artist by artist basis. For example, even once you got in contact with the rights holder (which itself was challenging; many estates or families never got back to us), what they would ask for was somewhat unpredictable. Some would let us use the artist’s name in the game for a reasonable sum, or a similar donation to charity. Others thought it was neat that this person would be in the game, and let us use them for free.
Some weren’t as enthusiastic, as they didn’t want the person they were representing, often a relative, in a game at all.
(Personal Opinion of Gametrodon Editor Here: This seems incredibly stupid to me, but what do I know about art.)
There were also some that asked for licensing fees that were simply so high we couldn’t include them.
F: Okay, so quick question. Since you now have all the rights to these artists for games, when can we expect the Resonym published Smash Bros, but with Surrealists?
M: Well, we don’t have the rights to use them unequivocally forever. We have the rights to use them for this game.
F: Bummer. Alright, so one last question about production before we get into the meta of Kickstarter itself. It would be silly not to mention COVID-19 and the year’s pandemic. Do you currently see that as impacting your ability to deliver Surrealist?
M: We have some concerns about COVID-19, but they may not be the ones people would expect. Right now, I’m not worried about the manufacturing itself, as China seems to have COVID under control but I am worried about what happens when we get to shipping it out. I’m really hoping this whole thing will mostly be under control by the time the games arrive in the US. If anything, I’m more worried about tariffs. They can have a large impact on our cost of production. I can say that COVID-19 did impact the process of getting rights to the artists in the game, which is understandable.
Ed Note: I wanted to find a good statistic for the current state of coronavirus in China, but I was unable to find a trusted source that I felt comfortable linking to as a source of truth. If anyone reading this article has good info, and I mean CDC/WHO sorta stuff that can be trusted, toss it over.
F: It wouldn’t be cheaper to produce the game in the US, or in a non-China country?
M: Absolutely not. The difference in manufacturing in the US vs China is massive at this point. There are only a small handful of factories in the US that can actually do everything that is currently done in China, and they effectively only work with big companies like Hasbro. The print run minimums are so high, that we simply couldn’t use them even if we wanted to. Of the remaining factories, a majority of them actually do a lot of their manufacturing in China anyway, or can only do specific parts of games in the US, like cards.
A lot of the infrastructure to make board games just doesn’t exist in the US.
Ed Note: Max gave an example of Meeples, the little wooden people you get with a bunch of different games, and pointed out that if you pay to get a game with Meeples “manufactured” by a US company, the Meeples will still get made in China, and then shipped to the US.
3. The Changing Meta of Kickstarter
F: Okay, so finally, let’s talk about Kickstarter, goals, early bird rewards, and all the other stuff that has changed. For me, one of the most visible ones has been the disappearance of rewards that involve putting a backer in the game. Why do you think this happened?
M: Obviously it doesn’t quite make sense to put a random backer in the game in Surrealist Dinner Party. More generally, I can think of at least three reasons that you wouldn’t do that if you’re running a Kickstarter these days.
First, there is a crew of folks who just irrationally hate it, and they tend be part of the more vocal crowd on places like Board Game Geek.
Second, because of the current demographics of Kickstarter and the board game community, there is a exceedingly high chance that you will end up with all white men. In Monarch, the only reason we were comfortable with doing the unwanted guest stretch goal this way was because the rest of the characters in the game are already women.
And finally, production times. We fulfill our Kickstarters relatively fast. For Mechanica, the Kickstarter was in February, and we fulfilled our pledges by November. But getting custom art done and approved can have a turnaround time that can end up impacting the timeline of the entire project.
F: On the subject of art, and I know this is something we’ve actually discussed (Ed Note: read as “Argued about”) in the past, your games like Monarch and Surrealist have some pretty great art. At the same time, Resonym doesn’t really do anything like selling prints or little pins, or other merchandising. Why not?
M: There are a bunch of small reasons, like having to figure out how to ship merch internationally, and somewhat limited appeal. But personally, I would rather work on things that improve the game.
For example, the wooden tokens for Surrealist. I feel that they actively improve the gameplay experience. They’re tactile, they’re fun to place, and they just make the game feel better. And while art prints would be pretty, they’re not important to the game experience.
We would rather provide items that improve gameplay feel, like the tokens, or extend gameplay, like the mini expansion for Mechanica. Does this mean that we wouldn’t merchandise if we had a big hit? No. But at Resonym, we want to make games.
Time spent on making prints, stickers, or other merchandising is time spent not making the best games and game experiences we can for our backers and our fans. We want make games, not prints.
F: Alright. Thanks for your time. Before we end this, is there anything you’d like to say to your backers?
M: First of all, I’d like to thank them for their support. And second of all: FILL OUT YOUR SURVEYS! We just had someone fill out a survey for Mechanica, approximately 1 year late. This is a problem because we actually may not have any copies left in our European warehouse to send them. You gave us money for a copy of the game, and I want to make sure you get the game. We actually had an extremely generous backer for Monarch who backed at the custom art pledge tier who we were never able to get in contact with. They still gave us the money, and we’re grateful for the support, but we want to send you your games! So please, fill out the backer surveys!