Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Kickstart or Kickstop?

Following the brief discussion on Kickstarter and Crowdfunding (found here if you missed it) I have crystalised my thoughts into 10 points - five 'pro' Kickstarter and 5 'anti' Kickstarter.

Please remember that I am using Kickstarter as that is the platform I am most familiar with, but a lot of the points probably apply to crowdfunding as a whole


  • Access to Market

One of the main benefits of Kickstarter is that it allows games to come to market that would never have had the chance to do so. Much like self-published ebooks, a designer no longer needs to hawk their creations to an established publisher in order for it to see the light of day.

  • Community Projects

A positive for both the designer and the prospective customers, due to the nature of the Kickstarter platform, the design becomes a bit of a community project, with the designer getting input from customers, and customers being able to influence design decisions. Now this can sometimes be a negative, if the designer tries to listen to all feedback, but if handled correctly this can be an extremely valuable asset to the design of a game.

  • Cult of the New

Backing a Kickstarter project should mean that you get a copy before it hits the stores. Lots of gamers are card carrying members of the Cult of the New and love to have the latest games to show off.

  • Reserve Your Copy

This is a strange one, but in this hobby, games are frequently out of stock and not available to purchase. As this is quite a niche industry, print runs are usually relatively small, and therefore the more buzz there is about a game, the harder it can be to get a copy. A lot of Kickstarter projects can take a while to get into stores, and when they do hit retail, they can be hard to get hold of - so becoming a backer means you will definitely get your copy! For instance Among the Stars is impossible to find in stores, so when the ne Kickstarter project appeared and allowed me to back at a level that included the base game, I jumped at the chance!

  • Exclusives

One of the ways in which project creators entice backers to part with their hard earned money is by offering exclusives that are only available via Kickstarter. For example, Dungeon Roll came in a special monster chest if backed on Kickstarter. Some games go even further and add new cards or figures into the games that are exclusive. Euphoria came with some gorgeous components, including solid metal "gold pieces". Other campaigns might give the backer special promotional cards, or extra characters, or even extra mini expansions.

So this all sounds like great stuff - positives for the consumer, positives for the designer. But is it really a win-win situation?


  • Buy Before You Try

One of the biggest issues with Kickstarter from a consumer point of view, is that there is no way to try the game before you spend your money on it. Sure, there are often a few video reviews / game play videos, which although helpful is no substitute for actually playing the game yourself. This is especially true with games that rely heavily on miniatures, which often don't have the game play to back up the eye candy.
But there's a bigger risk than getting a poor game - there's a risk that you get no game at all. There are some (thankfully not many) examples of projects that have funded and nothing being delivered. One of these projects was saved by Cryptozoic but the fact remains that you are giving up your money months or years before you are going to receive a product.

  • Stretch Goals

Surely getting nice components, or extra 'stuff' is a good thing? Why have I included this in a list of negatives? Well, the main reason is that some of these bonuses often feel like they are after thoughts, purely designed to try and grab as much money as possible from backers. Things like mini-expansions, extra character cards should either be part of the game or not - have these been play tested properly, or just tacked on as an after thought?

  • Skipping the Stores
There's a saying in this hobby. 'The best way to make a small fortune when running a game store, is to start with a large fortune'. In other words, it's a really difficult business and Kickstarter is removing a lot of potential sales from the local stores. Not only are they removing potential sales of individual games, but if you consider that consumers have a certain budget for games, then every dollar spent on Kickstarter is a dollar that is not spent in the local gaming stores. 

  • Pre-Orders
This is more of a personal gripe than a negative, but I'm including it on this list. Kickstarter, and all crowd-funding platforms were designed to help projects get funded that would never be able to get produced. But we have more and more examples of big companies, that do not need to use Kickstarter to raise funds, treating Kickstarter as as sort of pre-order system. Do Queen Games really need to use Kickstarter to raise $20,000 to produce a game that has already been designed and produced? You could argue that as it has raised $115,000 then clearly there is demand, but the fact remains they could easily have released this without Kickstarter.
  • Incomplete Games

What do I mean by an incomplete game? Well, precisely the feeling I get as a non-backer and miss out on some exclusive Kickstarter content. I'll refer back to the Euphoria example earlier. Here's a game where I almost drooled over the components, only to discover that if I go to a shop and buy the game, that isn't the version I can get. I would just get the boring, plain components.
It's the same with any content that offers extra game play choices, for example, extra characters, or extra cards. If I miss out on the campaign, then does that mean I'm only getting some of the game?


I have a weird relationship with Kickstarter. I go through phases when I will not touch it with a barge pole, and other times when I back every project I see (if my wife is reading this, don't worry, I end up cancelling most of the pledges).
I'm still undecided if it's good or bad for the hobby - and whether the bubble will burst at any point still remains to be seen.
Like or or loathe it, Kickstarter is probably here to stay.

Which reminds me, I;d better go and check to see if any stretch goals have been unlocked for Maze Master....

Monday, 10 February 2014

A Review - Phase 10

Phase 10 might be an odd choice for a gaming website to review - after all, it's a simple card game that can be found in many high street stores, for under £10.
However, it gets quite a few plays in our house, and apparently is the second best-selling commercial card-game behind Uno. So, let's take a look and decide if it's something that might be enjoyed by your family.

My sister actually introduced me to Phase 10, and it's a game her family enjoys a lot. My wife then bought a copy and we've played it quite a few times since. However, it's fair to say that it's not exactly well loved on the Geek (where it's currently ranked just inside the top 10,000 games.
I decided to cast a critical eye over the game and let you know what I think.

How to Play

If you look closely you can see that the box has been ripped - that goes to show how much play the game sees in our house (and is also good evidence that you should be careful what you leave lying around in reach of a 1 year old....)
The game consists of 108 cards; 24 each of the four colours (red, yellow, blue and green in my version), numbered 1-12, as well as four 'skip' cards and eight 'wild' cards. Add in a simple rules sheet, and some player aids, and that's the component list done!

Phase 10 is a Rummy variant - more specifically it falls into the family of Contract Rummy. Like most rummy games, it involves keeping score, so a paper and pen are also useful to have to hand.

At the beginning of each round, each player is dealt 10 cards. Like most Rummy games, the object of the game is to get rid of all your cards, usually by playing sets, or runs. However, the colours of the cards are, most of the time, irrelevant.
Why most of the time? 
Well, that leads us to talk about why the game is called Phase 10....

Each player starts the game at Phase 1. If they manage to complete that Phase before one player gets rid of all their cards then in the next round they proceed to the next Phase. Therefore during the game players can be on different phases, and be trying to achieve different goals, which makes it a bit different to 'standard' Rummy.
Game play is just like Rummy - on your turn you draw a card, play a card(s) to the table and then discard a card. When one player has got rid of all their cards the round ends. 
Scoring is as follows; 
- each special card (skip or wild) is worth 15 points.
- each number card 10 or higher is worth 10 points.
- each number card less than 10 is worth 5 points.

As an example, I've taken the hand above, and shown how it can be used to complete the second phase. 
As you can see, the player has played a run of four, and a set of three, thereby fulfilling the requirements of the phase. Also as you can see, the colours of the cards are irrelevant - in fact, the only time the colours come into play is phase 8, where you need 7 cards of one colour.
You an also see that the player would have the following cards left in hand; red 2, a skip and a wild. If this was a real game the wild could have been played with either the set or the run, the skip could be discarded, which would end this players turn, and the next player would miss their turn!

The winner of the game is the player with the lowest score after at least one player has completed Phase 10.

I'm not a big fan of Rummy - my issue with these sorts of games is that they rely a lot on luck of the draw. If I were to chose, as a gamer, to play a Rummy variant I would play Rummikub, as I enjoy the board manipulation - I find that it allows a player of greater skill to do better at the game. Now, there will probably be people screaming at their computers now "Rummy has loads of skill!!"; you might be right, but I just don't find it engaging enough. Those decision making points and the puzzle aspect of Rummikub I find far more appealing.

So that means I'm not a fan of Phase 10 then - right?

Well, actually, I do quite enjoy this game. Sure, it still has the luck of the draw aspect, but the rounds play quickly, and the different phases make it a bit more interesting. Although the game play doesn't change, the fact the goal is changing keeps it a bit more interesting.

But if you're reading this, you don't really care what my opinion as a gamer is, you want to know how it plays in a family setting.

My 6 year old enjoys Phase 10, although it's not his favourite game and he doesn't ask for it all the time. He still needs a little help playing his cards, because he has a tendency to lock himself into a way of thinking and then not see other options. For instance, if he needs to sets of 3, he might have 2 4's and 2 6's and he has a wild card. He already decides that wild will be a 6, and if he draws another 6 he might not realise he can move the wild to the 4's so he has the 2 sets he needs.
Other than that though, he doesn't need any help to play, and in a recent game we played, we didn't keep score and we both completed Phase 10 at the same time. So he's definitely able to be competitive!

A nice, simple, inexpensive card game, that won't make your gaming group table, but should see enough play at your family table to earn it's price.

Monday, 3 February 2014

What have we played in January

This year I have decided to try and keep a log of all games I have played, to get a feel of what has been popular in my family.

So, let's take a look at January, 2014.

New Games for my Family:

PLYT - I've done a video review and playthrough of this game that can be found here. It's more of an educational tool than a game, but it's brilliant for teaching multiplication (as well as being great at getting adults to practice skills they don't use very often)

Amerigo - a fairly light Stefan Feld game of exploration and discovery. Probably a bit too advanced for my family, but it's a game I really enjoy.

It Happens - another game I've produced a video and gameplay runthrough of (found here), this charming little dice game is perfect for families, with lots of simple decision making required.

New Games (for me):

As well as playing games with my family, I'm also fortunate enough to attend some nights with a gaming group, which gives me a chance to play games that I wouldn't get a chance to play otherwise. for this month, I managed to play the following games I haven't played before:

Gravwell - really excited to play this new game from Cryptozoic, and it didn't disappoint. the concept is relatively simple - play cards to move your ship along the track. However, your moves are influenced by what your opponents to, so there's an element of trying to figure out what the other players are going to play.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - an interesting take on the Worker Placement mechanic; in Tzolk'in you place your workers, but the longer you leave them where they are, the more powerful the action they can do is

Spyrium - Another game that takes the worker placement mechanic and puts a different spin on it; this time you place your worker between two cards, and each worker around the card increases it's cost. A game with lovely components, and is very reasonably priced.

Rampage - a game I have since purchased a played with the family (although it falls into February). I'll be writing or filming a review of this soon.

Nations - a relatively deep civilisation game, which I have only played solo so far. Would love to play this is a group.

Game List (in order of Plays):

Any game with an * is one that the family have not played. 
Games have only been listed if it's had more than one play in the month.

Marvel Legendary - 8 plays
PLYT - 5 plays
* Resistance - 3 plays
* Tzolk'in - 2 plays
Amerigo - 2 plays

Total game count:
37 plays of 20 different games.

Not too shabby!

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