Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! In case you’re wondering, no, nothing is normal yet, and I’m still not covering the ‘normal’ spread of ten games. Fear not, though, because Kickstarter volume does appear to be picking up! Once you sift through the awful pandemic and political cash-grab board games, there are a slowly increasing number of RPG Kickstarters, almost enough for me to start upping my numbers again. Of course, there’s also an increase in shorter campaigns, so I’m missing more of them. One example of this? Necronautilus, by Adam Vass, ended the day before this article was published, sadly. Still, I’d watch that one for late pledges if I were you.
Missed opportunities not withstanding, there’s a great crop here, including games about Chinese restaurants, athletes, sign language, and of course, rodents.
A term that many people who have been bumping around the RPG space are familiar with is ‘crunchy’. A game is crunchy when it has a lot of mechanical elements for the players to engage with. When I read the Wanderhome playkit, a different word occurred to me…this game is ‘chewy’. Based on the Belonging Outside Belonging mechanics (called No Dice No Masters in the campaign but I include the other appellation for clarity), Wanderhome is a pastoral game of travel and exploration, a game of Redwall and Mouse Guard but decidedly not focusing on the typical fantasy stories of war and battle. So it’s not crunchy because it doesn’t have many mechanics (it’s diceless, in fact), but it’s chewy because there are still so many pieces to engage with. If you’re on the fence about this, click the link to the itch page and download the playkit. Each character playbook is filled with evocative prompts which build on each other both across the page and across the game. The playbooks are dense in a way that makes an old crunch-head like me light up even though there aren’t many mechanics behind them. Add to that a loop of exploration-based play and some map-writing that goes with that and it’s unsurprising that I’m so excited. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve already backed it. $25 gets you a PDF, and there is a $10 tier for those experiencing financial difficulties.
Preparing for Paris
Preparing for Paris is a GMless game of teenage athletes all striving for Olympic fame. Since we’re combining a highly unconventional genre (for an RPG), teenage melodrama, and some well-known mechanics, it’s unsurprising that this one caught my eye. Preparing for Paris takes a lot of cues from the Baker household, using PbtA dice mechanics as well as some Firebrands-inspired minigames to tell another quirky adolescent story. Logan, the creator, has the game available on his itch page, but this campaign is paying for a full layout and a few other goodies. A$25 (~$18 US) gets you a PDF, though there is a lower tier for those having financial difficulties.
Inspirisles is a game inspired by Fey stories, listing touchstones like Peter Pan and The Labyrinth. The characters, here called Foundlings, interact with wondrous and monstrous creatures from Celtic mythology as they try to bring wonder back to the eyes of children and bring magic back to the world. The campaign covers the game in fair detail, and it seems like an interesting, less-violent take on the fantasy RPG which is aimed in the same way that YA literature is (targeted at kids and teens but with broader appeal). The most interesting thing about Inspirisles, though, is its magic system. “Shaping” is a system rooted in either British Sign Language (BSL) or American Sign Language (ASL), and is structured in a way to, if not exactly teach BSL/ASL, at least put down real enough roots to allow a player to investigate it themselves. While I don’t usually go into stretch goals, here some of the higher goals include ASL and BSL tutorials, which would only enhance the game’s potential as a teaching tool. THe core game is aimed towards a British audience (the game is written using BSL with an ASL insert for conversion), but there’s a stretch goal for that too. £15 (~$20) gets you a PDF and a sign language tutorial video.
Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall
Jiangshi tells the story of a Chinese immigrant family running a restaurant in the 1920s. During the day, the characters must contend both with the challenges of foodservice as well as the pervasive racism of the era, reflective of immigrant experiences. During the night, though, things are a little different. The eponymous Jiangshi are ‘hopping vampires’, and if you think running a restaurant is tough just wait until the undead get involved. The game is GMless, and the players work through day and night phases, resolving challenges with both a dice pool and on-sheet abilities which can be reduced through the experiences with the Jiangshi. In addition to an intriguing resource management aspect, the game is centering itself around real immigrant experiences, and includes guidance to help enable players of all backgrounds to explore these stories respectfully. Jiangshi takes a very different mechanical approach than many games, but it looks like it will be a hit with horror fans looking for something GMless. $20 gets you a PDF.
Brass Rings is a small game, which helps to bookend this roundup with games that have rodent characters. In Brass Rings you play rodents of the Great Tree, who are exploring among Saturn’s rings. The game is intended to be punchy and to the point, and to that end the printing is a booklet which can be folded out of a single piece of paper. The intent of the designers is to produce something that goes from pocket to play quickly, and this is accomplished through the marriage of form factor, light rules, and a unique setting that burrows in your mind quickly and without much pre-play negotiation. An interesting twist to this game is that the planned distribution is minimal and unconventional. The PDF version of the game will only exist for Kickstarter backers, with no plans to distribute it further (and based on the pricing, that makes sense). The print version, on the other hand, will continue to be used for the designers, Orcs Unlimited, to give away and otherwise use on the con circuit. I was not familiar with the designers but looking over their website reveals a decent-sized backlog of quirky games, exactly the type that benefit from the con circuit. And from that angle, I appreciate the unconventional business model these folks are trying. For Brass Rings specifically, $1 (yes, that’s not a typo) gets you a PDF, and $10 gets you a print copy.
There is an interesting aside that I’m able to bring to you thanks to a new piece of data. On July 27th ICv2 released their hobby games market results summary for 2019, which states that the North American RPG market has grown to 80 million dollars in revenue, from 65 million last year. While I wasn’t able to find any single-game or single-company numbers to enrich that with, I did have one interesting source in the form of a summary of Kickstarter campaigns ran in the year 2019. Using Shannon Appelcline’s list of Kickstarter campaigns from 2019 with a take of over $100k, I did some quick math and found that the dollar-denominated (foreign campaigns wouldn’t count towards a North American market estimate) campaigns in that list summed up to pretty close to eight million, or ten percent of the ICv2 sized RPG market. Applying the Pareto Principle fairly liberally, we can estimate that Kickstarter campaigns could represent 10-15% of the RPG market by revenue without much difficulty.
It’s hard to draw actionable conclusions from this, other than the fact that a solid chunk of the hobby is in fact tuned in to Kickstarters. Still, one thing we can at least infer is that there’s a lot of eyeballs (and money) available to creators who put their work out there on Kickstarter and do so in a smart way. There are barely more than half a dozen original RPGs of note that go on Kickstarter each month, and the number of supplements is only in the low dozens, with most of those being for D&D. If you write a good campaign and target an unsaturated niche (basically all of them except for D&D supplements and D&D imitators), you too can get a product out there. We’ve long since left the ground floor of Kickstarter, but there’s still time before it’s as crowded as DriveThruRPG.
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