This week I bring you a rant, courtesy of a recent crowdfunding campaign for a co-op favorite of mine: Robinson Crusoe Adventures on the Cursed Island. Portal Games is crowdfunding a collector’s edition of the title promising to make it better than ever before, and initially I fell for this hook line and sinker. And then I dug into the campaign a bit, and the more I thought about it the more ticked off I got. I have gone from being all in to questioning whether I would spend a dime on the campaign and wanted to share a bit about why that is.
But first, a little bit of background on the game. Robinson Crusoe is a brutally hard co-operative game where players try to survive on a desert island. The game has overarching scenarios that can tweak this goal, from the basic goal to signal a ship to be rescued all the way to fending off cannibals or dealing with King Kong. But the story of the game plays out differently each game thanks in part to decks of cards that contain events and adventures that happen on that particular play. It produces a ton of great gameplay variety and really captures the theme. I have enjoyed it since when I picked up the original back in 2012, but that version suffered from some rules clarity issues that could make the game very frustrating and unintentionally more difficult than it should have been. More on the rules piece later, as it’s another reason why this campaign ticks me off.
However, the first issue I want to discuss is a general gripe I have with crowdfunding these days. This campaign is literally designed to make you feel like you are missing out if you don’t back it. This is a sort of perverse art form that has developed more each year since the earliest days of Kickstarter. Every day of the campaign promises a new stretch goal reveal that will be EXCLUSIVE to this edition of the game. These range from more miniatures, a volcano shaped dice tower, or even mini expansions like the cave module. The idea is to give you little endorphin rushes to either keep your funds if you have already pledged, or lure you in with the worry that one of these bonuses you’ve simply got to have, and you’ll miss out if you don’t back now. Quite literally a more polished and pernicious evolution of the late night “act now and we’ll throw in more!” infomercial. To me this feels kind of sinister and predatory. It reminds me of an experiment I heard about once where a grocery store sold more of an item simply by putting “limit 10” signs on it. Human psychology can be easily manipulated and these sorts of exclusives can encourage some pretty reckless purchases.
I understand why companies do it, they want you money and they want it directly, not watered down through distribution and retail channels. The economics of it also allow you to simply offer more for the same dollar amount without these additional cuts being involved. But personally I much prefer a campaign where there are purchasable add-ons or just the core game itself improves for all buyers if the campaign is super successful. These have less of a frenzy about them but it is also less manipulative. The recent campaign for the second edition of John Company which I’ll talk about more next week is an example of a straight-forward but successful campaign.
The second issue is what is contained in the collector’s edition. Namely, 18 or more finely detailed miniatures. Minis are the hottest item in crowdfunding. Since games that include them often cost more, these games often raise eye watering sums of money. I must admit, I don’t like miniatures in general. So I am definitely a bit biased against them here. I think my main issue is that they require MORE work from the player to really take advantage of them. You need to pick up a whole other hobby of miniatures painting to properly finish the board game you just shelled out a lot of money for. Frankly I’d rather spend that painting time actually playing the game. But besides this inherent bias of mine there’s also the fact that the game before now has never suffered from a lack of miniatures. It was never designed with them in mind, and so in essence you are paying for very expensive pieces that worked fine as wooden pawns. Honestly, the pawns might even work better, since the game has you stacking them at times, something that is not possible with miniatures without some circus balancing. Yet here they are, driving the cost of the collector’s edition through the roof, and taking up a whole lot of space in the box besides. You might say, well then the collector’s edition is not for you. Which I would agree with except for that brings me to my third issue.
Which is that they are solving the rules once and for all with an open and play kit. This spiral bound book is designed to teach the game to new players with playable scenarios and examples walking through each step. It brilliantly solves the rules headache of the first edition and makes it easier than ever to get into the game. Great! Except… it only comes with the collector’s edition. If you want this open and play option, you have to buy the whole pie, minis and all. There is an upgrade kit for people like me which contains just the collectors edition add-ons without the game, so they are trying to do right by their old customers… except not. The most important part of this package and the one that should be universal is tethered to 18+ minis and all the other random stuff they throw in the box. The minimum to get in on that collector’s edition is $100.00, a pretty steep price if you are not excited to pain the miniatures.
And so I backed away from the collector’s edition… slowly and with some grumbling, but I will not fall for the FOMO(fear of missing out), and I will not pay for plastic when I really just want to improve what I already have. There is a silver lining however. The campaign is for two different items, and while the collector’s edition is dead in the water for me the Book of Adventures might be a winner. This is a collection of over 50 scenarios, giving players new ways to play with the game they already have. It is similarly over-produced and full of FOMO with exclusive paper and limited edition hardcover shenanigans. But it does feel like it adds a lot of longevity to the game as now players can further vary set-up and the goals in addition to finding a unique play with the cards that come up. I stand by the game as an excellent title and they did address a lot of the rules issues I had with some of the more recent editions if you want to check it out. But honestly, unless you love painting miniatures just get the original game at half the price and you’ll have a blast.