Let’s put it on record: I’m no fan of Kickstarter.
I’ve used it a few times in the past to support a handful of indie video games, but I’ve regretted it each and every time.
As it turns out, the risks are real: when someone asks you to front an investment and promises something in return, there are plenty of things that can go wrong between the moment you pledge and the expected receipt of promised rewards.
And from what I’ve seen on Kickstarter and heard from people around the board gaming community, board games appear riskier to participate in than other kinds of crowdfunded projects.
Here are several reasons why I will never back a Kickstarter board game, or any crowdfunded board game campaign.
1. Game Quality Is Unknown
A lot of Kickstarter projects are independently published. That is, after all, one of the main draws to using Kickstarter in the first place—being able to crowdfund something new.
But that also means that these projects don’t go through the same rigorous testing that established publishers demand before they approve something for retail distribution.
Kickstarter has lowered the barrier to entry so much that many projects, if they actually ship at all, end up being subpar in quality—whether that quality is in gameplay, component pieces, customer service, or whatever else.
Are there occasional homeruns? Sure, I won’t deny that. But most Kickstarter board games are on Kickstarter for a reason. There’s a lot of crap to sift through, which makes pledging to any particular campaign a huge gamble.
Once pledged, you never know what you’re going to get.
The gameplay may not actually be what was described in the campaign description. The component pieces might be sourced from bottom-shelf manufacturers. The rulebook might be impossible to parse.
Or maybe the creator really did intend for the game to be what they initially promised, but the design goes through several revisions after you’ve already pledged, so what you chose to back isn’t what you receive in the end.
Because Kickstarter games aren’t available to the public, reviews may be sparse or non-existent—and if there are any reviews, they could be highly suspect since reviewers often have a vested interest in maintaining quid-pro-quo relationships.
This is the same reason why I don’t pre-order games or buy Early Access games. User reviews are important in this day and age.
2. Kickstarter Strategies Are Anti-Consumer
There’s something about the Kickstarter experience that tempts creators to milk their supporters for as much cash as possible.
It’s not a uniquely Kickstarter phenomenon—just look at video game microtransactions—but the design of Kickstarter’s tiered rewards system seems to encourage it.
I’m talking about Kickstarter exclusives.
If you pledge X amount, you only get the base game; if you pledge X+Y amount, you get the base game and some cool swag; if you pledge X+Y+Z amount, you get exclusive Kickstarter-only bonuses.
Often times, these special bonuses are sold as “never to be available again.” And it’s worst when those bonuses affect actual gameplay, such as in the case of limited edition cards.
It’s a predatory practice. These limited-time “offers” prey on the FOMO of board gamers, who may feel compelled to collect everything to maximize gameplay value—and we all know how much overlap there is between avid board gamers and collectors.
It’s manipulative in a “Buy now before it’s too late!” sense, and it’s all due to artificial scarcity. It’s not like the creator will never be able to print those cards or manufacture those pieces, is it?
Not to mention that anyone who enters the board gaming hobby at a later time—long after the Kickstarter has ended—misses out on those exclusives through no fault of their own. They’re left with a lesser game that’s missing gameplay components.
Note: Kickstarter exclusives that don’t affect gameplay are fine.
3. Risks of Delay or Non-Delivery
It’s not uncommon for Kickstarter projects to have release dates that get pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back…
You may have made a pledge with the expectation that you’d have the game within a few months (as promised), but suddenly a year has gone by and you still have nothing.
Or worse, the game never gets finished. Or it does reach completion but the creator runs into manufacturing issues or distribution issues. Or sometimes the creator almost completes a project but asks for more money so they can reach the finish line.
Out of all the frustrating aspects of Kickstarter, this one might just be the worst.
4. Kickstarter Doesn’t Refund Money
Kickstarter’s role is facilitator.
When you pledge money to a Kickstarter campaign, you’re making an agreement with the creator of that campaign, not Kickstarter.
Which means if your pledge is processed and then something goes wrong and you want your money back, the creator is the one who has to issue the refund.
Kickstarter explicitly states they don’t do refunds:
Kickstarter does not issue refunds. Transactions are between backers and creators directly. To request a refund for a pledge, please contact the project creator.Kickstarter Support
What happens if the creator doesn’t want to honor your refund request? Or you can’t even get a hold of the creator to request a refund? Or they spent it all and physically can’t refund you?
Credit card chargebacks are an option, but should only be used sparingly. Too many chargebacks can get you banned on Kickstarter, or flagged by your credit card company for suspicious behavior.
Personally, I’d rather just stay away from Kickstarter than deal with chargebacks at all.
5. There Are Plenty of Retail Games
As of this writing, there are over 108,000 board games in BoardGameGeek’s database, and the vast majority of them—at least the ones still in production—are sold on Amazon, on other retailer sites, or in brick-and-mortar board game shops.
With so many high-quality games out there, there’s no reason to bother with Kickstarter games.
In most cases, if the Kickstarter game is any good, it’ll eventually move to retail and can be bought risk-free then. If it never makes it to retail, perhaps you dodged a bullet by not pledging.
You might save a little bit of money if you pledge via Kickstarter instead of waiting for retail release, but I don’t think the risk is worth a minor savings in price.
And I know that the waiting period for a Kickstarter game to hit retail can be years. But I’m patient and there are lots of awesome board games to keep me busy in the meantime.
For me, the peace of mind is worth waiting.