Why I Will Never Back a Board Game on Kickstarter: 5 Reasons

More and more, board game production is being funded via Kickstarter. Here’s why I refuse to support this trend.

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 five core reasons why I will never back a board game on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or elsewhere.

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—but this means that these projects (and the resulting products) 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 Kickstarters are Kickstarters for a reason, and 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. The game might even go through several revisions after you pledge, 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 who don’t buy the games they review with their own money often have a vested interest in not burning bridges with the creators who send them free stuff. This is the same reason why I don’t pre-order games or buy Early Access games, mind you. User reviews are extremely 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 uniquely a Kickstarter phenomenon—just look at video game microtransactions—but due to the design of Kickstarter’s tiered rewards system, can you blame creators for going down this route?

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 components that will never be available again, and these components may or may not affect actual gameplay. (For example, special cards.)

I’m mainly talking about Kickstarter exclusives that affect gameplay, which is supremely predatory. These limited-time “offers” prey on the FOMO of board gamers and the compulsory need for board game whales 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 is no longer able to print more cards or manufacture more pieces, is it?

There’s more to it than the manipulative aspect, too. Anyone who enters the board gaming hobby at a later time, namely 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, and for what?

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 slated release dates that get pushed back, and pushed back, and pushed back some more. You may have made a pledge with the expectation that you’d have the game by next month as promised, but suddenly a year passes 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 to a campaign, you’re making an agreement with the creator of that campaign, not Kickstarter. Which means if your pledge is processed and 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 all of the pledge money 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 to Explore

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 that are still in production—are sold online via retailers like Amazon or via brick-and-mortar board game cafes and 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 it wasn’t any good and you dodged a bullet by not pledging.

Sure, 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 yeah, you have to wait a while for it to hit retail, but I’m patient and there are lots of awesome games to keep me busy in the meantime. The peace of mind is worth waiting for.

How do you feel about board games on Kickstarter? Do you back them? If so, what’s your criteria for choosing which ones to take that risk on? Am I being overly cautious? Share with me in the comments!

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  1. I used to love KS and I have backed something like 73 games and all but one I have received. So i have a little knowledge. And honestly I think there is a bigger problem which is lately KS which had been the place for an indie game designer to get his big chance has now been flooded with big name publishing companies posting their games (Queen Games, AEG, Steve Jackson games, to name a few). And the problem is that these bigger companies while having great kickstarters have huge staffs to create the most amazing looking KS pages and connections with manufacturers to get prices down. Plus they tend to order larger quantities than the old average KS’er. What this does is they are creating a defector standard that is so high that your indie game designers are being muscled out. I am on many Facebook groups for Ks designer wannabes and they are often talking about why is my KS not getting funding and inevitability someone will point to something like Thunderstone Quest and say that their page isn’t as sharp or doesn’t have enough stretch goals or is priced too high. In the last year I have seen this place that used to give the little guy a chance to a place where the little guy is being pushed out. I wouldn’t be surprised if in another year or so you don’t see any new and little guys but all mainstream publishers pushing their stuff. Sad honestly. They should have left it as maybe a proving ground for new and up and coming designers and if they prove themselves then maybe be able to be picked up by the big guys as a regular designer. But that is just my opinion.

  2. I’ll back games on KS, but I try to do my research before throwing lots of money at a project. 7th Continent – too big to ever really hit retail and it is something that I really like – exploration, puzzles, good decisions, and a sort of story along the way. That was quite worth it. I’ll also back smaller designers/publishers who just need some way to get their game out – where it truly _won’t_ ever get published if it’s not funded. The game still has to be reasonably decent, but I’m willing to support people who have a neat idea.

    Queen games – pretty much a pass. They produce great-looking stuff, but so much of it seems to hit a high discount at retail about a year after delivery. I might go in for a couple of smaller projects, but rarely a full game from them. White Wizard – seemed to jump on the “milk your customers” train. After Star Realms went huge, the latter campaigns seem to have pledge levels that are just too much for too little. I can get their add-on packs @ retail cheaper many times and really only miss out on the promos.

    TMG’s Deluxe versions of games will catch my eye because the Deluxe editions don’t tend to hit mass retail. So if it’s a good game, I’ll consider backing their projects. Still has to be something of interest, but they do have some good games and nice bits to go with them. Red Raven usually gets a good look as well because of the art and gameplay. Tiny Epic _whatever_ will also get a look, though the “ultra-tiny” series usually gets a pass. Their Deluxe editions are also pretty nice and worth the little extra. I still won’t back a game not of interest, but they get a look.

    The bigger concerns of timing, value, and such are all quite valid. I try to do my research and may just follow a project for $1 to see how it goes and still get updates. I haven’t really been burned on too many board games, though I’m _still_ waiting on delivery from some video games from years back. I didn’t back for high levels, but still frustrating that they’ve taken well beyond their original estimates. For most projects, I tend to be a little more wary with first-time project creators who’ve never backed anything and haven’t tried to get any word out before the campaign launches. Those are usually flags that the campaign may not go too well.

    1. Some great thoughts here, Peter!

      You’re right, there are some games that are just so big or risky that they could only succeed via Kickstarter. I’m not really into those games, but I’ll admit it’s one of the more legit reasons for crowdfunding a board game. That kind of innovation should be rewarded by fans if it’s done well.

      Overall it seems like you know what you’re doing, and if everyone were as diligent with research then perhaps creators would run their campaigns better and Kickstarter would be more appealing to me. As long as you’re happy with your own tolerance for risk/reward, there’s nothing wrong with backing a project. I think I’m just more risk-averse than most! Haha.

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