Summer Doldrums – or Continuing #Kickstarter and PreOrder Madness

As it is the summer, my gaming as slowed as the RockyMountainNavy Boys find more outdoor activities to do, the family is traveling more often, and long summer evenings make gaming less a priority. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to play! Or try new games!

In April 2018, I had 13 games on pre-order. What has happened since?

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Preorder, or just a disorder?

I currently have 16 items on preorder. A majority (9) are GMT Games P500 orders. I have a love/hate relationship with P500; I love the games but hate the wait. I also am a bit disappointed that GMT Games has become a victim of the Cult of the New (COTN) with newer games seemingly taking priority over long-awaited reprints or expansions. I don’t blame GMT Games; they are going after the money where money is to be had.

I am also a bit surprised at the number of Kickstarter games I have pledged for. Given my hesitancy to previously support games I am surprised that I have five on this list. (actually six but the forever-delayed Squadron Strike: Traveller does not have a BGG entry and therefore does not show up). I have to say that so far I am extremely happy with the Triplanetary campaign since it is delivering early (my copy may even be in the mail as I type).

I actually had another Kickstarter item on order until last night when I cancelled it. It was an RPG product and I had backed it because the theme was interesting. As I looked at the product a bit deeper there were aspects that I found, well, I decided the product was not for me and dropped the campaign.

The last two games are Father’s Day gifts to myself and show as preordered because I don’t have them in hand just yet. Once again, the ever-awesome The Player’s Aid guys just make it so that I can’t pass on another game. In this case it’s Patton’s  Vanguard (Revolution Games). The other is Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands 1982 (White Dog Games). This buy was heavily influenced by an interview designer Ben Madison recently did with Bruce Geryk at his Wild Weasel podcast.

Four of the Kickstarter games are to deliver before the end of the year. We will see; Triplanetary looks like it is coming in early but three other Kickstarter campaigns I have backed (two non-boardgames) are delayed. Maybe a poor investment?

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“You’re using Star Wars and physics in the same sentence….”

I had an unusual exchange on Twitter the other day. Unusual because I (frankly) was a bit of a jerk to @beltalowda_ and unusual because I let popular sci-fi get under my skin.

First, the exchange:

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I cut off my response because I was a bit of a jerk and talked down to @beltalowda_ (hey, if you’re reading this, sorry!).

The main point I was trying to make (on Twitter? I must be crazy!) is that science fiction and science fact don’t mix well, especially in the realm of gaming. Star Wars is nominally science fiction (I would argue it is more science fantasy but that is another, fruitless, discussion) and the games related to the franchise reflect that origin. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game today is ranked as the #63 game overall on BoardGameGeek as well as the #7 Customizable Game (interestingly, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures – The Force Awakens Core Set is ranked #4 in the Customizable Game category). These games use what gamers often refer to as “cinematic movement,” i.e. they fly about in space like airplanes. This is far different from what space combat will likely look like. Atomic Rockets, IMNSHO one of the best sites on the internet, devotes a whole section to Space War and what is closer to reality. For me, one of the hallmarks of a hard sci-fi game is the use of vector movement, ala (loosely) The Expanse.

Overall, The Expanse is better at hard sci-fi than many shows but even here there is a good deal of “handwavium” involved. Scott Manley on YouTube has made one of the better explanations so far:

My personal gaming experience has shown the same conflict between hard and popular sci-fi. I have bounced between hard (realistic?) sci-fi and more cinematic portrayals. Here is a list of a few games in my collection and how they looked at space combat:

Finding the right balance between popular sci-fi and hard sci-fi gaming is tricky. For myself, games like Star Fleet Battles and its derivatives are fun because of the theme since when playing these games I am choosing theme over mechanics. Some of the more hard sci-fi games are fun with a bit or realism thrown in (like Mayday) but some go too far (Squadron Strike: Traveller) where the fun has a hard time overcoming the difficulty of rules and play.

The upside of all this is that the gaming scene is broad enough that either preference, cinematic or vector, can be accommodated. It’s a matter of choice, and the game industry is healthy enough to give us that choice. Even if I am choosing not to play.

Hattip to @TableTopBill who commented on my tweet with the title of this post.

Red Alert – or Dread Alert?

Richard Borg’s Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare is up on Kickstarter at the moment. Offered by the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) I can pledge to support for about 120 US dollars.

Bonding with Board Games posted this “digital preview:”

While the game topic (theme?) is interesting to me, as a longtime naval and space warfare gamer I have mixed feelings.

First, I am not sure that the Left-Center-Right concept of a battlefield makes sense for space combat. The core issue in any space combat game is how to show three-dimensional combat on a 2-D board. Who can forget the classic “two dimensional thinking” in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

Most space games simply ignore the three dimensional aspects. Other games, like Squadron Strike: Traveller (another Kickstarter I am – still – waiting for) make it part of the game, albeit at greater complexity.

Some space combat games take the other extreme. A favorite game of mine is the space combat system found in the (Classic) Traveller RPG Book 5 High Guard. This game system has its weaknesses, as defined by the famous Eurisko incident using the Trillion Credit Squadron (TCS) tournament rules:

Trillion Credit Squadron was used as a test case for artificial intelligence researcher Douglas Lenat’s machine learning system Eurisko. Lenat programmed the TCS tournament rules into Eurisko, and the system designed a fleet of large, stationary, defenseless, and heavily armed ships.

  • This fleet then won the 1981 TCS national championship tournament at the Origins ’81 convention. GDW changed the rules for the following tournament, but Eurisko adapted to the changes and its fleet won the championship again. GDW threatened to cancel the tournament if a Eurisko-designed fleet entered again, and Lenat declined to do so, accepting the title “Grand Admiral” as consolation.[1] Lenat’s 1981 fleet design (including 75 Eurisko class Gunships) was printed in JTAS issue #10. (http://wiki.travellerrpg.com/Trillion_Credit_Squadron)

So the question facing me is playability or realism? More directly, is this game worth $120 of fun with my family, or is it $120+ of personal frustration? As I look at the campaign this morning, the Carrier Escalation Pack has unlocked, for a mere £14.50 extra. PSC apparently hopes we all subscribe to the old saying. “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

Then there is my usual Kickstarter concerns. Giving $120 +shipping +expansion packs NOW for a game SCHEDULED to deliver in March 2019 (or 9 months from campaign end) is becoming harder to accept.

As appealing as the is campaign looks to the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I think I am going to pass. The money involved can get us lots more gaming products NOW rather than a riskier investment into the future.

Gaming Grumbles – March 18, 2018

(A collection of random gaming thoughts – possibly negative. You have been warned)

I can’t figure out how to link to a Twitter video, but go look at the March 16 tweets by @koreaboardgames. Maybe if Toys R Us in the US did events like these kids game days they would still be around rather than dumping Di$ney $tar War$ crap Hasbro toys on the market.

Amarillo Design Bureau has released Captain’s Log #45 on places like Wargame Vault. When I was a huge Star Fleet Battles player, I literally raced to the game store to buy the latest Captain’s Log. I usually enjoyed the fiction, loved the “history,” and played the ‘eck out of the new ships and scenarios. But $19.95 for a digital download? For a product that was originally released in 2012 – and not updated? That works out to something like $.13/page – a bit rich for my wallet.

My Incredibly Negative Kickstarter Experience continues (no) thanks to Ken Burnside and Ad Astra Games with Squadron Strike: Traveller. This campaign funded in March 2016 with 290 backers pledging $23,339 against a goal of $5000. At the time it looked promising as the campaign claimed:

At the time we launched this Kickstarter, the setting-and-scenario booklet was edited, the tutorial booklet was in final edits, and the SSD booklet had been laid out. The countershafts have been laid out, and the folio cover and box wrap are laid out and ready to send to the printer.

On the first business day after this project reaches its funding goal, I’ll send the print job to the printers to minimize delay in shipping games to backers.

I pledged for the boxed game; no minis. In late February 2018 some backers who purchased minis finally started receiving their ships but the game is still not ready. In an update on March 17 backers were told that the SSD book is in layout because it needed “re-designing,” tutorial scenarios are being written/rewritten, and…I really don’t give a damn about your excuses anymore! Where is my frakking game!

 

 

Game of the Week for 12 March 2018 – Talon Reprint Edition (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

I have my own shelf of shame and one of the games that is sitting on it is Talon Reprint Edition (GMT Games, 2015/17). I wrote a First Impressions post last September but the game has languished, unloved, since. My past few Game of the Week have been older games; this week change that and try a newer game.

The Talon Play Book has a Tutorial scenario so that seems like a good place to start. If I can get a chance with the RockyMountainNavy boys, we might try Scenario 1 – War is Upon Us during the week. The scenario looks to be a good learning game with few ships on two evenly-matched sides duking it out. If all goes well, Scenario 3 – The First Fleet Engagement looks like a good Game Night event.

Like I wrote in my First Impressions, I see Talon as a sci-fi fleet combat game to replace Star Fleet Battles (Amarillo Design Bureau) in my collection. I tried Federation Commander (Amarillo Design Bureau) but found it wanting. I think this is because the RMN Boys are simply not Trekkies. [I know, I have failed as a Geek Father – sue me] More directly to my point, they are not well acquainted with the thematic elements behind SFB and FC, and therefore the complexity of the games push them away. I also see Talon as an inexpensive alternative to Star Wars: Armada (Fantasy Flight Games). In the case  of Armada I dislike the theme (I am very anti-Di$ney Star Wars these days) and cringe at the cost of all those miniatures in a game that is another unappealing manual video game.

To be fair, I actually have another fleet combat game in my collection. Full Thrust (Ground Zero Games) and the very similar Power Projection: Fleet (BITS UK) are probably my favorite sci-fi fleet combat games. FT is a generic set of rules whereas PP:F is tailored for the Traveller RPG universe. The problem is that both are miniatures games and I never made that investment (although with modern desktop publishing software and home printers it is possible to make custom counters and tokens).

I am also very happy to get Talon to the table in part because another sci-fi combat game I bought in 2016 has yet to arrive. I made the mistake of backing Squadron Strike: Traveller by Ken Burnside and Ad Astra Games on Kickstarter. Allegedly, the miniatures for the game started shipping late February, but for backers like me who didn’t buy minis and am waiting for my boxed set it appears that all I am going to get is a beta-version of the pdf. All of which makes me look forward to Talon that much more because its a lot easier to have fun with a game when its actually on your table and not vaporware!

Kicking Off the Year with Kickstarter

I know that Kickstarter is a big part of why board gaming is so popular. Even so, I have my doubts. That said, so far this year I backed two Kickstarter games. Either I have overcome my Kickstarter fears, or am really stupid.

Part of the reason I am gun-shy at Kickstarter is because I backed, in March 2016, Squadron Strike: Traveller. I was a bit doubtful because the Squadron Strike system looks a bit complex (much like Birds of Prey, one of my least-favorite games). But I really love the Traveller RPG so I went for it. I pledged $109 for the Boxed Game. I even had to add extra money in the BackerKit in 2017. It has not delivered. Nor does it seem it will ever deliver.

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Courtesy Compass Games

In 2017 I backed Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. I backed at the $95 level for a single copy of the game. The only stretch goal that was included was a single extra scenario. To be honest, I felt a bit ripped off by Compass Games. To me, the Kickstarter campaign was nothing more than a pre-order system. There was no price advantage. Indeed, less than a year later I can find new copies for a fair amount less.

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Courtesy Triplanetary Kickstarter

In January this year, nostalgia got the best of me and I backed Triplanetary from Steve Jackson Games. I remember seeing this title when I was a rookie gamer. As of the writing of this post, the campaign has funded and is supposed to be delivered in August 2018. We will see.

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Courtesy Agents of Mayhem Kickstarter

Finally, my love of Academy Games led me to pledge for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon. This pledge is heavily influenced by my love (and respect) for Academy Games. I pledged even though tactical skirmish games, like this or Imperial Assault, are really not in my wheelhouse. I must admit I am looking forward to this game with its many innovative combinations of components. The last big Academy Games Kickstarter project, 878 Vikings – Invasions of England did deliver very close to on time (at least the English-language copies in the US). As of the writing of this post the game is funded with 9 stretch goals unlocked. Delivery is scheduled for September 2018.

I think I am going to slow down, if not stop, further Kickstarter support for the year. At least, that is, until these deliver (except for Squadron Strike: Traveller as I have given up). It is going to take a very special game to get me to change my decision.

#NegativePosting – Why I don’t like #Kickstarter courtesy @AdAstraGames #SquadronStrikeTraveller

Call me a sucker. Warning – I write this post in “simmering rant-mode.”

I am a long-time Traveller RPG fan. Part of why I like the universe is the various ship combat systems. From the small-ship Mayday (GDW, 1979) to fleet engagements using Power Projection: Fleet (BITS, 2003) I have tried out various systems – with just as many various  levels of satisfaction.

I was very happy in February 2016 when Ken Burnside kickstarted Squadron Strike: Traveller. Although I was a bit worried about game system complexity, I backed the project because I was hungry for Traveller space combat game. I also recognized Ken from Star Fleet Battles; another game I dearly loved.

It is now 21 October 2017…exactly 19 months after the project funded and I still do not have my game. Part of the delay is because Ken had to get the miniatures that are one of the stretch goals produced. Problem is I pledged for the boxed game only:

This is the Deluxe Edition of Squadron Strike Traveller, as a boxed game. It is the same as Squadron Strike 2nd Edition, only it replaces the Empire/Directorate War content with Squadron Strike Traveller. It also includes the PDFs of all the materials.

I didn’t buy the miniatures but an being held up because of them. FOUL!

Maybe I didn’t read the Risks and Challenges closely enough:

This is a project that uses techniques and components we use for the other Ad Astra boxed games. There is nothing in this that we have not successfully done before.

At the time we launched this Kickstarter, the setting-and-scenario booklet was edited, the tutorial booklet was in final edits, and the SSD booklet had been laid out. The countersheets have been laid out, and the folio cover and box wrap are laid out and ready to send to the printer.

On the first business day after this project reaches its funding goal, I’ll send the print job to the printers to minimize the delay in shipping games to backers.

The project funded Monday, 21 March 2016 making the “next business day” Tuesday, 22 March 2016. Yet today, October 2017, I don’t have my game.

In December 2016 things looked close. In a Backers-only update (#30) Ken provided insight into the print product:

  • Countersheets – “Done and in-house”
  • SSD Book – “needs some cleanup”
  • Tutorial Book – “needs a heavy edit” to get under 64-page count
  • Scenario and Setting Book – “something of a mess”
  • Master Weapons Charts – “done and ready to print”
  • Box Wrap – “Done and in-house.”
  • Maps – “Done and in-house”
  • Tilt Blocks/Stacking Tiles/AVID Cards/RALT Cards – All “Done and in-house”

Then in April 2017 (Update #33), Ken posted about the “RPG/Minis Integration Problem.” Yes Ken, it’s a problem that you knew about from the beginning and was even one of the FAQ Questions:

Will RPG-scale or Adventurer-scale ships be a stretch goal?

No. While we have those in development, they are nowhere near ready enough to be used as a stretch goal for this campaign. There will be a later Kickstarter covering RPG-scale ships.

If problems come up, creators are expected to post a project update explaining the situation. Sharing the story, speed bumps and all, is crucial. Most backers support projects because they want to see something happen and they’d like to be a part of it. Creators who are honest and transparent will usually find backers to be understanding.

It’s not uncommon for things to take longer than expected. Sometimes the execution of the project proves more difficult than the creator had anticipated. If a creator is making a good faith effort to complete their project and is transparent about it, backers should do their best to be patient and understanding while demanding continued accountability from the creator.

If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps should include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. For more information, see Section 4 of our Terms of Use.

There are some very squishy words here like “good faith” and “transparent.” I am trying to be “patient and understanding” but after 19 months it is getting really hard!

What is Section 4 of the Terms of Service? Section 4 explains the CONTRACT between creators and backers. I am going to quote it in full because it is has remedies for situations:

Kickstarter provides a funding platform for creative projects. When a creator posts a project on Kickstarter, they’re inviting other people to form a contract with them. Anyone who backs a project is accepting the creator’s offer, and forming that contract.

Kickstarter is not a part of this contract — the contract is a direct legal agreement between creators and their backers. Here are the terms that govern that agreement:

When a project is successfully funded, the creator must complete the project and fulfill each reward. Once a creator has done so, they’ve satisfied their obligation to their backers.

Throughout the process, creators owe their backers a high standard of effort, honest communication, and a dedication to bringing the project to life. At the same time, backers must understand that when they back a project, they’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There may be changes or delays, and there’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.

If a creator is unable to complete their project and fulfill rewards, they’ve failed to live up to the basic obligations of this agreement. To right this, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to the best possible conclusion for backers. A creator in this position has only remedied the situation and met their obligations to backers if:

  • they post an update that explains what work has been done, how funds were used, and what prevents them from finishing the project as planned;
  • they work diligently and in good faith to bring the project to the best possible conclusion in a timeframe that’s communicated to backers;
  • they’re able to demonstrate that they’ve used funds appropriately and made every reasonable effort to complete the project as promised;
  • they’ve been honest, and have made no material misrepresentations in their communication to backers; and
  • they offer to return any remaining funds to backers who have not received their reward (in proportion to the amounts pledged), or else explain how those funds will be used to complete the project in some alternate form.

The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.

This is all good information that I really didn’t want to know. A real reminder that Kickstarter is the ultimate “buyer beware.” I really like the boardgame hobby and it makes me sick to my stomach to think that I may be joining a lawsuit in the future.

Truth told, I actually am not very anxious for this game to arrive. Two years ago I thought that I needed games like Squadron Strike: Traveller to satisfy my gaming urges. You see, back then I was a “simulationist” gamer – the more “real” the game the more I wanted it. A system like Squadron Strike with its 3D, vector movement and realistic firing arcs seemed just the thing to make spaceship combat gaming worth it. I wanted to play it now (i.e. back then). But I have “grown up”, and out, of simulationist gaming since then. The very complexity that makesSquadron Strike: Traveller “realistic” means it has a very low chance of ever landing my gaming table.

I honestly want Squadron Strike: Traveller not for the game, but simply because I PAID FOR IT!