Kickstarter Craze Causing Chaos in Board Game Collectors’ Corners

Alien Frontier is a great game, but is it $100-to-$125 great? Not so much. This is the game that set off the Kickstarter bubble currently going on in the hobby-game world.

Back in 2010, a tiny board-game publisher called Clever Mojo put its first title, a sci-fi dice game called Alien Frontiers, up as a Kickstarter project. It was a wildfire success. Before the game ever touched a store shelf in wider, traditional distribution, it was a smash hit. The initial print run evaporated, and aftermarket copies were selling for considerably more than $100 at auction. It was definitely a case of speculating fever, compounded by fears that the game, which got outstanding reviews, would not be reprinted.

When a reprint was finally announced, it was still some four months out from production, so the Alien Frontiers market was booming.

Now, it’s not hard to find a copy of the game for less than its $50 retail price. Or, you can download the iOS app for $5.

But for collectors looking to Kickstarter for the next big thing, the proposition can be dicey.

Kickstarter, if you are not aware, is a so-called “crowdsourcing” website wherein creators of a wide assortment of projects ranging from bug-destroying, salt-firing shotguns to conceptual art projects seek funding from “backers.” Effectively, folks like you and me agree to put down some money to get said project made in return for the product itself, some degree of recognition in the project or other benefits. It upends traditional product development by effectively telling consumers that the product they want to buy—sight unseen—will not be produced unless a certain funding goal is reached.

Kickstarter entrepreneurs typically offer backers tiered investment levels with escalating rewards, and often “stretch goals” are offered to all backers if funding reaches certain milestones.

Kickstarter is having a crazy effect on the hobby board, card, roleplaying and miniatures gaming market. For years, the industry has been in a free fall, as electronic options have increased and very few hobby gaming titles have managed to meet the sales that games like Magic: The Gathering and other tent-pole brands achieved in the 1990s.

This game was backed for $2 million. Two. Million. Dollars. Individual figures are already showing up on eBay for well over their retail value, but how long will it last?

Brick-and-mortar retail has all but vanished, and everywhere you turn folks in the industry talk about how there’s no money to be made in it. Yet Kickstarter, with its bizarre crowd psychology that encourages people to buy products they may not even like and at sometimes substantially more than retail price is seeing sales numbers like $2 million for the recently funded miniatures game Kingdom Death: Monster.

As a result, within the aftermarket and collectors’ corner of the gaming world, an artificial, value-inflating bubble has developed that is close to out-of-control. A recent auction of a Kickstarted game called Zombicide, with all of the bonuses and backer goals, closed at close to $2000—almost 10 times the actual retail value of the game with all of the trimmings and additional materials. Granted, the seller had painted all of the miniatures and this complete edition was limited, but “Kickstarter inflation” definitely was an issue.

Further, sellers are beginning to find that backer perks—sometimes exclusive components, expansions, or other add-on pieces—are saleable in the aftermarket. There’s something called an “Abomination Pack” for Zombicide that was a backer exclusive that’s currently worth about $300 at auction, and if you pledged enough to get the t-shirt, you can recoup $15 on average.

Online retailers are also getting in on backing projects, supporting at levels of thousands of dollars to promote their shops and bring in inventory of what appears from the pre-fab hype to be a hot new title. There are even a few opportunists who are effectively pre-selling bonuses and exclusives even before the games ship. There’s one eBay seller who’s listing Kingdom Death figures—mind you, these are 28 millimeter miniatures—for $125.

And there’s the whole “Alien Frontiers” effect, where everybody is afraid that a Kickstarter game is going to be a breakout title but will be scarce or even completely unavailable.

It’s all really kind of a mess, and now some of the larger firms in the hobby-game business are jumping on the bandwagon. Companies aren’t taking chances on reprints or new IPs; they’re getting customers to bankroll everything up front.

Unless that shirt is made of solid gold, I’m not seeing anything here worth $1,800.

It’s a strange climate right now. There are games that are barely available that are escalating in price, often without the normal kind of exposure and word-of-mouth proliferation that attends new releases. Speculation is rampant. People are seeing re-sales like that of Zombicide and hoping to get a piece of all that magical money that’s appeared out of nowhere and floating around in the hobby world.

I would advise very strongly against speculating, investing or stockpiling any kind of Kickstarter product, especially board games. For every Alien Frontiers, there’s at least one game that has been a critical disappointment or indefinitely delayed past its stated availability. And there are funded projects that seem to be in limbo and may never materialize. Reselling premiums and bonuses may be a good short-sell strategy, if you’re buying a game anyway and don’t intend to use it, but this bubble-—really a series of bubbles—isn’t going to last.

There is also the issue that the volume of games that are coming out through Kickstarter; it’s become a churn and it’s hard to guess right now if games like Zombicide and Kingdom Death will even be remembered five years from now. The most valuable and desirable games tend to be the ones that have matured over time and have had a high degree of exposure, either through play or reputation, and that kind of exposure can’t be provided by limited, one-shot print runs of 500 copies delivered strictly to backers.

With that said, there may be isolated instances where a Kickstarted game or its bonuses carry value beyond an initial rush. Which those may be is anybody’s guess, but the miniatures games seem to be the strongest in terms of escalating value. At this stage, “wait and see” is the best advice I can issue to anyone looking to play or purchase this new breed of tabletop game.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.

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