Passion isn’t a Pitch and 6 Other Ways to Misunderstand Board Game Kickstarter as a Marketplace

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I’ve made my fair share of mistakes while building this business. I don’t sweep them under the rug. In fact, I even pulled apart the broken bits of my failed Kickstarter campaign for my understanding and published them online for public benefit. Being able to analyze and move forward after failure is critical to your success and a big part of getting your game from Start to Finish. This is part two of four in the Failure Recovery series.

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Today, I’m going to be covering six really common ways board game Kickstarter campaigns fall apart. This is based primarily on my observation of Kickstarter as a market in 2018, not necessarily how it was in the past. The market is shifting and maturing, moving inexorably toward large companies with established intellectual properties. That’s not a bad thing – it brings more people into the hobby board game world we enjoy! It definitely changes how you have to approach the business, though.


Mistake 1: Emphasizing passion instead of the game.

Kickstarter started in 2009 as a way for people to fund their passion projects. That may not have been the intention of the company from the get-go, but that’s how the site was interpreted by the general public. For a long time, emphasizing your passion for the project while simultaneously pitching it was a reliable way to appear human and receive funding.

I’m not so sure about that anymore. Don’t get me wrong: passion is a beautiful thing. Passion will see you through difficult times, make you more charismatic, and give you a compelling story that people can rally behind. However: passion isn’t a pitch.

When you make a board game today, you’re on the same platform as CMON and other very high-profile publishers who can reliably pull more than one million dollars per campaign. These companies are very rarely mom-and-pop shops like old-school Kickstarter. They make a lot of money because their products are carefully crafted for the audience, their pitches are extremely strong, and the games are good.

Your game’s fit for the market is more important than your passion. So many indie creators, myself included, emphasize passion to the detriment of the product itself. Passion needs to be at the root of your product. It’s not a selling point.

Mistake 2: The game lacks a hook.

Because Kickstarter is so crowded these days, you need to catch each backer’s attention in a few seconds. The only way your game can survive in this environment is to be a good game and a good product. Good games have clever themes and mechanics. Good products are made for audiences using hard data to figure out what people like. If people like sci-fi and fantasy, you give them sci-fi and fantasy. If people like worker placement, you give them worker placement.

That’s only the beginning of making a good product, though. Even something as ideal for Kickstarter as a $20 fantasy worker placement small box game needs something to catch people’s eyes. It could be great components, a unique rule, or really special art. Your hook can be lots of different things, but it needs to be both tested with your intended audience and strong enough for people to identify your game as “the one with…”

Mistake 3: Poor price point.

An overpriced game won’t sell on Kickstarter. This concludes Economics 101, hope you enjoyed the blog, sign up for my mailing list and Discord

But seriously: you need to pay attention to people’s purchasing patterns. A poor price point doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making your game too expensive. You can make games with an awkward price point that people aren’t buying at the moment. At the time that I am writing this, the campaigns I’ve seen succeed the most are expensive games or light games that are at or under $25. Much of what is in the middle is struggling.

Kickstarter is a giant open data set. Use hard data to figure out what price point core rewards are going for on successful campaigns. Try to match that price point.

Mistake 4: Poor components.

Lackluster components won’t necessarily sink a board game Kickstarter, but they won’t do it any favors. Having custom meeples, miniatures, or something creative and eye-catching helps a lot. In a lot of ways, it functions as a hook.

For better or worse, board gamers sometimes equate components with value. Do some research on Facebook or Board Game Geek to see what components gamers find valuable. You’d be surprised how often manufacturing price and perceived value don’t match up. I did one poll where wooden cubes scored higher than cards on value, despite cards costing three times as much to print and requiring extensive art creation.

Mistake 5: Poor art.

You have a few seconds to catch people’s attention. Art needs to not just be good in traditional artistic terms, but also good for product design. While there are a number of ways you can ensure your art is well-made from a tactical and technical standpoint, the most important thing to remember here is: test your art with your audience.

It’s impossible to know what art will resonate with people without running it by an audience. If you have a Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram account, try using those sites to see what people think of your art. If your art receives far higher engagement than your typical posts, that’s a very good sign. Every single art piece should ignite passion and interest in others. Otherwise, you could run into a situation where your game isn’t eye-catching enough to stand out in a crowded market.

Mistake 6: No reviews.

There are still some Kickstarters out there that go live without reviews. I don’t believe reviewers are the gatekeepers that they used to be, but it’s still a gigantic red flag when a campaign has no reviews. (Product-market fit, I believe, is more relevant than reviews, but I spent basically five points on that already.) You need social proof and reviewers act as testimonials to the quality of your product.

You need to print a few copies of your game from a print-on-demand supplier to send to reviewers. Thankfully, it’s easier than it’s ever been to get started with the actual printing process. For that matter, you can reach out to the majority of small reviewers by Twitter DM. The cost is relatively low compared to the rest of your project and the consequences of not having any reviews are too severe.

Mistake 7: Treating Kickstarter as the endgame.

Last but not least, one of the biggest strategic business errors you can make on Kickstarter is to only think about Kickstarter.

Sure, if you’re just making a single board game because you really want to see your name on a box, thinking about the Kickstarter campaign alone is fine. If you’re purely pursuing a passion project and don’t have your eye on distribution, designing other board games, or running a sustainable business, then you can treat Kickstarter as the endgame.

But if that’s not the case? Well, whether you’re trying to design a bunch of games, make passive income, or build an enterprise, your journey will not end with a single Kickstarter campaign. You won’t just fund and, POOF, all your dreams have come true.

In short: don’t just build a board game, build a business.


Board game Kickstarters can be complicated to run. Hopefully by spelling these common pitfalls, you can avoid them and fund successfully. Recognizing pitfalls is a great way to avoid failure.

If you have any additions to what you see above, please let me know in the comments 🙂





4 Lessons from Spirit Island for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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In 2016, Spirit Island raised $84,176 on Kickstarter. That is by no means a small amount to raise, but what’s interesting is that Spirit Island has remained on the Board Game Geek Hotness list off and on for almost three years. Its expansion went onto raise almost $800,000.

Clearly, there is much more to this game than what immediately meets the eye. There’s a lot we can learn from it!

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Hold that thought for just a moment, though. First, let’s explain to the uninitiated what Spirit Island is about. For that, we’ll reference the game’s Board Game Geek page.

Spirit Island is a complex and thematic cooperative game about defending your island home from colonizing Invaders. Players are different spirits of the land, each with its own unique elemental powers. Every turn, players simultaneously choose which of their power cards to play, paying energy to do so. Using combinations of power cards that match a spirit’s elemental affinities can grant free bonus effects. Faster powers take effect immediately, before the Invaders spread and ravage, but other magics are slower, requiring forethought and planning to use effectively. In the Spirit phase, spirits gain energy, and choose how / whether to Grow: to reclaim used power cards, to seek for new power, or to spread presence into new areas of the island.

1. Spirit Island flips the standard colonization theme on its head.

You can’t have a meaningful discussion about Spirit Island without discussing the theme. You and all the other players in the game play as Spirits who fight off the Invaders – basically, people who want to colonize your island.

Let’s be real: this is a politically hot subject right now. In the last couple of decades, in particular, many people have become much more familiar with the misdeeds of our distant (and not-so-distant) ancestors. Though this realization is about as comfortable as having a bucket of ice water dumped on your head, it’s a necessary one and ultimately a good one.

Done incorrectly, this theme could turn a lot of people off. But it doesn’t do that, because it’s well-executed and all-around fun! The fact that it happens to be covering a politically hot subject has actually likely contributed to its success.

Why does this work? In my opinion, it’s because it’s not preachy but rather clever and original! Spirit Island offers a really interesting twist on standard board game themes that have been done and overdone. We need more games like this that subvert standard board game narratives. (You’re next, agriculture games!)

2. Cooperative play is underused.

The default mode for most board games competitive. I have no problem with that and I certainly enjoy the feeling of good, well-matched competitive play.

Sure, cooperative play is not exactly some exotic unseen mechanic too. You have Pandemic, the Forbidden games, Mysterium, Elder Sign, and many other great games.

Yet if you take all the cooperative games on Board Game Geek and divide it by all the board games on Board Game Geek, you wind up with a figure like 6%. Just 6%! With such a small percentage of board games being cooperative, choosing to make a cooperative game – like Spirit Island – remains a deliberate stylistic choice. Spirit Island kicks it up a notch by having you play a cooperative game against Invaders, which as I mentioned previously, is the role you would play in most other games.

3. Playing defense creates gameplay experiences you don’t see in other types of games.

Even among cooperative games, you often wind up solving a mystery together or working toward some common goal. A smaller subset still have you focus on defending yourself from a dangerous outside force. In Spirit Island, you do exactly that.

While there is certainly the opportunity to plan ahead, the game forces its own agenda on you in a way I haven’t seen since Pandemic. This is a nice change of pace from normal cooperative games because it adds a necessary element of stress that makes Spirit Island feel satisfying.

I think Arah’s review on Board Game Geek says it best. “Vibe: brain burny whack-a-mole.” 

4. Balanced asymmetry leads to greater variety.

Last but not least, we’ve talked on this blog about how variable player powers can add variety to a game. We’ve even discussed at length how you can implement them in your own game. (Spoiler: the answer is TONS of play-testing).

The trick, of course, is to make sure all varying powers are definitely distinct while remaining balanced. With Spirit Island, you can tell they play-tested the game within an inch of its life.

To further explain my point, I’ll borrow from the Spirit Island wiki for the following sections. I’ll list out the play style of just four of the eight base game spirits. Check out how different the play styles are!

A Spread of Rampant Green

Fairly good at dealing with Towns, but terrible at handling Explorers (who are unfazed by prolific foliage). Can get Presence onto the board faster than most other Spirits. Extra Presence is good for targeting and especially for ‘Choke the Land with Green”, which can be extremely effective at slowing down invaders. Just be careful not to destroy Sacred Sites needed for Power use.

Bringer of Dreams and Nightmares

With most Spirits, Terror Victories are a backup plan if the main push against the Invaders stalls out for too long, but Bringer turns Fear into a more viable primary strategy. Its transformation of damage & destruction into Fear can turn Major Powers into tremendous sources of terror and panic. However, the only real offense Bringer has is the Dahan fighting back. While it does have some defensive ability, it is fundamentally poor at clearing areas of Invaders.

Lightning’s Swift Strike

Virtually all offense to start with: without a more defensive teammate, Blight may become a problem. Excellent at destroying buildings, less good at containing Explorers. Using Thundering Destruction tends to be a burst affair: a turn or two of position and build up Energy, followed by a really big turn.

Ocean’s Hungry Grasp

Extremely good at assaulting the coasts where the Invaders start out strong, but quite weak island – the ocean is not accustomed to affecting events so far ashore. Its Presence shifts in and out like the tide, which can be tricky to manage, but permits re-positioning and tactical retreats or offensives in the hands of a skillful player. Has fairly inexpensive Unique Powers, but the energy gained from drowning Invaders can be necessary in stepping up to more potent Powers.

Final Thoughts

Spirit Island excels for a few reasons. The first is because of its well-crafted, interesting, original theme. Another reason is that it uses underrated mechanics – namely cooperative gameplay and you vs. the world – to excellent effect. Lastly, the variable player powers are balanced in such a way that the game stays fresh for a long time!





How to Price Your Board Game

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Cardboard costs a lot of money! Board gamers are accustomed to handing over hundreds of dollars at a time on board game shopping sprees. If you look on /r/boardgames or Board Game Geek, you can find no shortage of “shelfies” where people have hundreds of board games. You might even get the impression that board gamers are not price-sensitive at all…

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Price matters. The amount you choose to charge for your board game says a lot about your game. Naturally, as the price goes up, fewer people will be interested in purchasing. But how does that explain $150 monsters like Gloomhaven?

Price isn’t just a number

Before you set out to apply a price to your board game, ask yourself these questions:

  • How complex is my game?
  • What components does it come with?
  • How long does it take to play?
  • How physically large is the box?

Price isn’t merely the amount of money that someone has to pay to get a copy of your work. It’s one of the most useful pieces of information about your game available to a board gamer. It is shorthand for the above questions. Along with your box, the theme and mechanics of your game, and the reviews you receive, board gamers will make a decision to buy or not to buy.

Different price points have different psychological effects on people. A $19 game is an impulse buy – people usually don’t think too much about spending that amount of money. For that price, they expect a small game without a whole lot of parts. On the flip-side, people are perfectly okay shelling out $100 or more for a giant game like Gloomhaven or Food Chain Magnate. Those games come with lots of parts and are complex, long-lasting games. There’s a lot going on there!

If you’re not sure on price, start here…

When choosing a price for your game, you’ll need to do something I often advise: look at similar games on Kickstarter and Amazon. Make sure you take into account the complexity of your game, the components included, the length, and its physical size. I even recommend you go to a local gaming store to look at the boxes, still shrink wrapped, and compare them to their prices. That can tell you a lot about how board gamers value games.

Naturally, any price you come up with will need to cover your manufacturing costs. A general rule of thumb to follow is “five times your landed cost.” That is to say, your game should cost gamers five times as much as it costs to print and ship the game to your warehouse. For Kickstarter campaigns, you might be able to push this down to “four times your landed cost.” As always, though, run the numbers and don’t rely on rules of thumb without closer analysis.

Still, I must reiterate: don’t merely think of price in terms of monetary exchange. It’s an important part of signaling the kind of game you have created and how much is in the box. The value of a game is not just its parts, its art, or the amount of hours you can play it before getting bored. The value is in the eye of board gamers and their expectations.

Here are a few examples:

Santorini – $25.98 on Amazon

Santorini is a sharp game. It’s a very intelligent abstract strategy game in which you competitively build towers in an effort to be the first person to stand atop one. It’s a really simple concept that has all sorts of profound strategic implications. From its simplicity comes its complexity.

It has great plastic components – these neat towers that stack and give the game a great physicality. For goodness sake, the box is linen! Yet here stands for a mere $25.98 despite having really good components. What gives? Are they trying to be competitive with pricing? Is the manufacturing cost deceptively low?

I don’t know the answer for sure, but my belief is that they keep this game under $30 to attract the right audience. It’s considered a light game, and while it can accommodate 3 or 4 players, it’s really best for 2. The game doesn’t have the sheer grittiness or complexity that more hardcore gamers crave, but it has a light, poppy appeal that makes it a great gateway game. That’s why they price it under $30 – to keep it in gateway game territory.

Twilight Imperium – $109.99 on Amazon

Twilight Imperium is notoriously complex. It’s for 3-6 players and games routinely exceed 4 hours in length. The sheer amount of components can easily fill a large table. I lifted the box once in a gaming store, and I can swear its heavier than the stones I used to build the retaining wall outside my house. This game is a monster!

This game is huge – game length, player count, component count, and box size. The price tag merely reflects what the game is. Now, yes, Fantasy Flight does have to charge a lot of money to break even on all those parts. That’s true. This game, however, scratches a very specific itch for board gamers who love heavy games. That’s why they’re willing to drop a fat hundred bucks on it. Buyers perceive a great value in the game which justifies the three-digit price tag.

Ticket to Ride – $44.99 on Amazon

Ticket to Ride is an old classic. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably played it. It’s a great game. It’s what many gamers would describe as a “medium-sized game.” Appropriately, it is priced at a middle of the road price: $44.99. Anything $40-50 generally implies that a game takes about an hour to play, can entertain 2-4 people, and doesn’t skimp on components. All of these things are true for Ticket to Ride, and the price justifies this.


Pricing board games is about far more than simply breaking even on manufacturing costs. It’s yet another way to signal values to prospective customers. Board gamers are accustomed to looking at games, and have internalized an intuition about what to expect out of games priced in a certain way.

Have you ever bought a game because of the price tag? Have you ever walked away from a game because of the price tag? Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions below!