This morning the Kickstarter campaign for Hero Realms went live. As of this moment it has about $49,000 worth of backers, and none of that is my money.
“Why not? I thought you loved Star Realms?!?”
This is true. I do love Star Realms, and I have purchased every expansion that has come out for it, both in card and digital form, and I will continue to do so. When Hero Realms was announced I was incredibly excited and expected that I would be auto-backing the game. So when the Kickstarter went live this morning, I clicked the link, assuming that I would soon be clicking the “Back this Project” button as well. As I read through the backer levels, I became less and less enamored with it, eventually deciding that I would not be clicking the “Back this Project” button after all.
Kickstarter is a lot of things for a lot of different game companies. For non-established companies it is a way to get the game paid for and get their company’s name out there. As long as they deliver the game in a relatively reasonable time-frame (and it helps if the game is good as well), then they tend to earn the trust of those backing them, enough so that people will say “I auto-back everything that … does!” For me this was White Wizard Games, and still is both Gamelyn Games and Roxley Game Laboratory. I didn’t know about Star Realms when it was on Kickstarter, but I auto-backed Epic due to my love of Star Realms, and I was disappointed in the game (not the KS or their completion of the project), or even their pricing.
For established game companies Kickstarter is simply a way to gauge interest and then pay for their game. It is great because instead of buying a print run of 10,000 copies and then hoping they sell, they can buy a print run of whatever number they pre-sell through the campaign, plus enough extra to get the game into retail, depending on how well received the KS campaign is. Typically they draw attention to the KS by having a price-point at under retail, at least for the earliest backers. Since the KS games are direct to consumer, the company still makes profit on it, and the early backers save some money over retail, and typically have some amount of exclusive reward as well. In this way the entire print run is paid for, including at least the first wave or retail, and the company has profit on the game, even before finishing the complete design of the game!
So what mistake did White Wizard make with Hero Realms that soured me on the project? There are a few. 1) There is nothing exclusive to the Kickstarter to entice me to back it. Yes, every tier at and above the $25 tier has 12 “Year-One” promo cards, but these are cards that will be released at conventions, tournaments, etc… within the first year of the game’s release. In other words, I don’t need Kickstarter to get them. 2) There is no discount to the retail price of the game. In a reply to my post on Facebook, White Wizard responded “We wouldn’t want to step on our retailers’ toes by undercutting our own MSRP.” However, since the Kickstarter is direct to consumer, they don’t have any middle-men. They are already undercutting both the distributor and retail by even having a Kickstarter. Since their KS is direct, then they make MUCH more profit on it than the copies that go to retail. Even free shipping would have gone a long way to alleviating this in my opinion. It just feels like a cash-grab. Also, I can wait until the game is in retail, and likely get the whole batch at 20-30% below MSRP. Finally, 3) this isn’t Star Realms or Epic, and therefore the model that worked for them shouldn’t be used here.
The draw of Epic was that it was a fantasy game using some of the Star Realms mechanics. Sadly, while the Kickstarter was successful, the game just didn’t deliver. As my friend put it after reading the rules, “so it’s just a simplified Magic: the Gathering?”. After a couple of plays I couldn’t help but agree with him, and I haven’t played the game since. So, I have Star Realms for deck-building and I have Magic for everything that Epic offers, and then White Wizard announced a true fantasy-themed Star Realms called Hero Realms, stating that you have bosses and characters that you can level up through scenarios and such, and I was very excited. But as I read through the campaign I was saddened. At the base level Hero Realms is just the same deck-builder that Star Realms was. The promised characters, bosses, and scenarios are add-ons to the base game and cost more money. This is the model that they followed for Star Realms, releasing expansion packs over time, changing the game up with new ships and bases, even adding new mechanics like events and heros. I have no need for another deck-builder game based around synergy within factions. Sure, mechanics vary from game to game, but the core concept is the same with both Star Realms and Hero Realms. Hero Realms in my opinion was exciting at the point where all of these extra things were included, but when you add it all up you have a grand total of 346 cards, at an “MSRP” of $72 plus $10 shipping!!! Compare that to a game like Dominion which has over 500 cards and retails for $50. Hero Realms should have been a single big-box game like Dominion in my opinion. This would have cut down on superfluous packaging and would have brought the over-all production cost down considerably, allowing for the lower price-point. Instead White Wizard either blindly follows their previous models, or intentionally chooses the cash grab in more than one way, first by making the game piece-meal forcing the consumer to spend more to obtain the “complete” game, and second by charging full MSRP when they don’t have the added cost of distributors and retailers, thereby increasing their profit on each copy considerably.
You will notice that I didn’t link to anything regarding White Wizard in this post. I will however, point you to other options that offer new unique games as opposed to re-hashing old ones, and provide more content for your money.
Note that everything I’ve written is my own personal opinion. I understand that your opinions will differ. Those that are White Wizard super-fans will likely disagree with me. I still love Star Realms and will likely purchase any new expansions that are released for it, but sadly, I’ve been disappointed by their other games, either in the game itself (Epic) or the campaign approach (Hero Realms).