I Backed a Backer: Deck of Thieves

19 February 2013 | 2 Comments

Today we have a special  insertion into the “Kickstarter Lessons” series I’ve been running on the blog. Jason Fordham, the successful creator of Dig: The Card Game, is back on Kickstarter with his latest game, Deck of Thieves. I hold Jason’s advice in very high regard, as he was one of the first people to back Viticulture, and he offered me some feedback early on that set Viticulture on the right path. Jason kindly offered to share thought on his game, game design, and Kickstarter projects on today’s blog:

Deck of Thieves box1. Can you describe Deck of Thieves in a few sentences?

Sure! Deck of Thieves is a fast-playing, easy-to-learn card game that incorporates enough player choices to remain interesting and challenging even after many plays. While mostly tactical, there some built-in strategy options that players can exercise for advanced play.

2. What is your favorite mechanic in the game?

Each card has up to three different keywords: Ability (a when-played power), Activate (a power that is accessible after the card has been in play for at least one turn), and Reaction (a power that allows you to play a card from your hand during another player’s turn to counter that player’s action. These three keywords allow for a depth of tactical decisions and combinations that can turn the game around very quickly. You’ll find your opponents’ grins of victory quickly turn to frowns of frustration when you play some of these combinations.

3. What types of gamers might like Deck of Thieves? Would Deck of Thieves appeal to gamers who like specific other games?

Deck of Theives has a light fantasy theme, so fans of the fantasy genre in general should like the game. It plays very fast (about 15 minutes per player, up to four players with one copy of the game, but you can combine two sets for up to eight players (a very chaotic and exciting experience, indeed!) Loot and Guillotine are two games that come to mind that have similar elements to Deck of Thieves.

Thief Cards4. You’ve designed other games in the past. How did that experience influence the design/playtest process for Deck of Thieves?

Greatly! For previous designs, I did not go near the extra mile as I have gone with Deck of Thieves. I knew this design had the potential for great success (it was fast and fun, easy and challenging, complete on its own but easily expandable in the future) so I wanted to do it “right.” I printed and shipped out over 100 print on demand copies of the game (full-color, semi-professional quality cards) to playtesters all over the world. This extra step gave me months of feedback from playtesting groups. All of this feedback was carefully incorporated into the game design process, providing a very polished, tested game.

5. Whenever I design a game and playtest it, very little plays out exactly how I imagined it in my mind. What was the biggest disconnect between your vision and the reality of playtesting, and how did you solve it?

The biggest disconnect was how the cards interacted with each other. It’s easy to design a card and give it a power; it’s incredibly difficult to make sure thirteen different card types will work together when you have four people who are new to the game basically attempting to break it. A lot of tweaks and changes were made throughout the design process to finally get everything to not only work well together but to be fun, as well.

Jason6. You have a really great Kickstarter project page–this is one that I’ll refer people to in the future when they’re trying to figure out how to structure their Kickstarter page. Based on your previous project and things you’ve learned by watching other campaigns, what are a few key elements and principles you incorporated into your project that you think future creators could benefit from knowing?

The way to succeed on Kickstarter is to know the ins and outs Kickstarter through and through. Study as many projects as you can, pledge to as many projects as you can, and give yourself some well-needed experience. I currently have pledged or am pledging to 76 pojects. You must read all of the Kickstarter fine print as well (no contests/coupons/future discounts are allowed, they take 5% and so does Amazon, so plan for that.) Many projects find out about the fine print when they are reprimanded–or even canceled half-way through their campaigns).

Second, you need to spend a lot of time evaluating your own project, including cost, shipping, rewards, and fulfillment. Any one of those four things can destroy your project. Write it all down, again and again until you feel pretty good about it all–then begin to create your page. I typically take over a month to create my page–working simultaneously on the project video, images, text, pledge levels, and what I want to say to backers. The benefit of working on the entire project at the same time–rather than breaking it down into chunks–and over a long period of time (at least one month) is you get to review your work with fresh eyes, notice mistakes or omissions you may have made, and decide what direction you want to take with the project page as a whole. As I think of things in my daily life, I jot them down on the notepad in my phone and incorporate them on the project page later that day. It’s easy to forget simple things. Do not misspell words, and do not have grammatical errors on your page–if you can’t proof your project well enough, get someone who can help you.

Finally, share your project page with at least two or three highly critical friends (preferably some who have used Kickstarter either as backers or as campaign owners) who will give you positive and negative feedback. You don’t have to incorporate ALL of the feedback, but you need to at least hear it. Nothing beats a third or fourth set of eyes. There are things that you WILL miss or forget.


Thanks so much for your insight, Jason! I particularly like the idea of working on the Kickstarter costs, reward levels, etc on an ongoing basis. I’m definitely seeing my current project evolve in positive ways thanks to that method.

If this piques your interest, you should go check out Deck of Thieves on Kickstarter now. You can also see a glowing review of the game on Geek Dad here.

2 Comments on “I Backed a Backer: Deck of Thieves

  1. Hi Jamey

    I’ve enjoyed your Kickstarter lessons. I’m not sure if you have access to other Kickstarter projects, but you should check out Tammany Hall. It is the first Kickstarter I ever backed. The game was scheduled for delivery in November; I got mine today. The game appeared in some game stores before backers received theirs, and the created sent out some updates that turned out to have erroneous information. Many of the backers have gotten quite hostile (not me). Anyway, check out the last couple of updates and the associated comments. There could be some interesting things for you to consider for your blog.

    Bob Davis

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Bob–This is really interesting. Tammany Hall is on my metric spreadsheet of successful Kickstarter projects to emulate, but it sounds like they haven’t run the back end of their project well at all. Thank you so much for alerting me to this–this is a great reminder about how much shipping order matters.

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