Kickstarter Lesson #75: Include at Least One Must-Have Component

8 January 2014

Note: I try to keep these Kickstarter Lessons applicable to all project categories, but this one is mostly about board games.

When I design a game, I try to design the full experience. From day one I’m not just thinking about the mechanisms and theme, but also the components, look, and feel of the game. They might change over time, but I’m always thinking about them.

The same goes for a game that I intend to put on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is actually a really good frame of reference for game design: What is the most basic version of the the game that is still a lot of fun? That’s your core game, pre-stretch goals. That’s how you keep your funding goal low. And that’s a good frame of reference to simplify your game design (complexity creep is very common among game designers, myself included).

Also, it’s important to keep in mind that when you’re thinking about all of these crazy awesome components your game could have, you don’t actually need a ton of them. In fact, I believe that the key–something that could make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful Kickstarter project–is to have one must-have component.

Despite my design methods, this component didn’t occur to me until I was well into blind playtesting for Euphoria. One day I was looking at the dice in the game (standard 6-sided dice), and I thought, “Wouldn’t these stand out a lot more if they were custom dice?”

I talked to my manufacturer and my designer, and we put together a plan to create the custom dice. Getting dice exactly right is a precarious aspect to the production process; it’s something that can greatly delay a production if you have to fix the dice mould multiple times.

So I hedged my bets. I had no idea if Euphoria would succeed or fail, but I wanted to give it the best chance to succeed, and I decided that meant being able to show actual photos of the custom dice, not just 3D renders. So I paid for my designer to design the dice (we tested the colors using a colorblind app and colorblind gamers) and had Panda to sculpt samples of the dice.

I decided to make the custom dice something to aim for during the Kickstarter campaign instead of including them in the core game. Like I’ve mentioned, keeping things simple keeps your funding goal low. Also, it gives backers the satisfaction of knowing that their pledges made the game better. They did this–they built this.

However, for must-have components, I think it’s really important that they go in every copy of the game–Kickstarter or retail. This is a defining component, not something that only some people get.

I don’t have any hard data to back up my claims about a must-have component, but the following photos might help you understand the impact. The first photo is of the Euphoria prototype with regular dice. The second is of the prototype with custom dice. And the third photo is the final game with a big pile ‘o dice.

board dice 2
normal dice
custom dice
custom dice

IMG_0252

There’s an emotional response to seeing something unique, right? Even if you don’t care about the dice, it says to backers that you’re going out of your way to make something unique, something that only exists within the microcosm of this game, this Kickstarter project. It provides that little burst of endorphins that make us want something without even realizing why.

I’m sure there are many variations on the must-have component idea, but here are my recommended guidelines to maximizing the value and impact of it:

  • it should be a stretch goal, but one that can be reached soon after the project funds
  • it should be a core element to the game, not something that’s purely aesthetic or that you hardly ever use
  • every copy of the game should have the component
  • if possible, you should have photographs of real samples to show during the campaign

I’ve talked about Euphoria here, but I stand on the shoulders of giants when it comes to must-have components–many have come before and after Euphoria from other creators. One that comes to mind off the top of my head are the dieships in Burning Suns. But there are a number of non-dice examples too. What’s one must-have component you saw on Kickstarter that made you salivate?

22 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #75: Include at Least One Must-Have Component

  1. Jamey,

    I agree completely. With our Star Trek Attack Wing project, we didn’t want to just recreate what was already there but add in some items that improved game play that didn’t exist in the basic game. We did some custom range finders, some firing arc extensions and some placeholders to allow people to move a ship out of the way if the play area got tight. Those little add-ons drew a lot of attention from backers and didn’t add too much to our production time or cost or their overall pledge totals.

    1. Chris: I definitely appreciate that mindset of adding something new that hasn’t existed in previous games (or at all). Those little tweaks and improvements can make a big difference.

      1. At least three of our Daft Concepts group are gamers, we are constantly looking at games and thinking what would make it easier/faster to play this game. We are also looking at what is going to wear out in the game, can we make it more durable for people who love the game. There are lots of companies doing this, but if you look at the overall quantity of games with upgraded parts it is actually quite small, so we hope to improve this for people. Ideally, we would love to have companies kickstarting games come talk to us about upgraded tokens/components ahead of time so that we can help them to be able to offer them as part of the campaign. We are excited to be doing that for St. Baldrick’s Tomb and Villages which is currently on kickstarter.

  2. This is something that has been on the outskirts of my thoughts, but nothing I ever truly and fully considered. I always felt art was paramount, but you’re right! Even more important than getting attractive art in the game itself, are attractive components. These Euphoria dice are great, and while the campaign was running I recall many people asking for an extra copy or more of just the dice. It was a brilliant move, and I hadn’t considered how much of a driving point for the game these custom components were. Good insight!

    1. Dominique–That’s a great point…I thought I didn’t have data to back this up, but I actually do! 1794 backers chose to upgrade their copy of Euphoria to get extra sets of dice, even though the extra dice add nothing to the game. That says something. :)

  3. I agree. Components can be a big thing that sells a game. That’s probably one of the reasons minis games do so well. There is something about a game with sexy components that’s really compelling. And you’re right, if you can’t make them all great, at least have one stand out component.

    I’m a sucker for great components. That’s probably why I don’t really care about PnP games. I want some good eye candy in a game, especially if I’m going to be staring at these pieces for 60+ minutes.

  4. I have never thought about this before but your post brings few things to mind. Most board games have standard dice, which makes most board games feel like, well.. most board games. But when I look at the two top pictures above, I get the feeling that one is like most board games and the other is NOT like most board games. (Sorry for the repetition but it makes the most sense to me that way). So yes, I do think that it adds a unique feel to the games.

    Maybe more important in my mind though – standard dice don’t really feel like they belong to any game they belong to every game (almost every that is) but those custom dice, well they “belong” to this game, even though they are simply redesigned 1-6 numbered dice. In this way, it makes the whole game appear much more cohesive. It give me the sense that you didn’t use six sided dice because you couldn’t figured out something better to use so you settled with them, but rather they were specifically designed for THIS game. I have felt unsure about in the games I’ve designed that used standard dice and this is very interesting way to overcome that.

    Very interesting thoughts here that give me some ideas to work on! Thanks Jamey!

    1. John: I really like what you’ve said about the custom dice feeling like they were designed specifically for this game and how they help to create a cohesive experience. I like those little touches in games, especially when they use the tactile nature of board games to their advantage.

  5. Similar to Dominique I have mostly been considering the artwork on cards, hexes, playmats as the main asset of the game. In my case we designed our game to intentionally limit components so that set-up is straightforward and easy. The game is about ants and simple wooden cubes represent your eggs, larvae or ants depending on where they are. After reading this article I am definitely pondering what other components we could amp up or make unique. I agree that it has to be something integral to the game and not just a round marker or victory counter. Thanks for another thought provoking article!

    1. Tim: I definitely think the artwork plays a huge role in game’s success, especially on Kickstarter. I should mention that you have to keep your budget in mind when making the components. The dice worked well because we only needed one mold, and we were making thousands and thousands of them. Some components are far more expensive and don’t scale as well.

    2. If the components change depending on where they are it’s a little more difficult for you to have a custom component that can successfully act as them all. I think the best attempt at it I’ve seen is in Viticulture with the glass tokens that keep the colour of the space beneath them shining through. Cluedo is actually another good example, with the plastic magnifying glass pieces that show up the space beneath them (Although the space never changes, the component would be good for it ^^).

      1. Thanks for appreciating the utility of the glass pieces in Viticulture, Chris! I’ve found them to be really helpful in the game, and somewhat thematic since wine bottles are made out of glass. Originally we had a bunch of different colors of glass until a friend pointed out that we only needed clear.

  6. Wooo. Seeing the traslucid dice I am now dreaming of some combination of both where you have the steampunk dice but also transparent. They look really nice!

  7. The dice in Euphoria are most certainly a great example. In fact I found the project because I saw the dice and thought they looked really cool, so I watched the project for a little while to see if it might be possible to get them without the game!

    As it turns out, I became interested and I’m now a proud owner of both Viticulture and Euphoria. Just goes to show what an attractive component can achieve ;)

  8. I’ve been developing a card game and have been thinking about possible Kickstarter rewards and stretch goals. Right now, the game uses cards to keep track of two separate meters (HP and a special power). I have testers just use a facedown card to cover up the face up card to show where the meter is at.

    However, one of the stretch goals I would want for my game are dials similar to the ones found in King of Tokyo that help keep track of HP and victory points.

    While the cards do the trick and work just fine, I think the dials would be awesome!

    1. Phong: Those dials sound like a great stretch goal! You might also look at Dungeon Petz to see how it uses dials.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation Jamey. Dungeon Petz’s dials look really neat. It seems they show two pieces of info that are inversely or linearly related. My game’s two meters unfortunately don’t behave that way but good looking out!

        Another way I’ve thought about representing the meters are with beads or markers. But I guess that’s when the number crunching would be helpful because if I went the card-only route, that means I have to print 24 meter cards. But if I went the bead route, that would be 12 meter cards and 12 beads. Those two routes would also have different boxes to fit said components.

        Then again, yet ANOTHER option would be to have a pair of dice represent the two meters, thereby replacing all of the cards altogether.

        1. This could be a great opportunity for you to survey your fan base (before or during Kickstarter) so they can feel involved in the process of making the game, as those all sound like good options.

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