Making miniatures is big business on Kickstarter. Outside that Exploding Kittens craziness, pretty much all the biggest Kickstarter projects in the “Tabletop Games” category have been miniature-related.
And that’s fine. I understand that there are lot of miniature collectors out there. I mean, there must be. Some of the biggest miniatures projects are the Reaper Miniatures, which aren’t even attached to a game – they’re just miniatures. You can use them in a tabletop game if you want, or just paint them and put them on your shelf.
Collecting miniatures isn’t something I enjoy, though. I’ve got a handful I’ve collected over the years playing Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve also got a couple games with miniatures – most notably Mage Knight, whose figures I use for everything (you’ll probably see them in a lot of upcoming Gloomhaven demo videos).
The point is that the minis I have are serviceable. Maybe the Spellweaver is woman with purple crystals growing from her skin and not a green dragon man, but it still works. The dragon is the Spellweaver on the board. It’s easily identifiable and easy to move around. It’s not very immersive, but I’ve never been one to put too much stock in visual immersiveness.
Thus, not much of a minis collection. When I look around Kickstarter for interesting games, minis have never been a draw point for me. I am exclusively looking for intriguing and engaging game play.
And, unfortunately, this is where most miniatures projects fall flat because they are clearly more interested in selling the miniatures than anything else. It’s not my intention to point fingers at specific projects, but let’s look at, say, the recent Ghostbusters campaign for a typical example. It’s already over, so no harm done.
We scroll down the page and find a paragraph with a very vague game play description. Then we scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll to see all the miniatures you get at every pledge levels, all the miniatures unlocked as stretch goals, all the miniatures you can buy as add-ons, and finally, about 80% down the page, we get to the game play section, which, agains seems more interested in showing off art than anything else. We see cards for monsters and characters, but still have no context to put them in. We have to get all the way down to the very bottom of the page to get any real concrete information on game play in the form of some demonstration videos. And even those videos weren’t present for the first week or so of the campaign. They raised a half million dollars before anyone had any idea how to play the game.
This practice is more the rule than the exception for miniatures projects. So much so that I’ve started to ignore big name miniatures projects all together. Which is kind of a shame because I almost completely missed the recent Blood Rage campaign. I saw “Cool Mini or Not” and kept browsing. It was only when a friend asked me my opinion on the project that I actually looked at it and realized, “Oh, there is a real game behind all these minis, designed by Eric Lang no less.”
And what was so refreshing about the Blood Rage campaign was that while the minis were awesome, the whole campaign wasn’t geared toward selling you more and more minis. Sure, the stretch goals unlocked more minis, but everything was included in the base game and each miniature had a clear function in the overall game play of the core game. They weren’t just tacking on confusing extra scenarios or new rules onto a finished game that people would need to pay more to play fully. It just added more variability to the existing mechanics.
At it’s heart, you could tell that the game was a real game and not just an excuse to sell minis, and I think that’s essential to a good project with miniatures. The game should come first and the miniatures should just be a way to add that element of immersion to the game.
This is what I am contemplating as I start the process of creating miniatures for Gloomhaven. I really want to incorporate minis into the game to give players more immersion – so that they can connect more strongly with the character they are playing. The last think I want, though, is for people to think it is “Miniatures Campaign” and completely ignore it like I did Blood Rage. At the same time, I will admit that it would be nice to pull in those miniatures collectors to the campaign…
I think it will simply be a matter of balanced presentation. Make the miniatures and the game play both prominent on the page. I think the Wizard’s Academy project is currently doing a pretty good job of that at the moment, though their miniature images could probably stand to be a little more prominent.
The other thing to consider with tactical combat miniatures games is that miniatures inherently limit game play. Depending on the company’s budget and the price of the game, you’re usually looking at under 10 different types of enemies that players can fight in the game. Even in Descent 2nd Edition there were only 9 monster types in the base game. And then the player ends up having to shell out more money for expansions to get more variability to the monsters. Because nobody wants to fight the same monster types over and over.
In Gloomhaven, I’m intending on giving players 70+ scenarios to play in the box. If the monsters were miniatures, I’d only be able to have a small number of monster types, and that would get boring very quickly. I never want component concerns to limit game play, so I’ve decide to not do miniatures for monsters. It would be totally awesome if I could, but then the box would weigh 15 pounds and cost $200, which just isn’t practical.
So we’re at this weird intersection of miniatures for characters and cardboard standees for monsters. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but I think it will work out well. As long as people don’t ignore the campaign because it has too many or too few miniatures.