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String Railways: the best Kickstarter project that never was

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String Railways – The perfect fit for Kickstarter?

The reasons for using Kickstarter

Kickstarter seems to polarise opinion in the board game world. On the one hand: it is a chance for game designers to get their game to the people without having to submit to the oppressive whims of publishers (who might otherwise want to turn your artisan game experience into into mainstream cash cow. Yeah- stick it to The Man!) On the other hand: it is a chance to get your game, previously turned down by four publishers, out into the hands of an adoring public. You only need a high-chrome campaign and a pdf of the rules.

Yet, the results have been … variable. I’ve mostly stayed away as I am quite a cautious game buyer, having been burned too many times by whimsical purchases, and don’t have a lot of disposable income. There are games that sit on my wish-list for years until I get a good handle on what I’m buying or see it or play it myself. I was tempted by the reissue of Glory to Rome. Bullet dodged. Fleet looks good though.

The biggest problem I have with Kickstarter is the lack of ambition.

You see, a lot of the games put up on Kickstarter could be published by mainstream companies if they had the inclination and the business model to do so. Eagle/Gryphon Games are using Kickstarter for risk mitigation and improved cash flow: backed with a  name that has a reputation for delivery this is clearly a good move for the growth of the company. But for untested games from untested publishers the risks are higher for the buyer.

So there is risk. But this risk can be worth it. If you are going to risk your money on ANY new game, why the hell not risk it on something that would struggle to get accepted by a mainstream publisher.

What would Steve Jackson do?

OGRE by Steve Jackson Games is exactly that sort of game. I believe that Ogre would almost definitely NOT get accepted by publishers. Understand that this does not mean it is not a good game. A lot of people can fall into the trap of  “It’s on Kickstarter because Publishers won’t go for it: therefore it’s a heap of tacky, under-produced, crap”. This is not necessarily the case. Imagine Mr Jackson making a pitch to a games company to get the new edition of OGRE published:

SJ: Hi, thanks for letting me pitch, I’d love to show you my game!

Publisher: No problem- I understand it’s a science fiction wargame?

SJ: Yes, I first self-published it in 1977 and have been working on it ever  since. The first editions had paper maps and cardboard chits but now I’m happy with the design and have a fan base looking for an updated version of the game. If you’d just look at these schematics … you see that there is a very wide scope for replay and an excellent balance-

Publisher: ” … 21.5” by 17.625” by at least 3.5” ”

SJ: I’m sorry? Oh, the box? Yes. It would need to be that big.

Publisher: That’s … a lot of cardboard

SJ: Plywood.

Publisher: Ply … wood?

SJ: (laughing) Yes, because you’d never get a 28.2″ x 32.4″ cardboard map to stay flat- that would be ludicrous.

Publisher: Ludicrous. Quite. *click*

SJ: What the! A trapdooooooooooo- *sploosh*. Oh, there are fish …

The ultimate Kickstarter – String Theory

String Railway or its successor String Railway: Transport, on the other hand, I would buy in a heartbeat were it’s gaming 2-stroke engine to be proposed for a manual ignition.

For those not familiar with these games, they are a very innovative take on railway route planning games that use various lengths of string instead of tracks. Players distribute tiles at random over the play space and attempt to link them together with pieces of string. blocks move from station to station and players score points for how they move the blocks around.  It’s a very smooth, very interactive system that gets the feel of the theme across with minimal fuss. It is the antithesis of 18XX (which I find an exercise in pure tedium) and gives the feel of a train game without 3 hours of brutal share trading. Simple and sublime.

Pitching a game with string as a central component is a hard sell and I was initially sceptical but these games are genuinely inventive and, unfortunately, have a very limited release. Japon Brand (the publisher) seem to have taken a risk that has paid off with these games and one that I hope sees them explode into a wider audience. They may have missed a trick with Kickstarter so far, but let’s see if they can pull anything magical out of the hat in the future.
(Picture credit: Mikko Saari via BGG)

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