I’ve spent the majority of the last year studying Kickstarter campaigns, board games (from a design perspective), and the underlying significance of gaming in general. As I’ve been designing story of The Travelers’ Age, I’ve built the habit of playing lots of other games…even more than usual. One of the key resources I’ve discovered is the work of Jamey Stegmaier—his blog and his newsletters are pure gold for game designers, as they help industry folks like myself avoid pitfalls and hash out key issues associated with crowdfunding in general. I purchased the collector’s edition of Scythe with some anticipation, but more as part of my learning process. The fact that the game is extremely fun to play, for me, is pure gravy. Right now it’s in the top 20 all-time on Board Game Geek! Here’s what inspired me:

Scythe by Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games

This game was one of the most anticipated of the year due to the diligence of it’s creator in sharing his crowdfunding secrets with the world. As such, he has a good deal of visibility in the gaming world now, but many of the top reviewers were doubtful that it could live up to the hype. It’s gotten a huge 8.5 rating on BoardGameGeek since then, which is top tier. I watched the video reviews on the Kickstarter project page (which I knew would be positive) but I also watched the Board Game Brawl review, and I know full well that Nick never pulls punches (if he hates a game, he’ll just say it). I read some of the unadulterated praise and criticisms on Scythe’s BoardGameGeek page before we broke the shrink wrap. What I found:  mostly honest reviews, some ridiculous praise and a good deal of trolling.

Lemmings: 10 of 10 stars from people who hadn’t even played the game yet. (Hey, I think I get it. But brand loyalty does not constitute a credible rating to me). Usually these reviews are filled with adoration without much rationale for why. I call these people lemmings. But hey I freely admit that I can be a lemming for the brands I love, too. I had to go down to the “8” and “9” ratings to get some solid rationale.

Trolls:  I also read a few 1-star and 2-star reviews with terse, rant-like stammerings that made me think they had made up their mind before they played and didn’t really give the game a chance. However, a few of the critical reviews were well-written and thoughtful–the game just wasn’t for them–which is perfectly OK. The ones I’m talking about left little room for debate–they hate the game and everyone else should too. I call these people trolls. There are different kinds of trolls, but you can generally identify a troll by how hard they are trying to appear smarter than everyone else or to bestow their wisdom upon the world form a high and lofty place. I feel that it’s self-entitled to degrade someone’s hard-earned reputation with a poor review solely because the experience wasn’t perfect for you. (You know, like, “the food and service were great but I had to wait 15 minutes and my lunch breaks are only ½ hour”). I don’t recommend replying to these kinds of posts/reviews. It’s not worth anyone’s time, and sometimes it takes a troll to attack another troll. If you don’t feed them, eventually they die. Early on I had a lot of critical reviews of my broken versions of the game that were given in a gracious, constructive manner. It’s been a powerful way to help make the game stronger.

My game group has been going with the same handful of guys for nearly 15 years, so we’re pretty straightforward with our feedback. Our consensus on Scythe after 2 plays was that it’s on our current “must play often” list. Truth? We didn’t absorb everything the first time we played. There is a learning curve (but it’s simple to play). The jury is still out for some of us (Eric!). Everyone wants to play this game on game night, and it just doesn’t seem to get old. I love that. My personal endorsement is very high on this game for gamers who value depth and asymmetrical strategy. But don’t take my word for it. Decide for yourself.

Scythe_Back-800x643 Inspiration #2:  Mechs, Lemmings, and Trolls…Oh My!

The biggest praise I think I can give this game is that the designer’s passion not only comes through the product, but also in the way he’s handled the release. The customers are important to him. The sharing of information is important to him. Feedback (even critical feedback) is responded to quickly and with gratitude. My belief is that people who are passionate about their work rarely put out garbage–it’s just too important to them.

Takeaway: don’t trust half of what you read — make up your own mind. Your friends don’t decide what you wear, and they shouldn’t decide what you play. Even less so should the critics influence your decisions because they’re not you. Ever read a terrible review of a movie you love? Same thing. It’s only a starting point.

How this applies to Epoch: I’m working on print-and-play versions of Epoch so that some people can test it out as they back the Kickstarter campaign. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of this early on because it detracts from the visual beauty of a nice prototype and can’t really mimic the aesthetics of the final product. But I’m coming around. ? I’ll update the site when this becomes available.

Are there any recently-released games that have inspired your gaming group lately?

Marc Neidlinger

Marc loves killing monsters and chasing his two faerie princess daughters. He’s the creator and graphic designer of Epoch: The Travelers’ Age tabletop board game. At his day job, Marc is creative director at Blue Blazes, a brand-focused design house in Vancouver, WA. He lives to create memorable experiences for clients, building more compelling brands that will stir the hearts of those who get to watch it unfold.

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