I was listening to a recent podcast… Gino of the Talking Tinkerbots podcast mentioned his frustration with the caveat, or even caution, applied by reviewers about games or Kickstarter projects by first-time designers. The discussion caused me to think about some of the successes and failures of first-timers and to do a little research that might prove interesting. I understand the concern related to “unproven” designers or publishers, but appreciate the perspective that I think Gino was applying.
Not that this article is intended to be a logical argument, but in logical argumentation the problem Gino has pointed out is known as a Genetic Fallacy. Something is bad/good because of its origin.
It would be too easy to focus on the negative here: First-timer Kickstarters that funded but ultimately failed and games that didn’t meet gamer expectations, etc. or to defend first-timers by focusing on “known” designers and publishers failing on the same criteria. The fact is, examples of both are plentiful – I regretfully have some of each (first-timers and known designer/publishers) in my game collection as evidence.
Instead, I want to:
- Take a positive approach to first-timers and provide a few examples of “Impressive First Impressions.”
- Provide a few examples of the games by established designers that were their first or early designs.
Notes: All data was acquired from BoardGameGeek and is believed to be accurate, but no second source was used for confirmation. I am considering the designer of publisher a first-timer if the game was published within the first year of that designer/publisher’s listings. In part, the BGG data is usually not more precise than that and also within the first year is not enough time to significantly sway the production. Also, collaborations between first timers and established designers complicate what can be drawn from the data.
Impressive First Impressions
First, let’s look at a few first-timers in recent history (since the advent of Kickstarter in 2010) to see what they have had to offer the gaming community. Compiling this list was simple: I sorted the BGG Kickstarter Family by rank and started at the top and then added any designer that fit the demographic from the top 20 ranked games. So most of these were originally released through Kickstarter and a few were significantly impacted by a Kickstarter release. Here’s a breakdown of the data:
- Designer = The first listed designer for the game.
- Publisher = The original commercial publisher for the game.
- Game = The “first-timer” game.
- Year = Year of publication.
Designer BGG Rank:
- First Game = The BGG rank for the first-timer game listed.
- Highest = The BGG rank for the designer’s highest ranked game.
- Designer = The number of BGG records for the designer. (All BGG records included, which can be single cards, promos, etc.)
- Publisher = The number of BGG records for the publisher. (All BGG records included, which can be single cards, promos, etc.)
- Designer = Is the game listed the designer’s first commercially published game? (Or at least within the first year of that designer’s history).
- Publisher = Is the game listed the publisher’s first commercially published game? (Or at least within the first year of that designer’s history).
Impressive First Impressions
|Designer BGG Rank||BGG Records||First-Time|
|Designer (1st Listed)||Game||Publisher (1st Comm.)||Year||First Game||Highest||Designer||Publisher||Designer||Publisher||Kickstarter|
|Daniele Tascini||Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar||MINDOK||2012||17||17||20||133||Yes||No||No|
|Robert Dougherty||Star Realms||White Wizard Games||2014||54||54||35||15||No||Yes||Yes|
|Don Eskridge||The Resistance||Indie Boards and Cards||2009||84||84||8||41||Yes||Yes||No*|
|Tory Niemann||Alien Frontiers||Clever Mojo Games||2010||94||94||15||40||Yes||2nd||Yes|
|Christopher Badell||Sentinels of the Multiverse||Greater Than Games, LLC||2011||132||132||46||54||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Brandon Tibbetts||The Manhattan Project||Minion Games||2012||142||142||6||35||Yes||No||Yes|
|Jamey Stegmaier||Viticulture||Stonemaier Games||2013||158||158||10||11||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Raphaël Guiton||Zombicide||Cool Mini Or Not||2012||163||163||13||180||Yes||2nd||Yes|
|Rikki Tahta||Coup||La Mame Games||2012||216||216||5||5||Yes||Yes||No*|
|Cody Miller||Xia: Legends of a Drift System||Far Off Games||2014||256||256||2||2||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|D. Brad Talton, Jr.||BattleCON: War of Indines||Level 99 Games||2010||561||126||61||78||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|*Original game was not a Kickstarter project, but future releases or English language releases have been.|
I Knew Them When…
Now, let’s look at the freshman works of a few well-established designers. Originally, compiling this list was a bit tricky because I wanted to avoid competing sample biases:
- A first game that is very old is probably not the BGG hotness and the designer was not privy to recent design concepts.
- The first game of and established designer is at least a little old by definition.
I wanted to find known designers with first designs in the 10-15 year range. Ultimately, I resorted to designers owning the top ranks of BGG. Some of the first games by these designers have been around awhile so take that into account as you draw conclusions about the list.
Some excellent designers and first games simply fall through the crack between these two lists. This is not intended as a slight to anyone. It is merely a result of the approach to the data.
While this article was really just a survey and not a logical argument, I’d still like to offer a conclusion, or at least a few observations.
- The boardgaming world is fortunate to have gamers who are willing to take a risk on first-time designers and publishers.
- Historically, some of those first-timers have been encouraged to develop into very prolific and successful contributors to the hobby from simple beginnings.
- Recently, some have made a big splash with their first commercial release.
If I am evaluating a published game or a Kickstarter project, I need to be smart about it to avoid disappointment. Sure, I should consider the track record (or lack thereof) of the designer and the publisher and if both are first-timers (or the same first-timer) I should be extra diligent in my review. However, the length of their published games list is not the only evaluation criteria and not a reason to assume that the product is bad. Personally, I am more critical in my review of a first-time publisher than a first-time designer. Some questions I might ask in any buying or funding decision (not a comprehensive list):
- Is the designer one whose efforts I usually like or is it someone new to me?
- Is the publisher one whose efforts I usually like or is it someone new to me?
- Has a reviewer whose opinion often mirrors my own done a full review of the game/project?
- Have I read and evaluated the rules?
- Have I looked at and evaluated the components (conceptual, though they may be)?
- Has the game been adequately playtested? What is the evidence of that?
- Is there a PnP version available? Even if I don’t intend to build it, I can look at it, review comments of others who have, etc.
Certainly, my decision process will be easier if I have grown to trust the designer and publisher to be right in my wheelhouse – my experience is that they reliably deliver a product that I like. Ultimately I have only myself to blame for disappointment if I rely on pedigree than on specific proof. As an owner of both pedigree and grade horses (and dogs), I stick to the American western slang phrase, “Purty is what purty does,” that is, evaluate the horse, not the papers or appearance.
Staying positive, I have a few questions. What first-time games, designers, or publishers have impressed you? What caused or convinced you to risk your investment on them and would you follow the same process today?