Thursday 28 July 2016

The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary - Inane Ramblings About Kickstarter

IPs aren't bullet proof. Miniatures games on Kickstarter aren't guaranteed to generate $1 million in pledges. Sometimes even a Plan B isn't enough.

These are the things that the current Kickstarter campaign for The Walking Dead: No Sanctuary has taught us.

It's been a painful lesson, and much like a bite from a walker, has caused a lot of backers to groan, gnash their teeth, and develop a thirst for human blood.

However, unlike a bite from a zombie, it looks like this little incident doesn't end with a bullet to the head.

In fact, unlike most zombie stories, this one has a happy ending.

The story started with the sudden appearance of the aforementioned project on the Kickstarter site. Like a zombie invasion, it happened suddenly, without fanfare. And, at first blush, it looked like a campaign that couldn't fail.

It had zombies in it, which is already half the battle when it comes to board games; but more than that, it was based on AMC's hit television show (not the comic books - never liked those).

It had miniatures of important characters: Rick, Glenn, Andrea, and of course, Daryl. Who doesn't want to play with Daryl?

And I don't mean in a board game.

Seriously, that guy is smoking...

Where was I?

Oh right, zombies, AMC licence, miniatures... and a really good-looking game designed by Brady and Adam Sadler, who have previously worked on titles such as X-Wing, Descent: Second Edition, and Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game.

There was a slick introduction video, a slick "how to play" video, and an exhaustive playthrough video showing how it all worked.

And I'm not one to mix my metaphors, but with all those ducks lined up, it should have been a slam dunk.

But there were problems.

The initial pledge was quite high: $125 (or $115 if you got an "Early Bird" pledge) for the base game, one of two expansions, any unlocked stretch goals, and an exclusive version of Daryl.

Yeah, that's right, two Daryls.

Who doesn't want to play with two Daryls, right?

Seriously, that guy is smoking...

But like I said, problems: Not only was the pledge quite steep, the exclusive Daryl figure looked much the same as the one that came in the game (I joked the only difference was the camera angle - I'm such a card); and while there are two expansions available, the pledge tier forced you to take the expansion based on season two's storyline on the farm, while acquiring the expansion based on the prison in season three (when Michonne arrives) involved an additional investment.

And the worst part of all was the funding goal that we had to reach before any stretch goals unlocked: $250,000.

Initial funding was poor.

The project didn't shamble towards the funding goal. It stuck in place like one of those zombies fused to the road in Atlanta.

Eventually, it became apparent that despite the IP, despite the miniatures, despite the calibre of the designers and the solid track record of the publishers, Cryptozoic Entertainment, the campaign was in big trouble.

Cryptozoic reacted, creating a bunch of add-ons, opening up more "Early Bird" pledges, and throwing in some extra zombies to the basic pledge.

The campaign funded. But it wasn't enough.

Perhaps the nail in the coffin-dodger, or the hammer to the forehead, was the revelation that certain characters unlocking as stretch goals were actually being added to the retail box, meaning they were not an incentive to back the game now.

Bad move.

Like an infection, dissent spread among the backers, and many people pulled their funding. Within 24 hours, the project had dropped below its funding goal, and it looked like carpet-bombing the whole thing was the only option left.

The project was dead.

But this is The Walking Dead. Nothing stays dead for long.

In an incredible turn of events, Cryptozoic rose to the occasion, and they completely reformatted the pledge tiers and the stretch goals.

They introduced a lower value tier at $75 for people who didn't want to pay for expansions.

They changed the $115/$125 tier so the retail version of the base game included three types of zombies instead of one, eight major characters from the series instead of only four, and additional miniatures for allies and enemies. They also added in the second expansion, so you get both the farm and the prison for your investment, as well as any stretch goals that unlock.

Perhaps best of all, they changed the exclusive "hunter" Daryl figure for a "ride" version of Daryl on his iconic motorbike.

Who doesn't want to ride... you know what? Nevermind.

And it keeps getting better.

Through social stretch goals, Cryptozoic have added crawler walkers... wait.. crawler walkers? That can't be right.

They have added one of the most inspired stretch goals ever: A vision of Lori that moves around the board to freak Rick out.

They have added a playable version of the Governor, so you can play out "what if?" scenarios like, "What if the Governor wasn't such a complete bastard?"

And the new stretch goals are adding cool exclusive models: They have already unlocked Sasha, and they are close to unlocking Morgan. And not Zen Master Morgan with his staff; this is goat-worrying Morgan with his pointy stick.

(Image: Ken Toghia, Horror Buzz)

Oh yeah, and a version of Glenn in his riot gear is on the cards too.

Frankly, it is one of the most startling transformations I have ever seen a Kickstarter go through. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of wasted time, and we are now fast-approaching the 48-hour mark; but even so, what was once a failure has turned into a very exciting proposition. The project has funded again, and is now unlocking stretch goals, and frankly Cryptozoic deserve it. They made mistakes, but they really worked hard to put them right; and what they have come up with is, in my eyes, a winner.

It's something fans of the television show and gamers alike are going to get a real kick out of.

And despite all the ups and downs, the failures and successes, behind it all there is, and always has been, what looks to be a very tense and exciting co-operative game for up to four people, with baked in rules for solo play. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the game is a leadership mechanism where each turn, the current leader draws two event cards in secret and selects one to be active for the turn. Every player in the group then chooses whether to play an action card of the same colour as the selected event (if possible) which represents following the orders of the leader, or a card of a different colour, which represents being defiant and causes the leader stress. (It's a bit more complex than that, but I really don't want to get into the details.)

This creates an interesting situation where the game distills the dynamics of social interaction into a purely mechanical process. There is no voting, , no hidden agendas, and no traitors. You simply have to decide if it is more beneficial to play a card that follows the leader, or a card that defies the leader to achieve a short-term objective of your own. For example, the leader may suggest you need to play cautiously this round; but if you've got a walker trying to chew on your neck, playing it cool may not seem like the best idea for you.

There is a lot more I could say about the game, but honestly, the best thing I can suggest is visiting the Kickstarter page and taking a look for yourself. At the moment there are still some "Early Bird" slots (pick the "Comic Con" one - it honestly doesn't mean you have to attend Comic Con, it's just a name), and the last few days of the campaign promise to be quite exciting.

Painted No Sanctuary masters alongside Imperial Assault and Zombicide figures.

And remember: I have no affiliation with Cryptozoic. I do not know if this game is going to be the best thing since the bread knife, or if it is going to be a total disaster. This is just something I'm backing; something which I believe deserves to be successful. And something which, to a certain extent, is already a triumph.

Caveat emptor.

Unless stated otherwise, all images on this page are the property of Cryptozoic Entertainment. Reproduced here with kind permission.


  1. I wonder if the slow start had anything to do with Mantic Kickstartering its own Walking Dead miniatures game a couple of months ago? I think Mantic's is based on the original comic but even so it does look similar and maybe it created confusion or put people off.

    1. It's certainly possible. However, Mantic's was indeed based on the comics, and it was basically a skirmish war game. This new game is more of a card-driven board game with mitigated dice-rolling and an emphasise on working as a team. Of course, this one is also a co-op, whereas Mantic's was competitive.

      However, yes, at a quick glance it is possible to see "more of the same" or "oh no more zombies." It certainly won't have helped being second out of the gate.


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