Whale Riders

This artwork just really hits the spot for me

Whale Riders has been another interesting project to follow. I’ve recently become a huge fan of Reiner Knizia’s designs, so this one was easy for me to get behind. The part that has caught me off guard is how little support this game received on Kickstarter. The game quickly funded and hit the $20,000 mark, but it seemed to plateau after that and was barely crawling higher every day since (until the typical last-minute bump).

Grail Games’ project seemed to have the complete package for a mega hit (at least in my naive eyes). It combines a legendary designer with an exceptional artist and a proven publisher. The game is accessible, the theme is whimsical, and the price is reasonable. I’ve also come across plenty of advertisements for it in the usual places. I would have placed my money on this game at least hitting six figures. Yet that didn’t turn out to be within reach.

As I’ve thought about it more, I can only come up with one reason why the game hasn’t received more support. The one thing that Whale Riders seems to be missing is a hook. Don’t get me wrong, Whale Riders looks like a solid game on all accounts; that’s why I backed it. But for comparison’s sake, let’s try to find the hook of the above mentioned kickstarter projects:

  • Wavelength: That big, beautiful plastic device that allows for grand reveals and dramatic moments
  • Button Shy’s Wallet Games: Pretty-looking, dirt-cheap games that pack a punch and fit in your pocket
  • Dice Throne Adventures & Season 1 Rerolled: A premium production of a remodeled season 1 and a cooperative expansion to a beloved Yahtzee combat game
  • Sleeping Gods: An epic, hand-crafted cooperative story-book adventure
  • Calico: A colorful, Azul-like puzzly game with recessed player boards and cats!
  • Loot of Lima: A clever deduction game with interactive player shields
  • Oath: A quirky strategy game with a gorgeous production and an innovative system
  • GPS / Sequoia / Mountain Goats: A bundle of fancy 10-minute filler games that are easy to teach and addictive to play
  • Railroad Ink Challenge: The ultimate roll & write package with dozens of custom dice, maps, and objectives
  • Bristol 1350: A thematic social deduction racing game that plays 1-9 players and fits into a compact book box
  • Kemet- Blood and Sand: A mega hit game reborn and reimagined with improved gameplay, art, and components

Whale Riders has solid gameplay and fantastic art, but the above mentioned games contain all of that plus more. They stand out in at least one major way, while Whale Riders struggles to differentiate itself. Whether its a novel component, fresh concept, killer production, convenient feature, or something else entirely, the more hooks a project has, the stronger its campaign will be.

Jamey Stegmaier understands the importance of a hook. If you are wanting to pitch a game design to his company, the hook is a must. This philosophy has helped Stonemaier games to become the indie publisher juggernaut that it is today.

Just to be clear, I’m not just saying that I want our games to have an interesting theme or a unique mechanism. Being interesting and unique are interesting qualities, but they’re different than the hook. The key to a great hook is that it grabs your attention. It stands out in a crowd.

Jamey Stegmaier

Page 11: Rabbit Hole Review

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