Note: This post will be particularly engaging for those who are interested or involved in the creation of board games (publishing, designing, etc.), so if you’d rather just skip to the big Reiner Knizia news then feel free to jump down below!

It’s hard to resist the allure of a good bundle.  Whether it’s a $5 box from Taco Bell, Super Mario 3D All-Stars for Nintendo Switch, or an all-inclusive vacation on a cruise ship, the concept of getting everything you want or need all in one convenient, discounted place is a classic, universal marketing tool.  It can also be the world’s most annoying spam message when companies like Spectrum or AT&T can’t take a hint that I DON’T WANT YOUR OVERPRICED CABLE TV SERVICES WITH MY INTERNET, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU SEND ME A FLIPPING LETTER ABOUT IT.  NOW GET OFF MY BACK!

Dice Throne Battle Chest

Bundles also have their place in the board game industry, whether it’s the Big Box version of a game such as Hansa Teutonica with its expansions or a collection of packs that are part of game system like the Dice Throne Battle Chest featuring every fighter within a single container.  When done right, these types of bundles typically appeal to me thanks to the convenience and savings in cost and space that they provide.  Yet there is one type of bundle that I’ve been thinking about lately far more than any other.  This is the multi-product Kickstarter campaign.

Some notable examples of these types of bundles include campaigns such as BoardGameTables’ GPS, Sequoia, and Mountain Goats, or their more recent Factory Funner, Bear Raid, and Ghosts of Christmas.  Final Frontier Games recently wrapped up a pretty campaign of their own with games Solani + The Girl Who Made the Stars.  Grail Games just concluded their Reiner Knizia & Vincent Dutrait collaboration with Whale Riders the board game and Whale Riders the card game (stay tuned for my thoughts on those two next week).  Meanwhile, micro-game publishers including Oink Games and Button Shy have also run such campaigns featuring multiple of their small, charming productions in one place.

Whale Riders Bundle
The Whale Riders bundle

But the mere existence and seeming increase of these bundled campaigns hasn’t been the reason they’ve been on my mind.  Not even the fact that I’ve backed multiple of these very bundles is why we’re chatting about this today.  Rather, they’ve served as excellent case studies for my own publishing plans.  And while viewing these bundles through the lens of a customer, designer, and publisher, I’ve formed some strong opinions in the process that will serve to guide my own journey down this publishing path.  For those interested, we’ll be diving deeper into those opinions here and now.  Following that, I have some big and exciting changes to announce regarding our own upcoming bundle of three 20-minute games.

Big reveal coming below...

But first, let’s jump back to where this bundle all started for Bitewing Games, specifically with my design Social Grooming.  This title was born out of a fleeting thought: “What if there was a negotiation game where everybody but you knew what was on the card you were trying to trade away?”  The mechanism of negotiation typically features trading of fully known goods with somewhat opaque values.  For example, a single cube is only worth trading for in Sidereal Confluence if you can acquire all of the other cubes required to run a converter, and there’s no guarantee this can all be accomplished.  The value of a specific lot in Chinatown depends on who, if anyone, has ownership of adjacent lots and what businesses are established on them and how quickly those businesses can be developed.  Yet these cubes or lots or businesses are out in the open for all to see and consider, and the act of simultaneous negotiation is always a lively and engaging affair.  But we found through its development that Social Grooming offered a compelling twist to this formula by introducing trust, bluffing, and gut-valuations to the proceedings.

Over time, we had ourselves a consistently satisfying and widely crowd-pleasing game perfect for a quick entertainment snack in both small and large group settings.  Our next step was clear: Let’s get this gem published!  Yet that is much easier said than done, especially when games of this scale make a much smaller splash in the industry compared to sprawling, miniature-packed productions.

The delightful apes of Social Grooming

We found ourselves in a bit of a new publisher’s paradox: The smart thing to do is start with a small, low-risk project such as Social Grooming and ramp up the complexity of our campaigns from there, yet the value prospect and marketing noise of a single, small card game from an unknown publishing company is like a fart in the wind of the board game industry.  How’d you like to pay a stranger for a small game that you won’t receive for months and you can’t be sure you’ll enjoy until you actually receive it?  Oh, and by the way, we’ll need you to also pay nearly the cost of the game itself in shipping.  Sounds like a smart investment, right?

Well amid my marketing research, I noticed that small games and party games typically don’t perform as well as eye-catching plastic productions or complicated mechanical creations.  Our design is both small and party-ish, so not your typical great fit for Kickstarter.  A large gorgeous box brimming with challenging campaigns and chunky creatures is always going to make the biggest splash in crowdfunding.  So how to you provide value, attract attention, and establish credibility within a first-time creator’s campaign that features none of those things?

And here we circle back to the prospect of a bundle.  Shipping fees are much more palatable when the box contains two or three games instead of just one.  Party games and filler games make a bigger splash when combined into a harmonic chorus of discounted delight.  Unknown publishers are much more trustworthy when they collaborate with trusted brands.  This ultimately brought us to Three 20-Minute Games featuring two designs from Reiner Knizia and the illustrations of Paul K. Halkyon.  Yet there’s been much behind-the-scenes work involved to get us to this point…. Testing and evaluating many unpublished designs from Dr. Knizia, forming a production and marketing plan for each game, investing in licensing, marketing, illustration, and graphic design, building a pre-campaign crowd, finding the right manufacturer, and much more. 

Screen Shot 2021-05-28 at 1.49.00 PM
Our "Games" page

As we’ve formulated this Kickstarter campaign bundle, we’ve kept a keen eye on similar projects and surrounding opinions, absorbing valuable lessons along the way.  While the examples mentioned above have seen great success in their crowdfunded collections, we’ve also observed potential downsides and pitfalls to this style of publishing.  Most notably, the main challenge of bundling is keeping the spotlight shining brightly on each of the individual games while maintaining a focused campaign message.

No designer wants to see their lovingly crafted game drowned out in the noise of a crowded compilation or sharing a single spotlight during their debut performance.  No publisher wants to confuse or overwhelm their potential customers with too many messages or choices.  No backer wants to spend their time weeding out the potential duds or vetting unrelated games that they didn’t come to the campaign for.

With these concerns ever present in my mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that a bundle works best when the games included add value to the entire collection rather than detract from their connected companions.  A bundle can provide great value to both backer and product, but only if the publisher can devote a separate spotlight to each game involved and each game is worthy of its own spotlight.  A bundle can send a strong and loud message to gamers, but the message is much more clear and effective if all the games are targeting the same audience.

I’ve seen some multi-product Kickstarter campaigns attempt to cobble completely unrelated titles together.  I’ve noticed some publishers attempt to spread a single marketing budget across multiple productions or shine a single spotlight on multiple games at once.  Overall, these campaigns and bundles have usually performed just fine based on the brand strength and fanbase of the company itself or the merits of each individual game, but one can’t help but wonder if these games didn’t reach their full personal potential.

We at Bitewing Games feel that each game in a bundle deserves its own spotlight and marketing plan.  Gamers have come to rely on previews, playthroughs, and more to learn about and get excited for each game they decide to add to their collection.  Nobody wants to clutter their shelves with more stuff simply because it was a good deal.  The challenge of running a bundled campaign is that a publisher must sell a single backer on two or three games rather than one.  The means twice or three times the campaign page content without losing attention or breeding impatience.  Just like in game design, the key is to cut the fluff, maintain the focal point, and streamline the encounter.

This becomes a much easier hurdle to clear if the bundled games share much in common.  Same price, same game length, similar complexity, similar player counts, similar themes, similar art styles, similar box sizes, similar design philoshophies, etc., etc.  Suddenly, I don’t have to firehose you with three versions of the same necessary information.  Rather, I can lay it all out at once and hit three birds with a single stone.  Yet, on the flip side, if the games are too similar, then what’s the point in owning all of them?  That’s where the big, bright spotlights come in: highlighting the unique and interesting features of each carefully selected game. 

The brand and messaging of our bundle up to this point has focused in on the commonalities of my own Social Grooming and Reiner Knizia’s Soda Smugglers and Pumafiosi.  We’ve emphasized that they are all 20-minute games with simple rules, clever depth, and gorgeous art from Paul Halkyon.  Things have gone great with this plan, but we recently received a news bombshell from the team over at Knizia Games.  To give you some context, back when we were evaluating all of the unpublished games that Reiner had pitched to us, there was a third design that we had also fallen in love with and wanted to publish alongside Social Grooming, Soda Smugglers, and Pumafiosi.  Before we had the chance to lock in to the licensing rights, we suddenly heard back that it was no longer up for grabs (another publisher had belatedly decided they wanted to make the game).  While we were disappointed with that news, we were thrilled to have these other three games to bring to life and share with the world.  Fast forward several months, and that’s when the bombshell arrived: Reiner’s third awesome game was dropped by the other publisher and is now back on the market.

So the answer was simple:  Just lump this fourth game into our upcoming bundle because “the more the merrier,” right?  Not so fast…  the leap from a 3-game bundle to a 4-game bundle is a much wider gap than it initially sounds.  That means increasing the bundle price by a whopping 33%.  That means juggling each potential backer’s attention with four games rather than three.  At some point you have to draw the line, and four games felt like we were crossing that line.  Yes, we had considered lumping all four of them together initially (back when Reiner first pitched his games to us), but a few months of thorough planning made it immediately clear that a 4-game bundle would do more harm than good.  But that didn’t mean we had to let the golden opportunity of Reiner’s third game pass us by…

There was another option we could consider… one of shifting things around a bit in the old publishing pipeline.  You see, our second Kickstarter campaign was always planned to feature a unique party game.  Despite the track record of party games on Kickstarter, we’ve always felt that this one had a little extra something special to stand out from the crowd.  But as I theorized earlier, party games can make a bigger splash when combined into a harmonic chorus of discounted delight.  And it just so happens that Social Grooming is a party-style game as well.  Plus it shares the same designer (myself), the same design philosophy, a wide player count, a similar complexity, similar light-hearted fun, and highly social interactions.  Most importantly, these games target the same audience, making them highly compatible for a Kickstarter bundle.  We must apologize to any who have been eagerly awaiting the chance to play Social Grooming, but please stay tuned for its debut in the Bitewing Games Party Pack Kickstarter campaign coming in 2022.

Perhaps the even bigger benefit to this change would be the strengthened branding and focus of our first Kickstarter campaign.  Not only do we get to publish another fantastic game, but now these titles would share the same designer and a similar theme.  No longer is this bundle simply “Three 20-Minute Games,” it is now Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers Collection.

Big News: Introducing Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers Collection

Soda SmugglersBribe the border guard and smuggle illicit soda across the border to become the Soda Kingpin!

PumafiosiEarn your way to the top of the Pumafia Hierarchy while knocking down rival families!

Hot Lead: Lead undercover investigations, but push too hard and the criminals will smell a rat and go dark!

All three Games Include:

  • 20 Minute Playtime
  • Easy Teach & Setup
  • Clever depth & rewarding replayability thanks to acclaimed designer Reiner Knizia
  • Detailed & delightful art from Paul Halkyon
  • Compact magnetic square box

We’ve already shared many details about Soda Smugglers and Pumafiosi, but it’s time you become acquainted with the 2-5 player game, Hot Lead.

Hot Lead

Game Description

Lead the undercover investigation against five criminal groups to gather enough evidence to convict them. However, if you investigate too aggressively, the criminals will smell a rat and go dark!

The master designer of auction games is back with another hit, but this time with a twist!  Hot Lead features tense push-your-luck investigations, clever sealed-bid auctions for evidence, and blazingly fast card-play with deceptively simple rules.  

Each round, the highest investigator bid takes the criminal card closest to the deck, the second highest takes the second closest, and so on.  Gather enough evidence on one criminal organization to convict them for bonus points.  But be careful!  Investigate too aggressively and you’ll scare those criminals underground.

Players must discern their fellow investigators’ intentions, aim to gather the best evidence, and risk everything for the fame and glory of bringing down the big baddies.

In the end, we think you’ll agree that Hot Lead was very much worth all this late-stage scrambling and reorganization.  We expect to come away from this with stronger branding for two Kickstarter campaigns and another delightful design to share with the world.

Interested in Reiner Knizia’s Criminal Capers Collection?  Want to see the greatest anthropomorphic concept art you have ever laid eyes on?  Then subscribe below to the Bitewing Games monthly newsletter!  On Monday, June 7, our newsletter email will feature a first look at the concept art of the Pumafia big boss from Reiner Knizia’s Pumafiosi!

Article written by Nick Murray.  Although he is sad to delay the publishing of his design, Social Grooming, he is even more thrilled that Hot Lead has entered the Bitewing Games fold.  Tune in next week for Nick’s first impressions of a whole new batch of recently released board games!

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