I love the internet. Not only does it make my life possible (an indie-author could not have supported himself with his writing even ten years ago), but it leads me into the most interesting adventures and places. This is the story of one of them.
Last year on my way north I stopped in Dragon’s Keep in Provo, UT. Dragon’s keep is probably the best game store in the entire state, maybe the best game store between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast. Browsing the shelves, a family game caught my eye: Tokaido. Its pristine white box and Japanese theme grabbed my attention, especially since I knew what the Tokaido was: the coastal road that stretched from Kyoto to Edo. With its shrines, hot springs, inns and beautiful natural sites, the two-week journey became a popular tourism route during the peaceful 17th century. It was popular with all classes of Japanese, especially the rising middle class of the period, and it was said that you could meet anyone and see anything upon the Tokaido.
So I picked it up and found it to be a truly fun family game, made beautiful by the art of Naïade (you can see more of his wonderful art by clicking on the picture).
In it you take the role of a traveler along the road. You might be an elderly priest, an artist, a courtier or geisha, or a merchant, messenger, orphan girl… Take your pick, each represented delightfully by Naïade’s art and each having a slightly different advantage. You and the other players travel from Kyoto to Edo, seeing the sights, picking up souvenirs, eating the great food, visiting the shrines and hot springs, and having interesting encounters along the road. At the end, he who had the best time wins (you keep track with points). It is a serenely competitive game, an easy way to spend an hour with family and friends.
It almost goes without saying that Tokaido has been a great success in the tabletop-games community, and has acquired a lot of fans. It had one expansion earlier this year, Crossroads, and released extra promotional cards at different events. So FunForge, the game’s producers, decided to go bigger and launched a Kickstarter campaign.
I heard about it when a brother-in-law emailed me the link; he knew I loved the game and one of the Kickstarter pledge levels gave you all the expansion stuff that came on top of the original game. He thought I might like to get the “extras.”
He had no idea what he’d done.
FunForge was looking for at least $40,000 to do a Collector’s Edition: basic game plus the expansion, the promotional cards, nicer pieces, a new set of alternate-art cards for the 16 traveler characters, and cute little miniatures for each traveler. That’s all they wanted to do, but have you ever seen Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Well…
The trouble started almost immediately. I think they got concussed by all the money being thrown at them.
There is a thing in Kickstarter called Stretch Goals; it’s a way of encouraging pledgers to spread the word and encourage more pledgers. If a Stretch Goal is met, another piece of goodness is added to the basic product or some other cool gift is attached. In Tokaido’s case, it is likely that they’d had no idea how much money was going to come in early, and they scrambled to find cool Stretch Goals to keep the momentum going. Ad-libbing in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign is not a good idea, but their intentions were good. I was watching on the comments page, and for awhile there it looked like it would be a five-car pileup with no survivors.
Here’s what happened, at least from this bystander’s perspective.
One of the first new Stretch Goals they made was that they would paint those 16 cute traveler minies. All Samurai Pledges would get the painted ones. That was good.
Then they decided to create 16 Alternate Art traveler cards (more Naïade is always good), with 16 new minies to go with them. Each traveler character would have two art cards and two minies, both painted. Even better.
Then some genius, scrambling for another set of Stretch Goals just for Samurai Pledges and above, decided it would be a cool idea to also get an unpainted set of the minies (some people like to paint their own miniatures, after all). This sounded great, but after a few days went by someone at FunForge realized that the logistics of packing 64 minies with each game would be a nightmare. So they canceled that Stretch Goal.
During the time the Duplicate Set of minies was an available Stretch Goal, the number of pledgers had just about doubled, and they wanted those extra minies.
FunForge is a French company, but the majority of Tokaido fans are Americans (bigger market), and I’m pretty sure that the US nearly invaded France–at least if the anguished screams on the comments page were anything to go by.
To stave off the imminent invasion, FunForge scrambled to find a way to make it up to the Samurai Pledgers. In the interests of world peace, several of us offered constructive suggestions. I and a few others suggested that instead of just alternate-art cards for the travelers, Bauza (the game’s designer) should create 16 brand new travelers with new abilities to go with the new art.
FunForge grasped this suggestion desperately (who knows, they might have thought of it first while hiding in their safe-house), and Bauza also stood before the mob and promised a new game expansion exclusively to the Samurai Pledges. The day was saved, and the Kickstarter campaign thundered on to its glorious conclusion: $668,000 pledged to a game that needed only $40,000 to fund. Bigger board, nicer cards, new expansions, 35 travelers with beautifully painted minies! There were fireworks.
And here’s where my personal moment of madness and extravagance happened.
You see, there was one pledge level higher than Samurai: Shogun. Samurai Pledge ($115) got you the whole glorious set: Shogun Pledge ($950) also got your face on one of the alternate-art travelers, with a nice framed print signed by Naïade and Bauza.
Now, I like my face, but $950 to get it cropped onto a character that isn’t you? I think not. Then the Stretch Goals changed, from alternate-art to New and Original Travelers, and the Shogun Pledgers would get to describe their traveler characters… Fortunately for my bank balance, by that time 16 pledgers had already pledged Shogun; the temptation was no longer available.
So there I was, on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, watching the money-storm (they raised nearly $200,000 on the last day) and reading the comments page, when suddenly a cry rang out! Someone had dropped his Shogun pledge! Immediate speculation began, one guy started crying because his girlfriend would kill him in his sleep if he bumped his pledge to Shogun and they couldn’t pay the rent, and…
Yup. I did it. Grabbed the last Shogun Pledge slot. I didn’t need that new computer, anyway.
Which just goes to show you what interesting adventures can befall you on Tokaido Road. The wandering samurai poet at the top of this post? Me, mini-me soon to come. He/I will be traveling Tokaido road in more than 5,000 boxed sets of the Tokaido Collector’s Edition around the world–many more if FunForge decides to release the CE or the Shogun Pack travelers and other expansion for regular distribution once they finish the Kickstarter production-run (and I certainly would if I was them). I’ll probably also get chewed on by dogs and babies, but I try not to think about that.
So who knows? Perhaps someday soon you guys will be in a game store and see a big white box with cool Japanese-themed art, make an impulse-buy, and meet me on Tokaido Road.
(Disclaimer: should anyone from FunForge read this and take exception to the way I have portrayed events, I can only say that this is how the Kickstarter campaign looked to me. On the decision-making end, it might have looked very, very different. Kudos for pulling it together and making it all come out right in the end.)