Kingdoms rise and crumble. Mountains fall into the sea. Glaciers carve their wending way across the land. But the Geek Haven persists. This month on America’s favorite crowdfunding platform*, Kickstarter backers are offered a timely choice: look to the future, or revel in the past. I’m talking real-life holodecks, claymation creations, microscope empires and Christopher Lee. Interest piqued? Prepare to have your noggin blown.
*statement might not accurately reflect the preferences of American crowdfunders
Armikrog.: Back in the ’90s (i.e. last century), a weirdo named Doug TenNapel made some video games that set a new standard for strangeness–in a medium where a shroom-munching, fire-tossing plumber smashing floating brickwork with his head is considered normal. These games included Earthworm Jim, Earthworm Jim 2, and a pair of cult-classic claymation adventure games: The Neverhood on PC and Skullmonkeys on the original PlayStation. Now, after a 10-year hiatus, Doug TenNapel wants to make another game. It is also clay- and puppet-animated, like The Neverhood, and it will include the same unbridled, oddball creativity his games are famed for. Yet somehow, 3 days away from the campaign’s conclusion, Armikrog. is still $250k short of its goal. Have the crowdfunding gods forsaken us, or will there be a surprise comeback in Armikrog.‘s twilight hours?
Kingdom: On the other end of the success spectrum, having reached its final 24 hours, this freeform pen-and-paper storytelling RPG from Ben Robbins, designer of the equally innovative Microscope, has already surpassed 1000% of its initial goal–a pretty good haul for a nontraditional, narrative-driven, GM-less RPG. Focusing less on dice and combat and more on yarn-spinning, the core of Kingdom‘s gameplay is the balance of storytelling power distributed between the players: the Perspective player accurately predicts the consequences of each story branch, the Touchstone expresses the will of the people, but only the Power gets to make the final, excruciating choice. And then the story moves on to another Crossroad. One of the most intriguing elements of the project are the stretch goals, prewritten Kingdom “playsets” that provide a setting and structure for the story being told. These run the gamut from fueling a galactic arms race to managing a school for wayward wizards, programming a children’s television network, playing the pantheon in the time of gods and heroes, and even deciding the fate of the world’s most popular dungeon-delving RPG, Grottos & Griffons. $10 gets you a PDF of the game, $19 throws in a Microscope PDF, and a bound, paper copy can be yours for a $25 pledge. You’ve reached a Crossroad. The clock is ticking, and this choice…could change everything. What will you decide?
Double Fine’s MASSIVE CHALICE: Think of everything I said about Armikrog.: oddball designer known for cult-favorite adventure games trying to create a new game that is, in part, a throwback to a previous era. Now take away the claymation and add a two-headed baby, and you’re left with a project that suddenly has no trouble whatsoever getting funded, i.e. any Kickstarter project Double Fine has ever touched. (What do you people have against clay?) Such a project is MASSIVE CHALICE, a game so epic it DEMANDS THAT CAPS LOCK REMAIN ON AT ALL TIMES when describing it. The general idea behind MASSIVE CHALICE is a traditional tactical strategy game, but on an epic timeline–your battles will take place across generations, not measly months or years like those other “subepic” strategy games. There will also be permadeath and modular content. But really, it’s Double Fine; you should know by now whether you love them or hate them. Moving on.
Cthulhu Wars, Kaosball & Escape – a boardgame in the EDEN universe: If you take a look at Kickstarter’s Most Funded Projects in the Tabletop Games category, you’ll notice something they almost all have in common: really cool miniatures, and lots of them. It’s no secret at this point that if you have a board game and you want to make a million dollars on Kickstarter, you’d better have lots of minis to offer your potential backers. This month, these three games are your go-to source for wicked plastic sculpts. Cthulhu Wars is a game of Lovecraftian horror in which YOU are the horror, and seems at first glance like a collectible card game made much more expensive by totally unnecessary (but really sweet-looking) miniatures, with a mind-boggling array of expansions on offer. Kaosball, published by Cool Mini or Not (also responsible for several of those most-funded projects mentioned above), is an over-the-top sports game featuring werewolves, dragons, and kung fu pandas. The designer is Eric Lang, the man responsible for Chaos in the Old World, Quarriors!, and several Living Card Games published by Fantasy Flight, so there’s a good chance the gameplay will be solid–but that hasn’t stopped CMiN from making the mini count (60+) the highlight of the game’s one-line description. Finally, Escape – Fighting for Freedom is a French sci-fi horror board game for 1-6 players. An interesting wrinkle with this one is that it was originally published in a magazine with paper cutouts , which is a good sign that it wasn’t designed minis first, gameplay later, but the minis themselves are still pretty badass in a Fallout kind of way.
Omni & ARAIG: Less a game and more a way of life, Omni and ARAIG are the ideal next step for anybody who put down money for the Oculus Rift. Omni, by Virtuix, promises to let you “Move Naturally in Your Favorite Game” by way of a special pair of shoes, a low-friction surface and a supportive harness (so you don’t injure yourself)…basically, it’s one step closer to the holodeck. Combined with the Oculus Rift or a similar VR visor to simulate head movement, you can finally bid farewell to those WASD keys and help dispel the image of video gamers as fat lazy slobs. What Omni does for movement, ARAIG (“As Real As It Gets”) does for your sense of touch. ARAIG uses haptic feedback, surround sound that literally surrounds your body, and a funny-looking piece of body armor to create the most expensive, high-tech rumble pack ever. While it looks like the ARAIG campaign will fall short of its goal, the creators are going ahead with production anyway, even offering a nice discount for current Kickstarter backers.
DEUS EX MACHINA 2: In the world of endings, none can rival the deus ex machina. Not to be confused with the award-winning cyberpunk action-RPG Deus Ex, Deus Ex Machina was a 1984 computer game by Mel Croucher, and it was unintelligibly bizarre way before Earthworm Jim was dreamed up. Sold through nontraditional channels and packaged with a prog rock soundtrack on cassette tape, Deus Ex Machina told the story of one person’s journey through life…by way of unidentifiable abstract shapes and well-timed music. The long-anticipated sequel/reimagining, DEUS EX MACHINA 2, brings in an all-star cast including Sir Christopher Lee, Chyna Whyne, remastered original tracks by Ian Dury, and Chris Madin of X Factor fame. Even more, it brings the original title up to date with cutting-edge graphics that look almost as good as the infamous late-’90s Dancing Baby animation. Ooga-chaka!
Next month: more miniatures, another round of ill-fated cult-classic reboots, and something with zombies? Only one way to find out.