According to Board Game Geek, there are currently 13,116 games that fit under the “Crowdfunding: Kickstarter” category. While that number is inflated by entries that appeared as a campaign after their original release, the number inspired me to think about what games I’d put at the top of my personal Kickstarted games list. And, since I always feel like my opinion is the only one that matters, I’ve decided that this list is not only my personal Top 10 Kickstarter Games, but also the Official Top 10 Kickstarter Games.
I can see the eye rolls already as you predict which heavy hitters on the board game campaign trail will be at the top of this list. Games like Zombicide, Spirit Island, and Gloomhaven, the last of which is considered by many to be the best game on the planet. But you won’t find those games anywhere on my official list, and that’s just something you’re going to have to come to terms with. What you will find, however, are ten superior games (12 if you count the honorable mentions) that don’t get as much press.
(Disclaimers: This list isn’t an endorsement or criticism of the Kickstarter format in general, which I either love or loathe, depending on what side of the bed I wake up on. And to preemptively combat negative feedback on this piece, let me be clear that I have indeed played all 13,116 qualifying crowdfunded games. Or—at the very least—I’ve briefly considered playing them at some point in my life.)
Two games that are close to making the list are Baseball Highlights: 2045 and The Search for Planet X. Baseball Highlights: 2045 is something of a forgotten gem in the deck-building genre that combines simple mechanics with a neat take on board game baseball. The Search for Planet X is a gamer-level deduction experience that is part logic puzzle and part efficiency puzzle as you try to stack turns to collect the best information before your opponents do. Both games are definitely worth a look even if they didn’t quite crack the actual (and internet official) top ten.
10. Western Legends
If this list was highlighting games simply based on the total number of separate Kickstarter campaigns, then Western Legends would be the clear number one. It still sneaks onto the list because it’s probably the best true sandbox game out there. Players can basically do anything they want to win this game; play as a sheriff or an outlaw or a gambler or a cattle driver. All of the options are viable strategies, and all are more or less equally fun. (Maybe not the gambling one since the game overcharges you at the buffet tables just like in Vegas.) There’s a lot of content for Western Legends and adding everything in at once can make remembering and teaching the game difficult, but it’s something that needs to be played at least once just to experience how it all comes together so nicely.
9. Dinosaur Island (review)
There are a lot of these “build a dinosaur park” games on the market these days—Dinogenics, Draftosaurus, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, as well as spinoffs of this one like Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n’ Write, Duelosaur Island, and Dinosaur World. For me, however, Dinosaur Island is the best of the bunch. It combines a little bit of worker placement with resource management in a pretty straightforward fashion. Plus: My Kickstarter copy came with a slap bracelet. A slap bracelet! How is this not even higher than ninth place?!?
This is one from the way back machine, but 2013’s Amerigo was actually a Kickstarter-first project from designer Stefan Feld. The game has a questionable theme involving vague Colonialism but is mechanically one of Feld’s most straightforward and engaging designs. Players utilize a nifty cube tower to select their actions to move ships, guard against pirate attacks, or lay tiles down Tetris-style. It’s point salad to the max and still remains one of my favorite overall games, even if it doesn’t quite fit into the more modern “bling for bling’s sake” style of Kickstarters.
7. Sleeping Gods (review)
Sleeping Gods is the culmination of years of world-building and design progression by Ryan Laukat and as such might be his magnum opus. It’s part game, part experience as you traverse a map that can be used across multiple campaigns and decipher clues that lead you to other destinations or on side quests that can unlock achievements. (It really does feel at times like the tabletop equivalent of an open world video game like Assassin’s Creed.) There are also monsters that you have to fight using an inventive damage system. “Winning” the game becomes an afterthought once you start a session. Instead, players are more focused on the way the crew can recover after an intense battle or what that character from earlier meant when he said, “Don’t travel to the docks at the north of this island.” It sounded like a warning, but much like when your mother told you not to pick at a scab, there’s no way you’re not going to do it.
6. Scythe (review)
Stonemaier Games have gone away from Kickstarters in recent years, but there was a time when they were the gold standard for high-quality game components that could probably only be included via Kickstarter. When the Scythe Kickstarter launched, it seemed to include a ridiculous amount of stuff for what was more or less a standard Euro with a neat action selection upgrading mechanic. While the game is certainly overproduced for what it is, it no longer feels superfluous and, in that way, Scythe was a game-changer for how the masses expect games to be produced. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is really good. Like Gloohmaven, Scythe needs to be on any top ten list even mentioning Kickstarter. (Even though I don’t have Gloomhaven on my list. Again: My list, my rules.)
5. Architects of the West Kingdom
Shem Phillips has made a career with his sprawling “of the” medieval franchise. There’s like 300 games in it at this point including Shipwrights of the North Sea, Merchants of the South Tigris, Paladins of the West Kingdom, Cobblers of the North Sea, and Viscounts of the West Kingdom. (Some of the ones I listed aren’t even real, but I bet you can’t tell which.) My favorite of this series is still Architects of the West Kingdom, which is a codesign with SJ Macdonald, who has worked on a bunch of these games with Phillips. It’s an accessible worker placement game with an interesting mechanic that allows players to increase how valuable a location is simply by visiting it a lot, but that leaves the door open for opponents to capture those workers for profit. It’s a really inventive design and one of the fastest playing games of its type out there.
4. Glen More II: Chronicles
Matthias Cramer’s reworking of his old-school Euro Glen More might be the only game on this list that simply wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter. The other games likely would have found a way onto the market but Glen More II: Chronicles is an enormous game that is essentially a bunch of mechanisms stuffed into a box with unique components. And it’s incredible. The vanilla version of the game is great as you use a rondel tile selecting mechanism to build out your land, but the game also comes with eight expansions of varying complexity (the titular Chronicles) that either mix up the game slightly or change the entire experience. Glen More II: Chronicles is a favorite of mine and is one of the reasons I still consider Kickstarter a force for good in the world. (Even though the comments section of every single campaign is a frightening wasteland of complaints and demands for teleportation-speed shipping.)
3. Marvel United (review)
So if you’ve heard of Kickstarter, then you’ve heard of FOMO. (And if you haven’t heard of FOMO, then you’re really missing out.) CMON campaigns are often accused of preying on this phenomenon to drive up funding and the two recent Marvel United campaigns (original and then X-Men flavored) are two of the culprits most-often cited as problematic in this regard. While I won’t disagree with any of that in principle, Marvel United is one of the most purely fun cooperative games I’ve ever played. There’s just something about the simplicity of playing cards that immediately help the next player. The real treat is when you mix in the various villains who all change the game in interesting ways. (Many of these are Kickstarter exclusives, unfortunately, which is one of the inherent issues of these campaigns in general.) I won’t pretend Marvel United is a thinky game, however. It’s light. Like… super light. So light that if it didn’t have a ton of plastic minis it would probably float away. But it’s also my most-played game since it delivered and it’s not even close. I’ve played it with my young kids. I’ve played it solo. I’ve even played it remotely over video chat, which is relatively easy to pull off.
2. Viticulture (review)
Before there was Scythe, there was Viticulture, which really propelled Jamey Stegmaier and his Stonemaier Games into the spotlight. The Kickstarter for the original game combined a unique theme with straightforward worker placement mechanics. The game, a codesign with Alan Stone, was well-received, but it wasn’t until the release of the Tuscany expansion that Viticulture became one of the gold-standard Euro experiences. (Things got a little complicated after that; go try to figure out which version of the game you even have. There are Essential Editions and Booster packs and non-Essential things. I’m not even sure which versions still exist for purchase at your local KB Toys store. What? KB Toys doesn’t exist anymore either?!?) For my money, Viticulture (with Tuscany) is the prototypical example of a worker placement game and is the type of game that needs to be in every collection. And it all started on Kickstarter.
1. Dwellings of Eldervale (review)
It’s well documented around Board Game Quest Headquarters that I’m very much in favor of putting hats on meeples. So obviously that means I had to pick the game that started this obsession for me as the best Kickstarter game of all time. (And that’s official because it’s on the official list that I made official.) Dwellings of Eldervale sits at number one not only because it’s a fantastic game, but also because it encapsulates everything Kickstarter has become. It’s overproduced to a silly degree and has add-ons that are mostly unnecessary. (The monsters in my copy have growling noise bases, for instance, which is ridiculous and also something I refuse not to use when playing the game.) But like Scythe, none of it quite feels like bloat as is sometimes the case with these campaigns. Luke Laurie’s design is a tableau-building, worker placement hybrid that is simply a lot of fun to play and features some interesting mechanical entanglements that differentiate it enough from other games. It’s still tricky to get a hold of (it periodically comes back into print directly from publisher Breaking Games) but is well worth the effort. And in case I hadn’t mentioned it: Meeples put on these awesome roof hats during the game and then become houses. It’s magical. And magic belongs at number one.