My journey into tabletop gaming is probably similar to many others. At some point in the early 2000s, I was introduced to The Settlers of Catan. Up until then, board games made me think of Risk, Axis and Allies, and Monopoly. Yet things changed when I played my first euro game. After one go, I knew I had to have more. Carcassonne, Zombies!!!, Munchkin, Mage Knight Dungeons, and the Renier Knizia Lord of the Rings game often graced my tabletop. I was in love.
In 2003, Gen Con moved from Milwaukee to Indianapolis, and it was there that I got re-introduced to promo cards. I don’t quite remember the games, but I loved the concept. Free cards for games I either had or might someday get. It was both fun and a way to get more content for games I already loved. This also tugged at my inner completionist.
I used to be a comic book collector, and I LOVED getting full runs of series. Nothing bugged me more than missing one issue out of a run of 20 (thanks Powers #2). So, when I got into board games, I not only checked out if there were any expansions, but also any promo cards I needed to find. It was a game within a game.
Fast forward to 2012 and what do we see? Zombicide hops on Kickstarter. I had backed a few games here and there on the platform, but never really spent that much time browsing it. I remember seeing Zombicide’s price tag of $100 for the “all in” and thinking that was a CRAZY price. Who would pay $100 for a board game sight unseen? (oh, sweet summer child) Well apparently almost 5,000 people were on board for that, because the Kickstarter was not only a rousing success, but it also changed the way many future Kickstarters were ran. Enter the age of stretch goals and Kickstarter exclusivity.
CMON figured out the secret sauce of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). They threw so much plastic at backers, that it was often too good of a deal to pass up. And years later, after the game finally ships, you know what? Those backers were making a lot of money on the secondary market. It wasn’t unheard of to see the Zombicide pledges going for $800-$1000 on eBay! That’s a heck of a return on investment.
But here’s the rub. If you were just average Joe gamer, and you wanted those gameplay addons. The ONLY way to get it was the secondary market. The content was locked behind the Kickstarter exclusive badge. It didn’t take long for many creators to take notice of this trend. Suddenly there were promos and exclusive items in every campaign. Add on to that early bird pricing and FOMO ruled the day.
While that didn’t spark the end of promo hunting for me, it did create some frustrations. To be honest, it was a few things that made me call it quits on being a completionist. First, was that it just became WAY too hard to find everything. Not only did you have to try and hit up conventions to find promos, and be aware of Kickstarter exclusivity, but then you had Kickstarters that were only promos. Many content creators were making deals with publishers to offer promo cards to backers to fund their endeavors.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t support your favorite content creators, PLEASE DO! But when they each are offering some card or mini for your favorite game, it just gets to be too much. And sometimes it might even be a creator that you didn’t really even like all that much. So, do you throw money at them just to get the card or pass on completing your collection? It was another stone in the wall of frustration from what was once fun and now more of a chore.
What finally ended it for me was when I realized that having these promos just really didn’t matter. A lot of times you are talking about 1 card in a deck of 100+. Do I really need to pay $5 for a card I might never even use in a game? And sometimes the cards you do actually use in the game are either unbalanced or just flat out dumb. The Unfair (2017, Joel Finch) Gen Con promo card felt so powerful, we eventually just stopped using it. I remember seeing another promo card for Among the Stars (2012, Vangelis Bagiartakis) that awarded points for the number of games in your collection or if you had the most facial hair. What? I get that they might have been trying to be funny, but these felt pretty useless to use in a game. Promo cards would be great if they lived up to their name and it was about getting them for free at conventions or from a publisher, but the costs of getting them all can really add up.
And the end of my days with being a completionist isn’t only because of promo cards. Kickstarters today have gone so overboard with the expansions that I’m getting a “Day 1 DLC” feel from them. You have the base pledge, you have the deluxe pledge, and then you have the “All In” pledge. Whether or not the All In is a good value is irrelevant. Most of the time, I just don’t need all that content for a board game, especially one I haven’t even tried yet. The All-In pioneer CMON is a prime example. Sure, they throw tons of plastic at you, but do I really need 37 heroes for a game? Let’s be real. Unless you are the type of person that buys 3-4 games a year and plays them endlessly, chances are you don’t need all that content. If you are a card- carrying member of the “Cult of the New”, I’m guessing many of those expansions won’t even make it to your tabletop before a fine layer of dust settles on top of the boxes.
Instead of going all-in for hundreds or sometimes $1000+, I take a step back and decide how much of the game I really need. Look at the current CMON Kickstarter campaign for Marvel Zombicide. The pledges range from $130 to $410 for the all-in. That high pledge level comes with a 2’ tall figure of Galactus that, while undeniably cool, feels fairly unnecessary. It feels like something I’d play with once and then it would sit on a shelf taking up space for the next few years until I decide to sell it. Yet, at the time of this writing, there are over 5000 people parting with $400 for that pledge level! And it’s not like CMON is the only publisher with cost creep. Last year there was a Kickstarter for Stefan Fled games that had an all-in of $715. The all-in on the Middara reprint was $500.
So, you might be thinking, yeah, but, what if you end up loving a game, won’t you regret not getting everything for it. First, nope. I can sleep comfortably knowing I’m missing an expansion here and there. Heck, even if there is a game, I do wish I had gotten more expansions for, the money I save from not getting everything all the time will more than make up for getting a few things on the secondary market here and there. But it’s very rare now that I play a game enough times that I really need four big expansions immediately upon unboxing.
If you love chasing promos and owning everything, that’s great. But for me, the money and time just aren’t worth it anymore.