Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King doesn't look like your standard, blood-and-chainmail tabletop wargame. The monsters are rotund and cartoony, and the heroes, with their anime eyes and giant heads balanced on tiny bodies, look like children's toys. It's a remarkably gentle entry in a genre that takes violence as its primary theme, more Super Mario than Warhammer.
"[Miniatures games] have always addressed a very core audience of game players which are usually male; they're into the spikes and the blood and and the chainmail and all the gore, and that has its place" says John Cadice, founder of Soda Pop Miniatures, which designed the game. "But it felt distinctly vacant of a lot of the types of gaming that felt more inclusive -- being able to bring in kids, or sit down at the table with your girlfriend."
See also: How to get my job: board game designer
It looks like Soda Pop was on to something. The Forgotten King Kickstarter, which ends this evening, has raised over $1,000,000, well over ten times its original goal.
For Soda Pop, a Seattle-born company in the thick of a move to Denver, the launch is a good start to life in a new city. Founded in 2009 as an "evening hobby business" by Cadice, a veteran of gaming powerhouses like Games Workshop and Privateer Press, the company has built up a loyal following with miniatures titles like the original Super Dungeon Explore and sci-fi wargame Relic Knights. At least one local game store, Bonnie Brae Hobby Shop, carries their products in store. The move to the Mile High City was a practical decision for Soda Pop. Denver has a lower cost of doing business than Seattle and is more centrally located for travelling the trade show circuit. And while Denver's gaming scene isn't as developed as the West Coast's, Cadice says it's on its way. "They feel like they're right on the edge of burgeoning and exploding into being a creative powerhouse, developing and generating its own businesses, which I think is kind of a nice place to be," Cadice says. "That means it's fertile, it's got interested people who want to get involved, and the number of outlets for them to jump into are relatively limited. So we'll have no trouble finding super-enthusiastic people to help us, to support promoting, or even designing and building, products with us." The company's latest project takes its inspiration from Super-Nintendo-era Japanese RPGs like Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy . In Forgotten King, players fight their way through a labyrinth, dispatching monsters and collecting treasure on a quest to defeat the villainous Dark Consul.
Soda Pop hopes that the familiar premise and lower start-up cost (unlike many popular miniatures games, all the figures for Forgotten King come preassembled, and don't need to be painted) will help draw in women, Xbox-raised youngsters, and other players who might otherwise have felt alienated by the miniatures genre.
"We wanted to be a little more open to a broader market that's growing out of electronic gaming right now, that's crossing those boundaries into playing Magic, and doing roleplaying and other things," says Cadice. "It doesn't necessarily need to be 17- to 25-year-old males. There are a lot of people out there who play games."
Soda Pop's relationship with crowdfunding, as well as the female side of the gaming community, hasn't always been smooth. In 2012, Kickstarter canceled funding for the company's Anime-spoofing card game Tentacle Bento amid objections that the game trivialized rape.
While Soda Pop successfully raised funding on their own site, Tentacle Bento became a public relations nightmare, drawing flak from gaming blogs like Kotaku and earning a place on Cracked's list of The 5 Worst Kickstarter Ideas That Actually Got Funded.
If the episode hurt Soda Pop's prospects long term, it hasn't shown in its latest campaign: As the project draws to its conclusion, Forgotten King has hit all of its stretch goals, and is as good on its way to press. And if its success on Kickstarter is any indication, more than a few dining room tables will be transforming into dungeons when it ships in December.
You can find Super Dungeon Explore: Forgotten King on Kickstarter; the campaign wraps up at 9 p.m. tonight.
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Follow Adam Roy on Twitter: @adnroy