Conan: Rise of Monsters – DOA?

In any sort of business, but sometimes especially in the gaming hobby, timing is everything. You may have a great product, but if you are beaten to the punch then you could easily find yourself with something that nobody wants, or at least, nowhere near as many people as you might have hoped.

This is what appears to have happened to Pulposaurus Entertainment.

CROM 2Back in July 2015 they launched a Kickstarter for a warband skirmish game set in the world of Hyboria, where the sorcerer Thoth-Amon was assembling the Legions of Set to bring the Serpent God into the world. Hyboria’s only hope was that King Conan of Aquilonia forge an alliance – a Circle of Iron – to prevent this. Drawing on the original novels of Robert E Howard and the Marvel and Dark Horse Comics for inspiration, surely this was a game that would fire the imagination of the gaming community…?

…except that six months earlier, Monolith Designs had run a kickstarter for a boardgame based on the Conan IP. You may remember that it did rather well – that particular project funded on the 11th February 2015, having raised over $3 Million from over 16,000 backers.

The original Conan: Rise of Monsters kickstarter was cancelled on the 11th August 2015, having raised less than half of it’s $250K project goal with just under 600 backers. At the time, Pulposaurus announced that they were entering into a new relationship with Reaper Miniatures, and that it was therefore wise to cancel the project and relaunch at a later date. The full update can be seen here.

I was contacted towards the end of 2016 and asked if I wanted to record an interview about CROM, as the game was looking to launch on Kickstarter – this I did in February of this year, when I recorded an interview with Jack Emmert, the lead designer for the game.

Pulposaurus relaunched Conan: Rise of Monsters via Kickstarter on the 13th June 2017. I was going to put the interview I recorded with Mr Emmert into episode 217 of the podcast, but thought I would check to see how the Kickstarter project was doing before I did…

…at which point I discovered that the project had been cancelled on 21st June, despite achieving over 250% of its funding goal, though with only 368 backers. This is what Pulposaurus had to say about the reasons for cancellation:

Hi all,

It seems clear we haven’t managed to put together a package compelling enough for most Kickstarter backers. As we stated on the project’s main page, we have financing to manufacture CROM regardless of the amount raised, but given the relatively low number of backers we’ve decided it’s best to move on.

We love our game and are extremely proud of it. It’s been a joy to run at game stores and conventions across the country, and we appreciate all the good times we’ve had with our fellow gamers.

We’re also extremely proud of what we accomplished on the miniatures. Time and time again those who looked at the real-life production models at those same stores and conventions have told us how impressed they are with them, then posted their delight on social media.

But ultimately, this kind of product at the price we need to charge given our scale and premium paint work just doesn’t seem a good match for Kickstarter. Nor is it possible to offer the kind of discount distribution and retail are used to.

So for that reason, we’re going to shut down the project once and for all.

We greatly appreciate YOUR support and constructive comments, and are extremely thankful for all the help we’ve received from our friends at Conan Properties, Reaper Miniatures, and Ulisses Spiele.

We’re fortunate that we can close out the project with every artist, freelancer, and manufacturer paid, and we hope you enjoyed the free game we put up on DTRPG (it will be taken down later this week so take a look while you can–we’ve updated the Fate Cards with the cool Blood Magic and Rampage boosters you didn’t know about too!).

We don’t know what will happen with the Reaper resin terrain… please check the Reaper Minis site in the coming weeks for an update.

Finally, we’re all extremely fortunate as Robert E. Howard fans that there are so many other great Conan games to play right now. We encourage you to do so to support the overall effort–we’ve certainly gone all in on them all. 🙂

Pulposaurus

So what went wrong?

I would probably suggest three things

Price

A small number of fixed price pledges are becoming popular for kickstarting games. CROM did this, but it’s two pledge levels were $150 and $300 dollars. The $150 pledge gave you a two player starter set – 30 miniatures, plus rules, cards, custom dice and tokens – everything you needed to play the game. Except that the 30 miniatures were pre-painted plastic.

If you wanted the campaign supplement plus a further 22 miniatures, that would set you back $300!

Let’s compare this to what a pledge of $135 got me a couple of years earlier when I backed the Conan boardgame – no less that 176 unpainted plastic miniatures, plus scenery, on top of rules, dice, cards and boards.

Whilst I realise that prices have increased somewhat in two years, the difference between the two pledges is stark. For a further comparison, take a look at what spending $300 would get you in the Mythic Battles: Pantheon kickstarter.

In short, I would suggest that many gamers would have looked at this project and considered it somewhat expensive, to say the least.

Miniatures

It may sound obvious, but miniatures games live and die by the quality of the miniatures they contain. At a price point of $150, you would expect the miniatures to be top-notch. Judge for yourself, based on the miniatures that were on display during the Kickstarter:

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I have to say, they don’t look that great – especially when compared to the existing plastic miniatures that we have seen produced by Monolith for their Conan boardgame.

However, I think the nail in the coffin of the miniatures was that fact that they were pre-painted plastic. Despite what manufacturers think about producing prepainted miniatures that can be used straight out of the box, the evidence I have seen time and time again is that, as a general rule, the vast majority of wargames hate pre-painted models – it certainly influenced my decision not to back the project.

If you want a lesson in this, remember what happened to Rackham.

Timing

It’s obvious from the wording of the cancellation reasons that Pulposaurus were very disappointed with the backer numbers of the project, which is why they cancelled it despite it reaching it’s funding goal (I expect the ‘actual’ funding goal needed to create the game was much closer to the figure of $250k on their original project).

I don’t think there was anything wrong with creating a wargame with the Conan IP. I think the problem is they have tried to do it in the wake of one of the most successful kickstarter campaigns ever – that of Monolith’s Conan Boardgame. The fact that that game had 16,000 backers probably removed much of the market that Conan: Rise of Monsters had. Yes, CROM was a different type of game, but I know many wargamers who have bought the Conan boardgame, so perhaps CROM oriiginally launched 6 months too late, and was basically beaten to the punch?

Whatever the reason, it would seem that Pulposaurus are declaring this game dead after two failed kickstarter projects and are moving on.

If you wanted to give CROM a try, at time of writing the alpha rules are still available for free on DriveThruRPG, along with downloads for all the cards – I think I have the odd plastic miniature or two that may be suitable for this game…

5 Comments on Conan: Rise of Monsters – DOA?

  1. I think in many ways you’re being too kind Neil. From the shots above, this in now way looks like a ‘great product’ even by itself. When you look at the direct competition (i.e. the other Conan game it looks worse and when you compare prices it looks absurd. This appears like yet another textbook case of a business failing to take an honest look at their product, its price, and its position in a wider market. If only more people would read that textbook!

    I’d also say you are spot on with your point about pre-painted. It doesn’t suit the type of models they are trying to produce. FFG got pre-painted right IMO with Star Wars X-Wing, which is spaceships, but it’s notable that they went with unpainted for Imperial Assault.

  2. I guess pre painted is a flawed logic in a fantasy setting. You create a game based in players imagination then stifle it with pre selected colour schemes and charge a players a premium for players for the privilege.

    Even for x wing there are plenty of people who repaint ships.

  3. I didn’t think the minis or pre-paints were “bad” but I agree it seems to be more about price-point and perceived value. If the customer “perceives” that they can get more for less, they will go that route and “derail” the competition…

    ArrOOoo!

  4. Personally with enough unpainted mini’s to last my life-time, I wanted this to be good and succeed, but I did not eel I would get enough for my money and the mini’s put me of by most being left-handed.

  5. I agree with David Smith above. I have more unpainted lead than I will ever paint in my lifetime, so the pre-paints had a big appeal to me. While they’re not going to achieve the same quality of paint-job many of us would give them, as long as they were fairly decent and serviceable on the tabletop, that’s fine by me. Many HeroScape and Rackham pre-paints (Wolfen especially) work quite well for this, so I was hoping these would fit that level of pre-paint. I did think some of the big monsters looked cool, while a few of the infantry figures were kind of “meh”. The big problem for me was, I wanted the minis & Reaper terrain, and didn’t really give a lick about the actual game per se — I own enough skirmish systems already that would work just fine for Conan type games. So the price point was much too high for what I wanted.

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