Monday, September 1, 2008

Dreamblade -- So what felled it?

Dreamblade was meant to be the "next big thing" in collectible/tradeable games.

Undoubtedly Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro conducted enough market research to persuade them it had potential. It had a big roll out, with big money tournaments and extensive Magic:The Gathering-style store support.

It's a pretty good game, with interesting strategies, an appropriate theme that gave players a sense of what the game was about while providing few constraints for designers, and some innovative ideas.

The physical presentation was top-notch, with a well-illustrated and clearly explained rule book. The miniatures were outstanding, with great art, fascinating and clever sculpts and ending up with an extensive line of 300 different figures from the base set and four expansions.

The game seems to have been generally well-received. On BGG it's rating of 7.39 places it at No. 282 among the tens of thousands of game titles rated by the site. This puts it about as popular as Bang! and World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin. It's owned by 617 BGG folks and has been played some 2,301 times by 273 distinct users, which also makes it pretty popular by BoardgameGeek standards. It has 15 pages of images on the site, another sign of some enthusiasm.

Yet, despite all this, the game ended up getting cancelled by WOTC before it's second anniversary.

I think Dreamblade's fate may illustrate the pitfalls of the collectible format for marketing a game. While obviously a great money-maker for a game company if it takes off, going collectible may raise the bar a lot for a game title. It's either all or nothing. Huge success or death. Despite being pretty darn successful by traditional boardgame standards, as a collectible game DreamBlade couldn't make the cut.

Most of the collectible figure games that have been successful seem to be based on some outside theme, not a self-contained one. It may be a fictional setting like HeroClix or Star Wars, a game universe like D&D or Halo or historical like Axis & Allies or Pirates, but figure-based games seem to need an anchor.

There may be some other reasons why DreamBlade faltered as well. I think the pace of the expansions was a bit too aggressive for most players to keep up with. There was a problem with balance with some pieces. Most tournament winning warbands seemed to have three Scarab Warcharms and most featured multiple rares. One piece (Kitsune) had to be banned.

Still, most collectible games have some problems with balance and Dreamblades expansion schedule wasn't more aggressive than HeroClix, so I doubt these were sufficient.

I know for myself, I'm very unlikely to take a chance on another collectible figure game based on a standalone theme.

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