Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Scott Thorne gives a quick view of the prerelease for Wizards of the Coast's War of the Spark, then looks at what it takes to get a retailer to back a game Kickstarter.

Good lord, that was quite a pre-release weekend. Wizards of the Coast seems to have a winner with War of the Spark, if prerelease numbers indicate anything.  I heard a few retailers reporting downturns in attendance but I would estimate over 90% of the postings I saw on social media indicate sold-out events with some turning away would-be players.  We took the same number of kits that we did for Ravnica: Allegiance and at the end of the weekend, we found we had only five kits remaining. Quite a change from Ravnica: Allegiance, when we had about 20 kits remaining.  From a logistics viewpoint, the design of War of the Spark prerelease kits is much easier to handle than the guild-specific, since there are always popular and unpopular guilds which players want or avoid. Shaping up to be a really good set though.

Now for Kickstarter games.  Given that roughly about 40% of Kickstarted game projects fail to fund, I am seeing an uptick in Kickstarter creators offering retailer levels of the campaign.  By offering a retailer level, the campaign generates additional product sales, as the retailer level generally requires the store to commit to "purchasing" 3, 6 or 12 copies of the game in question.  Given that, if you are a publisher and want retailers to back your campaign, here are some things you can do to make stores more likely to sign up:

Let them know about the campaign.  When I checked over the weekend, there were over 44,000 game projects listed on Kickstarter.  Granted, not all of them are card, board or role-playing games but enough are that a new campaign will likely get lost among all the others unless you are proactive and reach out to stores.  You can do this by paper mail (which is actually pretty likely to get looked at, since stores don’t get a lot of game-specific promotional material via the USPS today), email (easy to delete however, so make sure you have a compelling subject line such as "Fund our Kickstarter campaign and get your copies for 70% off MSRP) or in a Facebook group, such as the Game Retailers Who Back Kickstarters group (yes it does exist).  If you want to call us, that is great, but don’t cold-call. Email or call to set up an appointment.  We would like to talk about your game and supporting your campaign but not out of the blue.

Show them a good reason to back it.  Yes, we realize your game is probably the coolest thing since sliced bread but there are thousands of other cool games getting released every month, as well as evergreen titles to which we can allocate our limited funds, so you need to make a compelling case for us to support it.  Things retailers look for include a good gross margin.  If the margin you offer off MSRP is less than 40%, you need to make a really compelling reason as to why.  I have seen campaigns offer retailers a 25% or even 15% margin.  By the time you figure freight in, it is not financially reasonable to back it.  Other things stores look for:

  1. Shipping at the same time as other supporters
  2. All stretch goals included in retailer copies
  3. A track record of hitting release dates
  4. A comparatively short time frame for release or some way for us not to tie up what can be a significant investment in your project for several months.

I am probably missing some things that other retailers can fill in.  Email me at with things retailers look for in a Kickstarter and I will include them in a future column.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of