I: A commentary on board game add-ons – Promos

This is the first article in a series focused on board game additions. To read the other articles in the series, click on the link below:

II. A commentary on board game add-ons – Modules

III. A commentary on board game add-ons – Expansions

IV: A commentary on board game add-ons – Spin-offs

A commercially successful game is not all that common but when it does happen, you can be sure that additional items (or add-ons) will follow shortly. Publishers introduce additional material to an existing game in the form of promos, modules or expansions. If the game gains even more traction with a strong following, then spin-offs will be released to piggy back off the popularity of the original game. In all instances, the designer and publisher is hoping that the success and popularity of the original game will spur gamers to fork out more money to purchase the associated product. Some items which are more promotional in nature are given out to enhance the longevity or brand name of a game. In this series of articles, I am providing some personal thoughts about these additions to a board game. Are they worthwhile and do they really contribute to the gaming experience?

To me there is a clear distinction between promos, modules, expansion and spin-offs. Promos are promotional items by definition and is the smallest addition to any game. Promos usually come as a single or a set of items that generally increases the variability of the game. Most promos are freely distributed by designers or publishers and are available either via direct downloads from websites or handed out at events. Some promos are also attached to gaming magazines such as Spielbox. However, due to increasing demand, promos are now sold by publishers either directly or via gaming portals such as BoardGameGeek.

There are different types of promos, each with slightly different impact on the game. The most ubiquitous promos are probably single cards or tiles that are added to the game. These promos add some variety or flavor to a pre-existing deck of cards or tiles in the game. Some of these single promos can be tongue-in-cheek designs with real-world tie-ins such as a card or tile featuring the game designer. An example is Seiji Kanai’s original version of Mai Star where the designer himself appears as a client; Another game called Nothing Personal features several famous personalities from Dice Tower, a podcasting website. Some promos improve the aesthetics of a game. The most popular promo in this category is an upgrade to the start player token. Instead of a cardboard token, a more impressive replacement might be offered. In Evolution from North Star Games, a wooden T-rex start token was offered as a promo. Sometimes, promos also appear in the form of alternate art work. For instance, a same set of cards might have different art work. These items doesn’t really alter much of anything, but enhances the tactile and visual appeal of a game which can indirectly enhance your gaming experience.

For the most part, promos that adds a card or tile will not leave a huge impact on the base game. A single addition to a deck of 100 cards is unlikely to leave a dent. Some promos introduce new characters or player types in the game. These promos tend to have a slightly larger impact since your style of play could change depending on how the new promo character interacts with the game. For example, in Shadows over Camelot, a new knight Sir Bedivere was introduced as a promo and he has a set of special skills. His contribution to the game comes in how his special power interacts with the other Knights of the Round Table. Again in the original Mai Star, Kanai Factory released several rare promos for a new set of Geishas replete with new skills. These Geishas can really change up the pace of a game and alter the flow of play. Regardless of the type of promo, unless the card is extraordinarily powerful, most promos still don’t significantly change the way a game is played.

Genie promo for Kramer and Kiesling’s Asara (Photo credits phibbi@BGG)

Many publishers and authors know gamers are a passionate lot and will capitalize on these tendencies by offering promos as enticements. Promos in general are cheap to produce and is given out during conventions and gatherings to entice gamers to visit a booth or to buy an item. In essence, promos are versatile items that allow publishers and designers to attract new customers or maintain any existing fan base. Promos are also given out to many ancillary institutions or organization which promote the board gaming hobby (i.e. podcasters, board gaming websites), as a way to reward their efforts to promote the hobby or as recruiting tool to get more donors or followers. More recently though, promos have been a vital marketing tool for companies that crowd source their creations on sites such as Kickstarter. By taking advantage of “completionist” behavior, publishers have promised exclusive promos for gamers if they pledge support for the game. These promos are made available only during the pledging period and not in retail copies of the game. Since many gamers are also collectors and are driven to get a complete set of the game, they are willing to fork out a princely sum for it. In some cases, these promos can increase in value when sold in after-market venues, but this highly depends on the popularity of the game. More often, when the hype of a particular game fades over time, so does the value of the game along with its add-ons. Publishers know the psychology behind these gamers and readily tap on their “fear-of-missing-out” mentality by offering the exclusive promos as lures during the crowdfunding period.

On a personal level, I understand the utility of promos for publishers and authors. It is a useful and cheap tool to promote the brand and increase longeivity of a game. However, I dislike using exclusive promos as a tool to bait gamers to pledge for games on crowdfunding sites. Some games promise multiple promos per game and one wonders whether these items were already incorporated into the original game design and ripped out to fulfill crowd funding pledges. Each game should stand alone and promos should be used sparingly and made available to most gamers that own the game.

Like it or not, promos are here to stay. Two decade ago, promos were unheard of but now, the list of games that offer promos are endless. In fact, promos are so ubiquitous these days that a game without a promo seems to be an exception rather than the rule. For me , promos are add-ons that can be safely ignored since many do not improve nor hinder a game. As eluded, some promos are more meaningful, and I will occasionally seek those out if it is a game I play often. Some of the high impact promos include those previously mentioned in Mai Star and Shadows over Camelot, the Golden Columns in Menara, Das Haus des Flaschengeistes in Asara, Imhotep Mini Ships and Coloretto Extra Cards and Limit Cards, etc. I’d be interesting to list out all the promos that people think are worth while to seek out.

Extra cards promo for Coloretto (Chaddyboy@BGG)


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