Award-winning tabletop game designer Jeeyon Shim is crowdfunding for a new project called The Snow Queen, a keepsake fantasy game flush with art and introspection built atop chess-based gameplay mechanics. After raising more than $100,000 for previous projects on Kickstarter, this time they’re doing it on her own. For The Snow Queen, Shim is going entirely independent, eschewing the popular crowdfunding platform in exchange for something appropriately hand-made. And so far, it’s working: Shim’s The Snow Queen reached full funding — $8,000 — in 90 minutes following its kick off. It’s currently raised 162% of that goal at the time of writing, with 30 days to go.
“I want to put this out as a helpful example for people who feel tied to existing platforms to launch a project,” Shim told Polygon in an interview ahead of the crowdfunding campaign. “I want to show that it’s possible to do things, to launch a project, on your terms.”
The Snow Queen, as Shim describes it, is a fairytale fantasy game for two players that uses the mechanics of chess to drive the story. Everything is centered around the two player-characters, the Snow Queen and the village girl, the details of which are created by the players ahead of the game. For the two player-characters, the Snow Queen and the village girl, their worlds mirror each other, and ultimately one will be saved and the other destroyed.
“It feels really fun to make something so directly drawn from fairytales and folktales, but not a direct, Eurocentric interpretation,” Shim said.
Gameplay progresses through the chess match, chronicling prompts in a notebook nearby. The players must take chess pieces, much like in actual chess, but following different rules to save one world — the player with the most pieces on the board wins. After the match, players fill out the keepsake journal with art and stories. Players are playing against each other, but they’re also creating something together, the story they’re building out as they play.
“While it’s not using chess the way that we understand it, the way the pieces move on the board and the tension that’s created over the course of the game is the momentum that’s built around the characters you create before playing the chess match,” Shim said.
Part of that gameplay is embedded in the keepsake model that Shim and frequent collaborator Shing Yin Khor perfected with last year’s Field Guide to Memory, a live, narrative game that blended creative writing and in-character role-playing. The Snow Queen isn’t a live game, but players will be creating a keepsake over the three-act story: a handmade anthology journal with original fiction, art, and poetry based on what happens during the chess-like game. Shim demonstrated a playthrough of The Snow Queen on the Party of One podcast earlier in February, and said it’s a quick but thorough peek at the game’s character creation, worldbuilding, and gameplay.
For The Snow Queen, Shim is creating two products: The Snow Queen book and The Snow Queen zine. Both options are available as physical products or PDFs, and each of these includes the core ruleset and 30 NPC playbooks, as well as a number of different prompts. (All supporters will receive a Quick Start manual, too, for players that don’t want to wait for the full copy.) The book, however, will include extra materials, like original art and illustrations, full text for Cold Mirror, a character creation game, and full text for The Snow Queen’s keepsake demo created during the crowdfunding process.
The crowdfunding campaign is essential in giving Shim the time to complete the text and build out rewards, like the physical and digital products. Without the help of a platform like Kickstarter, Shim has designed their own website and storefront to fund the project — something they call a “different kind of crowdfund.”
Shim told Polygon they’d been looking to move off Kickstarter for a while now, but that the platform’s recent decision to move to blockchain technology provided the push to do it now. Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan announced the change in December, and creators were incensed. The announcement was a huge surprise for the community, especially tabletop game creators which have accounted for more than one third of Kickstarter’s total revenue from crowdfunding in the past. Creators began speaking out on social media almost immediately, lambasting the platform for multiple reasons, including issues related to security and environmental impact.
Kickstarter, for its part, maintains that any changes made to the now decade-old crowdfunding platform will be done in a sustainable way, including the implementation of what it calls a “carbon negative blockchain.” Celo says it “offsets” its carbon footprint by planting trees with Project Wren. Carbon offsetting is “a way of balancing the scales on pollution,” according to Vox, though it’s not the most effective way to slow the climate crisis; that’s minimizing emissions. Some organizations, like Greenpeace, call carbon offsetting “a distraction from the real solutions to climate change.” Shim also pointed to Kickstarter’s response to the backlash; it felt like the company simply ignored creator concerns.
“It went against the way I thought of them as a company, because I loved Kickstarter,” Shim said. “I’ve never been treated poorly by them. They are a big reason why I’m able to make creative work for a living, but seeing that response, it felt like something fundamental has shifted.”
And so, Shim’s built out their own website designed specifically to crowdfund for The Snow Queen, in addition to the Patreon that helps provide a “sustainable financial foundation” for their work. Shim is still using systems from SquareSpace and payment processing from Stripe, but they’ve taken time to research those options and find something they’re comfortable with.
Since Kickstarter’s announcement, creators have started building a playbook for moving off the platform. Spike Trotman, an independent comics creator, is one person that’s moved away from Kickstarter — and it worked. Trotman moved crowdfunding for The Poorcraft Cookbook off Kickstarter and has already surpassed the cookbook’s crowdfunding goal by 300%. Similarly, former Zine Quest creators have started a new project, slowly moving away from Kickstarter. Zine Month, which is ongoing now, is phasing out Kickstarter — next year, crowdfunding will happen offsite. Other creators are looking to different crowdfunding platforms, like Yazeba’s Bed & Breakfast moving to IndieGoGo.
“I think that people forget that a lot of these truisms for the platform, that are specific to the platform, weren’t made because they’re in Kickstarter’s manual,” Shim said. “They became de facto practice because someone tried it and it worked. Diversifying crowdfunding projects, diversifying independent creatives in their respective fields is also going to be someone trying it and it works.”
Shim is hoping that The Snow Queen’s potential success will encourage other creators to do things in ways that work for them. For Shim, that’s testing out a crowdfund that works at a “human pace,” no real-time progress tracker or campaign timeline “that maintains a pace of rigorous urgency.” It means a better work life balance for Shim, with the same stability that crowdfunding ensures.
“If the project is good and compelling to people, I really strongly believe that independent creators can do this on their own terms, including if they want to work with a platform,” Shim said. “They can do that on their own terms as well, because they will have an option to walk away and do it a different way.”