The Emperor’s New Clothes – A Review

I received a letter today asking me to review The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is a game on Kickstarter being done by GameSalute. When I first heard about the game, I figured it would be some kind of game based on the story. Oh, but how wrong I was.

The game looks like this:

The Emperor's New Clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes

That’s not a mistake. It really is a completely blank box, white cubes, blank dice, etc. Literally nothing is being printed. If you back it, you’ll get blank cards, bits, and everything else.

And that’s the joke.

When I first saw the project images, I figured it was a game that would be revealed over time. When it didn’t change after several updates, I started to get upset. I follow a lot of games on Kickstarter, and I back the ones that I think are interesting and have potential. I didn’t see what the point of this project was. I noticed the last day to back the game was April 1st, so maybe it’s an April Fool’s Day joke. Then I got the letter. I won’t post the entire contents of the letter, but here are some excerpts:

I am now entrusting you with a closely guarded secret: there is no game. As you can see from the components, it’s a completely blank board with blank cards and blank dice; all of the printed pieces are white.

The real game is that you take this box of components and set them up to “play” the game with your friends out in public, or get two friends to play a prank on a third. In a sense, anyone who’s around, whether they’re actually sitting at the table with you or not, becomes a player of the game.

As you may know, I demo a lot of games, and I love doing it. I love teaching the rules, seeing the players start to grasp the game, and seeing the spark as they understand how the game flows. However, there’s a downside to this hobby that I love so much, and that’s elitism.

There are a lot of people in our hobby who think that people who aren’t already in the hobby don’t belong. If you were to take this and play it in public, I think there’s a real chance of alienating anyone who’s interested in what is being played, and the last thing that this hobby needs is less gamers.

I’m probably not going to make any friends with this review, but I’d rather have people know what’s really going on. If you want a box of blank components, please back this project. If you’re going to make a project that’s selling blank components to gamers so that they can make their own games, great. I think that would actually do really well on Kickstarter. But don’t build a Kickstarter project saying something is a game that isn’t.

I’m not saying I won’t back future GameSalute products. I enjoy a bunch of the games that GameSalute has helped get to market. I just don’t like the tasteless joke that is this Kickstarter campaign.

The creator has since updated the project stating that the project is a prank, but I feel the bad joke has already been made.

Edit: To be clear, I understand the potential joke about Kickstarter projects being duds. I’ve been bitten by a few projects like that. I just don’t think we need an in your face reminder of that.

Update: Please see my updated post here to get caught up on the story.

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64 Responses

  1. Eric Leath says:

    Thanks for the review Ken. I’m with you in the fact that this won’t prevent me from backing a GameSalute game, but it certainly damages the reputation they (and Springboard) have with me and makes me VERY hesitant to give them my money in the future.

    I also don’t get why ANYONE would wait 5 months and spend gobs of money just to get some superfluous, P.O.S. box when the same components are widely and readily available on sites like ArtsCow, GameCrafter, and BoardsandBits.

  2. Dominique says:

    I thought surely, surely they plan on unveiling the game at the very end and this is all just a social experiment to see how many backers they can get JUST from the big names attached to the project. I haven’t backed it, I thought it was in poor taste to start with, and KNOWING for a fact that this is just a big joke, even to the extent that you continue the joke by “playing the game” in public to mess with other people is incredibly insulting.

    I am not remotely pleased with this project, will not be following GeekDad anymore, and consider anyone who associates themselves with this to be held in less regard than they were before. I think it would be interesting for you to reveal the entire email once the project is complete/canceled if that’s something you’re able to do without breaking confidence.

  3. Futurewolfie says:

    I was going to write basically this exact post on iSlaytheDragon, but now I don’t have to. It funny as a joke but as a Kickstarter project I’m not a fan. Our hobby is growing and needs projects to bring people in and a spirit of sharing real games to everybody… not strange, over-committed jokes that make people feel alienated and not included.

    I understand the intent behind it, but this project would have been better served as a blog post about an intended kickstarter project, posted on April 1, and that be the end of it. As a real KS project, I kind of hate it.

  4. Paul Owen says:

    I don’t think you guys get the joke. At least, you don’t get the joke that I’m seeing. The point isn’t that they’re trying to get backers. The point is that they’re repeating the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by setting up this project on Kickstarter. It’s also a kind of self-deprecating satire on the whole Kickstarter phenomenon. I’ve met Dan Yarrington of Game Salute, and I’ll tell you, this project reveals a real sense of humor that I didn’t realize he had. This whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek, and to me, it’s a riot. My hat is off to these guys for pulling this off.

    • Ken says:

      I get the joke. Unfortunately it was designed to be at the expense of gamers, and it’s one I don’t find funny. There have been enough hobby deprecating projects on Kickstarter. The last thing I think we need is one that’s making fun of the hobby on purpose.

      • Bryan says:

        More at the expense of the people who backed this kickstarter. I read this (project) as a bit of a critique of people who are falling for this kickstarter thing a bit too hard.

        • Ken says:

          You’re stating this about my review or the Kickstarter project?

        • Sagrilarus says:

          I read this Kickstarter as an IQ test. Anyone taking it seriously, (either by backing it or by bashing it) fails.

          They threw this thing up there to be funny and to evoke thought, and damn if they didn’t manage to do a knockout job of both.

          Straight up? I’d wager people are getting on board just to be part of the celebration. Bully for them! You’ll see copies of this played at BGG Con.

    • Futurewolfie says:

      I also get the joke. I have no problem with the joke in and of itself. My problem is that it is a real Kickstarter campaign that promises a real product, leaving many gamers feeling confused and excluded. A good joke makes everyone laugh; had this simply been an article in all it’s detail, with the artists and gamesalute and springboard involved, had it’s joke, and moved on, it would have been brilliant and hilarious.

      But it is so much more than that. We all understand the point of the Emperor’s New Clothes. But unlike that story, when people pointed out that there’s nothing there, the response is that there IS a real product and that SOME gamers will get it. That’s not a funny joke anymore.

      • Sagrilarus says:

        I think your assumption that “we all understand the point of the Emperor’s New Clothes” is very suspect given the level of backing this obvious-joke has garnered. Then again, maybe the backers are perfectly aware of what they’re getting.

        Performance art where the audience participates. That’s kind of inspired.


  5. T. C. says:

    Haha! They sent you a review copy? That’s awesome.

    Thanks Paul! I’m in agreement with Paul, except I would take it one step further and say that it’s not even a joke (or at least it’s not “funny”) but it makes us deconstruct the idea of what compels a consumer to purchase a new board game. I’m not surprised at some people being angry about this project, I’m taken back by who is angry or negative about it.

    I don’t agree with Jonathan’s decision to “hint that its a prank” in updates. He lessens the impact of his message.

    All the negativity surrounding this project is totally expected. Some people “get it” and are worried about the select few who “don’t” and will receive a possibly disappointing product in the mail. Stop worrying. The project SHOULD fail, but it won’t. And that’s the point.

    Remember, this project is not “selling” anything. It’s crowd funding. Nobody has to click the button. Absolutely nothing has been misrepresented.

    The Emperor’s New Clothes is a big fat controversial question mark.

    • Ken says:

      They sent me a letter asking me to review the “game” as I saw fit. Who do you think should or shouldn’t be angry or negative about this?

      I tend to agree that it should fail, but I agree that it won’t. However, I disagree that nothing has been misrepresented. The word “game” is used 134 times on the main Kickstarter page. While some of that will be in the phrase “Game Salute,” it clearly purports to be a game and is not one.

    • David Frohman says:

      “Not misrepresenting anything” you say. The ROOSE printing is absolutely psychologically, biologically, and physically impossible. They’re misrepresenting that. You could even build a court case around it.

  6. I can’t help but think that anyone talking about how “this is about breaking down the buying decision,” blah blah is seriously over thinking this. If it is supposed to be a statement about backing games on Kickstarter it could have been done much more effectively.

    The idea in and of itself of creating a blank game where players can “play” whatever they want is clever, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone. It’s certainly not drop-dead funny. I’d say it’s worth a chuckle at the beginning at best. It’s certainly not going to end up on a table more than the number of times you can expose new people to the short-lived joke.

    What it might do is inspire people to design games, and not because it is a genius idea itself, but because it makes people think about what they would want to see in the game if it weren’t blank. This is interesting.

    • Ken says:

      I think the blank game idea was clever for one day. Had they published news on April 1st, it would have been great. Now I think the joke has overstayed its welcome.

      I am all for people designing games, but I think if that was a goal, it could have been done much better.

    • Jeff says:

      This is how I looked at it. The “game” is coming up with how the game is played, the “rules” are to use the pieces you have (plus or minus a few). If the pieces were plastic I think it would be a lot cooler because you could reuse it. This way is cool too though because you can just build off what it was last time. Imagination the game.

  7. Paul Owen says:

    T.C., thanks for backing me up on this. I think you hit it on the head when you said, “This project should fail, but it won’t, and that’s the point.” I wonder whether Jonathan Liu or Game Salute actually expected to fund this project.

    As you put it, “Nobody has to click the button. Absolutely nothing has been misrepresented.” I’d go one step further: As far as I’m concerned, nobody was supposed to click the button, except for the experience of participating in the joke (or, if you prefer, the “deconstructionist statement”).

    I actually have a lot of thoughts on this whole project, and I might blog about it later, but unlike you, I’m genuinely surprised about the amount of anger that this Kickstarter has stirred up, so I’m reluctant to say too much about what I really think.

    • Ken says:

      I agree that no one has to click the button. No one has to pledge anything to this Kickstarter, but they still are, and that’s the problem.

      Paul, I hope that you’re not holding back words because of me. I love having discussions and would really enjoy talking about this project with you. I know we disagree, but I think we’re both mature enough to listen to the other person’s opinions and come out with more information.

      • Paul Owen says:

        No, Ken, not you specifically. It’s just that I can tell people feel pretty strongly about this thing, and some are pretty upset. I just don’t want to fuel that or get into a debate over it.

        If you like, I’ll DM you on Twitter with my email, and we can chat one-on-one.

      • Behrooz 'Bezman' Shahriari says:

        Why is it a problem that people are making pledges? If they want to buy it, or just want to go along for the ride and possibly pull out later, that’s their business. Why should it be a problem, or annoy/anger/irritate anyone?

        • Ken says:

          People can make pledges, that’s fine. It’s the side effects that will come as a result of this project that concern me.

          • JuliaZ says:

            I’ve backed at $1 because I wanted to be able to comment and to see any backers-only updates. As an active Kickstarter, primarily of tabletop games, I care about how the hobby is represented. I do not feel ENC represents the hobby well at all… it’s an insular club, if you follow this campaign and think it’s awesome.

    • T. C. says:

      I actually feel kind of silly for talking about the project. What I should have said was, “I, for one, can’t wait till this game comes out! I really like the blank slate feel and how much of a sandbox this game is. No one understands the genius!”

      It’s a good little statement/reminder for people. I hope they don’t have some weird “reveal” on April 1st. A real, but okay game would be less fun than this.

  8. Game Salute definitely expected this to fund. It will be the beginning of something new for them. It is not simply a project with a joke and a “philosophy.” It’s more than that because Game Salute is a business (and not a stupid one). There are other motives (and I don’t say that in a “ooh, a conspiracy!” kind of tone). All will be revealed in time and ultimately, the joke will be on anyone who thought this was only a joke.

    • Paul Owen says:

      Well, if you say so, Bryan. I know you’re in the business, too, so you have a unique perspective. But right now, the only way I can believe that’s true is if Game Salute wants to collect data on how much support a project can get based on its marketing and not on its content.

    • BathTub says:

      If there is another product at play here hidden behind ‘The Emporer’s New Clothes’ then the campaign becomes even more nonsensical.

      The people backing ‘The Emporer’s New Clothes’ don’t get what they backed it for, and you miss out on the people who would have backed the project for what it really is.

      “the joke will be on anyone who thought this was only a joke.”

      I mean really? “Hahaha you didn’t back our ‘hoakes games’ kickstarter, jokes on you!”

  9. Nick Bentley says:

    @Ken, you wrote:

    “I agree that no one has to click the button. No one has to pledge anything to this Kickstarter, but they still are, and that’s the problem.”

    That may be the problem, but who’s to blame for the problem? The project designers or the backers? It’s hard for me to blame the people behind the project for that behavior, especially when this project is clearly designed to make fun of exactly that behavior. The project is sort of yelling at the top of its lungs: “Look at how thoughtlessly people back kickstarters!”, and then when people thoughtlessly back this Kickstarter, and find out they paid for nothing, they complain. From that point of view it’s kind of delicious.

    • Ken says:

      I’m saying both parties are to blame. If a project isn’t fully developed, I don’t feel that it should be on Kickstarter. If people will blindly pledge money to a project that ends up being worthless, that’s their fault. I see the joke, and if I didn’t think it was potentially hurting the hobby or future board game Kickstarter projects, I’d be laughing right along with you. The side effects of this project will be felt for a while.

      • Jen says:

        ” The side effects of this project will be felt for a while.”
        ” (…) and if I didn’t think it was potentially hurting the hobby or future board game Kickstarter projects ( …) ”
        If by “hurting” you mean “raising consumer- and hobbyist-awareness”, any other meaning seems a bit blown out of prportion, I don’t see how this could be bad.

        • Ken says:

          The side effects of this project, to me, are two-fold. One side effect may be people will look more carefully at the Kickstarter projects they back, requiring more information from those running the campaign. The other side effect is making it that much harder to get the money to back a real game because people will get burned from this project. I wish I could believe that only the first side effect will happen.

          • Nick Bentley says:

            I regard both of these things as a good thing! If anything it seems this will raise the bar on project quality and presentation. I’m pretty sure this is exactly the point of this stunt.

  10. Profbeard says:

    Just because I went to look and couldn’t find it, where on the KS page does it state that the whole thing is a prank? I couldn’t locate anything saying that on the latest update, on the comments page, nor on the main page…

    • Ken says:

      From Update #7:

      Personally, I think it’s somewhat funny. I’m pulling a prank of sorts, and so somebody has come up with a clever way to prank me back. But I’m telling you this because there is real money involved here, and you deserve to know if somebody is trying to game the system. If we kept silent about it, I think it might eventually come out anyway, and I don’t want to be accused of hiding this sort of information from backers who thought we had broken through stretch goals when in fact it was one person who had no intention of keeping their pledge to the end. And if our final funding level drops below the stretch goal thresholds, then it means that we have to take those back.

      • Profbeard says:

        Interesting. I’d read that update and not taken that as an admission of the whole KS being a prank. Thanks for pointing out what you were referencing in the article.

    • MichaelWH says:

      You’d have to be as thick as a whale sandwich not to see that it’s a prank from the get-go. If you need it spelled out (have you *seen* the play demo?!) you really should probably get yourself the Hell away from any kind of fiscal decision making of any kind for your own pecuniary health.

      • Ken says:

        And yet if you read the comments, it seems like some people are expecting a real game. Maybe a lot more people are playing along with this than I think there are.

      • Profbeard says:

        Of course it’s a prank, that was obvious immediately upon reading the page. The question i asked wasn’t because I don’t get or don’t believe that it’s a prank, but rather because I didn’t see where the creator admitted the prank in the project itself. Honestly, I’m still not convinced that the “I’m playing a park of sorts” comment, in the context it was used, constitutes him admitting to the level of prank that the letter Ken got does. That said, I’m trying to look away from this wreck , but it has at least succeeded in making me want to keep watching to see what happens.

    • Edwin Karat says:

      * There are pictures of the components.
      * There is a pdf of the print and play version.
      * There is a video tutorial.

      I hate to say it, but they’ve been very forthcoming about what the backers are getting.

      As for the word “prank” the updates say:

      “Personally, I think it’s somewhat funny. I’m pulling a prank of sorts, and so somebody has come up with a clever way to prank me back.”

      I’d actually argue that it’s not a prank, as long as the backers get a box with the pictured components.

  11. Todd says:

    This review is so meta, I can scarcely believe it isn’t part of the whole “prank.” Maybe it’s because I read 4-year old the story every other night and he giggles over the illustration of the emperor’s naked butt, but I don’t see how anyone familiar with this story could have gone to this KS page and not seen right through it, and gotten a good laugh out of it. In fact, this kind of outrage seems to me to be the kind of righteous indignation the townspeople surely felt when they realized that the tailors hadn’t really made any clothes, and they’d fooled themselves into playing along out of fear of being among the stupid people. Laugh. Move on. The hobby isn’t in jeopardy. Just the naked emperor’s pride and vanity.

    • Ken says:

      I don’t think the hobby is in danger. I think boardgames on Kickstarter may be less likely to succeed going forward.

      • Todd says:

        Fair enough. I don’t think it will have much impact, but we can agree to disagree on that. And I do think it is fair for you to point out it’s not a real game. If you don’t know the story well, it will seem odd.

        • Ken says:

          I’m hoping it has a good effect and gets people to look at the project details and be informed before they back a project.

          I’m also seeing the money being dumped into this project and I so I assume that good effect won’t happen.

      • Todd says:

        Truth be told, it’s not a statement on just kickstarter, but on the incredible explosion of new games. I know among my own friends we are guilty of always hunting for the newest thing. Maybe it is time we reflect a bit on our appetite for being the person at the table with the hot new game.

        • Ken says:

          For me, it’s not getting the new hotness. It’s backing a game that wouldn’t make it otherwise. It’s showing that the small guy can make it. It’s showing devotion.

          And getting the new games as well. 😉

        • Tim Norris says:

          “Maybe it is time we reflect a bit on our appetite for being the person at the table with the hot new game.”

          Now there’s a statement I can 100% agree with!

  12. Tim Norris says:

    My biggest questions is; Do they intend to actually go through with the entire project and actually send people who have pledged this blank set of components? I just can’t imagine that happening.

  13. RJ says:

    my biggest burn on kickstarter was a ipad stylus. 6 months late, and it sucked. 30 wasted dollars. it’s in a drawer somewhere. i moved on. one bad kickstarter stylus hasn’t alienated anyone from using a stylus on their ipad. you either like them or you don’t. and if you don’t. just move on.

    • Ken says:

      But imagine having just joined Kickstarter and you see this project listed as a game. What do you think going forward?

      • RJ says:

        I personally think it’s hilarious, and I backed it as well as 2 other games the same day. I can’t wait to get my blank box. My kids are already dying to get their hands on it.

  14. Jason Glover says:

    I am a bit torn on this project. On one hand it is a really funny concept and a pretty good joke. But on the other hand, we all know that in a few months a bunch of backers are going to get a blank box in the mail and be upset. That is where I have an issue. There are already enough people out there that hate on KS for all sorts of reasons. Why hurt those who are fans of KS?

    I have run 2 successful campaigns myself on KS and I just feel like this campaign will only upset and turn away backers down the road.

    I think another solution would have been to put the funding goal at $100,000,000 or something crazy like the “Deathstar” campaign did. Everyone would see it was a joke and have a good laugh. Maybe even chip in $100 knowing it would never fund.

    Just my 2 cents…

  15. Pete says:

    You guys who are hating on GeekDad are exactly that: haters. This was a brilliant way to shine a light on the consumerist frenzy that Kickstarter has created.

    Nobody’s losing any money here, folks, and what happened was that all of the idiots who throw money at Kickstarter vaporware, sight unseen, just got slapped in the face with a dose of reality.

  16. JuliaZ says:

    Thanks for this write-up. I agree with you completely. This hurts my image of Springboard most of all; they have been building trust by putting their name on only good, carefully-reviewed games up on Kickstarter, and now they pull this crap? I’ve backed many projects on KS including a few that didn’t turn out so well, but none of them were as cynical as Emperor’s New Clothes.

  1. March 15, 2013

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  2. March 20, 2013

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