The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder System, What Is It?
As you may have heard, Dwarven Forge launched their long anticipated Castle Builder Kickstarter about three weeks ago. DF has been talking about this project and taking lots of community feedback for this system for at least a couple of years, possibly longer. What they’ve deployed for this Kickstarter is a truly massive and elaborate system that will eventually allow you to build some really impressive setups that’d be immersive and fun to play with whether you’re an avid fan of Dungeons & Dragons or any other fantasy RPG setting or a tabletop miniatures gamer.
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder system includes a multitude of options allowing you to build the castle of your gaming dreams with square and round towers, large walls that can be made double thick for a castle that looks truly massive and options like gate houses, drawbridges and more. There are “mountain cliff” sets that will allow you to perch your castle on top of a rocky crag or make sheer cliffs a feature of the castle.
In the last 24 hours or so they’ve let the cat out of the bag about castle dressing packs that will allow you to theme your castle with runic/druidic decorations or take a darker turn with necromancer themed accessories. There are also powered up options that include lighted accessories and even a powered drawbridge that raises and lowers via a small battery powered motor.
There are still about three days remaining in the Kickstarter so Dwarven Forge is still in the process of releasing more add on packs that expand and enhance the Castle Builder system and as the funding total increases (it’s currently sitting at close to 1.2 million dollars in pledges) there will be the inevitable stretch goals.
Some of the rumored expansions include more dressing packs and architectural accessories, a moat pack, themed miniatures, and ruined wall and tower sections to show damaged or abandoned areas. The DF staff have mentioned that they sculpted as many as 140 different pieces for the Dwarven Forge Castle Builder system and if that is indeed the case there is much that has not yet been revealed to backers. There as been some talk that some items will not appear during the actual Kickstarter and may become available for purchase after the Kickstarter ends during the Pledge Manager phase. (The Pledge Manager phase usually takes place a few weeks after the close of the Kickstarter and gives fans a chance to add additional funds for more add-ons! or sometimes allows late backers who missed the original KS to participate).
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder System, What I Like
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder system is up to the usual excellent standards that you’ve come to expect from Stefan Pokorny and company. The castle builder seems well thought out in terms of modularity and there is a great variety of pieces that will allow you to build just about anything you can imagine. The sculpts themselves are beautiful and the pieces go together well. There is also a lot of compatibility with last years Dwarven Forge City Builder system which I bought quite a bit of and really like for tabletop gaming in particular. Dwarven Forge Kickstarter projects have all been made out of a super durable, almost indestructible material they like to call “Dwarvenite”. It’s something that you can allows your kids to play with and not need to worry about it breaking. In this Castle Builder Kickstarter they are using ABS for some of the large long pieces, this also promises to be extremely durable.
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder Kickstarter has a variety of pledge levels, starting with a $20 “Add On Only” pledge that doesn’t include any of the castle set ups but does allow you to just purchase add on and accessory packs individually if you’d just like to add a few things to your other DF stuff. This is the first time they’ve had an add on pack on;y pledge and I think it’s a great idea. This was a popular request in previous DF Kickstarters so it’s nice to see them responding to customer feedback in a tangible way. There are various other pledge levels that will get you sections of a castle like a gatehouse and ramparts or a complete tower all the way up to a large keep pledge that includes enough pieces to construct a good sized square castle with 2 square corners, 2 round towers and a gatehouse. The combination of these options gives backers a great deal of choice and flexibility, but, that comes at a cost and a lot of complexity.
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder System, What I Don’t Like
I’m going to go right for the elephant in the room for this Kickstarter. It’s a very expensive project and there’s no other way to put that. Dwarven Forge tends to be expensive anyway but one of the benefits of the original Dwarven Forge Dungeon Tiles Kickstarter was that it had tremendous value for the money spent, particularly compared to what you needed to spend on their hand painted resin sets. This value for dollars spent has steadily gone down through each Kickstarter as they’ve increased in complexity. The Castle Builder system is also the fourth Dwarven Forge Kickstarter in four years and to be honest, last years was pretty spendy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not begrudging Dwarven Forge for their pricing, they’re a business and I want them to be around for a long time so I understand that they have to charge what they have to charge to stay viable. My complaint is twofold (and to be fair I’m not really sure these are complaints, they’re really just my observations).
First, this is a huge project with a lot of complexity. I think they would have been better served by either breaking this into two smaller Kickstarters over a two year period OR waiting another year and showing off a lot of this stuff in action in order to build anticipation and demand and to give backers wallets a chance to recover from the last three years and last years City Builder Kickstarter in particular.
On the subject of complexity, there is already an incredible array of pieces and options and they’re still holding stuff for the final run up to the end of the Kickstarter. I’ve been following the project pretty closely and watching their videos and livestreams and I still feel a little overwhelmed when I go look at all the pledges and options and then try to figure out what add-ons best go with what pledges. I imagine that someone coming to check out the project who hasn’t been following it as closely is probably at a loss to figure everything out and make a decision. It’s probably pretty confusing and some people are just going to pass on the entire thing because of that confusion. I think Dwarven Forge could have alleviated most of this by creating more video shorts explaining how the various pieces could work together rather than relying on spur of the moment livestreams.
My other observation is the spend for this Kickstarter. In previous projects you could spend a few hundred dollars – I’m talking three or four hundred dollars here – and receive a reasonable amount of stuff that gave you lots of options and flexibility to create an interior layout for a dungeon or cavern. Last years City Builder was noticeably less wallet friendly but still seemed reasonable for the utility, particularly for gamers who might have multiple games they could use buildings and city structures with. As a gamer who plays RPG’s and tabletop wargames I thought the City Builder set was a great addition to my terrain collection.
The Dwarven Forge Castle Builder system is another beast entirely. They offer some nice basic packages and late in the campaign have offered up some “complete castle” pledges at varying price points that give you the exact stuff you need to build a specific layout, like a Sorcerer’s Sanctum ($585) pr the Royal Stronghold ($1950). (Those prices are for the prepainted versions, the unpainted versions are $460 and $1500 respectively and it’s worth mentioning that these special sets don’t include any stretch goals). These and the other “complete” offerings are all great options for folks looking to just show up and buy something ready to build without poring over the various pledges and add-ons and trying to figure how everything goes together.
The problem is that if you watch the promo videos and short video builds of various setups that Dwarven Forge has produced it quickly becomes apparent that even if you pop for the $2000 Royal Stronghold pledge you still won’t have near enough stuff to build those epic layouts shown in the promo videos. I’ve spent quite a bit over the first three Dwarven Forge Kickstarters, around $3500 between the three projects ($800 on Dungeon Tiles, $1200 on Caverns and $1600 on City Builder), and that figure is low because it doesn’t factor in items I’ve bought from their website or via the secondary market to add to my collection. The issue here is that in order to get enough of the Castle Builder stuff to even approach some of the layouts that Dwarven Forge have shown in their build videos I’ll have to spend more on this one Kickstarter than all previous Dwarven Forge Kickstarters combined. RPG’s and dungeoneering aren’t my only hobbies so it’s hard to justify blowing a huge chunk of my annual gaming budget on this one thing.
This isn’t just me complaining about this situation either, it’s reflected in the number of backers that have participated in each of the Dwarven Forge Kickstarters. There were 5398 backers for Dungeon Tiles, 3950 for Caverns, 2719 for City Builder and with just over three days to go for Castle Builder there are a paltry (by comparison) 1315 backers. That is a 50 percent drop in participants just from last year, and I believe it’s mostly due to a combination of backer fatigue (4 increasingly expensive Kickstarters, 4 years in a row) and the issues mentioned above. (I also think that as these Dwarven Forge projects get more and more specialized there are a number of drop outs due to the sets not being as generically useful e.g., the number of people who need a city or castle set for their RPG adventures is fewer compared to the basic dungeon building set).
So Now What? How About Something Completely Different?
At the end of the day, the Dwarven Forge Castle Builder system is still a functional work of art that’s imminently useful for RPG’ers and tabletop gamers. Issues aside, it’s a fantastic set that once again delivers in terms of artistry and flexibility. While I am currently pledged at the add-on only level and I may end up getting one of the smallest Castle Builder set ups, I won’t be dropping anything near what I’ve spent on previous Dwarven Forge Kickstarters. In fact, I’ve decided to try something completely different and recently purchased a Makerbot Replicator Mini 3D Printer. I’ll have more to say about this in the coming days but if you’re interested in seeing my 3d printed works in progress as I learn how to use the Makerbot Replicator Mini you can follow me over on my Twitter account @HolyCrapItsLate.