Inside “Shipping Container No. 3” on a ship outside the Port of Los Angeles, the first-ever stock of Orange Nebula’s new game Unsettled sat waiting for months in the middle of 2021.
Back then, Orange Nebula, a Vancouver board-game company, was dealing with extreme hardships from the pandemic as their much-anticipated games were stalled at the port. Customers and Orange Nebula employees even watched in frustration as a shipping container tracker showed the boat floating offshore.
But as the ship eventually entered the port and the games were loaded onto trucks and sent on their way to anxious customers’ doors just before the holidays last year, Unsettled began receiving high praise in international board-game rankings.
Last month, the company launched another Kickstarter to fund another round of printing of Unsettled. As of Tuesday, it’s raised more than $1.19 million, supported by 8,847 people.
“Last year was rough,” said founder and creative director Marc Neidlinger. “This is our bounceback.”
Neidlinger and Tom Mattson, two of the leading creators of the game, recall back in late 2019 when their first Kickstarter for Unsettled raised $1.1 million for the game before it was released. With a combination of appealing graphics and a planet-exploring and survival space gameplay, Unsettled was highly anticipated, but no one had played it yet.
But when the pandemic struck, a lot of things became difficult for Orange Nebula. The cost of a shipping container from China spiked from around $4,000 to $18,000, said Mattson. And Brexit in early January 2020 caused trouble for getting the game to British customers for a reasonable price.
“Those two things were setbacks,” Neidlinger said.
On top of those complications, some of the people who ordered the game through Kickstarter started complaining to Orange Nebula about the delay as the container ship was caught in a clog of container ships trying to enter the Port of Los Angeles.
But the interaction with supporters wasn’t all bad.
A community of users on Orange Nebula’s Facebook group banded together to form a sort of support group as the business dealt with pandemic issues and provided an opportunity to talk about things beyond the game. Many of those who crave space-exploration games also want to talk about the wonders of actual space observation and similar things, Mattson said. It was a community beyond the game.
“It was very active,” said Mattson. “It was a small number of deeply passionate people.”
Once the game reached buyers, feedback started rolling in, praising the Orange Nebula team. Game Informer, one of the most popular video-game magazines, ranked Unsettled in the top 10 games of 2021. And BoardGameGeek, the top board-game website, has Unsettled listed as the No.1 trending game as of Tuesday.
“The reception was resounding,” Neidlinger said.
Riding the coattails of success, late last month Orange Nebula launched a second Kickstarter for the second printing of Unsettled, which includes three new planets that players explore and survive — or die.
Unsettled is unique in a few ways; characters are tasked with exploration, research, survival and teamwork. Trust between the players is an essential survival technique.
The “base game” includes most of the infrastructure needed to play, but players must survive on each of the nine fictional planets, which serve as “levels” in the game.
One fungal-based planet called Wenora causes players to become infected and hallucinate — but in some scenarios, it helps the player survive the planet because they can communicate with it.
Along the way, the players have help from a robot called Luna, who has an edge of snark, said Mattson, who wrote much of the storyline; humor is a big part of the game, too, he said.
Supporters of the game on Kickstarter.com can buy the game for $90, or for more, they can buy more add-ons. At the very latest, the game will be delivered in one year, Neidlinger said, but hopefully sooner.
The game is sold out worldwide, mainly due to the lack of capacity for Chinese manufacturers to create the game and for distributors to get it out. Orange Nebula explored other options for manufacturers in the U.S., but nothing exists that would produce the game for a reasonable price, Neidlinger said.
So far, the Kickstarter has set a record for the most money raised for all of Orange Nebula’s crowd-funding efforts, which total six for all its games. There’s still a week to go, and Neidlinger expects to see many last-minute supporters in the funding window.
The board-game industry is growing quickly in the U.S. and abroad; about 60 percent of Orange Nebula’s customers are outside of the U.S. And with a growing team of 11 employees, the company is looking to expand its reach, including with an app that could have gameplay music for players to have in the background while they’re playing the board game.
Kickstarter, a popular crowdfunding website, is the “birthplace of board games,” Mattson said. Most board games that aren’t from massive companies such as Hasbro are best suited to funding by supporters on Kickstarter, he said.
Orange Nebula is also working on a new game called Spirit Fire, under development for about a year, and they plan on launching a Kickstarter for that sometime soon.