Filler games have a unique and passionate audience who seem to make waves on Kickstarter. To be fair, small, light games make up the bulk of success stories on Kickstarter, even if they don’t garner the most money, press or praise at award shows. I thought it was high time we had a discussion on the merits of fillers, so I invited the king of fillers himself, Jason Alan Kotarski, to talk about his experience with the games he loves so much. You can support his current campaign for Before the Earth Explodes on Kickstarter now.
Is “Filler” a Dirty Word?
When I first got into tabletop gaming, I followed the path of many others in this hobby and ended up with a large collection of games in a short amount a time. Every game I found at a thrift store that looked halfway decent was purchased and added to my shelf. Every convention closeout deal I thought I might play one day was added to the heap. Lots of Kickstarter games made their way into my heart and onto my stack of games not yet played. I wanted it all. I loved consuming ideas and getting a good deal. But soon something began to change for me.
I noticed that many of the games I was buying just weren’t getting to the table. The ones that were getting played all seemed to share some similar characteristics; they were easy to learn, had short game times, and usually fit into small, super portable boxes. The more I dug into the hobby, the more I started to hear the term “filler” thrown around when people spoke of these little games I loved. The term itself might strike folks as dismissive, like a dirty word. It was as if these little games were only filling in the space between bigger games – afterthoughts. I’ve often heard talk of fillers being the appetizer before the real meal of big box, table sprawling game experiences.
And that’s when it struck me: some of the best meals I’ve had consisted of small plates filled with a variety of foods that demonstrate some of the diversity of the culinary arts. I suddenly had a new mission. I wanted to raise the profile of these little games. I wanted to give these “fillers” the attention they deserved.
For Which People do Fillers Exist?
In my mission, I set out to gather a tribe of individuals who, like me, loved these little games. A couple of years ago I launched the 20 Minutes of Filler Podcast which quickly grew a band of committed listeners tuning in a couple of times a month to hear me and my friends talk about little games in twenty minutes bursts. I launched a company called Green Couch Games that specializes in making filler games that bridge the gap between casual/family gamers and more serious gamers. A couple of months ago I started the 20 Minutes of Filler Facebook Group that quickly grew beyond 1000 members. My people are out there.
I can think of comment after comment I’ve heard while exhibiting at various game conventions around the United States. Things like this are pretty commonplace these days: “I love your games because I can play them with kids and not feel like I’m losing my mind in the monotony.” “My group likes your games because we can get a quick one in while we wait for the latecomers to show up.” “My dad is not much of a game player, and he likes your game, _____________.” “I love these small box games because I can take them anywhere and play them with anybody!”
Fillers make for great gateways into gaming. Their short play time and easy learning curves allow people to introduce great games to new players who might be intimidated by the latest coffin-box craze. Most of the time the game is over, and you are ready to move onto the next one before folks even have a chance to decide if they even like playing games or not entirely! I find great value in playing the filler game because of the connections that can be made around the gaming table when people sit face to face sharing an experience.
Is Comparison a Filler Killer?
Sure, a lot of the hottest games these days are those with all the bells and whistles. Those expandable, large box, miniatures games get a lot of attention in the hobby world. There is always new hotness to grab people’s attention. As a publisher of small games, this can be a big challenge. It can be tough to stand out in the shadow of such giants. But when I look back over my last few years in this gaming space I am reminded that my passion for these “great little games that make great big connections” resonate with a lot of people. My last 8 Kickstarter campaigns led backers to click “pledge” more than 8000 times, raising almost $200,000 in pledges, and games published in more than six different languages around the world.
At times, my contributions might seem like a small piece of the pie in the gaming world. But I think that slice of pie can be the best part of the meal. Never an afterthought.