The Wyrmwood Magnetic Dice Tower System is an odd Kickstarter. The campaign still has days to go, but I'm already holding one of the finished products in my hands.
On my desk it looks like a nice wooden box, but once you unclasp the leather strap holding everything together you see a series of wooden planks with embedded magnets. A few moments snapping everything together, an act which takes a bit of practice to do quickly, and you see a dice tower that allows you to get nice rolls of your dice.
This is how it breaks down.
This is a product for people at the middle of a very strange Venn Diagram: tabletop role-playing gamers and people who are passionate about wooden products. Apparently that crowd is larger than you'd assume, as the campaign's $10,000 goal been met, and then some. The current total stands at over $154,000 at the time of writing.
What the hell is going on?
This isn't a product for casual fans, as the entry-level price for a complete set cost $150 and the price goes up to $1,500, depending on the wood chosen by the customer.
"All our products are crafted out of premium hardwoods sourced from around the world," the page states. "We use a close-to-the-wood finish to protect the piece while allowing the natural character, feel, and color to shine through. We use no dyes or stains. The magnets in the product are high-quality, super strong rare earth magnets." Everything is made by hand. There is full money-back or replacement guarantee on every product. They even pay shipping both ways.
"Our Kickstarter is a bit unorthodox, in that the main reason we're running it is to expand our variety of options, not the product itself," Wyrmwood's Ed Maranville told Polygon. "While we'd love to offer that kind of variety all the time, we just can't do it from a logistical perspective — we don't have the space for all the lumber, or the inventory."
The team has the talent, tools and know-how to work with any wood they'd like, and the product is already designed and finished. What Kickstarter allows them to do is order exactly how much wood they need for each customer; this sort of campaign offers companies like Wyrmwood an incredibly effective means of managing inventory.
"Keep in mind we offer different sizes and surface options, so if we stocked our 15 product variations in 70 different woods ... it quickly gets very out of hand," he continued. "But, in the context of a Kickstarter, we can get all the pledges, order exactly what we need and make them in a series of large runs we can manage."
The selection of wood is nearly pornographic. You can get Alder, sure, and Mahogany, but the selection only gets stranger from there. Have you ever seen Lacewood? How about Black Poisonwood? Or Bloodwood?
Getting ahold of the wood itself can be tricky, and some wood is harder to work with than others. The prices go up accordingly.
"Generally we get [the wood] from regional lumber yards, who in turn source their wood from mills, who harvest it worldwide," Maranville said. "We work with suppliers that adhere to the highest standards when it comes to ethical and legal sourcing practices, since this is a major area of concern."
It's not always that easy, however. "In some cases, sourcing can be difficult — many of the exotic woods we use are small trees that grow only under certain conditions. But, these tend to be the most expensive woods as well, which means they're the most luxurious sets, so it's very unlikely the demand will outstrip our capability to source them. We're confident we can get everything everyone is looking for."
When demand meets reality
Kickstarters often suffer when demand is unexpectedly high, and a company that isn't used to launching products in large numbers suddenly have to work in scale to meet deadlines. Unless you plan for overwhelming success it can be be just that: Overwhelming.
It's a fate Wyrmwood has worked hard to avoid.
"We took our time with the development of the Dice Tower System, refining the production process and figuring out what it takes to make them and how many we can make over a given period," Maranville explained. "We've set limits on our reward tiers based on this, and so we're staggering out the delivery estimates in batches. The first tier was for 100 backers who would get early delivery a month away. The next is 3 months, the next 5, and we'll simply add on new delivery windows as these fill to ensure we can always deliver on time, as promised."
The average pledge is $160; most customers are pledging in order to buy a complete set
By staggering delivery dates depending on when the customer pledged, the team can be open and honest about shipping dates, which are communicated clearly. If pledges blow up they can simply add more "tiers" of later shipment dates so customers knew when exactly to expect their product. It's an elegant system for managing expectations while continuing to take orders.
The fact Wyrmwood handles its own production means that scale isn't scary, it's more profitable. "We don't suffer based on scale — it's actually the opposite. We structure production in such a way that we maximize efficiency," Maranville said.
"When creating a piece that involves using several different machines and hand tools, it's much better to do 50 of them than it is to do five or 10, since that way your time setting up each operation is much more effective. Again, this is a unique advantage we have due to keeping all of our production in-house."
A perfect use for Kickstarter
I took a moment from writing this to tumble some dice through the set the company sent me so I could see the final product for myself. It's beautiful, and the dice make a lovely sound as they move through.
It feels good to the touch, and even smells wonderful. You don't need one of these to play games, and even if you want a dice tower you don't need to spend this amount of money for something made this well out of rare wood. This is a luxury product.
"Of course, we recognize that not everyone wants or needs a luxury, heirloom dice tray or dice tower — and we're aware there are plenty of options out there," Maranville told Polygon. "We wanted to cater to the gamer that's looking for the best, and wants not just an accessory to perform a function but one that looks beautiful and that speaks to their dedication."
The campaign has 961 backers as of this writing, which means that the average pledge is $160; most customers are pledging in order to buy a complete set. Since Kickstarter allows Wyrmwood to only buy the amount of wood they need to fulfill their orders there is no wasted inventory, and the tiered shipping schedule means they don't have to go into crunch mode to fulfill orders.
This allows the company to work with more varieties of wood efficiently, communicate shipping dates clearly, and hopefully make a living on what is, at its heart, an incredibly niche product.
We often think about Kickstarter in terms of interesting electronics or games that may not have found an audience any other way, but Wyrmwood has found a way to adapt a relatively expensive luxury item into a workable business using the service. And this isn't the end of their plans.
"We're growing our custom shop, which is where you can commission work that can range from a Dice Vault or Deck Box in a unique material or with a custom engraving or inlay, to a wholly custom, one-of-a-kind piece that is outside the range of what we normally make, like a custom game board or other unique accessory," Maranville told Polygon.
"The possibilities are endless."