UPDATE: Kickstarter has stepped in and officially suspended this project.
Overturn Rising Sands launched on Kickstarter on the 20th of June and it seemed to be an immediate hit, achieving their goal of $45,000 CAD in 1 hour and 44 minutes. The backers were drawn to the miniatures that were numerous and shown off in promising beautiful 3D renders, and a price point that seems almost too good to be true. However, as the time went on and the numbers kept going up some of the backers started to sour on the creators, Foxtales Studios Ltd. First it was pretty innocuous Kickstarter drama such as Foxtales extending their limited early pledge level which is usually seen as misleading and greedy on Kickstarter. When they tried to over correct by promising the original early backers an exclusive mini others cried foul and asked them to sell it as an add-on. Then more serious concerns start to get raised. They kept delaying the promised game play video and then eventually released it in parts. There was also the matter of Foxtales being a first time Kickstarter creator with no history, so people pressed for more information about the creators. A week into the Kickstarter, Foxtales revealed their identities and showed that they were a three man team from Pakistan. Some backers questioned them as to why the Kickstarter is being launched in Canada and they claimed they were currently in Canada and Foxtales will be based there. That in itself is not a massive issue as it is not uncommon for people to launch a Kickstarter in a country with more ease of manufacturing or a more favorable taxation system. However, a major point of contention for backers and those who were discussing the Kickstarter in outside forums was the fact that they keep delaying the release of the rules they claimed to already have and promised to release.
On July 9th, Foxtales posted an update releasing the PDF of the rulebook. Responses were mixed. Some were appeased by the release of the rules and others criticised the poor editing and some aspects of the rules. On 13th of July, eagle-eyed Board Game Geeks (BGG) forum users ‘Ugo Perillo’ and ‘franch1se’ noticed that significant portions of the rule book as well as the layout was copied straight from Massive Darkness, a game developed by Cool Mini or Not. Now you may think ‘how bad can it really be?’ just like I did when I found out about this controversy. Prepare yourself because it’s quite unbelievable.
These are just a couple of pages but almost the entirety of the rule book is copied from Massive Darkness with some minor alterations. If you want to see a comparison of the entirety of both rule books, BGG user ‘franch1se’ posted a helpful comparison PDF (download and view in two page view), which BGG user ‘tigerstrike13’ shared at the end of his post here. Please keep in mind this is an outside source and I can only confirm that it linked to the proper document when I last checked it.
Foxtales remained quiet until the next day when they started responding in the backers comments. Here are a few of the comments.
Now, I would argue that Foxtales used Massive Darkness’s rule books as a ‘template’ in the way I used to use my friends’ homework as a template in school and got a beating anyway because teachers aren’t stupid. Well, Kickstarter backers aren’t stupid either and Foxtales started to cop a metaphorical beating from the backers. Understandably the backers who found this out were upset and started to drop or reduce their pledge to $1 and warn other backers, as only backers can comment on the Kickstarter page. Foxtales started to alternate between cajoling those who seemed sympathetic and being offhanded and sarcastic to those who were mad and raising hell in the Kickstarter comments. On the 14th Foxtales released a new, and so far their last, update and it failed to mention any part of the plagiarism controversy. On July 15th, they seemed to have settled on their messaging as they started to reply to multiple backers with this.
A lot of back and forth happened where Foxtales dodged the demand to release the beta rules they claim to have. Some point during this, Neil, a backer they enlisted to help them edit the rule book they released had this to say.
I had personally started editing the rule book when the plagiarism was discovered by other backers. I wrote to @Foxtales expressing how upset I was. They replied, “My apologies Neil. But you havent even seen the beta version of the rulebook…”
That makes no sense. Why send the editor an alpha version of the rules if you already have a beta version? They were obviously caught lying about the rulebook so pretended there was another one. Then despite promising the beta rulebook to backers, after three days it wasn’t shared. Now Foxtales is saying they don’t want to release it “because it will not be taken seriously.” There is no beta rulebook. There are no original rules to this game.
Now, while all of this was happening, more and more ‘uncanny similarity’ started to become uncovered regarding Foxtales. First it turned out their ‘shipping’ section is eerily similar to that of Monolith Board Game’s ‘Conan’ Kickstarter.
Then it turned out their Refund Policy and Terms & Conditions were an exact copy of Mythic Battle’s ‘Time of Legends: Joan of Arc’ Kickstarter. This one is particularly egregious since they didn’t even change the currency to Canadian from USD even though they are launching the Kickstarter from Canada.
Now, a lot of kickstarters share certain portions of these generic disclaimers but usually people change a few sentences to fit their particular needs and this is damning when combined with other evidence. Even if you were willing to overlook copying disclaimers and terms and conditions, the next one is quite alarming.
Yep, Foxtales’ company profile on Kickstarter is an exact copy of the profile of Mythic Games. While staring at Foxtales logo during my research, I was feeling a strange sense of familiarity. Zooming in, it looked to me as if the tail, torso, head and spear are disparate parts that were stitched together. Not being able to shake the sense of deja vu, I did some sleuthing of my own and…
Hmmm…. flip, and rotate, and enhance… enhance… enhance…
Crazy like a FOX!
Well, this doesn’t look very good for Foxtales, and it gets worse. In a unfortunate turn of event for Foxtales, Chern Ann Ng, CEO of Cool Mini or Not, already had his eyes on the Kickstarter even before it came to light that Foxtales plagiarised CMON’s Massive Darkness rulebook. In a closed Facebook group that is meant for industry luminaries to give advice regarding how to launch Tabletop Game Kickstarters he had a thread posted as a cautionary tale about the early troubles about ‘Overturn Rising Sands’. When the plagiarism news broke, he posted this comment stating he have sent a DMCA take down notice.
As I typed this, news broke that Crowdox, their pledge manager for the Kickstarter, is pulling out in response to the controversy.
Now, I am going to look at the whole picture and be as charitable as possible and not throw out that big four letter word, S-C-A-M. Even if you take them at face value, the copying of company logo, profile, shipping disclaimer, and refund policy, to a point where they even failed to alter irrelevant sections, reeks of extreme indolence at best, gross negligence and incompetence at worst. With the plagiarism of the rule book itself, yes, it’s unethical and possibly illegal, but it points to more problem then that. They didn’t accidentally stumble onto a rule book they can copy 90% off and still make sense for their game. This has to have been clearly premeditated knowing that Overturn had to be very similar to Massive Darkness. While gameplay can’t be copyrighted, most designers in the industry at least still give lip service to their inspirations and I am not comfortable with this blatant cloning of a game.
Looking at their Hero classes clearly demonstrate that the rule book isn’t the only thing Overturn copied from Massive darkness.
Let’s move on to their messaging. All of their comments to backers found here fluctuate between snide sarcasm and repeated dodging of concerns. At no point have they owned up to any of the plagiarism that came to light and instead continue to mount both ‘template’ and ‘uncanny similarity’ defenses, which are contradictory and ridiculous. They have also only posted a single update since the news broke and it make no mention of the controversy. This is alarming because the backers won’t be notified of the increase in comments or will they know of the controversy unless they’ve been keeping an eye out on the Kickstarter they’ve backed, which most backers don’t until it’s near completion. Since an update would mean all backers get an automatic email from Kickstarter, this could be seen as a deliberate attempt to keep backers in the dark by not drawing their attention.
Let’s look at the Kickstarter itself. What they have are very nice 3D renders of which they have some low quality 3D-printed models of. They maintain the final results will be high quality casts but there’s no mention of manufacturer or any other details. The rules are plagiarised and there’s no reason to believe the existence of these beta rules they mentioned. When urged to take a mea culpa, fix everything and relaunch the Kickstarter, Foxtales brushed it off and stated they are in until the last backer. When you look at the stretch goals and model count the price is quite low for what Foxtales is promising. Even if one wished to chalk that up to naivety, it still calls their ability to deliver into question.
The company itself also raises my suspicions, even putting aside the logo and the profile. It’s supposed to be a three man team working out of Canada yet I cannot find any company registered under that name in Canada. While it could be a shell company, they also have no way of being reached outside of Kickstarter since the contact page in their website is a dead link. I reached out to them through Kickstarter regarding this article but had no response even when they were active. On Facebook, two of the three members of Foxtales had nothing posted since mid 2017. The only one that is active, Humayun Syed, is the only person anyone has had direct contact with as far as I can tell. While claiming to plan to manufacture and fulfil the Kickstarter from Canada, they admit in the comments that one of the three will be going home and will leave it to the other two to deliver. While I was conducting research for this article, they became active on Kickstarter after a long absence. I checked the local time in Canada and it was 3am. It would have been 11am in Pakistan. Now, let me be perfectly clear, this is NOT at all about where they are from. This is about the many holes in their story and the repeated muddying of information. This is about whether they seem to be in a position to be able to deliver what they promised.
A lot of people have reported this Kickstarter and there’s that DMCA take down notice issued by CMON. It’s been leaking backers and funds slowly since 25th of June and understandably at a much higher rate since the 13th. However, at the time of this article they still have almost 200,000 AUD pledged, 400% their goal, with a little over 60 hours left to go. We don’t know whether Kickstarter will step in and they can’t be reached for comment. DMCA notices take time and Kickstarter will lock down pledges, meaning you can’t reduce or pull out your pledge if it would reduce the pledges below the goal once the project hits the 24 hour mark. This means the project is definitely going to be funded at the 24 hour mark unless the current pledges take a sharp dip and drop below the goal very soon.
Find further information on Kicktraq here.
From where I am standing, this Kickstarter has more red flags than a national parade in Switzerland. Even assuming no malicious intent behind it, it’s quite clear that Foxtales is either overwhelmed by the scope of the project and/or lacking the necessary manpower and skills to deliver this without resorting to shortcuts. From a practical point of view, considering how they handled the Kickstarter, there is close to 0% chance that they can deliver this game even if they have no intent to swindle. From an ethical point of view, this Kickstarter should not be supported as it besmirches the whole concept of crowdfunding and insults a lot of hard working creators that have poured their passion into launching a product the right way.