John Company: Second Edition launched a Kickstarter campaign on March 30th, asking backers for $50,000 (£36,000) to revitalize and re-release the historical board game. At the time of writing, fans have contributed more than $330,000 (£239,000), marking it another in a long line of successful crowndfundings for designer Cole Wehrle.
Wehrle is the mind behind titles such as woodland strategy game Root - in collaboration with Leder Games - and Pax Pamir, whose historical setting focuses on political negotiations in the 19th century Afghan region. John Company puts players in the role of English family scions attempting to wrest enough control of the East India Company to secure a financial future for their progeny while also cementing their renown within British high society.
The gameplay reflects an abstraction of the real-world history of the company that accrued vast fortunes and helped enforce colonial dominance throughout the British empire. Different phases of the game see players facing internal struggles as they jockey for the largest piece of the economic pie, while Indian cities incite rebellion against occupying soldiers and governments attempt to reign in ever more bold flaunting of trade law.
Since the original game’s inception, Wehrle knew John Company wouldn’t be something that inspired mass appeal. Amending that roadblock was apparently high on his priority list when he and brother Drew Wehrle began work on the second edition last year.
“John Company is the very definition of a niche game, and we wanted to run a campaign that spoke earnestly to potential backers,” he said in an update to the campaign. “At the same time, the game is built to be immensely accessible, and I think anyone with an interest in the subject won't have too much trouble getting the game to the table. The game has never been as easy to play as it is now.”
Wehrle said he sees the immediate success of the Kickstarter campaign as proof that players are more open to experiences that don’t cleave to conventionally popular board game aesthetics, or those that “grapple with difficult subjects” through an engaging system of play.VID
To that point, he posted a recent blog detailing the deep research undergirding John Company: Second Edition’s design and its attempt to illuminate how “imperial experience tucked itself into the everyday” - to Wehrle, this game translates postcolonial theory by showing in fine detail how it affected every facet of the British worldview. As he writes, “imperialism cuts both ways.”
This is heady stuff for a board game to tackle, and some fans are understandably intimidated. But nearly every mention of the upcoming board game expresses a trust in Wehlre and his company, Wehrlegig Games, to deliver a box that is well made, thoughtful and interesting - even if it rarely makes it to their table.
“I want to support a company and designer that creates games and does business in a way I would like to see more of,” said Reddit user bombmk.
“Cole's designs are so unique and embrace emergent narratives more than any other game I've played. I also love the semi-educational aspects of this one and Pamir, the recommended reading is a great supplement,” wrote user ChazzyMcPhillips. “I'm instantly on board for this one (and probably anything else he does for the foreseeable future tbh).”
This ‘Wehrle Effect’ is so prevalent as to become a running joke in tabletop communities, where criticism of his games can’t help but wrap itself in fondness. People seem to respond positively to a creator who explains his passions and takes risks - even if the result proves too impervious for a large portion of consumers. Six years after his first major release of Pax Pamir: First Edition, and Wehrle has become a household name, reflected in the continually astounding response to his new projects.
John Company: Second Edition’s Kickstarter campaign will run through April 20th, with backers able to pick up a physical box for $80 (£58). A new printing of Pax Pamir 2E is also available for $70 (£51). Shipping on the former is expected to begin in March of next year.