[REVIEW] Geeknson’s Kickstarter Woes — The Troubled Taylah Gaming Table
[Originally published on www.tabletoptribe.com]
[Disclaimer: The Taylah was the result of crowd-funding and designed for mass-production. As such it should not be viewed as representative of the quality or service provided by Geeknson with the purchase of any of their premium custom gaming tables.]
For most tabletop gamers, a bespoke gaming table is on everyone’s wish-list, but something few can ever afford… if for no other reason than they spend the money on games instead.
Therefore when not one but two. well-established gaming furniture manufacturers announced low-cost (relatively) gaming tables launching on Kickstarter, people sat up and took note, and started auctioning off children and figuring which of their kidneys they could do without.
Duchess vs Taylah
The first to appear was the Duchess from BoardGameTables.com, in a very ‘traditional’ style, with a wide arm-rest area, slide-out drinks holders and an optional topper to turn it into a dining table. It looked the business and the backers flooded to it — 3,364 of them in fact, pledging a whopping $2,592,231.
Those numbers are likely to make any niche manufacturer prick up their ears, and thus it wasn’t entirely surprising that UK-based Geeknson followed hot on the Duchess’s heels with a table of their own.
If they were hoping for the seven-figures that the Duchess pulled in they were to be sadly disappointed, and for a while the project looked like it wouldn’t even fund at all, barely scraping over the required £40K to fund with just 123 backers. Why? After all, this was a high profile company, not just an unknown start-up and even the Game Anywhere Table from the unknown Transforming Designs Inc. made almost $250K.
So why did the community not embrace the Taylah? For a start it was unconventionally lightweight in looks. Where the Duchess looked chunky and solid, with those wide arm rests and familiar design, the Taylah looked almost flimsy in comparison with no arm rest at all. This wasn’t helped by it’s Kickstarter promotional video, which showed a pronounced wobble when the table topper was replaced.
This apparent design flaw put off many potential backers that would otherwise have seen past the unconventional design, or who were in fact actively looking for a more lightweight solution. I was actually one of these backers, specifically looking for a table that met certain criteria.
I needed a table that could be relatively easily dismantled, built and moved by one person, had an overall length no more than 160cm, a topper made up of horizontal rather than vertical slats and possessed a wealth of accessories (acrylic sheet, cup holders, counter bins etc.)
Oh and it shouldn’t cost the earth. The Taylah ticked all those boxes, where the Duchess only satisfied my budget..
My dimensional requirements revolved around the fact that my games room was dual use, occasionally serving as a bedroom, and the table would at the very least need shifting up against a wall into a space 160cm long and might even require the odd dismantling.
The horizontal slats requirement was due to me wanting a table that could also be dual-use. Horizontal slats as a table topper means the tabletop can be customised, covering parts of it depending on the use. Maybe just a small space covered at the end of the table as GM area, or one half of the table uncovered and devoted to a game while I worked on a laptop on the other.
I was still concerned by the wobble and the possible comfort issues regarding the Taylah’s thin sides and lack of arm rest, but Geeknson was apparently listening to its backers, promising a redesign that would iron out any instability and add removable arm rests that would allay any comfort concerns.
The new design saw the addition of eight large bolts that threaded horizontally through the outside edge of the legs into the frame of the table, which was an effective, if slightly unsightly solution. The bolt heads were to be covered by self-adhesive wood-textured blanking circlets, which many thought a poor alternative to wooden plugs stained in the appropriate colour.
However, the table was at least now rock solid, and many backers that had been wavering were reassured enough not to cancel their pledge. The arm rests also looked from the mock-up images to be the ideal solution to the possible discomfort of resting your arms on such a narrow table edge. Four were to be offered free with every table, with additional rests available to purchase as £20 each.
All this allowed the Taylah to creep past the £40K target and secure its funding, and backers started getting excited about the prospect of a gaming table arriving in their houses in mid-2017. By January there had been a few updates that had been met reasonably positively by backers, including showing the bolt solution to the wobble and the different stains.
However by this time there had also been a noticeable development with regard to communication between Geeknson and backers. Or rather the lack of it. Emails often took days or even weeks to get a response, and requests for images showing certain accessories or table parts that concerned backers were largely ignored, despite being encouraged to “send us a message!”
February’s update brought some welcome images of numerous table parts at the factory having been stained and looking ready to go. Everything looked well made and evenly stained. All very reassuring. However with this update also came a bit of a bombshell.
The table insert/playing surface had been deemed unfit for purpose, so Geeknson were providing everyone with better quality solid insert (which to be honest many backers had assumed was the quality of the original, rather than a thin padded mat), that would be split into two section, meaning a groove down the centre of the playing area.
In addition the acrylic layer underneath the playing surface would also be split. Backers were told the playing surface would be split to avoid any expansion/warping issues (something apparently not an issue with their other tables featuring an unsplit version). Queries regarding the decision to split the acrylic sheet too were left unanswered.
In fact the decision to split was an economic one. By splitting the insert, acrylic and (as it later transpired) the base board of the table itself, everything could be conveniently shipped in roughly 5ftx1.5ft packages meaning they could be delivered by third-party courier services for less cost.
Many backers would have been accepting of this explanation, or possibly been willing to pay a little extra for courier of unsplit versions of the items. Instead they were given a fairly lame excuse for the play surface and just ignored with regard to the acrylic and the base board, the latter being the subject of just one final bombshell.
The table had always been feted as one constructed entirely from good quality Ash (“not unknown or unheard of woods” — presumably a little dig at The Duchess’s use of Rubber Wood). Just as tables were starting to ship it transpired that the base of the table would not only be split, but wouldn’t be made of Ash either. It would be plain old 10mm MDF.
It was at this point that it became apparent that Geeknson were in economic damage limitation concerning the Taylah, cutting every possible corner in order to perhaps break even on the project, let alone turn a profit. Terms like “cheap-looking” and “Ikea” started to be bandied about the campaign’s comments section.
By the end of April (right on time in fact, which is a big plus for Geeknson as delivery dates for Kickstarter are usually over-optimistic) the first tables started to arrive with backers accompanied by reports of damage caused by less than sympathetic handling by chosen courier DPD. Geeknson expressed dismay and promised to take action.
Mainly though, grumblings of disappointment were over the split nature of the gaming surface, acrylic and table base and the fact the delivered table didn’t match the table that had originally been backed. So it was with some trepidation that I awaited my own delivery.
My table was delivered by Geeknson themselves as I’d paid extra to have an unsplit insert (also asking that because of this neither the base nor acrylic be split either — this was unanswered and not complied with). So I was initially surprised the delivery included… a split insert.
I tried to explain the problem to the two helpful Polish guys delivering the table but unfortunately their English was almost non-existent so I rang the office, and was assured that the correct insert would be sent out, along with the various missing accessories, so after signing off on the rest of the stuff I set about putting things together.
Construction and Mods/Pimping
After only about 20 minutes the table was assembled and I was actually pleasantly surprised. All the hardwood pieces were well-manufactured and evenly stained, and everything went together easily for one-person construction.
The felt bag for the table topper sleeves was a little on the flimsy side, and difficult to get the velcro partitions in the correct places, but it worked well enough.
There were no apparent damage or construction issues — sure the MDF base was ugly and the acrylic split was disappointing, but the latter could be fairly cheaply replaced and the former would be almost permanently covered, although in the end I bought a piece of 5mm ply, stained it Teak to match the table and made things look 1000% better.
Considering this solution cost about £30 and 30 minutes work to achieve, Geeknson might also have done the same, or at least offered it as an upgrade.
But overall? I was actually really happy! The table was solid with no sign of a wobble, it was as easy to construct and shift about as I’d hoped (without the table toppers I could move the table around on carpet pretty much one-handed), fitted perfectly into the space, looked smart and I couldn’t wait to play some games on it.
My main disappointment were the “arm rests”, which turned out to be nothing more than cut lengths of furniture edge protectors (in fact several backers commented that they had almost thrown them out with the rest of the packaging).
They worked well enough, but looked rubbish and considering Geeknson had charged backers £20 each for additional ones, were grossly overpriced. They probably cost Geeknson about 20p each.
However, not to be disheartened I set about blinging them up, and with the purchase and application of £5 worth of burgundy baize and £2 of upholstery pins, along with about 20 mins work per armrest, I managed to transform them into something actually looking more the part and matching the rest of the table.
In fact I wondered again why Geeknson didn’t do this. They could have paid an intern £5 an item to do the same, charged £25 per armrest, still made a profit and created a much better impression with their customers.
Living With The Taylah
I’ve now had a chance to live with the table for about three months, and I’m really happy with it. It fits the room perfectly and is easily moved around the space. The tabletop slats make the table easy to configure as is the multi-level insert/acrylic/base.
I did in the end get my new unsplit insert (plus they also left me with the old one, meaning I have a handy travel option!) which turned out to be one you’d usually see on their premium Denis table. It’s far higher quality than the original plus has loops to enable easy removal.
I also got most of the missing accessories (drinks holders, counter bins etc.) although they sent the wrong type of counter bins and seem unwilling to reply to my repeated requests for the ones I actually ordered. These all function fine and look okay too, although the edges of the perspex drink holder surrounds are pretty sharp and just at toddler height so could use some sanding off — yet more DIY mods required.
My regular group love the table compared to the old dining table, with Phil, our resident giant at 6ft 5" commenting on the fact that he can sit comfortably without the sides of the table squeezing against his legs.
Now I’ve got the felt slats bag dividers configured just right the table top is easy to remove and store, and even relatively easy to carry around when it’s full. The “strake” board (the piece of wood that sits at the edge of the slats if you have the table partially covered, to stop dice rolling underneath the covered section) is the perfect size and fits snugly now the better table insert is in place.
All in all the Taylah is a great gaming table, and those wanting this kind of lighter weight, cheaper priced item might do well to check out Geeknson’s Pinata table, which is pretty much identical, although I suspect you will enjoy a more personal, attentive service from Geeknson, have your table custom built, enjoy unsplit inserts, acrylic and base, and with the latter almost certainly not made of MDF.
That said the Piñata will no doubt cost you at least 50% more (possibly closer to 100%), so you’ll have to evaluate whether you think it’s worth it. It would still be around £1000 cheaper than the Denis, so if £1500 is pretty much your maximum spend then you may not have any choice.
The main problem with the Taylah has been Geeknson themselves. Their communication post-funding was appalling, especially considering the relatively few backers. Add to that the lack of honesty regarding the decision to split many components, and the quality/finish on others and you end up with automatically disgruntled customers, when these issues should have been part of the original design, with the option of higher quality upgrades.
The playing surface itself could have been a neoprene play mat, giving a choice of colours and designs and again customisable for an extra upgrade cost. They could even have done a deal with EU-based Deep Cut Studios, who already had mats the width of the Taylah’s vault. Just one more missed opportunity.
It’s important to remember that this was a Kickstarter and not a retail product, however much it resembles the Piñata. Geeknson were perfectly within their rights to change the design to improve functionality or maintain the financial feasibility of the project. However, with a little more design research prior to the campaign, a little more attentiveness to their backers and an upgrade path that could have actually made them more money, the Taylah could have been an real success story for the company.
As it was it felt like the table was an annoyance and an embarrassment to them, which is unfair on a product that is actually pretty good, and after some relatively cheap tweaks, is a table they could really have been proud of and would have served to undoubtedly sell quite a few Piñatas.
[EDIT: It looks as though the Piñata has now been discontinued and replaced by the Oscar, which appears to be a modification of the Piñata/Taylah design but with the wide arm rest that most backers wanted. I’d rather see a table topper that was still a 4-piece rather than 2-piece design but it looks like the table might be addressing a lot of the issues thrown up during the Taylah’s Kickstarter. That’s unlikely to win them any fans among existing Piñata and Taylah customers, although they could easily turn this into a positive by offering those customers an upgrade option — particularly if they’re UK-based. I guess time will tell how successful this new incarnation is. At a fixed price of £1400 (incl. VAT) it’s in the right ballpark financially, but Geeknson will have to up their game with customer service and communication if they’re to win back confidence.]
[RESPONSE FROM GEEKNSON:
“Hi there folks! Kerren here from Geeknson and this is a very interesting read for us here in the office!
All of the points put forward in this review are the exact same issues that we brought up when we had our review of this project. We hold our hands up and say that it was an error in judgement on our part both in regards to communication and delivery with the tables.
Through this, we have learned some very valuable lessons. We’ve actually been putting in place new procedures for us here at Geeknson since the end of this campaign. Since May, we’ve been using a new company and all of our deliveries to the US now go direct Door-to-Door. We have other procedures here in the office as well that have stemmed from our review of this project.
Of course, we understand entirely that communication is such a key part of projects like this. Again, we hold our hands up and say that the level of communication was not acceptable during this.
It’s something that we have learned from 100% and do not plan on repeating. We’ve got procedures in place that will now be changing this and making sure that we are moving forward in the right direction. Once again, thank you for your honesty in this piece!”]