How We Figured Out Board Game Manufacturing
None of us knew anything about printing or manufacturing before this, but we learned the basics along the way. Here are lessons we learned about getting a board game manufactured.
1. Figure out your critical vs. nice-to-have game components
You can do this once you have the core mechanics down. We’re making a pirate-themed card game where the objective is to collect doubloons. Our critical components are an action card deck, pirate card deck, doubloon tokens, game box, and instructions. Our nice-to-have components are a cloth bag to hold the tokens and rule cards for each player.
2. Estimate your order quantity
Doesn’t need to be exact, but this is the biggest non-design factor that affects price. The smaller the order, the fewer manufacturer options you’ll have. Our goal was 200 units, but most manufacturers have minimum order quantities of 500 or 1000.
3. Build relationships with multiple manufacturers
We contacted about 10 manufacturers and were very surprised at how the manufacturing timeline, minimum order quantity, responsiveness, and costs vary drastically between them. For example, one manufacturer told us that, in order to have games delivered by Christmas 2020, we needed to have final art ready in May 2020. Whereas another manufacturer said they could deliver if the art was finalized by October 31st. Most people we contacted were pretty responsive, but timezone and language differences can slow things down. (i.e. if you need to explain things multiple times and can only really send 1 email per day, things will move slower) Also, our game had simple components, but if yours is more complex, not all manufacturers may be equipped to make it.
4. Learn what design decisions affect your costs
This is one mistake we made. Thinking holistically about our components upfront would have saved us a lot of back-and-forth with the manufacturers when getting quotes.
Design choices that significantly affected our manufacturing cost:
- Number of cards in each deck
- Card size
- Card material: denoted by card thickness, finish, and core. Thickness is measured in grams per square meter (GSM). Finish can be matte, varnish, laminated, etc. Core terminology seemed to vary between manufacturers (often white, grey, blue, black), but basically means the stiffness and transparency.
- Number of tokens
- Token material: cardboard, plastic, or metal.
- Type of box: telescopic (standard box), magnetic closure, book-style, tin box, deck box, tuck box
- Special finish on box: adding textures, foil, embossing
Surprisingly, the amount of color on our cards, tokens, and box did not affect cost.
5. Get quotes early.
The art itself didn’t affect our costs much, and we’re glad we got an initial quote before we even hired an illustrator. We got our first quote from LongPack Games with 1 basic card layout with placeholder art and 1 token image that we found on Google. The more important decisions for the quote were our decisions in tip #4.
Having an initial quote helped us determine our target price for the game, margin, and break-even point. All of that will help us set our Kickstarter funding goal, set a marketing budget, and so on.
Final thought: production runs vs. prototype prints
There are companies dedicated to printing smaller quantities of game prototypes (even a single copy), but are not really used for larger quantities. We used Print & Play Games to print copies to playtest amongst our team and are planning to use them to print copies to send to reviewers as well. They are 3-4 times more expensive per unit than bulk runs, but they deliver the game within a week and have a simple process to upload your designs and order—just make sure to download their templates first!