How to Order and Test Samples of Your Board Game

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Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the last of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

Today I’ll be talking about how to check your work. Specifically, I’ll be talking about ordering and testing samples of your game. There are a lot of reasons you might want to do this. They include catching accessibility issues before they are a problem, printing beautiful review copies, and evaluating offset printers before spending several thousand dollars on a big print run.


These are prototype copies of Highways & Byways – I sent them out to reviewers in the second week of January 2018.


This guide comes in five parts:

  • Ordering Print-on-Demand Samples for Rapid Prototyping
  • Testing for Accessibility
  • Quality Assurance in Board Gaming
  • Ordering Sample Kits from Offset Printers
  • Ordering Custom Samples from Offset Printers



Ordering Print-on-Demand Samples for Prototyping


There are a lot of companies out there who can help you create really pretty board game prototypes before you commit to a much larger print run. These include The Game Crafter, Make Playing Cards, and Board Games Maker. I mentioned them a while back in How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer. If you’re not familiar with these sites, have a look at the article I just linked. It will catch you up to speed.

The basic idea of ordering print-on-demand samples is to avoid the long wait time and the high cost of ordering offset printer samples. Offset printing is what is used for large print runs like 500 and 1,000. The set-up costs are high, but the per-unit cost is low. That means a print-on-demand company could crank out a board game prototype for around $100 as opposed to an offset printer which could charge $500 or more.

Whether you are printing review copies, looking to test your game with better parts, or simply see your ideas come to life in a beautiful way, ordering print-on-demand samples can be really handy. For Highways & Byways, I used print-on-demand samples to test the size of certain pieces on the board. This helped me realize that certain pieces that I wanted to use were a little too big, so I ordered some smaller pieces.


Testing for Accessibility


I’ve talked about accessibility several times on this blog. In fact, you might want to see parts 1, 2, and 3 of my conversation with Dr. Michael Heron of Meeple Like Us on the subject. This can get really deep really fast, but for simplicity sake let’s just say this: ordering samples of your game can help you make sure your game is easy to use under the conditions it is likely to be played.

Here is an easy to understand example from Highways & Byways. My game contains Travel Markers – round pieces a half-inch (1.25 cm) in diameter that are placed on the board to mark destinations. I was worried that their small size would be problematic for players from a physical accessibility standpoint. Turns out that nobody I played it with had a problem – and I played with a lot of people! Testing with different components for tactile ease-of-use went a long way. I ended up using punch-out pieces that were 2.5mm thick instead of 1.8mm thick.



You can usually make your own board games for play-testing using what you’ve got around the house. Posterboard and Sharpie markers go a long way. Yet if you really want to test every facet of your game for physical and visual accessibility, printing a copy and testing it is ideal.

Once again, I’ll plug parts 1, 2, and 3 of my conversation with Dr. Michael Heron of Meeple Like Us. Scroll all the way to the bottom and you’ll see a nice, easy-to-use checklist of things you’ll want to test for. Pick what’s important and make a list that you can check off.


Quality Assurance in Board Gaming


No matter what accessibility issues you may encounter, some things are constant in board game quality assurance. If you send out copies of your game to board game reviewers, they need to be good quality. They don’t have to be 100% perfect, but they need to have no glaring flaws, no major differences from a gameplay standpoint, and they need to photograph well. For copies you send to publishers, it may be a different story, but if you’re going the self-publish through Kickstarter route like I am, you need good copies.

You’ll need to test every component for print quality. There are a few things you’ll want to look out for specifically: quality of materials, quality of colors, and print alignment.

Cards need to feel sturdy and not cheaply made. If you want to see what bad cards look like, go to the Dollar Tree and by a 2-pack of playing cards for a dollar. If your cards come out like that, you need to reprint them before sending them out reviewers. They need to feel like something you’d get out of a box of Pandemic or Magic. Hold up a light to them, make sure they’re not see through. Make sure there isn’t a strong and weird inky smell.

Make sure colors look right. Check under both bright and dim lighting. If your colors come out too dim, you might have used RGB colors on your computer instead of CMYK. That forces printers to substitute RGB colors which cannot be printed by CMYK printers with whatever’s closest – usually not the best match. If you use CMYK colors on your computer from the beginning, you’ll have much, much better control on how your printed pieces come out. If your colors come out soaked, muddy, and ugly, you might have a problem with ink saturation. If your blank ink comes out to be a dark gray ink by mistake, you probably weren’t using rich black. A good offset printer will help you fix all this stuff before you spend thousands of bucks, but print-on-demand printers will just print whatever you give them with no editing.

When you’re making cards, boards, rules, punch-out pieces, or anything that requires printing, you never want to print all the way to the edge. If the printers are even slightly out of alignment, you’d lose some of the information you wanted to print. Check all your printed materials to make sure they printed dead on the center, or as close as possible. As an example, if you print a deck of cards and everything is shifted to the right, that means it was out of alignment.

As for pieces made from plastic or wood, just make sure they don’t feel cheap. Wood shouldn’t splinter, plastic should feel sturdy, and the sizes and colors should be correct. If they’re not, you can usually compensate by buying different pieces.


Ordering Sample Kits from Offset Printers


Once you’ve figured out how to make a game that prints and plays well with print-on-demand machines, you may want to order a larger print run. To do that, you would need to look into offset printing. Offset printers cost lots and lots of money to create prototypes, so they have another method of evaluating their work. You can ask for a sample kit.


My sample kit from Print Ninja included a ninja mask.


Sample kits will contain games printed by the company. Though they won’t be original copies of your game, you can get a rough idea of the quality of their work through what they send you. See the previous section for an idea of what to look for. Just about any offset printer worth their salt will be willing to send you a sample kit for free. If they aren’t willing to do that, I consider that a red flag.


Ordering Custom Samples from Offset Printers


Once you’ve figured out how you want your game to look through rapid prototyping with print-on-demand copies, you can order custom samples of your game from offset printers. This is a very expensive process, but there are a few reasons you might want to do it. First of all, sample kits will naturally contain only the best samples – you know, the ones the printer wants you to see before you spend thousands or tens of thousands on a large print run. Second, there are small deviations in product quality between different companies, so you might want a hard copy just to know what to expect. Last, you can get out of a large print run if you don’t like the sample. Losing several hundred dollars because you don’t like the samples is much better than losing several thousand dollars because you don’t like the product that you printed.




Quality assurance is very important to establish yourself as someone who others can trust. In board games, that often involves a mix of usability testing and meticulously looking over every inch of the product. Rapid prototyping through print-on-demand services can help you speed up the whole process before eventually printing a larger run with an offset printer.

Have any questions about ordering or testing game samples? Let me know in the comments 🙂

How to Prepare for a Kickstarter Campaign That’s 1 Month Away

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Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.



Highways & Byways launches on Kickstarter March 26. As of the time that I’m writing this, that’s a little under a month away. Things are starting to get hectic around the Pangea Games office / my home office. Just this week, I’ve cranked out six blog posts to build up my backlog, created the Kickstarter campaign video, finalized my manufacturer choice, reached out to my manufacturer and fulfillment partners, finished a giveaway contest and started another, then started researching stretch goals.



I’m a big proponent of working smart before you work hard. I’ve written about how critical time management is to your success in game development. I’ve also talked about how you can’t reliably speed up game development when you work alone or in a small team. But you know what? Sometimes you have to put in an 80-hour workweek to make it happen.

That’s what I’ve done for the last couple of weeks to prepare for Highways & Byways. I started game development fairly recently and have one game published. That means I’m working 40 45 hours per week as Systems Analyst. Then I put in another 35-40 on Highways & Byways because some of this stuff cannot be cut short. Video filming and editing are unavoidably time-consuming. Writing blog posts – at least my long-form Start to Finish posts – take a few hours each. Setting up the Kickstarter page, checking my cost tables, doing streams…all of this takes T-I-M-E!

With all this in mind, I’ve prepared a checklist for myself that I’d like to share with you. It’s a list of everything you need to take care in the time span between “a month before” and “a week before.”


1 Month to 1 Week

Kickstarter Checklist


Prepare for long hours. This is unavoidable when you get really close to a campaign, so embrace it.

Draft the Kickstarter campaign page. You need to have a version you can show to others at least three weeks before the campaign.

Make the video. You need to film, edit, and post your video at least three weeks before the campaign.

Clear your schedule. Take off work on the day you launch the campaign. If you run a blog or website, create a backlog of content to last you through the campaign. If you have another business or other commitments, see how much of that you can defer to a later time or ask someone else to take care of.

Submit your Kickstarter campaign for approval. Sometimes Kickstarter drags their feet on the approval process, though it’s usually 7 days tops. Even still, you want to have your Kickstarter ready to go with the green Launch Now button 2 weeks out.

Set up Google Analytics on your campaign page. This will help you see where your pledges are coming from for your future knowledge.

Double check your cost projections and budget. You need to be ready for funding anywhere between your goal and a million dollars. Can you reliably profit at the goal level? Can you scale nicely if you do waaaay better than you expect? The answer to both those questions needs to be yes.

Research stretch goals. Don’t just throw stretch goals up on the page. Research the per-unit cost of every single one and choose your stretch goal levels carefully.

Double down on lead generation. If you don’t have an audience by now, you need to delay your launch date. If you do, though, it never hurts to up your advertising budget or double down on outreach.

Write and send press releases. See Jamey Stegmaier’s Kickstarter Lesson #43: Press Releases on this subject. Do this 7-14 days before.

Send sneak previews to retailers. Do this about 7 days before. Again, the eternal king of sage campaign advice, Jamey Stegmaier, has a post for this.

Find collaborators for your Kickstarter campaign. Find a few friends, family, and associates you trust to help you reply to comments when they come in fast on the launch day.

Prepare Facebook ads. I like preparing my ads well in advance of the campaign, just so I can test their effectiveness on my landing page instead of the campaign when it’s live.


I hope this list helps you prepare for your own Kickstarter campaign. If I left anything off, let me know and I’ll add it 😀



Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • 17 days to the campaign!
  • Last week, I gave away a copy of Ticket to Ride. This giveaway contest performed unbelievably well on Facebook. This week, it’s a copy of Forbidden Island. If you want it, you’ve got a little over 24 hours after this post goes up to get it on the Highways & Byways Facebook page.
  • You can view the Kickstarter campaign page here.


How to Find a Board Game Printer

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Start to Finish

Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the eighteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

I’ve written about How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer. Now it’s time to talk about finding the right company to print your board game. Since you will most likely be using offset printing to make your board game, you will have to print 1,000 copies or more. Because of the high costs of board game printing and the importance of product quality in establishing your reputation, it is absolutely necessary to find a good company.


Board game printing is a little bigger than your average office inkjet printer can handle.


This guide comes in five parts:

  • Finding Printers
  • Testing Communication
  • Checking for Quality
  • Estimating Costs
  • Estimating Timetables



Finding Printers


Because printing is simultaneously very expensive and a big factor in how customers perceive you, doing your homework is critical. You will spend a lot of time on research, much of which will be spent looking for the perfect printer. Before you do that, though, I recommend you learn as much as you can about the printing process. For that, I have two great resources for you. The first, because I am a fiend for self-promotion, is my article How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer. The second is the absolutely fantastic Printing Academy series by PrintNinja.

Once you have a sense of what offset printing is and you can confirm that you need it, there are lots of good resources online provide you with a list of printers. You can always find board game printers by checking on Google and Board Game Geek for the most up-to-date information. There is a particularly good list on the blog of James Mathe, but you should be careful about using it. It is, at the time of this writing, at least four-and-a-half years old. The industry moves too fast for one site to keep up a decent list.

Find five printers you would like to talk to. It’s even better if you can find ten. Make a list and start asking around on Board Game Geek or social media. It’s not enough to find a recommendation on a blog that’s not updated frequently. It’s much better to ask someone who recently had work created by the companies you’re considering. If you hear any red flags regarding quality, communication, cost, or timeliness – keep on walking. The industry is too big and too active to take a risk on a bad printer.


Testing Communication



From the moment you contact a printing company for the first time, consider it a test. We’ll talk about what to actually say when you’re requesting a quote or samples next week, but suffice it to say that no matter what you ask for, how the company communicates in response is critical. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the company you’re looking into:

  1. Do they communicate in a timely manner?
  2. Do they provide all information you need?
  3. Many printers are overseas – how good is their understanding of English?
  4. Do they provide you with tips on increasing quality or performing a more cost-efficient operation?

If the answers to any of these questions are negative, you need to stop talking to the printer. You shouldn’t have to wait much more than a week after requesting a quote. After that, responses to your inquiries should be pretty rapid. If they take too long, it means they have too much work or they’re giving you the run-around. Either one is a problem and not yours to deal with.

Make sure they answer all your questions and give advice on best practices. Offset printing is a massive commitment for small business owners, and you don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t want to help you make an excellent product. Finally, make sure they understand English well. I’m sure many low-cost printers in China can produce excellent work, but if they can’t communicate fluently in English, the odds of a high-cost miscommunication are too high for my taste.


Checking for Quality


Next week, I’ll go into a lot more detail about how you can check the quality of your printer’s work. This subject goes pretty deep because there are a lot of aspects to it, some of which are your responsibility to get right and some of which are theirs. For now, you should understand that just about any printer worth your time should be willing to provide a sample kit for free. If they do not provide a sample kit for free, that is usually a pretty big red flag. While this will not involve a custom-made sample of your game, which would be very expensive for them to do, you would be able to see how similar projects by the same printer turned out.


Estimating Costs


Estimating the cost of printing can be very difficult. First, it depends heavily on the quantity ordered and the location you plan on shipping your games to for fulfillment. Either way, you need to ask for multiple quotes.

When asking for a quote, always ask what the minimum order quantity (MOQ) is. Odds are that it will be 1,000 games or greater, but I’ve seen some who are willing to print as few as 500. You’ll want to ask for a quote at the MOQ, 2 times the MOQ, and 5 times the MOQ. Make sure to also ask about shipping cost – tell them to base their estimates off the zip code of a fulfillment warehouse you’re interested in. If you don’t know where you’ll be shipping your inventory, just give them the zip code of the closest port city. (For me, this would be Savannah, GA).

Bear in mind that both printing and shipping quotes often do not include everything. They do not always include the price of customs or taxes. You should always ask if quotes include customs or taxes. If not, assume that everything will be 20% more expensive than it says once customs are applied.

Last but not least, if your game will be marketed to children younger than 14, set aside some money for child safety testing. This is an important legal requirement that you must obey in order to be compliant with EN-71  and ASTM F 963 safety standards. The cost of safety testing depends on the components in your game. For Highways & Byways, it is going to be about $1,000 no matter what quantity I print.


Estimating Timetables


Last but not least, you need to get an idea of how long it will take for each printer to fulfill your order. In general, the pre-press process will take a couple of weeks. Then printing will take a few weeks. Shipping by sea to your warehousing location will take two to three months. All totaled, printing and shipping your game to a warehouse for fulfillment is about a four-month process. Even still, you need to get hard facts from each individual printer.



The board game printing process can be a difficult one to get right. You need to research companies, email back and forth to test their communication skills, check the quality of their work, and estimate time and cost. It can be overwhelming, so start this as early as you can – right after you have a good idea of your board game’s specs.

Do you have any questions about board game manufacturing? I’d love to read and reply to them below 🙂