How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer

Posted on 13 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 fourteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

In this article, I will be talking about how you create instructions that will allow manufacturers to create your game as a physical product. Creating technical specs can be a complicated task. You need to choose the right materials, understand the basics of board game manufacturing, and meet legal and distribution requirements. Once you understand all that and agree on specs with your desired printer, you will then need to make files according to their standards. It’s a lot to take in.

For context, I’d like to carefully define what board game specs are for. When you’re creating a game that prints more than a few copies, you’ll need to ask a special kind of company to manufacture your game. These companies use what’s called offset printing – basically the method by which more than 500 games can be cost-effectively printed. Most of the ones I know of are based in China, so you want to create very, very detailed specifications that you can send to the printers. If your specs are good, you are likely to get a good product in massive quantities for a low price.

As an example, see the Highways & Byways specs in the following paragraphs. I sent these out to a handful of offset printers to receive a quote.

Board Box Specs, 12.5 in. x 10.5 in. x 2 in. (318mm  x 267mm x 51mm)

1 Board Box 12.5 in. x 10.5 in. x 2 in. (to fit quad-fold board)

Material: 1.2mm premium white lined chipboard wrapped with 128 gsm art paper

Finish: Water-proof matte laminated smooth finish

Printing: 4C/0C

Board, 24 in. x 20 in. (610mm x 508mm)

Fold: Quad-fold

Material: 1.8mm chipboard wrapped with 128gsm embossed texture art paper

Finish: Water-proof matte laminated smooth finish

Printing: 4C/0C

Rules, A4 Size or similar, 8.27″X11.7″(210.058mmX297.18mm)

8 pages


Material: 78 lb (115 gsm) art paper

Printing: 4C/4C

Finish: Water varnish

Punchboard, 9”x9” (228.6 mm x 228.6mm) with 48 tiles

48: circular, .5” x .5” (12.7 mm x 12.7 mm)

Material: 12pt C1S + 1mm chipboard + 12pt C1S

Finish: Gloss laminated (smooth finish)

Thickness: 2.5mm

Printing: 4C/0C

House Pieces, 4

Purple, 1

Green, 1

Blue, 1

White, 1

Pawns, 4

Purple, 1

Green, 1

Blue, 1

White, 1

129 Poker Size Cards, 2.5” x 3.5” (63mm x 88mm)

Material: 300 gsm blue core card stock

Finish: Matte (smooth finish)

Printing: Fullcolor, both sides

6 Tarot Size Cards, 2.75” x 4.75” (70mm x 121mm)

Material: 300 gsm blue core card stock

Finish: Matte (smooth finish)

Printing: Fullcolor, both sides

Bag or Bags

Determine case-by-case by manufacturer

I need something but I want to see what’s available and cost effective for holding the punchboard tiles, house pieces, and car pieces.

This guide comes in four parts:

  • Choosing Materials
  • Printing Basics
  • Legalese and Distribution
  • Preparing Print Files

Choosing Materials

Before you contact any manufacturers, you need to have a good idea of what parts your board game will need. Parts include boxes, cards, boards, tiles, punchout tokens, wooden and plastic pieces, instruction manuals, and more. Imagine your board game as a complete product – when you open the box for the first time, what comes out? Make sure you think of everything!

You can use websites like Board Games Maker, The Game Crafter, and Make Playing Cards to help you get an idea of what materials you will need. These sites also provide good quality prototypes and specs that you can pass on to printers who will do bigger print runs. I do not recommend using these sites for anything other than prototyping.

To illustrate my point, I’ve included the above screenshot of Board Games Maker’s website. I used this site to help create Highways & Byways specifications. I selected a board which matches the size I want for my game board. Then I looked at the bottom left where it says Specifications for a lot of useful information, including: dimensions (imperial and metric units), material, finishing, thickness, and printing (4C/0C). Let’s break that down a little bit.

  • Dimensions – Every single part you include in your game should have its size specified in both imperial and metric units.
  • Material – You can copy and paste this directly to describe what you’re looking for to your printer.
  • Finishing – Gloss means shiny, matte is a dull luster. Either one can be pretty, but I went with a matte board so that the gloss finish pieces would stick out more. You can choose between smooth and linen finish as well – linen is nicer, but more expensive, making it a good goal for Kickstarter.
  • Thickness – You should always describe thickness of materials to your printer.
  • Printing – This describes how many colors will be used on each side. For most cards, it would be 4C/4C – full color on both sides. For this board, since it’s only printed on one side, it’s 4C/0C.

You can use a similar method to find specs for just about any component you can imagine: boxes, cards, boards, tiles, tuckboxes, dice, booklets – you name it. Either Board Games Maker or The Game Crafter will be able to help you find hard specs.

Printing Basics

After you create the initial specs and it’s time to print, you’ll need to make files for your printer to use for printing. This can get really complicated since each manufacturer has their own templates and standards. They’re pretty similar, though. I’ll tell you what I know to help save you time.

When you’re creating files for printers, there are a few constant rules that you always need to follow:

Always use 300 dpi resolution or higher. Any less than that and you run the risk of getting fuzzy images and low-quality printing. It’s not pretty.

Always use the correct file sizes specified by your printer. Board Games Maker provides pretty good templates that you can use that will work for most printers, but you may need to change some things up by hand.

Always respect the bleed, trim, and safe zones. Anything that you print might print slightly off center if parts of the printing machines are misaligned. Anything in the safe zone on your template will always get printed, the trim line is where it’s supposed to be cut, and the bleed line contains everything that could potentially get printed if the machines are misaligned.

Always use CMYK instead of RGB colors. RGB colors are made for computer screens, CMYK is made for printing. Computers can show more colors than printers can print. There’s a lot of cool physics involved that explain why this is, but I’d have a hard time explaining it on this blog.

Always use rich black instead of true black. Colors in CMYK printing are represented by giving a number to each letter in CMYK: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (K). You might think that C 0 / M 0 / Y 0 / K 100 would print pure black, but it simply doesn’t. It just comes out as a nasty sort of dark gray. To get true black, you’ll need something like C 40 / M 40 / Y 40 / K 100.

Each number in CMYK essentially represents instructions on how much ink to put on a spot on paper. How much ink goes on each spot is called “ink coverage.” You can make real messes with ink coverage if you’re not careful. If all the numbers in the colors add up to be over 300 (or in some cases lower than that), the ink can run. You need to make sure not to exceed 300% ink coverage for every color in your game.

Legalese and Distribution

While your printer will print more or less anything you give them, there are certain legal and distribution requirements that you will want to meet. Real quick: I’m not a lawyer, so double check everything I say with other sources to make sure you’re getting the most up-to-date and accurate advice.

Barcode: If you create a game that you intend to sell in any kind of store, you need a GS1 UPC-A barcode. You can buy these online for relatively cheap on websites like Buy A Barcode. Always follow reccomended guidelines on the print size of the barcode – if it’s too small, it won’t scan.

Don’t try to go super cheap on barcodes! If you buy one and it’s not actually registered with the barcode regulating organization, GS1, then you might run the risk of your barcode being the same as someone else’s. That could lead to your products getting pulled off online stores or even out of physical stores. It just creates a huge headache for the people handling your logistics.

“Made in China”: If you make a game in China, as many do, your box has to say “Made in China” on it somewhere. This is a legal requirement.

Age Restrictions: Have you ever noticed that most modern games have “14+” on the box? There’s a good reason for that. There are special legal requirements that affect games created for children under the age of 14. If your game is truly for children 14 and older, then you won’t have to meet them.

In the case of games for children, but not exceptionally young ones under the age of 4, you’ll need to meet a few additional requirements:

  • Your game will need to be safety tested. This costs hundreds of dollars, maybe even a thousand or two for each batch. The cost of meeting international regulations sucks, but not as much as children getting toys with toxic ink or flammable parts. Be a good citizen, get your stuff safety tested if it’s for kids. Otherwise, it can get tied up in customs, or worse.
  • Once your game is safety tested, then you can put the “CE” label on the box, which means it’s compliant with relevant European Union standards. (The relevant standards for board games are often EN-71-1, EN-71-2, and EN-71-3, but make sure to do your own homework on this.)
  • You’ll need to put a “No 0-3” label to indicate your product is not intended for babies.
  • Finally, if your game has small parts, you’ll need to put a “choking hazard” on the box.

All together, that looks a little something like the following image, except with a barcode where there is currently an empty white space. (I haven’t bought the barcode yet.)

Preparing Print Files

Each print file that you prepare for your printer will use a template specifically designed for the components you’re including. I can’t really help you create those templates, you need to find them using the resources I’ve provided. I do, however, have some advice for certain types of components.

For cards, pick a size and find the template on Make Playing Cards. Figure out how many cards are on a sheet and try to print on the fewest sheets possible to decrease cost.

For game boards, figure out where the folds are and adjust art as you need to.

For booklets, choose the number of pages and go with saddle-stitching. You can also get perfect binding, spiral binding, and casewrap binding. However, unless your rulebook is Ulysses by James Joyce, you’ll probably only need saddle-stitched.

When making punchboard pieces, you have to include bleed on each piece. You can’t usually make pieces smaller than 6mm, and even if you could, you probably shouldn’t because they’d get fiddly fast. Punchboards can get expensive, so try to fit everything on one or two boards. Use thicker pieces, like 2.5mm instead of 1.8mm – they are so much easier for players to pick up and use.

For meeples and other pieces, ask your printer what is available. Use The Games Crafter to find the parts you like and ask for ones like that. Providing specific examples makes life easier for your manufacturers.

When it comes to bags and inserts, it’s always nice to include them. Players really appreciate it.

Miniatures require their own 3-D models – I don’t know much about this. I know that the set-up cost is really high, but people are very enthusiastic about miniatures in tabletop games. If you plan on making miniatures, you need to find a good 3-D modeler and prepare for a large print run.

Deciding How Much to Spend

It won’t take you long to realize that the materials that go into your board game will determine the cost to manufacture it. Knowing exactly how much you can afford to spend per unit is difficult, and it’s something I talk about in-depth in this post.

It can be difficult to take the products we imagine in our heads and describe them in enough detail for people halfway around the world to make them a physical reality. It is a necessary skill, however, and I hope that this article has provided you with enough context to get started. If you have any specific questions, please ask below in the comments, I’d love to help 🙂

How to Advertise Board Games Online

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Start to Finish

“I love advertising!” That’s not a sentence you hear spoken out loud often. Advertising has a reputation for annoying people with messages that aren’t relevant to them, relentlessly wearing them down with half-truths broadcasted over TV networks and on billboards.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

Thankfully, that’s not the whole truth. The relieving truth is that advertising is one tool in the marketing toolbox that small businesses can benefit from. Like any tool, it must be used correctly and judiciously, with an understanding of its purpose and its limitations. Whether you’re just spreading the word about one game or whether you’re building a whole long-lasting business from scratch, you should consider advertising as part of a larger marketing plan.

Why advertising is good

Advertising is the fastest way I know to bootstrap a company. Think about it. There are three ways you can build your audience for the first time. You can reach out to people individually, you can create content for them to consume and come to you passively, or you can advertise on an existing platform. The first one is great – you’ll make a lot of contacts, and even a lot of friends. It’s also slow and it doesn’t scale well. Making your own content is good, but doing so with no outreach will make you feel like you’re screaming into a void. Advertising is much faster, though it does cost money.

If you want to get your feet wet in advertising, the best way I know to do that is through Facebook. Once you’ve built up a Facebook page, you’ll gain access to Facebook’s incredibly robust Ad Manager. That will let you target your ads to really specific audiences, tailoring messages specifically around people’s tastes. What’s more, you’re provided with tons of metrics that help you optimize your ads so you get what you’re paying for.

Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that you use Facebook for advertising. You’ll want to think of your objectives before you start any ad campaigns. Do you want to get web traffic, social media engagement, or emails? Don’t think in terms of “getting the word out there.” Build a system that pushes people where you want them to go – a sales funnel. Then use your advertising to get people into the sales funnel.

Nuts and bolts of advertising

The most important part of any advertising campaign is the audience. Think about the age, gender, geographic location, and interests of the people you’d like in your sales funnel. You only want to attract people who would ultimately be interested in your product. For example, if you’re creating a fantasy area control game, you could target people in countries that speak the language used in the game and target people whose interests include both “board games” and “fantasy books.”

Most online advertisements have three parts to them: the copy, the image, and a call to action. The copy is simply the text on the advertisement. The image is exactly what it sounds like. The call to action can be a button, a link, a sign-up form, or something else like that. You take out the advertisement with intention of getting people to heed the call to action.

Making great marketing copy takes a lot of trial and error. I often have to try three or four different variations of my copy on simultaneous ad campaigns to see which one performs best. After a couple of dollars in each simultaneous campaign, I go with what performs the best. Some general rules of thumb to follow:

  • Keep it short.
  • Make it clear.
  • Make it exciting, intriguing, or otherwise cool.
  • Experiment until you get it right. Use that data!

Images also take a lot of experimentation to get right. Here are some rules of thumb you can follow when choosing an image:

  • Make sure it is the right size for the ad.
  • Use a high-quality image.
  • Have a clear object in focus.
  • Use contrasting colors.
  • Match the copy to the image.
  • Experiment until you get it right.

The call to action is pretty simple. It needs to be clear like “click here,” “sign-up here,” or it needs to simply be a link. Don’t be overly clever with your call to action.

Advertising and experimentation

I must reiterate how much advertising involves testing. Gather data and keep experimenting until you make the most effective ads you can. If an ad is clearly not performing well, pull it and don’t spend any more money. On Facebook, the direction of an ad is usually clear enough after $5 are spent.

You’ll notice that all this testing has a side benefit. Advertising provides an empirical way to analyze how good your ideas will perform in the market. Advertisements that perform well tend to go alongside games that will perform well. If something inspires people enough to click, it’s more likely to inspire people to buy (provided your game is a good value). This is such an underrated quality in advertising. You can use it to gauge product-market fit as well as build an audience.

Naturally, advertising is no replacement for real human interaction. While it can bootstrap your company quickly, it doesn’t pay to be friendless. You want to get to know people, make some connections, and make some people’s days better. Genuine human connection is a much sought after quality in a noisy digital world. Advertising will help your game sell, but connecting with others will help your game be remembered. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated.

Where to advertise board games

You must first understand the reason for advertising, how to get started, and the importance of experimentation. Once you arrive at that point in your understanding, it’s time to put your new skills to use. The next logical question, then, is “where do I advertise?”

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating that Facebook is the best place to start. You don’t have to put a lot of money into it, you can target very narrowly, and you track success and failure easily. I can personally vouch for Facebook because I used it extensively for the Tasty Humans Kickstarter campaign.

After that, I would recommend Board Game Geek. I cannot personally vouch for it, but I’ve heard pretty consistent good feedback online about it. It makes sense, too. Board Game Geek caters to a highly targeted and engaged audience. It’s not as accessible or cheap as Facebook, though, so I would recommend practicing on Facebook first.

Other ways to advertise board games

You’re not just limited to digital advertising, though. As much as I love digital marketing, I must admit that not everything must be done by Facebook, mailing lists, and social media.

Indeed, you may have success advertising in your local news. Even if they’re not a good place for advertising, the act of contacting your local news may lead to some favorable press coverage for you. The same basic principle applies to local radio, too.

We could go into a discussion about national radio, news, TV, or billboards. But I’ll be direct with you. Board games are an extremely niche item for a clearly defined hobby audience. I advise against using these means to push your games.

Not exactly advertisements, but worth considering

Lastly, I want to mention other forms of outreach as well. People tend to think advertising and outreach are the same things. They’re not, but nevertheless, other forms of outreach in tandem with advertising can form the basis of a very good marketing plan.

Other forms of outreach to look into include:

How much to spend on advertising

Overall marketing costs will vary based on the nature of your campaign as well as your goals. Once you master the basics of marketing and advertising, the amount of money you spend will quickly become a very important factor in your overall return on investment. Generally speaking, more money is more leverage.

To help you learn more, I’ve written an additional post to help you decide how much to spend on advertising.

Final Thoughts

Advertising can be a great way to draw some attention to your game quickly. Used wisely, advertising allows you to spread ideas faster than you can on your own. It can also help you test your ideas with an audience, refining them until you find something that fits with both your vision and others’ willingness to buy.

Have you ever taken out ads for your game or games? How’d it go? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

What to Expect When You’re Making a Board Game: Time, Money, and Effort

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Start to Finish

Over the last four articles of Start to Finish: Publish and Sell Your First Board Game, I’ve talked about a lot of things that are more complicated than you’d think. That includes the unexpected depth of the board game industry as well as the surprising variety of responsibilities which a self-publishing developer must handle. I’ve written about the five levels of communication game developers must master. Lastly, I’ve written about the decision-making criteria that go into choosing to self-publish instead of going through a publisher.

Need help on your board game?
Join my community of over 2,000 game developers, artists, and passionate creators.

One message you might be receiving loud and clear by now is simple. Game development is a lot harder than you’d expect. It takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of hard work – both mental and emotional.

Game development is a lot like juggling when it comes to responsibilities.

Things Have Changed in the Last 3 Years, So Read This First

This interview originally took place during the month of July in 2017. Most of this interview is still extremely relevant to today, though three things have changed in the last three years that I think you should be aware of:

First, the Trump administration introduced some new tariffs as part of the trade negotiations with China. Board games are affected, which drives the price of manufacturing overseas up.

Second, according to the shipping carrier Asendia, “due to last September’s decision at the UPU Extraordinary Congress in Geneva, which allows for a phase-in of self-declared rates beginning in July 2020, the USPS and other foreign postal administrations.” In plain English, it costs more to ship internationally now.

Third, the coronavirus pandemic has caused dramatic disruptions in the global supply chain. This is because a lot of flights and sea shipments had to be canceled on short notice. As a result, the price to ship freight went up. We don’t know yet what the long-term impacts will be.

Long story short: it will more expensive than what you read below.

Setting Expectations for Board Game Development

It’s no accident that you’ve been receiving this message. I’ve programmed it into the undertones of my last four articles. I am consciously working to set your expectations to a reasonable level. This is because I care about you and your well-being. Get a bunch of therapists in a room and you know what they’ll say? Unrealistic expectations make people miserable.

Don’t get me wrong: game development is a lot of fun and totally worth the journey. I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting into. To help me get my point across, I’ve recruited Garret Rempel of Tricorn Games. He’s the developer who created Go Fish Fitness and successfully launched it on Kickstarter in March 2017.

His game was made with standard-issue cards, no special pieces, and was made for children. He handled the project very well. Yet even with all these factors working in his favor, it still took a lot of time and money. We’re going to explore why that is so that you get a clear-eyed look at what you’re committing to.

Garret is a sharp guy and a good game dev. That’s why I hit him up on Discord with the following message:

I’m going to be writing a post soon called “Let’s Set Expectations: Time, Money, Effort.”
It’ll be aimed at letting first-time game devs know what they’re getting into with self-publishing.
Since you successfully funded Go Fish Fitness, would you be interested in working together on this article?
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation over DMs in Discord.

Who is Garret?

Brandon: If you please, go ahead and tell me a little about yourself and Tricorn Games. How long have you been making games? What games have you worked on?

Garret: My name is Garret Rempel, I’m a 34 year old Canadian father of 4. I’m an IT Consultant with a Comp Sci degree from UWaterloo.

Garret: I have been making games all my life, from building and tweaking Amiga Basic examples from a textbook when I was 8, to making Quake2 mods in my teens, to redesigning an all new dynamic version of Axis and Allies with my friends in university. Playing, modifying, and creating games have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.

Garret: However it’s only been in the last year (July 2016) that I decided to try and do something formal with that hobby. I founded Tricorn Games with the aim to craft, publish, and distribute those ideas I had been tinkering with forever. As an official company, I have released…

Garret: Flipped Off! – a card game (print & play) that was primarily a study of implementing a card-flip mechanic (where cards had different effects depending on which side is face-up) that ended up being fun enough to at least make it publicly available.

Garret: Go Fish Fitness – my first Kickstarter print release. It was designed around the concept of creating a version of a simple game that kids were already familiar with, that also incorporates physical activity as part of the game. In Canada, our winters are cold and long and kids can get a bit wild when they are cooped up indoors for long stretches. The goal of GFF was to give them a fun outlet for that energy, and the end result has been received with amazing enthusiasm by our pint-sized participants.

Brandon: A longtime interest in games – that’s super relate-able to me. I feel like a lot of people find their interest in gaming in those tender childhood years, and it seems that the both of us are no exception.

Garret: Playing Marble Madness on my Amiga 500

Brandon: Lots of N64 games and smack in the middle of Pokemon years for me

Brandon: Speaking of childhood years, do you see yourself continuing to make more children’s games or is that more of a one-off thing?

Garret: With 4 kids (ages 8, 5, 2, and 9 months), being able to make and play games with my kids is one of the driving reasons behind doing this officially. I will certainly be making more games aimed at kids of varying ages, as well as games aimed at an older or more sophisticated audience. Of the projects that I have underway, the one furthest along is a fun, lighter game from an adult perspective, but one that could easily include kids in elementary grades.

Brandon: Your house has to be a lively place with kids of those ages!

Garret: And my wife runs a home daycare – you have no idea

Brandon: Sleep must be like a long-forgotten dream by now.

Garret: Nah – all my kids were sleeping through the night by 7 weeks old, it’s less than it used to be but not unmanageable.

How long does board game development take?

Brandon: In regards to your first printed game, Go Fish Fitness, how long did it take you to make it?

Garret: From concept to fulfillment, 10 months…

  • 1 month to finalize the initial design and prototype
  • 2 weeks to contact and come to an agreement with an artist
  • 1 month of vacation (he was on vacation, my wife and I were welcoming our most recent child into the world)
  • 2.5 months to complete and finalize the artwork
  • 1.5 months to prepare the print files, finalize the box art, and print sample production copies
  • 1 month to prepare for the Kickstarter
  • 1 month to run the Kickstarter
  • 1.5 months to manufacture and distribute

Garret: The vast majority of that time was spent planning, coordinating, marketing, and simply waiting. Although it took us 10 months to go from concept to delivery, it could have been done faster – but we were in no hurry to rush it out. We took our time, made sure it was exactly what we wanted it to be, and didn’t worry too much about multitasking, preparing ahead of time for things like the Kickstarter, or being efficient in our processes. That’s the advantage of doing this for fun, we aren’t beholden to dates or deadlines. I was much more interested in learning the parts of the process and getting things right than getting them out the door.

Brandon: Ten months sounds like a pretty good time frame for a game of that weight, size, and complexity to me. In fact, I did a double-take on that manufacture time before I found out you had it done on the same continent instead of way out in China like many campaigns!

Brandon: I’d like to really drill home that time frame point, though. Even if you take out vacation, that’s 9 months – I feel like that’s a surprisingly long time frame to a lot of first time devs.

Garret: Yes, the turn around time for overseas manufacturing would have been 2-3 months easily had I gone that route. But I my case the print run was small enough that I could use a boutique manufacturer locally, since there are basically none that do large scale stuff onshore.

What should you expect the first time?

Brandon: Let’s say I’m a brand new board game dev. Hardly know a thing about making games. I ask you how long it’ll take to publish my first game. What would you tell me?

Garret: Time frames are a tough thing to gauge, a lot depends on how efficient you are, how well you can have parallel streams working, your manufacturers schedule, and how you are going to fund it.

Garret: If we work backwards, let’s assume you are going to run a Kickstarter and manufacture overseas. Budget 4 months for manufacturing, fulfillment, and delivery to your customers using a worst case scenario of 3 months from payment to a manufacturer until the boxes are on your doorstep plus 1 month to pick & pack and mail individual packages to overseas backers.

Garret: Before that is the Kickstarter campaign – assuming the best case scenario of a successful campaign, you are looking at 1 month plus 2 weeks to receive the funds. I strongly recommend having a complete product and manufacturing arrangement in place before even launching that Kickstarter, because the chances of being successful go up dramatically if you do. If you want reviews available when you launch you Kickstarter (I didn’t, but it is highly recommended) you need to have your completed prototypes in a reviewers hands 6-8 weeks before you launch.

Garret: So adding up all that time – you are looking at 7.5 months between the moment that your final gold-copy prototypes arrive at your door, and your backers receive them in your mailbox. This isn’t digital distribution… you need to have patience. Most of that time is in the hands of other people, and there is nothing you can do to speed it up.

Fulfillment for Go Fish Fitness

Garret: The rest of the time you spend, is how much time it takes to develop the game, playtest, produce the artwork, playtest, write the rules, playtest, revise, and prototype. This is the part of the process that is within your ability to control. It requires a ton of work and organization, but the amount of time you spend on it is entirely up to you and how much effort you commit.

Garret: A complex game is obviously going to take a lot more work in this phase than a simple one, but it really depends on your commitment to getting it done.

Garret: The hard part, is recognizing and accepting that even if you power through it and “finish” your game in a month, or you take your time and spend 3 years perfecting it. Once you are finished, it will take nearly 8 more months to get it published.

Brandon: A very sobering thought for new devs.

Brandon: For comparison, the time between me “completing” War Co. as a game and getting it published was about 7-8 months.

Brandon: An unexpected beautiful thing about this is that you can actually run multiple projects in parallel using the downtimes of each project. (Not that I can recommend that in good conscience to newbies.)

Garret: Perhaps – if “publication” is their primary goal. For me, publication is the after-thought. I publish and make my games available for fun. My goal isn’t to make money, it’s simply to make something fun to play. If other people get the opportunity to share in that – great! But 7-8 months wait between finishing and publishing isn’t going to cause me to bat an eye.

Garret: Actually – I highly recommend doing them in parallel. Other projects are idea factories – if you can not worry yourself about how fast you are getting things done, working on other projects can open your eyes to solving problems you have on your primary project. Right now I have 12 projects on the go. Some are just a few lines of an idea, some are in design, others are being prototyped. A number of them will likely never see the light of day, but the simple act of working on them can break new ground and reveal better ideas that will.

Brandon: It’s interesting that you say this because while I record ideas for other games, I tend to work on one thing at a time.

Brandon: This goes to show how personal creative projects are. I figure most creators will slowly find their groove over time, seeing how much they can comfortably do at once.

What is surprising about making board games?

Brandon: Speaking of starting as a game dev…

Brandon: When you first started game development, what surprised you the most?

Garret: It’s a tough question, but I would probably have to say the most surprising part was the repetition required in building components and the amount of effort that took. When you are creating a prototype you can cannibalize parts, sketch out cards, using a random assortment of pieces from other games. But when you need to perfectly craft and align the detail on 50+ unique components that vary in only small ways – that can get tedious. Then having to change each and every component every time you make a revision… that was the surprising part. The sheer amount of repetitive transformation that is required.

Brandon: The amount of iteration that goes into making a game can be jarring.

Brandon: This is one of the reasons I like using digital prototypes: Find/Replace and regex operations to change a bunch of stuff at once. But that can only go so far.

Garret: Especially when you are used to playing with friends where a rough prototype is more than good enough.

The cost of game development

Brandon: Harder question.

Brandon: If I asked you how much it cost to make a game, what would you tell me? What sort of questions would you ask?

Garret: Go Fish Fitness cost me $2,845.49 to make not including my own time (which I am treating as free) and most of those costs would scale linearly. My key questions would be – what components are you using, how much artwork do you need to commission (vs doing yourself), and where are you going to have it manufactured? Those three are the biggest variables in cost per unit, and the number of copies you are going to manufacture is going to be the single biggest cost that you are going to incur.

Brandon: I agree that the three biggest determinants of game cost are physical components, artwork needs, and manufacturing.

Brandon: As far as games go, yours is close to the simplest possible in terms of materials and it still cost in the thousands. That’s important for people to realize, because manufacturing often depends on MOQs – minimum order quantities in the hundreds. Smallest print run most places will do is around 500 games, and that’s pushing it. This is not even factoring in shipping to customers or taxes.

Brandon: War Co., by comparison, was around $20,000 to create and print and it’s a card game based on six decks. It had an enormous art demand, but the lion’s share of that cost was manufacturing (covered by Kickstarter). My personal investment was about $8,000, all of which I’ve gotten back in either cash or at-cost inventory. I was really aggressive about control costs, too. It could have easily been far worse – especially on art.

War Co. Fulfillment

Brandon: If I asked you how much effort I’d have to put in, what would you say? What sort of sacrifices would I have to make, if any?

Garret: I would say that you get out of it what you put into it. I enjoyed the work that I was doing to make a game, so it doesn’t feel like there was a great deal of effort involved. The most “work” work was researching and setting up the supply chain – which was entirely new to me and so involved the most uncertainty.

Garret: Sure there is a lot of effort involved overall, you have to put in the time to make your game the way you want – but I wouldn’t say I sacrificed anything except maybe some TV watching and computer game playing to do it. I really am doing this for the fun of it, so trading one hobby for another isn’t giving anything up. Of course you can give things up if you want to try and make a living out of this kind of work, but I am not, nor am I willing to sacrifice time with my wife and kids to do it. I work on it when I can, and I am happy with the results from that level of involvement.

Garret: I think it’s more important to set realistic expectations of what you are willing to do, and what you will be able to do with that level of commitment – measure your progress as you work, and either adjust your expectations or your work habits to match. In the end, it’s a matter of being happy with accomplishing what you can with what you have.

Brandon: The time commitment can be shocking, but it’s honestly worth every hour I’ve put in. Sounds like you feel the same.

Brandon: Agreed on the supply chain, too. That’s a bear the first time around.

What would Garret do differently?

Brandon: Okay, so one more question.

Brandon: Is there anything you’d like to go back and time and tell yourself before you created Go Fish Fitness?

Garret: Work more on building a social following and media/reviews before launching a Kickstarter, and do more media and update prep ahead of time. Really, building the game was a fantastic process – but setting up, running, and succeeding at Kickstarter – no matter how much you read about it ahead of time – you won’t really know what it’s like until you do it once. I did a lot of prep work and a lot of things right on my KS, and I still fell down on half a dozen other facets of the process that could have made it a lot more successful.

Garret: Fortunately in that regard, I knew to set my targets small and work towards a level I knew I could achieve with the intention of using GFF as my test project so that I could learn the ins and out of Kickstarter. And I gained a great deal of valuable experience in that field as a result, which went exactly according to plan. Next time I will be aiming higher and I will have the tools I need to hopefully be successful at it a second time.

Brandon: So much of Kickstarter success depends upon business skills that go beyond the purview of simple game design. As you hinted at with social media and reviews, an enormous part of the business challenge that comes along with self-publishing and crowdfunding depends upon your ability to effectively reach out to people who are interested. I cannot emphasize this enough. There are so many people who care out there, but they won’t run to you. I have a long list of things I’d do differently. My biggest area I’d change though is a variation of yours. I had a big social media following. I wish I’d had a deeper one at the time. A real community and not just a bunch of followers.

Brandon: Thank you for working with my on this guest post! It’s been a pleasure and I wish you lots of luck on your next game!

Garret: Happy to help, and thank you!