Board Game Fulfillment & Why it Matters on Day 1 of Game Development

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Board game fulfillment is really complex. In fact, fulfillment often determines how big games are and how many components can be included. Many game developers think about fulfillment only after their project is complete – and you can certainly get away with it! But today, this guest post by Michael of Fulfillrite will explain why you should think about board game fulfillment on day 1 on game development.

If you’re unfamiliar with the basic concepts of fulfillment, go ahead and take a few minutes to read other articles on the subject I’ve done:

Anyway, that’s enough out of me! Over to you, Michael…

 

your-game-fulfillment

 

For all you boardgame developers, you know how much creativity and hard work is involved with getting started. From scribbling your ideas onto the proverbial napkin, to actually crafting prototypes, play-testing, redoing it all, and finally getting your game to reviewers, there is no shortage of details and learning curves. You rely on amazing communities like this one to educate, encourage, and inspire.

Once your game is finally in the manufacturing stage, whether you got there through crowdfunding campaigns like Kickstarter, or for the brave, through out-of-pocket investment, many creators rely on publishers to handle, or at least guide them, through the rest of the process. But aye, there’s the rub. “The Rest of the Process” is all about logistics, freight, customs, tariffs, shipping storage, and ultimately, fulfillment. These are not the terms that lit the fire that got you into boardgame development. In fact, they can make your eyes gloss over, and have you reaching for some Rolaids.

If you’ve read this far, it probably means you are an optimistic person, who is hoping this article will solve this problem for you and lead you straight through Logistics Confusion, and on to Tabletop Nirvana.

So, good news and bad news. The bad news is you are going to have to get educated and spend some time involved in an area of development you might not have wanted to. The good news is that this article will cut through the underbrush, machete-style, and focus on giving you the education you need to make the best decisions for successful game fulfillment.

So let’s dive right in.

 

Q: Who are you, and why should I trust you? And what have you done with Brandon?

A: I’m Michael, and I work at Fulfillrite, an order fulfillment company that has worked with Kickstarter for years, especially in the tabletop arena. We have fulfilled hundreds of boardgame projects for one-time and serial game publishers. We got into this business because of the passion and creativity of the creators we work with, and have built a business model that is all about the success of each individual project.

Brandon is fine. He is an old colleague of our CEO, Charlie Brieger, and has collaborated with us in the past. He will be returned to you unharmed. Promise.

 

Q: As a boardgame developer, when should I start thinking about fulfillment?

A: Before you think you should. When you are sketching out your early ideas for the physical game, thinking about fulfillment is already important.

 

Q: Why so early?

A: The simple answer is money. Ultimately, for your game to be a success, it will have to be lucrative. And, what many folks don’t realize is that aside from the actual manufacturing of the game, the supply chain logistics – freight & customs, storage, pick & pack, and, most importantly postage – will be the single greatest expense in the entire process. For example, when doing a basic profit analysis, lots of developers will approach it like this:

 

SALE PRICE

 –  COSTS (in order: manufacturing, art and design, marketing, misc.)

PROFITS minus a small amount for shipping and fulfillment.

 

In actuality, the calculation looks more like this:

 

SALE PRICE

–  COSTS    (in order: manufacturing, fulfillment, art and design, marketing, misc.)

PROFITS

 

Q: Ok, I understand that the costs of fulfillment are high. How can thinking about it early help?

A: Good question. The more you know about which particular factors affect the fulfillment costs, the more actions you can take early on to create, market, and sell your game for maximum profits, and lowest fulfillment expenses.

 

Q: For example?

A: To start with, we’ll use the single biggest cost factor in fulfillment: postage fees. And the most important aspect of postage costs are the size and weight of the game. The smaller and lighter your game is, the lower your costs will be to ship. Now, while you are developing the look, feel, and physical properties of the game, understanding this fact can change what you create and how it is presented. Using a smaller board, lighter weight pieces, and fewer cards will allow you to ship the game for less. Mentioning your concern about economical shipping to your game manufacturer will give them an indication of which options to offer, and how you would like the game put together.

 

Q: So, lighter is better. But my game needs a larger board. And the cut-outs, meeples, and other inclusions simply need to be sturdier. Is there nothing I can do then?

A: You don’t want to compromise on the playing experience, and the right materials and size of the board are important. Still, there’s a lot you can do. There are fillers and trays that can be reduced or eliminated which won’t affect the playing, but which do take up a lot of space and volume. Sometimes there are more expensive and luxurious options like titanium meeples, which you opt out of because they cost more, but are in fact much lighter and cheaper to ship. Instruction booklets in their own compartment and extra packaging may feel like a nice, inexpensive touch, but when you factor size and weight, they might be a bigger expense than you think.

 

Q: You keep mentioning size. Aside from the weight, how does that factor in?

A: When carriers decide how much a package will cost to ship, they use a calculation commonly called “dimensional weight.” This is how they are able to charge you for more than just the absolute weight, but for how much “real estate” your parcel takes up in their trucks and facilities. Each carrier has their own version of the formula, but for now, just keep in mind that the larger the actual package is, the more you are likely to pay. The good news is that there are things you can do to lighten the dimensional footprint without changing anything about the boardgame experience. Fillers, trays, and the way the components are packed can be optimized for a smaller size boardgame.

 

Q: How much more is shipping, say, per ounce, or per centimeter?

A: I wish there were a simple answer to that question. It is more about which shipping tier the item fits into than an ounce here or there. For example, for an item to fit into a first class USPS postage, it needs to be less than 16 ounces. The difference between 15 ounces and 16 ounces is far greater than the difference between 10 ounces and 15 ounces. The same is true with sizes. There are certain limitations to less expensive shipping methods, after which the shipping becomes much more expensive.

Let’s say you mentioned the size of your board. Once you are somewhat familiar with the size limitations for all three dimensions, as well as the weight, you can actually have the same product produced, but since it is configured differently, you can fit it into a less expensive overall package, meaning a less expensive shipping method. A board folded into four or six sections might be a whole lot better when it comes to shipping than the same board folded in half.

 

Q: Wow. I can’t possibly know how all the sizes, weights, configurations go together and what the shipping costs will be. Nor am I about to learn them all, frankly. What do I do?

A: Don’t panic. We’re here to help. And by “we,” I mean the people in the fulfillment industry. Get in touch with a great fulfillment center early and tell them about your project. Give them some basic weights and sizes around which you can create a game. Also, reach out to your manufacturer and find out what the standard size game boxes are so you can inform your fulfillment partners. They will help you understand where the various cut off points are for the choices you are considering. We at Fulfillrite, for example, work closely with game manufacturers when they are putting together games so that the game is produced with shipping optimization in mind.

 


 

As you can see, board game fulfillment is pretty complex. You have to consider factors such as size, weight, and cost without letting your product quality slip. It’s a tough balancing act!

By thinking about board game fulfillment early, your business is in a much better position to succeed. And of course, if you need help, you can always turn to Fulfillrite.

 

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4 Lessons from Azul for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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Azul has taken the board game world by storm. Like Sagrada, it’s a gorgeous and approachable puzzle game with emergent complexity that becomes ever more apparent with more plays. It has received accolades far and wide, impressively breaking into the Board Game Geek Top 50 and securing a spot as one of five 2018 Mensa Select winners. It’s also, somehow, always trending on social media and Board Game Geek. Clearly, Plan B Games is doing something right, so let’s talk about that!

 

Azul Board Game
Photo by PZS69, posted to Board Game Geek under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

 

In Azul, 2 to 4 players will collect tiles and tile their 5×5 grid in a way that allows them to get the most points. Once a player completes an entire row on their board, the game concludes. Players take turns drawing from factory tiles in the middle. Like in Sagrada, you usually are looking out for your own interests, but you are also given the opportunity to block others when doing this.

After drawing tiles, you have to place all of them on your board. Since there are restrictions on how you do that, any waste goes to the “floor”, which will earn you negative victory points. The way that you place tiles determines how many points you earn. The exact way this is scored is more complex than we need to go into for the sake of discussion here.

Long story short, it’s abstract tile placement par excellence.

 

1. Creating a great tactile experience like Azul is so important.

Clack! That’s the satisfying sound that the Starburst-colored Azul tiles make when they hit the table. They’re weighty and made of nice plastic, making people envious when just looking at them online.

Board gamers love the physical experience of games. That is, after all, one of the things that makes board games a good alternative to video games. While independent board game publishers often have a tough time affording the nicest materials, we can all learn a few lessons from the way Azul handled its physical presence.

Notice how the boards you place your tiles on are relatively spartan. You don’t touch these so often, so they don’t have to be the nicest materials. The one part that truly matters – the tiles which you touch frequently through the course of the game – have physical weight and smoothness to them. Azul shows us, in practice, how to optimize physical game experience around manufacturing costs.

 

2. You don’t need incredible art to make a gorgeous game.

Art is one of the key selling points of modern hobby board games. This little chestnut has been upheld as one of the key success factors in modern board game Kickstarter campaigns, including on this very blog. Yet Azul is remarkable because it doesn’t have much art. Sure, it has cover art, but that’s about it. All the rest is graphic design.

Saying that Azul is dependent upon graphic design might sound like I’m splitting hairs, but hear me out. Graphic design, unlike art, is specifically focused on conveying a specific message to a specific audience. Graphic design is art’s utilitarian cousin. The tiles and boards in Azul feel gorgeous and distinct, but they are really just simple – if pretty – geometric patterns.

With hardly any art, Azul has been photographed and shared more than just about any other game I’ve ever seen. It feels like I’ve seen more photos of Azul than I have of, say, Gloomhaven. People love sharp, contrasting colors that catch their attention. They love even more that you can look at them for longer and see lines and curves, curlicues, and ornamentation. The combination of bright colors drawing people in to stay and look at baroque levels of detail is perfectly in tune with the Instagram age.

This is truly remarkable. Art is one of the biggest costs associated with board gaming, and Azul shows a viable way to cut that cost without compromising experience.

 

3. Get the chores done quickly – simple rules, fast set-up, fast gameplay.

Azul is not a complicated game. Like other modern abstract strategy games along the lines of SantoriniSagrada, and Photosynthesis, it’s easy to explain. On top of that, I think Azul has still another edge. It’s just a little faster to set up than any of the others I mentioned, especially Photosynthesis. For a game so defined by its components – its tactile experience – Azul takes remarkably little time to set up.

In my opinion, the 2 or 3 minutes less it takes to set up Azul as opposed to other games of a similar weight is part of what keeps getting this game on the table. Every single barrier you introduce that makes starting a game harder makes it a little less attractive. Azul comes with about the smallest possible amount of “chores.” In fact, the only modern hobby board game of a similar strategic level I can think of at this moment that has less set up than Azul is Onitama.

 

4. Let the complexity gradually become more apparent.

Azul isn’t simply pretty and learnable. The game is a good deal more complex than it initially lets on. This is the “emergent complexity” which I’d mentioned in the opening paragraph. Yes, the tile placement allows for players to minmax on a micro scale early on. You don’t pay attention to others much when you first play Azul, and that’s fine, because you’re learning the basics of the game.

Once you get the basic strategy of Azul down, though, you realize that there are subtle elements of “take that” that went unnoticed initially. You realize you can force players to pick tiles they can’t use. On top of that, you realize that you can force other players to place tiles in the negative point section at the bottom of their board. Your actions affect others.

Granted, it’s not like your actions can screw others over every single time so as to rob them of the ability to make meaningful choices. Instead, the game hits this perfect happy medium of “you happening to the game” and “the game happening to you” once all players understand how their actions affect others.

 


 

Azul is a great board game with a fantastic physical presence. No longer does the premium tactile experience of board gaming have to be limited to games with minis. Azul takes that experience and brings it to a gateway game with real, lasting strategic weight.

For those of you who are fans of Azul, what else can we learn from this game to become better designers?

4 Lessons from Ticket to Ride for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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Ticket to Ride came out in 2004. Along with games like Catan and PandemicTicket to Ride helped turn board gaming into the juggernaut of a hobby that we know and love today. It’s for good reason, too. It’s an elegant game that can be learned very quickly. It scales well at low and high player counts. On top of that, the experience for beginners and the experience for advanced players are different enough to keep the game engaging even as you learn more about it. For these reasons and more, we’re going to dive into Ticket to Ride and talk about what new board game designers can learn from this 15-year-old game.

 

Ticket to Ride
Photo by garyjames. CC BY-SA 3.0. (Source)

 

Ticket to Ride is all about connecting railways across North America. The longer your routes, the more points you get on the board. You also get points from meeting the conditions on Destination Tickets, which connect distant cities and for making the longest continuous route. It’s very straightforward, but you’re constantly balancing different decisions, which keeps it fresh and engaging.

 

1. Scale well to different player counts.

Ticket to Ride can be played just as easily by two as it can by five players. Most games have a pretty defined sweet spot – Ticket to Ride being four players – but often fall apart at low player counts or high player counts. Ticket to Ride simply doesn’t. The framework is simple enough to apply to different player counts without substantially changing rules. This is really valuable because a lot of classic games that came before it had kludgy solutions to try to make low and high player counts work. For games that did this, these “solutions” damaged the overall fun of the game.

 

2. Create with expansions in mind.

At the time Ticket to Ride was created, expansions and alternate versions were not a particularly large part of the nascent board game community. Granted, games like Trivial Pursuit already had a billion editions, but Ticket to Ride wasn’t like Trivial Pursuit. It was a hobby game.

Because the framework behind Ticket to Ride is so simple, it became very easy to make alternate versions. That’s why we have Ticket to Ride: EuropeTicket to Ride: GermanyTicket to Ride: New YorkTicket to Ride: Rails & SailsTicket to Ride: Nordic Countries, and more. There are also expansions both formal and fan-made because the system is so straightforward. Change the cities, change the routes, draw some new lines, swap out Destination Cards. Voila! brand new game with a new strategy based on the quirks of the map.

For better or worse, variations and expansions are part of the board game landscape today. If you’re looking to start your own intellectual property that will last far beyond a single game release, Ticket to Ride is an excellent model to look at for inspiration.

 

3. Allow for different levels of strategy.

When you first play Ticket to Ride, it seems simple. All you have to do is connect railways to score points. Meanwhile, cutthroat super-competitors are blocking each others’ railway connections, packing their hands for surprise assaults on the map, and trying to hide their moves so their competition won’t catch on. There are scores of articles on Ticket to Ride strategy, which is incredible when you consider that the game has a complexity rating of 1.87 / 5 on Board Game Geek. Clearly, there is more to it than meets the eye on the first play.

As a game designer, this is one of the ultimate objectives of creating a board game. You want a game that works on multiple different levels and stays fresh for a long time. In order to get to that point, you need complexity to come from the interactions between elements of the game instead of the rules. Then you also need to play-test a ton just to make sure that different strategic options are viable. You always want there to be more than one path to victory.

 

4. Force players to make difficult decisions.

Naive new players don’t often feel the burn of Ticket to Ride decision making, but veterans sure do. Alan R. Moon, the creator of Ticket to Ride, put it this way: “the tension comes from being forced to balance greed – adding more cards to your hand, and fear – losing a critical route to a competitor.” There is no strategy that is always right. While you will be making strategic moves on a grand scale throughout the game, you will constantly have to switch up your tactics based on what the board looks like. If your competitors are moving slowly, you have more leniency to be greedy. If your competitors are moving quickly, you have to constantly sweat the risk of getting your rail connections poached.

Furthermore, there is the question of where you want your victory points to come from. You can connect cities for points, establish routes for points, but also get points for making the longest route. You’ll need to mix and match, to be sure, but one of these will ultimately wind up being the linchpin in your strategy. You want to be able to pursue goals, but build yourself an out in case you have to switch quickly when you find your opponent is pursuing the same goal! It gets very heady, very quickly.

As a board game designer, you want people to feel like their choices matter. Ticket to Ride is excellent at doing this, mostly because the decisions are difficult ones with real consequences. Games need stakes to be satisfying. You need, at least sometimes, to make people feel like opening a door closes another.

 


 

 

Ticket to Ride has become successful and stayed relevant for many of the reasons I’ve listed above. It’s outlasted thousands of other games. By seeking insight from the game, we can become better designers capable of creating evergreen masterpieces 🙂