Welcome back! This is part two of a four-part blog series on how to turn your delicious booze game, adult party game, or any board game, from an idea in your head into a product you can give to the world. We’ve broken it into ten steps. Part one covered the first four steps: inventing, prototyping, testing, and designing your game. Read that here.
In Part Two below, we’ll talk manufacturing and get down to the nitty gritty of prepping for and finding companies to print your game. Coming soon in part three, we’ll drop a standalone post discussing the legal side of making a board game (or the world's best drinking game, as the case may be), and then finally in part four we’ll walk you through getting the product to your customers, which means logistics, fulfillment, and marketing.
We’ll jump back in below at step five which will cover the printing details and specs you’ll need to get your head around, and then step six will talk about identifying and choosing a manufacturer. No way around it, this is going to be dense and it is going to be longggg. If it’s your first time making a game or a drinking game, there’s a lot to absorb. Read on, search for the titles and bits you need, and someday, when we’re not technological potatoes, we’ll be able to link to different sections on the same page up to here. Everyone can dream.
Note that we’ll use printer and manufacturer interchangeably, as essentially, you’ll be working with a print manufacturer. Apologies for any confusion.
So, without further ado let’s cannonball back into it!
Step 5: Know Your Details and Specs (Roughly)
You’ve got your big sexy board (or booze) game essentially finished, you’ve got your design rockin’ and rollin’. Before you go to a manufacturer it’s worth familiarising yourself with most of the details they will ask you for, and to have a reasonably good idea of what you’ll go with. These details can be changed later if necessary, and you’ll want to work with your manufacturer to make sure everything fits and works... so don’t stress too much.
Large parts of these steps can be figured out at the same time. However, it’s worth being at least vaguely across everything you’ll eventually need to know from the start, so you can be somewhat prepared for the details they will ask for and the details or options you may need to ask them for.
There’s a lot to get your head around here, so hold on. We’ll break it into five parts: a. components, b. materials, c. finish, d. sizing, and e. file prep
This is everything that is included in your game. Our game has 450 cards, a box, a plastic tray insert (to hold the cards), and an instructions booklet. Our box and each individual deck of cards is shrink wrapped. Each component will be an added cost, some larger and some smaller. Extra components like dice, figurines, game boards and all that extra stuff aren’t our area of experience, but if your wonderful game includes them then you’ll need to know exactly what you want.
You will have options. You will be able to get quotes on those poptions. For example, you can get simple cardboard dividers instead of a tray, or cardboard trays too. You can opt for brochure or fold out style instructions if that suits you better. So on and so on. More on this in materials.
The move here for components is to more or less decide what you might like, but then ask the manufacturers what options they offer and compare them by price, quality, feel, style, etc… which brings us to your next consideration...
Pictured: all components of The BoozeGames. 1x 2 piece box, 1x plastic tray with 9 slots, 9x card decks of 50 cards (shrink wrapped), and a 18 page instructions booklet. The whole box containing everything was initially shrink wrapped.
By materials I’m referring to what your components are made out of. Again, you can get quotes for many options (and you should), but eventually you’ll need to choose.
Let’s start with cards… We could have a whole blog post by itself about cards. Holy smokes. There are multiple things to understand. Fasten your seatbelt... it’s headache time.
Cardstock (what cards are made out of) is measured in GSM. This stands for grams per square metre. The higher the number, the thicker and heavier your cardstock. Higher cardstock means higher quality and strength, but it will also cost you more. In our opinion, 300gsm should be fine unless you’re working with casino level handling of your cards. In our experience, most manufacturers had options ranging from around 280-330gsm, as well as plastic cards.
If you’re considering plastic cards, bear in mind this is generally a larger added cost, and they can be annoying to handle (shuffling plastic cards? Super annoying). Likely, it's probably not worth going with a plastic option unless you only have a few cards, and those few cards will be getting wet. That or you’re making a children’s game.
Now, the actual material on the inside of the card is primarily what determines its bend and flexibility, as well as its recovery (whether it returns to normal shape). This will generally correspond to different GSMs, and always corresponds to the colour of the material on the inside of the card. Depending on the manufacturer, you will see several options. Ivory, black, blue, white, and grey core were just some of the options we saw. The darker the material inside, the more difficult the cards are to see through and the sturdier they are. There actually didn’t seem to be a universal set of options from manufacturers during our process, except that they all included a choice for black core. Which, yes, was confusing.
An example of black core and blue core cardstock. Image sourced from makeplayingcards.com
Remember, if you want individual decks of cards shrink wrapped or packaged in a certain way, know that and ask for it.
Again, our suggestion would be to speak with each manufacturer then compare costs and pros and cons between all the options they give you. Normally, they can and will also send you some sample cards, so you can fiddle around and pick what you think is best. At the end of the day, you’ll probably be fine with a 300gsm bluecore or 300gsm greycore cards in our opinion. But don’t take our word for it, do your own research. To get you started here’s a couple more resources on cards:
Anatomy of a Card & How Playing Cards are Made
Cards, check. Moving on.
You’ll also need to consider the material for your game box, for your instructions, and for any other components like trays, game boards, dice, figurines, etc etc.
Most game boxes and game boards will be chipboard, simple as that. We can’t speak for game boards, but for your box make sure it’s at least 1.5mm thick, but probably more like 1.75-2mm thick. You do NOT want it to squash easily. Remember to get it shrink wrapped (they'll likely do this automatically but certainly worth confirming), because this will help with scratches and smudges and the like during transport.
With regard to your instructions booklet, you’ll be looking at GSMs, just like cards. However, logically, they’ll be much lower, because reading a booklet made of cardboard is as effective as my sexual prowess after 25 drinks. But I digress. Speak with your manufacturer about options. For reference, typical office paper is generally around 90gsm, which will probably be more than enough. If in doubt, print some test papers using different GSMs at your local print store :)
You will also have options when it comes to trays, and different manufacturers may have different possibilities. Cardboard trays will be cheaper, but obviously a different look and quality. Simple carboard dividers (assuming your game is mostly cards) are your cheapest option, and will also reduce the size of the box. Essentially, this is all up to you on how you’d like your game to present, handle, and function. We went with a black plastic tray because we could do it, it didn’t greatly add cost, is effective, and goddayum it looks nice.
Finally, we should mention materials for any other components…. Wait. Psyche. For this, look elsewhere. We’re not the miniatures or dice experts and don’t have enough experience there to help you much there yet, sorry!!! Brandon the Game Dev has great resources on everything, you could check him out!
Finish: this refers to the finish (read: varnish) on at minimum your cards, game box, and instructions paper. This depends a lot on your preference for look, but also to a certain extent on what you desire for feel and durability. The main sorts of finishes you’ll likely encounter will be gloss, matte, satin, and linen.
Gloss is the standard and has the most sheen. If you think about the shiny game boxes you see most commonly, this is that. Think something like Cards Against Humanity. It’s normally the cheapest option, and a very solid choice - we used a basic gloss finish on all our cards and instructions, and they came out great. They weren’t too shiny at all, which we were worried about.
Matte is, shockingly, a matte finish. Personally, this is what we used for our game box. Matte is the duller colour without the shine, and great for large areas of dark colours. It has more of a muted feel.
Satin is essentially somewhere in between gloss and matte. It’s a smooth, semi-gloss finish and will give you the perfect in between. We considered a satin finish on our cards, but in the end settled on gloss because of the slightly cheaper cost and mostly similar appearance.
Linen finish is made by pressing a certain pattern into the card. It helps with handling and grip. For linen finish, generally you’ll need to use a higher quality card. This is what you feel on most casino cards and is that criss-cross pattern you can see on them. Linen will add a fair amount of cost for you, so weight this one up carefully before proceeding.
There are normally other options you might want to consider as well like pearl, plastic or even occasionally metallic. However, these won’t be done by all manufacturers and will greatly increase your costs, so unless it’s for only a few cards per game, these options probably aren’t worth it for most of us. Anyway, if you want to absolutely go off the deep end looking at all possible paper finishes, check this resource out here https://blog.thepapermillstore.com/ultimate-guide-card-stock/part-3-paper-finishes-colors/
A NOTE ON METALLIC ASPECTS: Personally, we were very set on wanting all gold aspects of our game to be metallic. We wanted some the logo and all gold text to be.. well, gold. Shiny. Nice. We had quite the journey to getting this done. Expect this to be a bit finnicky if you go for this, and expect yourself to have to check prototypes thoroughly. Anyway. If it’s specific colours you want done metallic, you’ll probably have two options: oil ink, and foil stamping.
Foil stamping is the super shiny metallic look that might first come to your mind. However, that requires a whole new machine to be set up and is expensive to the manufacturer, and thus expensive to you. It was untenable for us. The metallic oil ink we went with was an added cost, but not actually too bad. In the end we actually think it worked out great for us with a bit more of a muted, badass, adult game box and cards than we would have produced otherwise.
On the left you can see the metallic gold ink option that we chose for how game (and how it comes out on paper). On the right is an example of some foil that would be stamped on if you chose that option. The foil comes out much shinier.
You’ll eventually need to know exactly how big everything is. However, don’t fear if you’re like us and you don’t know exactly what size everything will be beforehand because you’re not sure how big your tray is or how thick your cards are! In our experience, the manufacturers on our shortlist were very helpful in helping us sort out all the details of our plastic tray size, game box size, and possible instructions size after hearing what we proposed. We simply said we had nine decks of 50 cards and needed a plastic tray with 9 slots and a box to fit all of that, and they went to their engineers and helped us figure out the rest.
Once you have an approximation from one company, you can use that when you’re going to the next companies and seem a bit more professional with your estimation. Nice. Remember though, there’ll probably be variation between manufacturers anyway due to different machinery and engineers. You’ll also need to consider options like whether you want two rows of slots or one row if you have a tray with multiple card slots.
Pictured: three of the tray options we were given for The BoozeGames
Pro tip: generally, it’s best to get your game box to be as efficient with space as it can be because this can affect your back-end logistics costs, storage costs, and fulfillment costs.
Regarding cards, your size options are varied. Generally, you’ll probably have a few traditional options. Poker size (63.5x88mm), bridge size (56x88mm), and square or mini size (size variable – check with your manufacturer). You will also have the option to do custom sized cards if you desire though as with everything this will likely incur added cost. I would strongly suggest card size this is something you consider quite early on as it will effect the design and layout of everything when working with your graphic designer to finalise cards!
We didn’t overthink it and went with normal poker playing card sizing, and a vertical instructions booklet as wide as we could for our reasonably narrow box. We like it.
5.5 File Prep
Everything, all of the above, is working towards getting your actual files prepped and ready for the industrial printer. The exact nature of this may vary printer to printer because your different print manufacturers may have different requirements. By the time you get to this final file prep though we are assuming you will have come to terms with the manufacturer of your dreams (more on that in step six – remember I said there was overlap). Regardless, there are a few basic tips that will be universal and it’s good to know them now. To save this word count from getting to the millions, we won’t explain the why too much here and just give you the info. Check it all out using google or on forums if you want to know more.
Some basic rules for file prep:
- Always use CMYK instead of RGB colours
- Always use rich black instead of true black.
- Always use 300 DPI resolution or higher.
- Always respect the bleed, trim, and safe zones (your manufacturers should help you with templates for this). This is important.
- Your card files will generally be one page for the front of each card, one page for the back. So, if for example you have a deck of 50 cards, you’ll need one file of 50 pages of fronts, and a corresponding file of the 50 pages of the backs. Communicate clearly with your manufacturer and graphic designer about this.
- If you're printing an instructions booklet you'll need an even number of pages. Talk to your printer about how they need the files prepped if you are printing this, so you don't shoot yourself in the foot and print it back to front, out of order, or anything like that.
Your designer should pretty much know what all of this refers to. They’ll also be able to do the single page card files to your card size specifications, and so on. Here is another great extra resource you should check out if you want more info on this aspect.
Above: a demo of one of our cards taken directly from our printing files. You can see the die cuts and bleeds.
Ok. Breathe out. That was a lot of info all at once. We’re trying to make this a giant cheat sheet. Key word, giant. Just kidding, there's just tons of shit to get through.
Let’s move on to finding a partner to print with.
Step 6: Go Find a Manufacturer
The game is coming together. You know roughly what you may need regarding all your components and specs. Now you need to talk about the details and get the damn thing made. Time to find a manufacturer!
Firstly, let’s call it like it is. The fact of the matter is that unless you’re mass-producing minimum 5-10k copies (which means you’re already an established game with a large audience, or you're running an epic kickstarter) you’re probably going to have to print in China, or potentially in India. It’s going to be the only financially feasible option when you consider your landed cost (how much it actually costs you to get the game made and to it's sales point). We did our due diligence, a ton of research, and took quotes from everywhere (you should too), but still, in the end we settled with a Chinese manufacturer. We later changed to a different Chinese manufacturer (more on that soon) and had great overall experience… though not without obstacles of course.
Anyway, with manufacturing and picking a foreign manufacturer, there’s three main concerns you should have: quality, communication, and cost.
Quality. Do your research online for this one, plain and simple. Blogs, forums, reviews, checking out other games they’ve made and those games’ quality reviews. Get your hands on everything you can dig out from the depths of google. Consider the quality of their facilities too. For example, Asia is hot and wet. Chipboard and other game elements can warp and be spoiled if they aren’t stored in correct conditions. Do. Your. Research.
Communication. How good is their English? Will they be able to understand what you want and execute? How long does it take them to reply to your e-mails? How open and honest are they? Can you speak with some of their other clients about them? Try to find reviews online.
Cost. Duh! Obvious one. Huge one. A word from the wise here: in our experience, if you negotiate well, you will normally settle on a lower price than what you’re first offered ;). Get quotes from everyone.
Just a quick FYI on payment: In general, if it’s your first print run and first time dealing with a manufacturer, your payment terms will likely be half the cost paid before manufacturing, and half paid upon successful completion. If you ever get super successful you can negotiate things like Net-30 (or better) terms wherein you pay the invoice within 30 days of the invoice date, but you’re not going to get that unless you really blow up and become a consistent customer for them.
Look. I know it seems like a lot. These last two sections are long AF. But one thing at a time… If us drunk idiots could figure all this out, you can too. Do your own research. Start by googling “best board game manufacturers.” Browse blogs, forums, everything. There used to be a great resource from the late great James Mathe on this, where he broke down all the manufacturers and gave them rankings, but his blog appears to be taken down. Which sucks for us all. Why do I mention this? Because he was awesome and deserves a shoutout. Anyway. Here is another source with a complete list but without the ratings.
“OK STFU BOOZEDADDY WE'RE HERE BECAUSE YOU DID THE WORK ALREADY. Just tell us where to go!” Fine!!
In the end, we narrowed it down to BangWee (China), LongPack (China), WinGo (China), PandaGM (China but with a Canadian intermediary office), Cartamundi (EU), and Ace Card Company (India).
We went with BangWee, they had the best combo of everything for us at that time. We’re super happy with BangWee and will continue to work with them in the future assuming everything goes well. If you have a high budget and want the highest level of assistance and quality, perhaps consider PandaGM.
That’s all for now. Remember, for part one of this series, go here. For more information on the world’s craziest drinking game and the unofficial beerlympics, go here.
Much love, see you soon with parts four and five!