But Wait, There’s More…Waiting…?

IMG_1271News just broke today that our new game, But Wait There’s More will not make it in time for Christmas! So if you’ve been thinking that would make the perfect Christmas present for pretty much everyone on your list – well, you’d be right – but you’re going to have to wait until next year before you can give it to them!

Apparently China was having a tough time finding 30-second timers and that held up production. This puts us back a few weeks for delivery to all the Kickstarter backers and a few more weeks to retail stores. But this gives us something to spend all our Christmas money presents on right? Right?!

-Jay Cormier

Step 31: Get to Know Other Designers

<caveat – this probably should be somewhere near Step 12, and will be ret-conned in later!>

As a game designer, I have found it extremely helpful to surround myself not only with great playtesters, but also other game designers. Initially many people think that you might not want to talk to other game designers about your unpublished games because they could steal your ideas. I have never thought this was an issue, mostly because everyone and their brother has a dozen ideas for their own board games. The ideas aren’t what’s lacking. What’s lacking is the ability, and often the experience and knowledge of how to get a game to market. This is where fellow game designers can be a big boon to you.

I belong to a group called the Game Artisans of Canada. This group was founded in 2008 by a few game designers with an interest in sharing stories and experiences in an effort to help each other get their games to the market. Many of the GAC members have games published already, including Rob Bartel with Two by Two, Sean Ross with Haggis and Matt Tolman with Undermining – to name but a few. There are different chapters across Canada which each meet up on a regular basis for play testing. In addition to this, they have an online forum which everyone across Canada can ask questions, share playtest sessions or debate game design philosophies. There’s a whole process to become a Game Artisan, which involves a trial period as a Journeyman and a lot of mentorship from your local chapter.

Attendees of Cardstock 2011! Look at all that brainpower!

In addition to our chapter meet ups and the online forum, GAC has an annual get together called Cardstock. This is heaven for game designers. 20 or so designers meet up and playtest each other’s’ prototypes over a long weekend! This year it was in Calgary and many of us flew in to take part in this experience. I was flabbergasted at all the creativity and brainpower that was at Cardstock. Every game that Sen and I brought to Cardstock left a much better game. Talk about invigorating!

The Game Artisans even have their own newsletter called Meeple Syrup that is dedicated to celebrating the organization’s successes. Issue 3 was just released and is available here.

Sen and I joined them in 2010 and have had numerous examples of how they have helped us become better designers and probably published more often.

1. Game Designers make the best playtesters. Game designers understand the need for balance and how a suggestion can lead to other issues. They understand that sometimes a playtest session needs to stop in order to tweak the rules before starting again. The feedback we get from playtesting with other game designers is always fantastic and leaves us excited to take another crack at it.

2. Game Designers have a ton of various experiences that each of us alone don’t have yet. Have a question about how a contract should be worded? Ask GAC. Not sure how to contact a publisher? Ask GAC. Trying to figure out how to solve a game design problem you’re having? Ask GAC. There’s a ton of knowledge amongst all the members of GAC.

3. Game Designers have contacts. We have already experienced a few examples where one GAC member has helped another get a game to a publisher and get published!

  • Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games asked me and Sean Ross about our opinions of the game Alba Longa, designed by GAC member Graeme Jahns. It was being published in the Netherlands by Quined and Michael was thinking about bringing it to America. I told him my honest opinion, as did Sean, and he decided to co-publish the game with Quined.
  • Quined then asked Graeme if there were other designers with games that he think they’d be interested in. Graeme thought of our game, Akrotiri and they were interested enough to send an email to us asking us for the rules. After reading the rules, they asked for a prototype. They’ve played the game twice and are still fascinated by it. Time will tell if that turns into a publishing contract!
  • Rob Bartel introduced us to Gamewright and they now have our game Jam Slam and are still deciding about whether they are going to publish it or not.
  • Dylan Kirk has contacts in China and when one of them asked if he knew of any games that might be a good fit for them, he told them about Train of Thought. On my trip to Essen coming up, I have a meeting set up with that publisher to see if they’d be interested in publishing the game in China!

4. Blind Playtesting! With different chapters across Canada this gives everyone that’s part of GAC the ability to get their game blind playtested. This means sending the game to another chapter with the rules, and letting them figure it out on their own. This is so valuable as this is the experience that a publisher would get when we would send a game to them – so the feedback from these sessions are extremely helpful.

5. Improved Quality. While this goes hand in hand with some of the other points in this list, it deserves its own callout because I’m referring also to the perceived quality of all games by members of GAC by publishers. Publishers are already starting to recognize the abilities of GAC. They know that if they receive a game from a member of GAC, that it has been playtested by other designers and most likely, even blind playtested. The goal would be to get to a point where a publisher comes to our group to ask for game submissions.

So while you may or may not be able to be a part of something like the Game Artisans of Canada, you should definitely surround yourself with other game designers. Try online places like Meetup.com or Craigslist, or even by asking your local game store if they can host a game designer night once a month – and see who shows up! You’ll become a better designer because of it.

~ Jay Cormier

Online, there’s the Boardgame Design Forum – http://www.bgdf.com – where like-minded people post about their designs. You could also use http://www.boardgamegeek.com and post in your local forum to try to find a design group or start up your own. An online group is a great place to bounce ideas off of people and a local group is excellent for playtesting.

Another thing that a group gives us access to is a huge collective boardgaming experience. Jay and I have played a ton of games, but there’s only so many hours in a day! With the difference in tastes and personal collections, we can draw on the gaming knowledge of many instead of just the two of us. So when we propose an idea, we’ll often get the reply of “Have you played yet? It sounds pretty similar.” While you might think this is discouraging, it isn’t – either we take a look at Game X and decide that it’s similar and we’ve saved ourselves the time of re-inventing the wheel and potential embarassment of pitching it to a publisher; or we find out that our game is different and, hopefully, better!

The group can also help bolster confidence in your designs – there have been a few times when people in the GAC were thinking of abandoning a project, but other members helped the game stay on the rails and move closer towards a final versions.

We also help promote each others’ games through things like newletters and Rob Bartel’s “Canadian Heritage Collection” catalog – a catalogue of games designed or published by Canadians that is sent to Canadian game retailers. Jay will be bringing one of Al Leduc’s prototypes to Essen to give to an interested publisher, Jolly Thinkers. We help with suggesting publishers, using our links and contacts when possible, to get our colleagues’ games in front of the decision makers. Jay will be pitching Matt Musselman’s “Bordeaux” to Queen and Alea at Essen later this month. Fingers crossed!

Help can be as simple as amking a suggestion. Why, even tonight, I suggested that a new designer take a theme that Jay and I had been toying around with and run with it, because his game fit better than any we’ve been able to think of so far! Hopefully, something becomes of it. We just want to make good games and help good games to be made.

In fact, both Jay and I are even working in collaboration with other GAC designers on separate games. Jay is working with Graeme Jahns, Ryley Tolman, and Gavan Brown on a party game tentatively called “Like It” while I’m involved in co-designing Yves Tourigny’s brainchild “Midnight Men” with him.

Like It logo

Like a boss.

“Like It” was sparked at a late-night session at Cardstock 2011 after the group had played “Clunatics” and Gavan seeded an idea. The next morning, Jay, Ryley and Graeme were eagerly discussing it and a quick prototype was mocked up in short order. There’s some really great mechanics in this game that have been great to watch develop over time on the GAC forums. That’s the beauty of the internet – connecting people in Vancouver, Calgary, and Lethbridge in order to create something new.

The Nightwatchman, from "Midnight Men"

The iconic Nightwatchman, bane of evildoers everywhere, brings justice to the streets of Cosmo City in Yves Tourignay's "Midnight Men"

My involvement with “Midnight Men” comes much later in the development of it; Yves had already done much of the work, including the all-important part of getting the game signed to Canadian game publisher Filosophia for a 2012 release. I became enamoured with the project as soon as Yves began discussing it, due to my love affair with comics from a young age, and was eager to try it out. I finally got to play it at Cardstock 2011 and it was apparent that the potential was there, but that there were kinks to work out. I was determined to help with that. After re-creating my own prototype version and tabling it with my local playtest group in London, I provided even more feedback to Yves. So much so that I think I was driving him to drink! I suggested that Yves discuss the possibility of me being part of the development team with Filosophia, but Yves did one better and offered me a role in the actual design of the game. I accepted immediately as I’ve always wanted to make a superhero game myself. Yves has created a richly detailed world and I am honoured to be part of bringing it to life. The progress that Yves and I have made on the game since we began the partnership has been a real testament to the power of teamwork.

This year has been a banner year for Jay and I as designers and it’s in no small part to our links to the Game Artisans of Canada.  2012 will be even better, if all goes as planned.  So, If you’re serious about game design, do yourself a favour and seek out like-minded people. It makes the job that much easier – as the old saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”

~ Sen-Foong Lim

Belfort: Designer Diaries, part 4: The Printers

In our final instalment of “Belfort: From Inspiration to Publication” we meet with Richard Lee of Panda Manufacturing, the Canadian company that handled the manufacturing aspects of Belfort for Tasty Minstrel Games. Panda has been setting the standard for having games manufactured in China in recent years. Belfort is a solid example of the work they can do.

Jay: Hi Richard! Good to speak with you again. Can you tell us what services Panda offers to publishers?

Richard (left), Michael Lee (right) and Belfort (middle)!

Richard: Hey Jay! Hi Sen! Well, Panda offers full manufacturing, sourcing, quality control, testing, and shipping services to game publishers all around the world. Our primary printing and assembly factory is located in Shenzhen, but we source components from all over China.

Sen: How did you find yourselves in this role?

Richard: My brother, Michael, and I have always been avid gamers and fans of the gaming industry. In 2007, Michael partnered up with our primary printing facility in China that specialized in commercial printing (books, magazines, packaging). With the help of some industry experts, he discovered that it was possible to create high quality board games in China that could match the quality of German-produced games. After all, the Chinese printers had access to the same materials and machinery as the Germans. It was simply a matter of workmanship, expertise, and experience.

Not long afterwards, he started offering the printing services to board game publishers and attended major gaming conventions to promote Panda Game Manufacturing.

Jay: So, are you hardcore gamers or game designers yourself?

Richard: We have been gamers for as long as we can remember and have always enjoyed tinkering with games and creating house rules. While we wouldn’t consider ourselves game designers at the moment, we do have some rough designs that we have worked on over the last few years. We look forward to the day when we will be able to bring one of our own games to market.

Sen: Tasty Minstrel didn’t use Panda for their first couple of games and their early woes with moisture are, by now, a cautionary tale in the board game publishing world. How does Panda Manufacturing ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Richard: Printed components made in China can be subject to very humid conditions, which can lead to warped components or even worse – mouldy components! Panda’s manufacturing process places a strong emphasis on ensuring that all components are properly dried in a specially-created climate control room. Component moisture levels are consistently monitored and brought down to American and European levels.

Jay: Seriously? That’s really interesting! But why does it take about 30 days to fully manufacture a game?

The factory in China...making games!

Richard: Actually, it takes more than 30 days to manufacture a game. Typically, after a publisher uploads their graphic files to our FTP site, we need 2 – 4 weeks in the pre-press and sample production stage to ensure that files are print-ready and that custom components samples are made properly before we kick off full production. In fact, we don’t start full production until our clients approve a proofs and materials package that contains full-colour proofs, a mock-up of the game, and sample materials and components. After we start full production, the average game takes 45 days to complete. Of course, this depends on the complexity of the project as well as the total quantity of the order.

Sen: So it’s not as simple as pressing ‘Print’ huh? Got it! Take us through some of the steps that Belfort went through to get through production.

Richard: There are many steps to producing a board game but here are some of the most important steps along the way:

· Creation of printing plates
· Colour matching
· Printing
· Creation of die-cuts
· Component sourcing
· Component quality control checks
· Assembly of games
· Packing in cartons & Palletization

Jay: What was the most difficult aspect of production for Belfort?

Richard: Overall, Belfort is a fairly standard production with wooden pieces, cards, punchboards, and a game board. However, the game board is a unique pentagon shape that consists of 5 kite-shaped pieces. To ensure that the game board pieces would fit together nicely, we printed all 5 game board pieces together and then cut the board into the kite shaped pieces to ensure a proper fit. This required additional pre-press work as well as carefully calibrated die-cutting machines.

Sen: Cool, that’s pretty neat! The board is a thing of beauty! But There is no insert to hold things in Belfort – is this something that’s common? If so – why?

Boxes!

Richard: After sending the publisher the proofs and materials package, which included the “white dummy” mockup of the game, we realized that the submitted box specifications did not allow enough room for an insert. Rather than adjust the box size (which increases both production and shipping costs) or reduce the thickness of components, the publisher chose to remove the insert from the game.

For games that do not have many wooden or plastic components, it is not uncommon for them to be produced without inserts. Belfort includes 12 ziplock bags, so there is plenty of storage to keep the game organized.

Jay: Ah, that’s actually great to know! As of the writing of this interview, we haven’t received our copies of the game yet and I was wondering if it was coming with bags or not. Yay!

Sen: And how much does each copy of Belfort weigh?

Richard: The weight of 1 game of Belfort is 1.65Kg (Ed: That’s 3.64 pounds for you Imperalists)

Jay: That’s pretty hefty! If great games were determined by weight then we’d be right up there! It could have been heavier because I remember we originally wanted Befort to have custom-sculpted elf/dwarf/gnome figures but the cost was prohibitive.

Richard: Yes, plastic components are fairly expensive, especially for smaller sized print runs (anything under 5000 games). That said, some publishers really want plastic components in their games and believe they can justify a higher retail price for the game. We have actually done plastic components for some orders as low as 2000 in the past but this usually adds at least $3 or $4 more to the production costs.

Jay: But what’s actually cheaper to use as a material? Paper, wood or plastic? What are the pros and cons of each?

Richard: Generally, paper is cheaper than wood, and wood is cheaper than plastic. Cardboard tokens are fairly cheap since you can fit many of them on a single punchboard. Wooden components have low set-up costs and are faster to produce whereas plastic components require an expensive mould set-up fee but have a lower price per unit afterwards. For smaller print runs wooden bits are cheaper than plastic bits, but for large orders sometimes plastic is cheaper than wood.

An example of the die cut for a punchboard (not for Belfort though).

Punchboard tokens are great because printed images and text will show up clearly on them. However, they have the downside of being 2 dimensional. Wood and plastic are more durable and are good for custom 3-D shapes. However, if you are designing a game where the pieces must be identical, keep in mind that wood pieces are prone to higher variances between pieces.

Sen: Has there been any really expensive game bit that you’ve had to manufacture?

Richard: Panda hasn’t actually been contracted to produce any game with a single component that has been especially expensive, but terms of games that have been more expensive to produce overall, the following come to mind:

· Tales of the Arabian Nights (with a special finish on the box and a huge book of tales)
· Merchants & Marauders (with plastic ships, custom bone dice, a cardboard treasure chest, wooden bits, and just about every cardboard component you can think of)
· Eclipse (an upcoming epic space game for a Finnish publisher – Lautepelit games)

Sen: Has Panda ever manufacture anything with electronics in it?

Richard: Panda has never produced a game with an electronic component. However, we are always looking for new and interesting ways to help our customers develop games of exceptional quality. In general, when working with new factories it is important to account for additional time to allow for more thorough quality control checks. In addition, we would encourage publishers considering electronics in their games to look into CPSIA and customs regulations related to toy testing standards for electronics.

Jay: If we were to do an expansion to Belfort, what should we consider from a manufacturing perspective?

Richard: Be sure to let us know if certain components need to be color matched to previous editions. For example, some card game expansions need extremely careful color matching. Otherwise, cards would be “marked” and the game might be unplayable. Also, you may want to consider advertising the expansion right in the base game. Many larger companies put game catalogues in each of their games. Lastly, there are optimal sizes for game boxes and boards, as well as optimal quantities for card decks. We would encourage you to contact us early so we can provide more specific advice for your game and find ways to help you save on costs.

Sen: For publishers thinking about manufacturing through you, what are some of the things they should know up front regarding both Panda Manufacturing and working with a production plant in China? What are the dangers of not using someone like yourself when dealing with printers in China?

Richard: It is not easy to be a successful board game publisher. You need to have an excellent marketing and sales strategy, great customer service, talented individuals, and of course fun games! Nor is it easy to be a successful board game manufacturer in China. We need a strong network of suppliers to provide quality components for all our games, and a dedicated team on the ground to ensure that colour matching, quality control, and shipping logistics are all carefully conducted.

Our service allows our clients to focus on their core business and be relieved of manufacturing headaches by letting us handle their production. Manufacturing a board game requires many small steps, many handoffs, and cooperation across many factories and companies. While there is always a chance that things can go wrong, Panda has built a reputation for standing by its customers and working with them to resolve any issues fairly and expediently. We take great pride in producing great quality games as well as solving problems if they do arise.

Jay: Is there anything else the world needs to know about Panda Manufacturing and the Lee brothers?

Richard: Panda regularly attends major gaming conventions such as GAMA, Origins, Gencon, and Essen. Feel free to email us at sales@pandagm.com to setup a face-to-ace meeting. We would be happy to discuss your upcoming project or just hang out and chat over a casual board game!

So that concludes our Designer Diaries on Belfort! If you missed the first three, you can read them here:

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 1, The Playtesters

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 2, The Developer

Belfort Designer Diaries: Part 3, The Artist

If you are interested in learning more about how we came up with the ideas and how the game grew from something small into what it is now you can read this interview by Jeff Temple and watch this video we recorded.