Adventures in Essen, Part 3: Pitching to a Publisher

Going to Essen as a game designer can be very beneficial if you plan properly and have a modicum of sales or personal skills. In this post I’ll walk you through how I pitched to all the publishers I met with while in Essen. To catch up to where we are in the series, here are the previous posts:

Adventures in Essen, Part 1: The Fair

Adventures in Essen, Part 2: Attending as a Designer

Because we’ve been published already, I started each conversation by bringing out a copy of Train of Thought and Belfort. I did this for a couple reasons.

  1. To let the publisher know that I’m a published designer of two great looking games and,
  2. To let them know that we’re looking for international partners. If the publisher was a European publisher and showed some interest in either one, then I’d quickly review the game and then gauge their interest levels. The more interest they show then the more details I provide, going so far as to open the box and give them an example of game play.

Sales Sheet for our game, Akrotiri

Once we were finished talking about International rights (which Sen and I do not have, but I was there to gauge interest and connect them with our publisher for negotiating), I’d bring out my folder full of Sales Sheets. Prior to the meeting I’d review the emails with the publisher to see if they expressed interest in specific games of ours or not, and if they did then I’d only show them the Sales Sheets for those games. If I didn’t have any guidance from previous emails as to which games they prefer to see, then I’d start with the games that I felt fit that publisher the most.

I’d bring out the Sales Sheet and face it towards them and give them the 30-second elevator pitch, just like in Step 16. Based on how interested they were, I’d continue by explaining how the game plays while pointing to each picture on the Sales Sheet. I’d ask them if they’d like to see a sample round played out and if so, I’d grab the baggie with the prototype and quickly set up enough components to play a round. Depending on the game I would explain a certain percentage of the rules since not all rules would be needed to play a round or two. Basically I’d follow what we detailed in Step 25. Whenever it made sense I’d point out key strategy aspects but I always let the publisher make up their own mind as to how to play.

A small room where I just finished pitching Swashbucklers to a publisher (the publisher left for a moment so I snapped this image with my iPad!)

During a pitch session the time for humility is at the end of the session if the publisher has feedback, but at the beginning and during your pitch, throw humility out. I mean, don’t be an egotistical ass, but this is the time that you really have to highlight what’s unique and special about your game. As we play I’d point out how unique a movement mechanic was or how clever or novel a specific aspect of the game was. I’d say things like, “What I like most about this game is that everyone is playing at all times” or “The hook to this game is that you’re giving many tiny clues which, by themselves mean little, but when put together they make more sense.” You have to remember that this publisher is possibly spending their entire time at Essen seeing new designs every 30 minutes from different designers. How are you going to stand out and be remembered?

After playing a round or two I am usually pretty forward and like to ask their opinion about the game from what little they know of it. This is key if you have many games you’d like to present. Each of the meetings I had were specific slots of time – usually 30 minutes (though one was an hour), so I wouldn’t want to ‘waste’ my entire time on pitching just the one game. When the publisher gives you feedback, remember to follow what we reviewed in Step 26. Now IS the time for humility. Don’t be defensive and just accept whatever they say. There’s no argument that you can provide that would convince the publisher that their opinion should be different.

Whatever their opinion is, start packing up the prototype if it’s out, while the publisher is contemplating or sharing their thoughts. Keep eye contact with the publisher and don’t appear rushed, but I knew I had a few more games I had to get out and I was just trying to be as efficient as possible. None of the publishers seemed to mind this at all.

At the end of the session I’d always review the key take-aways. I’d summarize which games they were interested in and then, as detailed in Step 27, I’d ask them if it was ok to come back with the prototype at the end of the Fair, and all the publishers were cool with that. I’d shake their hand and thank them for their time and ensure I got a business card and be on my way.

It’s key during these pitches to really try and be yourself. You can’t be super salesman-y the entire time as that comes across as cheesy and forced. Show them that you’re a good person and that you’d be fun and professional to work with if they chose your game to be published. I never found it necessary to comment or flatter them with praise about any of their existing games as I felt like that would come across as pandering and fake. I think they appreciated that I was good humoured but also got right down to business.

I need to underline the importance of Sales Sheets again. I’ve talked about them in previous posts for sure, but I actually asked a few publishers their thoughts about Sales Sheets and every one of them said it was a great idea. One specifically liked that it helped him remember which game was which since they had pictures, while another preferred them during the pitch sessions as it was quicker to explain games instead of hauling out tons of bits and pieces. In the future I think we’ll be tweaking our Sales Sheets a bit to make them even a better aid when explaining how the game is played.

Up Next: A review of the publishers I pitched

– Jay Cormier

Adventures in Essen, Part 2: Attending as a Designer

If you’re a Designer and you’re at Essen, it’s for one of two reasons: You’re there to promote a game that’s launching or you’re there to pitch new games to publishers.

Matt Tolman (a fellow Game Artisan of Canada) had his game Undermining, published by Z-Man Games, launch at Essen. He had a few obligations throughout the fair, like demoing the game at the Z-Man booth multiple times and filming a video interview for BGG explaining the game. Even though Belfort just launched as well, our publisher, Tasty Minstrel Games, was not attending the Fair, so my goal at Essen was to pitch new games to publishers and make as many contacts as possible!

Planning for my trip to Essen started a few weeks before going to the actual Fair.  Sen, following our own advice as indicated in Step 17, used the Spiel ’11 GeekList on Boardgamegeek to create a database of all the publishers that might be interested in one or more of our new games.  He found out the contact information for each of them (sometimes much harder than it would seem, especially in foreign languages), prioritized which ones to contact and determined which of our prototypes should be shown to each based on their current product line or their submission guideline.

I then followed Step 18 and proceeded to email each of them explaining who I was and that I’d like to set up a meeting with them at Essen. Since this blog is all about being transparent and letting you see the entire process, here’s an example of an email I sent off to a prospective publisher:

Dear <Publisher>,

I’m going to be attending Essen this year and would like to arrange a time  to show you some of our new prototypes as noted below. Please respond with your preference.

Sen-Foong Lim and I are members of the Game Artisans of Canada and have designed Train of Thought and Belfort which have both been released this year from Tasty Minstrel Games.

We have a few games that we think would fit well with <Publisher>, and a sales sheet for each one is attached:

Bermuda Triangle: A time-travelling, pick-up and deliver, medium weight, strategy game for 2-4 players. Players program their boat’s movement using a unique mechanic in an effort to rescue more trapped explorers than the other players.


Swashbucklers
: A dice allocation game for 2-5 players. Players play pirates, rolling and assigning their dice to one of the 5 actions. Once all dice are rolled, players resolve the actions in an effort to get more boats or crew or attack each other with cannons in the sea, or with swords on land. We classify this as a medium-weight filler game.


Clunatics
: A party game for 3 or more people. Players must get any other player to guess a common phrase by providing the smallest of clues. On their own, the clues do not offer enough information, but add a couple more clues and it becomes more clear! A new twist on party games that keeps everyone involved at all times.


Lost for Words
: A word creation game that keeps everyone involved at all times with its unique 3×3 tile of letters. As one tile is flipped face up, players race to find the longest word possible in a straight line. Score is determined by subtracting the value of your word with that of the lowest valued word – so players are motivated to find any word to reduce other players’ scores! Fast and fun word finding game that can be played with 2-8 players in under 25 minutes.

We are also looking for international partners that are interested in publishing Train of Thought or Belfort outside of America. I’ll be bringing Train of Thought with me and if I receive my copy of Belfort in time then I’ll be bringing that along as well.

Thanks for your time.

I sent out about 15 emails or so to the publishers that we thought would be a good fit for the prototypes that we had to show. I got responses from most of them and we scheduled our meetings. I’d get a specific contact name, time slot and location (usually the publisher’s booth) and, after juggling a few conflicting, I had a pretty decent schedule with 4 meetings on Thursday, 4 on the Friday and 4 with publishers who said I should just stop by during the Fair at any time.

As indicated in Step 21, I packed my prototypes in individual Ziploc baggies and ensured they were clearly labeled with the game name and our contact information. I carried them in a backpack along with a folder full of 10 sales sheets for each game, as per Step 14, and an extra copy of rules for each game.  The amount of preparation we put into our pitches definitely helps make us look even more professional in the eyes of the publishers.  Many of them commented on how much they appreciated things like the Sales Sheets or how clearly everything was labeled.

I made sure to arrive before each meeting with time to spare because some publishers have multiple booths – if you go to the wrong one a few minutes before your meeting only to find that the meeting is supposed to be in another Hall, you might be out of breath for your meeting from all the running! I went up to the counter and asked a staff member if my contact was available as I had an appointment scheduled. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and was soon escorted to a small room at the back of the booth – private and away from all of the hustle and bustle.

The publishers (or at least my contacts at the publisher – usually editors) were very nice and considerate – all of them! They all offered me something to drink and made sure I was comfortable. This was really nice as it made me feel more like an equal partner rather than someone who is begging them to publish my games. After a few pleasantries we got down to business.

Up Next: How I pitched games to publishers!

-Jay Cormier

Adventures in Essen, Part 1: The Fair

I’m back from Essen and full of excitement and stories to tell! I’ll be regaling tales of my Essen adventure in the next few blog posts starting with this one which is an overview of what Essen is all about and what it’s like to be there. There will be a lack of photos to corroborate any of my stories as I lost my camera while I was there – boo!

First of all, wow. I knew Essen was big but it’s really big! It takes up Halls 4 through 12 at the convention centre and is densely packed with booths full of game publishers, game retailers, comic retailers and artists as well as a variety of retailers selling related merchandise. Each Hall has its own purpose:

  • Hall 4: Independent game publishers and used game sellers
  • Hall 6: RPGs, LARPing, costumes, war-gaming
  • Hall 7: kind of a room full of leftovers
  • Hall 8: Comic retailers and artists
  • Hall 5 and 9-12: The board game Halls with Hall 12 probably being the ‘main’ hall with the biggest publishers

Thursday morning at 10 o’clock, the halls started filling up quick. People were running to try and get to the booth that had a game they wanted – probably running because of limited copies or special Essen-only exclusives: like Martin Wallace’s limited edition of A Few Acres of Snow.

Some publishers shared a booth with 1 or 2 other publishers to reduce the cost while others would have their own booth – or their own ‘block’ like Hasbro or Haba. If you aren’t in the business then you’d probably recognize about 5% of the publishers at the Fair. Most of them are more focused in Europe, where gaming is a bigger business than in North America. Almost every booth would have tables set up with a demo of each of their games ready to play. Most publishers have a small army of people to help explain the games to the attendees. Sometimes you’ll only get to play a round or two before they usher you away so they can explain it all over again to another set of eager gamers. Other times you can stake a claim at a table and play an entire game as long as it doesn’t get too busy.

Most publishers will have piles and piles of their games that are for sale but it’s important for Anglophones to ensure the game you’re picking up is English, or at least has English rules if the game play is language independent. Prices are usually pretty hot since they are being sold directly from the publisher, with most games selling for 20-35 Euros (unless it’s the new, fancy version of Puerto Rico which was selling for 65 Euros). Be sure to ask if there’s an Essen exclusive expansion for the game and you will be surprised from time to time! When I bought Kingdom Builder from Queen Games I got an expansion for it as well as one for Alhambra – another game I own!

Many of the games at Essen are games that launch there. This is the first time anyone has been able to play these brand new games. Some of these games may never be published in North America while others might take 3-12 months until it hits Stateside. Essen is an important part of a business plan for a publisher. Sure it costs them money to get themselves and their games to Essen, and it costs them per square foot for their booth, but the sales of their games along with all the marketing, hype and discussions about the games makes it a no-brainer.

Two of the most visited booths are the BGG (boardgamegeek) booth and the Fairplay (a German board game magazine that is an authority on the subject) booth. They both have a system for ranking games based on users voting on which games are hot/good/interesting. BGG projects a continually running loop of the ever-changing top 25 games. Fairplay is more analogue and they just have copies of the games that are voted as hot on a shelf and numbered 1-10. The BGG ranking works really well at BGG.con as each person who attends gets one unique entry code, but at Essen they can’t police that as much and so people can get multiple codes throughout the event and vote something up or down as they please. Still, both are interesting and have helped guide me to games I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. Both of these rankings have weight not just at the Fair itself but after the Fair as it’s reported back to the masses on websites and in magazines. These rankings often are key indicators of which games they should be on the look-out for in the near future.

Thursday and Friday were pretty busy with people but they were nothing compared to how insanely packed it got on Saturday. On Saturday you could barely move down the too-narrow aisles as people jostled you this way and that. That was not my favourite part of Essen and I had to leave before the day ended. Fortunately a few of the members of GAC were staying at a hotel somewhat nearby called Bredeney that offered a free room for people to play games in at any time. It was great to relax and check out the goods we just got, and was where we found ourselves every night. The room was quite large and could hold over 20 gaming sessions of 4-6 players each and was packed every night.

What’s also interesting is that all of our game design ‘heroes’ were all there. Some of them had actual sessions where you could get autographs, but others you could see walking around and buying games at the Fair. It was impossible to miss Freidmann Freisse as he has green hair and I saw him multiple times. Martin Wallace was seen explaining A Few Acres of Snow and many others were seen giving autographs. One morning I was there early for a meeting, and I found myself at the booth that was selling the 7 Wonders Essen exclusive expansion that featured a call out to the Settlers of Catan. Two minutes later I’m walking down the aisle with just this piece of cardboard in my hands when I see a line of 6-7 people getting autographs from Klaus Tueber – designer of the most popular Eurogame of all time: Settlers of Catan. Well, I couldn’t pass this up – and so I waited 3 minutes in line and got my 7 Wonders expansion signed by Tueber! Neat!

All in all, the event was pretty much what I was expecting: a big convention full of publishers and gamers who are all passionate about the hobby of gaming. I’m already making plans to attend next year!

Up next I’ll go into details about what it’s like for a designer to attend Essen!

A Banner Day for Belfort

BoardGameGeek is all abuzz with talk of Belfort post-Essen.

Belfort is back in the hotness (below Quarriors and above Village):

There’s a picture of Belfort in the Image Hotness (first column, second row):

Best of all, Belfort hit #1 on the Essen GeekBuzzList (Medium Traffic).  This one is easier to find.  It’s at the freaking top!  Wow!  For a game that wasn’t even officially over there, we managed to generate a lot of positive word!  European publication deal?  Hopefully!

A banner day, indeed!

Essen 2011 Roundup

Sorry I didn’t do up-to-the-minute updates as Jay sent me frantic encrypted e-mails letting me know what was going on at Spiel ’11.  I was pretty sick over the last few days, so it was all I could do to decode them, read them, cheer weakly, eat the paper I transcribed the message on to, and then go back to bed!

We had several prototypes to show and are also looking for European partners for co-publication of Belfort and Train of Thought.  Here’s a recap of what happened at Essen for the Bamboozle Brothers:

Jay met with:

Kosmos, who liked Swashbucklers, were interested in co-publishing ToT and took the rules for EIEIO
Pegasus, who expressed strong interest in Swashbucklers and were also interested in Clunatics, ToT, and Lost For Words (depending on how their initial venture into party games goes with Pictomania).
Huch & Friends, who want to check out Clunatics, would like the rules for Bermuda Triangle, and copies of Belfort and ToT to evaluate as European releases.
Quined, who are evaluating Akrotiri – Jay gave them the updates they requested in terms of “spicing it up” so now they are going to playtest with the new additions we’ve made
PSI, who told Jay that Belfort has been sold in Europe (English copies, of course – but it’s a start!)
Queen, who Jay met with on behalf of our friend and fellow Game Artisan, Matt Musselman, to pitch Matt’s Bordeaux to them. They enjoyed Bordeaux and then Jay had time to show them our games – they loved Belfort and requested a copy for evaluation. Jay also showed them Swashbucklers and they were very excited by it. They requested a prototype of it as soon as possible. Jay gave them the prototype immediately after the convention.
Alea liked Bordeaux as well, and this company is Matt’s first choice. There wasn’t a ton of time, so Jay was only able to show our party games to Alea. Now, you might be thinking, “Alea doesn’t do party games!” and you’d be right. But what they can do is link us up with other publishers that do! They liked ToT, Clunatics and Lost For Words and took several sell sheets for these and EIEIO as well, saying that they’d show them to their colleagues. Nothing like getting a plug from one of the most respected publishers in the biz…
Hans im Gluck, who liked Swashbucklers and Bermuda Triangle. As Swashbucklers was slated for Queen, Bermuda Triangle went home with HiG – spread the love! HiG also really liked Bordeaux – go, Matt, go! Also of note: HiG was very positive about our sell sheets, so that’s a sign that it’s something we should all have on our “to do” lists. It’s one of the last things Jay and I do, but one that we spend a lot of time on, despite it seeming so simple.
Jolly Thinkers, who are a Chinese publisher – they were interested in Train of Thought prior to Essen so we took this opportunity to meet face to face and hand over a copy for evaluation.
Jay also had a meeting with Gamewright, who currently have Jam Slam, but I’m not sure what transpired in the meeting. Jay’s probably so burnt out on games that he’s sleeping right now. 😀

Going to Essen!

For those not in the know, Essen is not just a city in Germany, but it’s also synonymous with the world’s biggest board game convention. Also known as Spiel, Essen is attended by as many or possibly even more people than the San Diego Comicon! The amount of space this thing takes up is unbelievable: 12 Halls and each of them are many football fields in size. Almost every publisher will be there from all over the world, with many of them using Essen as a launch pad for their newest games. Essen is the place to get the latest and greatest games, that might not make Stateside for another 3-12 months.

The primary reason I’m going though is as a designer and to meet up with publishers. Following Steps 18-22 of this blog, I’ve emailed them in advance, prepared, packed and am now ready for Steps 23-27: at the convention. I am bringing 6 games to show to publishers and have about a dozen meetings set up throughout the event. At the very least it will be a good opportunity to network and get my face/name out there.

The secondary reason I’m going is to try and find a European or Asian publisher for Train of Thought or Belfort. I’m bringing a copy of each (oh, did I mention that I just received my copies of Belfort?! Huzzah!).

The tertiary reason I’m going is to demo Belfort! I’ve already had some people email me with some requests to play it. Should be a good opportunity to get some awareness out while I’m there.

The great news is that I won’t be doing this alone. Three other members of the Game Artisans of Canada will also be coming, which will be great for networking and actually playing some games!

So my posts will be infrequent for a week or so, but then expect a flurry of posts as I regale the adventures I’ve had during my first trip to Essen.

-Jay Cormier

Update with reviews, availability and Essen!

Wanted to share a few updates:

1) Train of Thought is now available on http://www.bestbuy.ca – that’s the Canadian Best Buy website. This is our first national chain to carry Train of Thought and we’re hoping it does well there as it could be a gateway to getting it into other national retailers. So, if you’re Canadian and haven’t picked up a copy, then you can grab it here.

2) Belfort has hit America! The ship has landed and it’s now making its way through the distributor and retailer system. If you’re looking to pick this up then visit your local game store and ensure they’re ordering it in.

3) A new Belfort review is in, and this time it’s an audio one from Garrett’s Games and Geekiness. They really liked the game and had a lot of favourable things to say about it. Check them out here (the Belfort review starts around 15:40). Listen to it by visiting their website here.

4) Jay (me!) is going to Essen this year! This will be my first trip to Essen – or to Germany, for that matter. I’ll be bringing a copy of Belfort to show some European publishers to see if any are interested in bringing the game to Europe! Also – it would mean that I could play it with people, if there was interest! Not sure how you’d find me though!

5) The Belfort Designer Diaries have been posted on boardgamegeek. They’re the same posts that we have posted here on this blog, just compiled into one entry. You can check it out here.

-Jay Cormier

 

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.

Step 19: Conventions – Choosing the Right One

Sen and I have had most, if not all of our success from attending board game conventions.  Here are the steps on how we approach a convention, which we’ll detail in the next few posts:

Step 20) Preparing for the convention

Step 21) Packing!

Step 22) Now you’re at the convention

Step 23) Approaching the publisher

Step 24) Showcasing your game to a publisher

Step 25) Playing your game with a publisher

Step 26) Getting feedback from a publisher

Step 27) Leaving the game with a publisher

Choosing which convention to attend: To most people reading this it probably comes as no surprise that there are indeed a lot of board game conventions in the world.  If your main purpose for going to a convention is to pitch your games to publishers, then the thing you have to identify first is the purpose of each convention.

Essen is the biggest board game convention in the world and its main purpose is to highlight the newest board games to the public.  The focus at Essen is to experience a lot of new games – and buy a lot of new games!

BGG.con is getting very large and its main purpose is to get together with old and new friends and play a lot of games – many of which are hot from Essen.  This is a gamers’ convention.  There are other activities and fun to be had – but all of them are focused around playing games.

GAMA is meant for retailers and the publishers show up and demonstrate their products to all the retailers in hopes that retailers will carry more of their games.  There’s not as much game playing at this one as there is at any other convention.

New York Toy Fair is a huge event but is focused more on toys, though board gaming is growing at this show.  The purpose of this event is for publishers to show off their new toys in an effort to get them to the stores – kind of like GAMA – but for toys.

Regional conventions happen all over the place and will be smaller than all these and could vary in size and scope and purpose.  Mostly these regional conventions are meant for gamers to get together and play games – and possibly sample some new games from some publishers.

So why is it good to know the purpose of a convention?  Well you really need to get inside the head of what a publisher is trying to accomplish.  At BGG.con the publisher is constantly trying to get their games played by people because every single person that attends BGG.con is like a walking advertisement.  If someone at BGG.con likes a game and they chat about it on BGG.com – then that is worth more than spending a bunch on magazine ads and the like.  Because publishers are so focused on getting their games played, none of the publishers have much time to talk to designers.  Not only that, but BGG.con only has about 6-10 publishers show up anyway.  On top of that, some publishers won’t even send the people that you’d want to speak to. At BGG.con, Jay Tummelson of Rip Grande didn’t come – instead he had a bunch of other people to explain games to people (and he sponsored the restaurant bus – yay!).  So if you went up to someone at the Rio Grande booth – they wouldn’t be able to help you anyway.

At Essen and the New York Toy Fair (though I haven’t been to either yet) publishers are focused on selling their game – which involves a ton of demoing.  This again means they won’t have tons of time to talk to designers.  The good news though is that there are a lot of publishers at Essen and the Toy Fair.  I’d be curious to hear from any reader out there who’s been to Essen or the Toy Fair and what it is like from a designer’s perspective – please chime in!

So that leaves GAMA.  While the objective is similar – in that publishers are trying to sell their games – the attendance is mostly retailers, so it’s a lot less crowded.  This was the first convention that I went to and it proved to be very effective.  Since it wasn’t super busy, publishers were more agreeable to listen to designers.  Almost all of the big and many of the small to medium publishers come to GAMA so you really have a great opportunity to talk to a lot of different publishers.  GAMA is also great because they offer a lot of seminars and workshops and some are even targeted to the game designer.  I’ve learned a lot from these seminars – and have passed off a lot of what I learned on this blog already!

As for regional conventions, it’s rare that a publisher will show up.  While they might sponsor a part of the event, they usually don’t send the people that you want to talk to.  Often you’ll just get a card or direction to follow what it says on their website for submissions.  That’s not bad as even getting a card is a tiny foot in the door, but I wouldn’t spend too much money in attending a regional convention if your main purpose is to get your games in front of publishers.

Each convention has its benefits, but knowing the purpose of the convention will help you determine which one you should attend.  I’ve now been to GAMA twice and BGG.con once.  I’ve had to pay for my flights and hotels for each, so it’s definitely not cheap.  As you’ll see in the upcoming posts, without attending these conventions Sen and I would not have had the success we’ve had (or at the very least it would have taken a lot longer!).

-Jay Cormier

There are also some other major game conventions and toy fairs to mention:

The Nuremburg Toy Fair – Feb 3-8 2011, Nuremburg, Germany – http://www.spielwarenmesse.de/

The Origins Game Fair – Jun 22-26 2011, Columbus, OH –http://www.originsgamefair.com/

Chicago Toy and Game Fair – November 2011, Chicago, IL –http://www.chitag.com/

Note that some are open to the public, some are industry and press only.

There are also specific boardgame design related conferences, such as Protospiel in Ann Arbor, MI.

http://www.protospiel.org/

If you check the site, you’ll see that Elfinwerks, Mayfair Games, Minion Games, North Star Games and Steve Jackson Games were present there. And you can be guaranteed they went looking for new material.

Some smaller local conventions might have product reps that can meet with you – you just have to ask. When Jay and I both lived in Hamilton, we went BayCon – run by Bayshore Hobbies, our FLGS – and there were always reps from companies like Privateer Press, Mayfair, and Chessex demoing games, selling product and showing off unreleased titles. So check out what’s in your area before you drop a few c-notes to travel to NY, Chi-town or Vegas.

You may be able to find out if a publisher’s rep is going to be at a conference by looking at their website. For example, these are the conventions where a representative from Steve Jackson Games will be present:

http://www.sjgames.com/con/

And Days of Wonder will have reps at the following events (Look in the bottom left hand box):

http://www.daysofwonder.com/en/community/

So as the old adage goes, seek, and ye shall find! But it’s always polite to have an open dialog prior to meeting…

-Sen-Foong Lim