A Few Manufacturing Secrets

11 June 2018

“Always” and “never” are words I rarely use with my manufacturer, Panda. Every product is different, so the decisions we make about components are unique to each individual product.

But every now and then I realize that there’s something I always want a certain way (or never want it another way). I thought I’d share this short list with you today in case it’s helpful for other game creators.

  • I always want latex-free rubber bands (if I need rubber bands). Some people are allergic to latex, so it’s an easy problem to avoid at no extra expense.
  • I always want easy-peel shrinkwrapped decks of cards. It’s super annoying to try to dig your fingernails into a tightly shrinkwrapped deck of cards. Easy-peel isn’t always available (it depends on the size of the deck), when when it’s an option, I always choose it.
  • I never want glossy game boards. We did this once–on the original version of Tuscany–despite my concerns about glare, and I should have listened to my gut. Overhead lighting creates glare on glossy game boards, making it very difficult for players to see parts of the board from certain angles. I much prefer a matte finish.
  • I always want air holes in plastic bags. Some backers suggested this for Scythe during the original KS campaign, and we’ve stuck with them ever since. With 2 tiny holes in plastic bags (no extra cost), you make it easier for players to put away components, as they don’t have to squeeze the air out of the bag. It’s a little thing, but the little things add up to creating a more positive experience.
  • I always want linen embossing. This applies to cards, player mats, boxes, and game boards. Perhaps this is subjective, but I just think it feels nicer, and linen-embossed cards seem to slide around less than other cards. I would probably only avoid linen in instances where there are really small details in the art that could be interrupted by the tiny ridges, like in 7th Continent, or if I want to put reflective highlights on the box.
  • I always start to make non-printed components first. Non-printed components like wooden meeples, miniatures, metal coins, etc take longer to make than printed components like cards, boards, etc. So I usually start making the non-printed components 3-4 weeks before we send the final print PDFs to Panda.

I’ve tried to focus specifically on manufacturing details here, though there are lots of other little product design decisions I make that don’t necessarily involve a conversation with my manufacturer (like colorblind considerations and printing playtester names on the side of the box bottom). If there’s anything you always or never request from your manufacturer, feel free to share it in the comments below!

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17 Comments on “A Few Manufacturing Secrets

  1. One comment on boards, agree with you on glare but….I did notice when I pulled my old friend Scythe out of the box this weekend that the board is getting damaged after about 50 plays. The areas where you pick up cards shows a lot of marks/light scratches, presumably from peoples fingernails when they are getting cards. I am not sure what you can do to fix this. It is not super noticeable, and do not consider this a complaint, more input. I am fine with my Scythe going a bit “Velveteen Rabbit” because I love it, and it makes it mine, but being technical, it is a flaw I feel. I am not sure what you can do to fix this. Maybe a different matte paper that has more of a coating? Or is it the coating that is leading to this. I have not noticed this issue with other games.

    W/r/t rubber bands – are there alternatives? They do decay over time and could damage components long term. I cannot afford to get them (brokeass) but I once got a game in trade with deck bands that sort of resealed like cling wrap and I absolutely loved them, just brilliant. I do not know how costly they would be from a production standpoint but man, they were luxurious and would fit with your model.

    I love this attention to detail, little things that yes, make the experience better. The plastic Scythe resource boxes were just brilliant and I encourage more of those.

    1. Candy: That’s good to know! Thank you for sharing. Scythe’s board has linen embossing and a special coating, which helps to protect it for a while, but 50 plays is a lot. :) You’re right that a glossy board would protect better against scratches.

      For rubber bands, I’ve actually moved away from using them–I use plastic bags more now for holding cards.

  2. These are great ones! Here are a few more I can think of:

    – round the corners of your chipboard pieces to reduce wear

    – always get a pre-production sample of absolutely every component before approving the mass production process (I’ve had manufacturers suggest I don’t need to sample every component)

    – don’t let artificial dates or pressure from backers cause you to move forward with a component you’re not 100% happy with (similar to your article on not launching until you’re ready)

    – err on the side of extra plastic zip bags to make sure you have enough no matter how the customer puts it away

    – stay away from black borders on the back of your cards to reduce noticeable wear (I suppose this is more of a design decision)

    – err on the side of thicker boxes for Kickstarter games, not only because they feel higher quality, but because they protect it during fulfillment, saving replacement costs and improving the customer experience

    1. Hi Brian, you know production very well. Thumbs up!

      About the round corners, it’s applies to cards. I know some creators have special ideas about right-angles. I can not help to saying the angles are easy to wear and they are sharp for our skin.

      As to the black borders, there’re some factors caused the wear noticeable.
      1. The paper quality is not good.
      2. The trimming tool is not sharp enough.
      3. The direction to feed the trimming tool with the cards.

    2. Brian:
      I applaud the points you make, especially about haste and prechecking absolutely everything—how many times (in life) have mistakes been made that I could never have imagined! Clicking on your name link in the Comments above took me to the forbiddenlimb.com website address, which displayed the message, “Safari cannot access this page because the server cannot be found.” Is there an updated link or…? Thanks

  3. If I can add some to the post,
    1. Jamey is always considerate. ^-^

    2. Always ask to make your games with materials that confirm to ASTM F963 or EN 71.

    3. Always ask for inner carton package for shipment if you do not have pallet.
    I always get inner cartons for my clients even they do not require, especially for goods shipped by air/courier, and LCL sea shipment. The cost of damage caused during shipments can buy tons of inner boxes.

    4. Always tell in advance if you have special event with the shipment and have some spare time at your side. It should be very clear like this:we need products for important event on xxx, pls assure you can ship the goods on xxx. If you tell: the shipment must be delivered on xxx, you may have nightmare about the delivery.

    Many delays are caused by material vendors, shipping companies, accidents(like no power supply, safety checking by government, equipment breakdown), holidays, important social events…It’s true many factories have delay now and then. The factory may not pay attention if you do not tell them your special requirement in advance.

    6. Always check all details of invoice, products specifications, e-proof and pre-production samples. The most losses we suffer can be avoided if e-proof could have been reviewed carefully. The errors can be made by you (you have wrong info. to your artist), by your artist, by the worker make plate-making.

    7. Always ask your artist to send you the original artworks that can be edited by others. Your manufacturer can work on the artwork if it’s necessary to have small changes without taking the trouble contacting the freelance you hire.( Maybe you can not reach the freelancer anymore.)
    Mentioning the artwork, there’s one thing many artists neglect. It’s about the black color. Always ask your artist to have words in black to have solid black color instead of CMYK black.

    1. Annie:
      Great nitty-gritty points you make! I am interested in visiting your website, but when I clicked on your name in these Comments above I received this message. “Sorry, this content isn’t available right now. The link you followed may have expired, or the page may only be visible to an audience you’re not in.” Is there a group to join to gain access or …? Thanks.

  4. Regarding linen finish, it behaves like the dimples on a golf ball: it traps air between cards, making them more easy to shuffle and less likely to stick to each other like suction cups.
    This is very useful on cards that get shuffled a lot, as they wear less that way (less contact surface, only the crests of the dimples instead of the whole card).
    However for cards that are manipulated a lot (held in hand, exchanged, … not just shuffles), a smooth surface is mechanically more sturdy, with a matte or gloss finish, than a linen finish.
    So extrapolating this to board, a board that is used to put cards or flat toekns on is better done using linen finish (same for tokens) and a board that is used to place standees or miniatures will be more resistant with a matte finish, smooth.

  5. Hi Jamey,

    I never would have thought about latex-free rubber bands, or holes in the bag. Thanks.

    What about miniature molds? Do you always have someone create the molds and then send them to the manufacturer or do you just send the 3D file to the manufacturer and let them create the molds?

    What about haggling? Business to Business deals are used to haggling as part of the process. Do you haggle about the price with the manufacturer? Brad Talton mentioned on a podcast before that he once was charged $14 for a deck of cards by some manufacturer. He was only starting out and it almost bankrupted him.

    1. I have Panda make the miniature molds–they essentially act as a broker for the entire manufacturing process. So yes, I just send them a 3D file.

      I don’t haggle. I trust Panda to charge me a fair price. Every now and then I may ask about the cost of a certain item if it seems high (the estimates I get are consolidated, not line-item), but that’s just so I can decide if I need to look into an alternative.

      1. Sounds great. I find it refreshing when a company knows to give it’s best price, rather than a high price with the expectation of customers haggling. Some economies never haggle, while others always haggle. It can cause unfairness/conflict when the 2 collide.

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