A Few Manufacturing Secrets

11 June 2018 | 36 Comments

“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 symmetrical card backs. It’s completely possible that on certain print runs of a game, the cards may accidentally be rotated 180 degrees on the card sheet. So if the back of the card isn’t symmetrical, you may end up with cards in some copies of the game being oriented the right way and other cards being “upside down” in relation to the card backs. To prevent that from ever happening, we make most of our card backs symmetrical so there is no up or down.
  • 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.
  • Packaging tips. This is more of a packaging tip than a manufacturing tip: Make sure the name of your game is on all 6 sides of the box. If it’s a small expansion that will fit into the core box, consider packaging it in sturdy disposable packaging (so it can be shipped in a bubble bag).

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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36 Comments on “A Few Manufacturing Secrets

  1. Hey Jamey,
    thanks for the secrets. I’m currently designing my own board game together with a friend and your blog helps me a lot!
    One question: Did I understand that right, u can produce parts of a game at a different company, then the rest? Like in ur example u produce meeples not at panda?
    If u do so, how do the parts later come together in one game?
    Thanks ahead,

    1. Thanks Jakob! If you work with an established manufacturer like Panda, they handle the entire process. If there’s a component they can’t make in house, they vet other factories and coordinate the production of that component. The process is seamless for you–you just deal with one manufacturer, not every factory.

  2. Hi Jamey,

    I’m an avid Stonemaier Games consumer and an active KS backer. But I see that my board games hobby is becoming more and more orthogonal with the effort at home to become more eco-friendly. Most of the people I asked about this suggest to stop buying games, but I don’t think that is a solution. Not only it kills a part of my life that brings me joy and social interaction, but it is bad for the board game industry and, in the long run, to the hobby. It is undeniable that the consumers can help with some restraint instead of compulsive buying, but the industry also should play a part in this. I think that few steps taken by the publishers can have much greater impact than me buying less. So, what could publishers do? Here some ideas:

    – not use plastic wraps in favor of small paper bands or stickers.
    – ensure that all wood comes from FSC certified materials
    – make all chipboards from post-consumer waste
    – keep box size small
    – use 100% compostable materials like mixtures of corn and sugar cane
    – don’t use plastic inserts
    – don’t push for unnecessary minis
    – print as local as possible
    – don’t use KS as a preorder mechanism
    – inform their clients about their take on all of this

    Any combination of these would already have an impact. But this is my naive take on the matter. I don’t know if any of these are in fact doable or if it will kill profit margins.

    Another option I recently came across is a partnership with an NGO (http://myclimate.org/) that calculates the carbon footprint of each copy you create once you give them your specs on the production, materials, and shipping. Then they come up with a cost to offset that carbon. The publisher pays this to the NGO and the NGO uses at least 80% of that to invest in proven projects that offset the carbon.

    This kind of solution would be easier for the publishers and incentivize them to be more eco-friendly so that they pay less. But so far I only have seen one board gaming KS project doing this.

    Do you think any of this is viable?

    1. Thank you for sharing this extensive list, Ruben! I like a lot of what you said here. While I don’t use Kickstarter as a creator anymore, I’m curious why you view Kickstarter as an environmentally unfriendly option.

      1. My biggest concern with KS is on the deluxe-centric campaigns. Many projects have a standard and a deluxe version of the game. That’s good because I would like to help such or such project to come to life, but I might not want to back the deluxe version because it is usually less eco-friendly (they tend to have unnecessary minis, metal o resins). Nevertheless, many KS project creators partially neglect the backers of the standard editions making unappealing to back unless you do it for the deluxe version. I understand why they do it, though. Looking at the latest KS I dropped for this reason, the ratio deluxe backers to standards was 5 to 1. So that’s where the money is. As a consequence, KS has become more like a pre-order infrastructure for deluxified items, more than a way to help to create projects that won’t exist otherwise. And this has an environmental impact.
        Additionally, many of these games are produced in China, so the carbon footprint of sending to a market that is likely dominated by US and EU consumers, is probably worse than buying in retail more locally produced games. But I don’t have the numbers to support this. It is just a gut feeling.
        In any case, the list I provided above is not aiming exclusively at KS projects. The intent is to know if it would be realistic to think that the board gaming industry could adopt some of those points worldwide, independently of they using KS or not.
        I feel that our hobby is becoming less and less greener and maybe some of those changes in the industry could help to slow down this trend while still being profitable.

  3. Thank you very much for all this advice. Are there any manufacturers other than Panda, that you would recommend for games with 20+ miniatures?

  4. Kia ora Jamey, I have been emailing Panda, but found they are very slow on responses. In fact, since the initial quote email, I have not received another response. I have been following up every 5 days for the last two and a half weeks. It may be that they are typically busy, and longer than usual wait times are the norm, especially before Christmas. Could you share your experience on response time, and/or how I might help the process? I fear I may ruffle feathers of I continue to follow up too often etc.. Thanks also for ALL your hard work sharing your experiences and advice publicly :)

    1. Whetu: For the first contact, I think it’s normal for Panda to be very slow. It’s not good, but it’s common. Their response time gets MUCH better once you have a project manager assigned to you.

      1. Thank you very much for the response Jamey. We have a project manager assigned already, and have received our first quote. However, the contact seems slow (2 and a bit weeks, 4 emails, and no reply), but perhaps I am expecting too much at this time of year. To be honest, I am simply worried that my regular follow up emails may come across a little ‘pestering’ and I would hate to sour any relationship. Perhaps it is best I just wait. Thanks again for the response and all the blogs you have made :)

  5. Hi Jamey, I’ve noticed on some of your games (Viticulture, Scythe, Charterstone) that you use the back side of the board to add some small extra functionality, instead of the common plain colored back. I really like this, as it’s a nice touch for the end consumer.

    I’m wondering: how much extra this costs in terms of producing a game board compared to a plain back? Thanks for answering!

    1. Martijin: Thanks for your question! It doesn’t add much to print on the back side of the board. It depends on the size of the board and your manufacturer, but for a game board I would estimate that it adds about $0.20. It may not add anything for a player mat.

  6. Hey Jamie, how would i go about designing and printing card board that needs to be punched out. I am looking to make inserts out of cardboard, but essentialy it would be the same as punching out tokens of any other game. Is there a special programme you use are there manufacterors you would recomend? Lastly is there a program you could think of that would help with the designing of inserts? Something that would help to keep measurements in check, like a mini autocad programme. Thank you in advance, and enjoy gen-con.

    1. Patrick: If you’re looking to create print-ready files, I would suggest talking to your manufacture so they can provide proper templates. They’ll probably suggest that you work in Indesign or Illustrator.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

    1. Also with this new huge entertainmeny industry of people recording videos and uploading them online, the matte boards are fairly essential for natural marketing of your game.

      If the camera can’t pick up enough to show the audience what’s happening, the session probably won’t be uploaded.

      If you haven’t already, watching highly viewed board game channels and their tips for designers, is an extremely good step into making successful game.

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