How to Design a Tabletop Game

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31 Comments on “How to Design a Tabletop Game

    1. Here is the best thing on game design I have ever read:

      It’s a course that is now free to pursue, and it brings up and organizes the information and background on what you should know and consider as a game designer better than anything i’ve read before or since

    2. Hello Jamey and everyone. I am still in the midst of reading this entire treasure trove of information, but one thing I am actively searching for are manufacturers for different components of the game I’m working on, particularly miniatures. Although I am still a ways away from launching my project, budgeting early on is very important to keep a realistic amount of components in the game and know where they might be coming from. The one that I’ve been most having trouble with are the detailed miniatures. The two main options are injection molding and plastic casting for large quantities. Injection molding has higher start up cost, but the price per unit tends to be lower than plastic casting. I am already working with a couple sculptors to create the models, but finding a cost effective manufacturer seems to be a challenge. Most of the American companies I’ve talked with have directed me for large orders to China. I don’t mind ordering from China, but a little more specific direction would be greatly appreciated.

      So on this note, since I noticed Scythe (very fun btw) had detailed miniatures along the same lines as what I’m making. Would you be willing to share who you had manufacture them, or possibly other companies you considered?

      My question to other creators out there is the same: who have you found?

    3. Howdy!

      I am a relatively new game store owner from southern Utah.  When my business partner and I attended GAMA this last year we heard many established game store owners metnioning the same problems and complaints that had been brought up on Funding the Dream episodes covering production and manufacturing. LGS owners wanted to get what they asked for from distributors. Distributors wanted more reliable numbers from producers. Producers wanted their games done quickly but had at least a 6 month backlog to slog through with Chinese manufacturers. My questions for the community is this: What do you think the bottleneck is in the board game publishing industry? The barrier to entry for board game creators is at an all-time low, and we continue to see new board games hit the market from indie creators or fledgling produces, but there is still the backlog of production.

      At GAMA it was mentioned that there are, if I recall correctly, 7 factories in China that produce board games. Fantasy Flight owns 3 of them and still sends projects to the other 4 because they are behind their project schedule. That leaves 4 factories for the rest of the publishers and independents to fight over. We were informed that the entire industry in China was at least 6 months behind schedule and falling further behind with every week. Now this doesn’t account for domestic manufacturing. Is it because everyone thinks of Chinese factories first and fail to consider domestic manufacturing?  Is it a problem with lack of facilities?  It just seems strange to me to have such a constant problem for so long in an industry that grows 10%-15% annually and is worth 1.2 billion dollars in the US and Canada alone. Perhaps the facilities are sufficient to meet the current demand and the problem is communication between the plethora of parties involved in producing a new game?

      So in essence, where is the log jam?

      1. Ben: Thanks for your questions! I would question the validity of this statement that you heard at GAMA: “We were informed that the entire industry in China was at least 6 months behind schedule and falling further behind with every week.” While that’s certainly possible in some cases, it has not been my experience at all, nor have I heard that from any other publisher. So before I respond to the rest, I would have to say that this problem may just be a misunderstanding by someone at GAMA instead of an actual problem.

        Let’s use Charterstone as an example. I’ve been working with my manufacturer, Panda, on Charterstone for about 18 months, yet we’re just now starting production. This is important because if I had absolutely no communication with them and out of the blue I sent them final files, there would be at least a few months of samples and tests.

        But as it is, we’ve already completed those samples and tests. So Panda started making the non-printed tokens on June 1. They take extra time. Panda will start processing the printed materials on July 1. Those materials go through a review process, then they’re printed and assembled. That’ll take 2 months. Then they need to be shipped from Panda to port, across the ocean, processed again at port, and trucked to warehouses where they’re processed, shipped to distributors, processed again, then shipped to retailers. That entire process will take a bare minimum of 2 months.

        So in total, we’re talking about 5 months minimum from the beginning of production until they arrive at stores like yours. You could potentially shave 1 month off of that schedule if they were produced in the US, and another month if they were only cardboard.

        I think perceived delays happen when a game sells well. Like, say Charterstone sells out quickly. People will ask why they have to wait another 5 months to get a copy. Well, we’ve been asking consumers, retailers, and distributors how many copies of Charterstone they want since January. We’ve used that data to determine the size of the print run. But it’s certainly not perfect–far from it. Really, the only sure-fire way to avoid these perceived delays is for customers to pre-order the game from their preferred retailer before the game begins production. That way the retailer can communicate what they want to distributors and the distributors can communicate what they need to the publisher.

        1. So you would say that the market has just the right amount of production for the demand right now? Newcomers to the scene aren’t overly delayed and factories don’t sit idle?

    4. Hi Jamey!
      When you had a slid design for your game – Scythe, what exact prototyping companies did you use to get your first prototype?

  1. Great recommendations Jamie! I have found Board game design lab one of the most comprehensive and accessible resources online. Of the ten or so books I’ve read on game design, Kobold game design is one of the best overviews. The essay style captures what many other books covers in theory.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Tim! I’ll need to check out that book. I also have Board Games That Tell Stories in my queue–have you read it?

      Also, I agree that Board Game Design Lab is awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of being on Gabe’s podcast a few times.

      1. Thank you for the recommendation, I’ll definitely check it out. It looks like they have a blog with the same content, but is difficult to find a good starting location. Maybe the book is more focused / actionable.

        Currently the next book in my queue is “Characteristics of Games” MIT Press, which I have heard good things about.

        It does seem that a lot of game design resources are scattered around forums, blogs and a few podcast with a limited lifetime.

        Do you think there is any interest in a “getting started” blog about game design from the perspective of someone new to the industry?

  2. Hi Jamey,

    Is there a manufacturer you could recommend that can supply printed boards in A1 size (23.4 x 33.1 in) approx?


      1. What about them have you liked? I checked their website just a little bit ago and it seems they are pretty well equipped. Most of the places I’ve talked to can’t do all of the components I’m looking for. So that is definitely nice. How have they turned out for you costwise and with customer service and timeframes?

        1. I’ve liked their prices, their quality, their speed, and most importantly, their communication and trustworthiness. And they can make anything. They don’t manufacture everything in house, but they’ve spent a ton of time vetting other factories to make great wooden pieces, miniatures, etc, and they’re always trying to find better factories and back-up factories so the customer doesn’t lose out when something goes wrong somewhere along the supply chain.

          It may sound like I work for them, but I don’t! :) I’m just an extremely happy customer.

  3. For a second there, the thought entered my mind that they must be paying you to say all that. Haha. Good to know. I hadn’t heard about them yet and they may end up being a good fit.

  4. So if I plan to send my game to a publisher, what stage does the prototype need to be in i.e. printed boards, real cards, wooden miniatures or wooden board with paper written in pencil, lego pieces as miniatures etc… OR is this something I will find out when I contact the publisher?

    1. Jesse: The key, in my opinion, is that the prototype is functional. If you watch my video at the top of this page, you’ll see me talk about how you don’t want to put real art in your game, but having a clear user experience with a functional board, cards, etc is really important. You only get one chance to make a first impression with a publisher. If they can’t shuffle the cards because they’re written on toilet paper, they’re not going to get far into the game. :)

      1. That’s exactly what I needed to know. What I basically have is everything is clearly written with no attention to artwork in any area. It is very functional though. Thanks again for your time :-)

  5. Hi this is Drew. I was wondering some things about board game design and how you decided to start designing them.
    When did you first start designing board games?
    What inspired you to design board games?
    What do you use to design board games?

    1. Thanks for your questions, Drew! I started designing board games when I was around 8 years old. My inspiration was that as much as I enjoyed playing games, I wanted to create something new.

      As for what I use to design board games, I brainstorm with pencil and paper, and I prototype with InDesign, paper, and tokens.

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