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57 Comments on “How to Design a Tabletop Game

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

      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?

    5. Hi Jamey,

      Vendors like Panda are one stop shops from my understanding for manufacturing the entire board game. However, in the case where one wants to source their own components but wants a vendor to just assemble the various components into the final product, where does one turn to for that? Is there an industry term for it (i.e. assembler, fulfillment, etc.)?

      Thanks!
      Ankur

      1. Ankur: There is a term for it, but I’m blanking on it. :) Consolidator? Panda actually falls at least partially into that category–they make some things in house, but they also outsource a lot of specific bits to factories that specialize in those bits.

        1. Hmm, I thought a consolidator was a place like Impressions that gathers games from various smaller publishers and then distributes it. Are you saying that Panda could potentially provide consolidation of parts sourced by myself into a single product?

    6. Fairly certain that I saw an example on your site about taking an idea and turning it into an actual came. The example used was making a game on movie production with cards of scripts, directors, actors, profit and rewards. There was even a screenshot to show what an actor card would look like. Could you please post a link to that article? (I have been searching and cannot find it, so upset that I never bookmarked it.) Thank you. Your whole site is awesome and very helpful as I am designing my first game and getting ready for my second play test. I have recommended it to some people in the board design workshops that I attend.

    7. Hi All,

      I am currently working on a board game that would work best with a double layered player board.

      I am having trouble finding out who makes them or how much they cost. Especially if I am only trying to get some made in a small quantity? I was hoping to find somewhere to make some prototypes, but it is starting to feel like a pipe dream ha

      Should I just leave this type of detail for when the game gets to a publisher and explain the fact that the idea for the player boards would be a double layered construction? (meaning I would stick with paper or card board substitutes in my prototype with pieces able to just slide around freely…)

      Thanks for any feedback you may be able to provide.

      1. Aaron: Thanks for sharing your question. I think most manufacturers can make double-layered mats (and I know for sure that Panda can). It’s basically the idea of them making 1 punchboard, punching it, and gluing it to a solid mat.

        But that’s for manufacturing at scale, not small numbers of prototypes. If you’re submitting to a publisher, they would not expect for you to have dual-layered mats in the prototype.

    8. Hello Jamey. Huge fan of yours here from Greece. I already own your book about Kickstarter, I never miss a video you post on YouTube and I have played most of your games. I truly admire all your accomplishments and how you managed to turn your dream into a full-time job making more than just a living out of it.

      l’ll cut to the chase with a confession.
      My wildest dream is to design someday (hopefully) an exploration / adventure board game, similar to my favorite “Legend of Zelda”. Now you know more than my parents do about my deepest desire. Having said that, I was wondering.

      Is this even possible for someone who you don’t have any art (or graphic) design knowledge and given the fact that the world-building aspect of the game in this particular case (designing an exploration game) which is obviously mostly art related plays a HUGE factor here? I kid you not Jamey. I can’t draw at all. Wasn’t lucky enough to born with this valuable talent. Unfortunately.
      So. What what should I do? Should I struggle to learn the basics of drawing myself in order to complete the first few working prototypes or should I try to find a professional artist fitting my vision for the game right from the start?

      Would really love to hear your point of view here (seriously) knowing that you too are also designing an open world board game for more than a year now (and for which I’m really really really excited).

      1. Thanks, Franky! I can’t draw well either, so I hire artists for that. For my open-world game, it’s been more of a partnership (I’m paying the artists, but they’re also applying a lot of their creativity to the worldbuilding). So I’d recommend finding an artist with whom you can partner in that way, which might help save you some up-front costs.

  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?

    Shane

      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.

  6. Hi Jamey! Big fan of yourself and Stonemaier. I follow closely your blog and videos – and of course the many great games! My question is merely looking for advice from someone I have a lot of respect for but if you feel you would not like to comment – no problem! I will continue to be a huge fan of yourself, your company and community! But I would massively appreciate your two cents (well another two cents!) if you have the time:

    I asked you a question in the Wednesday Facebook live today about pursuing a game design degree. Your advice was sound – there is of course a wealth of resources available and the best way to make games is just doing it. I am consuming a lot of game design content and doing my best to prototype and develop my designs.

    The parameters of my scenario: I was accepted into the MSc Games programme in ITU Copenhagen for this coming September. It is free (other than the cost of living) because I am an EU citizen (Irish) and will take two years. I’m 27 and already have a Masters Degree in Computer Engineering. I currently work as a Creative Technologist at a small agency in Germany building rapid prototypes to test user interactions/experience. It is conveniently a 4 day week contract so I have good time to develop my games on Fridays and the weekends.

    I have been designing games as a hobbyist for the past 2-3 years, both board games and digital. I haven’t released anything other than to friends, playtests or game jams. My ultimate goal is to be designing games as a full time gig. Be that at a studio or as an indie outfit. Game design is my absolute passion – it keeps me up at night writing and coding and gets me up early in the morning to fit in another bit of sketching or balancing. I feel I must be missing the mark as my designs tend to fizzle out as I develop them. I think there are skills I need to learn and a degree in Game Design would really help.

    My question (if you have got this far!): do you think the degree in Copenhagen is a good move in achieving my goals? I of course think that it would be great if I was releasing games in my free time but I feel that a formal education, where I can focus 100% of my energy on designing games is my best bet. I have thought about this a lot myself and think I have reached my decision – I would just like to hear further what you think.

    Thanks for running those live sessions. Always learn a lot about the various topics you discuss and also about how to conduct oneself in front of fans. You’re a credit to the community Jamey.

    All the best!

    1. Thanks for sharing your story here, Seano, and I can see how this is a tough decision and you’re looking for more formal direction to become a better game designer. Given that it’s free, why not? It sounds like this is your passion, and it’s actually quite a luxury to be able to focus solely on game design for a few years. I look forward to hearing how it works out!

      1. Thanks Jamey! I realise it is somewhat self-indulgent of me to post a personal dilemma. Definitely a tough decision I’ve been mulling over a lot. It’s good to hear from an industry professional that a degree in game design can be a potentially good opportunity. The internet has extreme opinions in both directions!
        I’ll stay in touch!

  7. Thanks Jamey for answering my question so thoroughly and promptly! Here’s the question and answer publicly. I also have some follow up questions I put at the end.

    Me:
    Hi Jamey, I’m in the prototyping stage for a board game I’m developing, and I’m trying to figure out for a few components how to make them as easy to use as possible while keeping costs reasonable.

    I really like the indented board effect you have for the player boards in Scythe, and that’s the only place I’ve seen it before, so I was wondering how you achieved that and whether that was hard to find manufacturing for.

    Jamey:
    From what I’ve seen (working with Panda), dual-layered player mats cost about 3-4x more than regular player mats. Part of it is the additional materials cost–you’re printing 2 full player mats instead of just 1. The other part is labor, which is twofold: First, someone has to punch the top layer, removing all of the chits. Second, someone has to glue the top layer to the bottom layer. Those might seem like quick things to do, but compared to just running a sheet of paper through a printer and applying it to a piece of cardboard, it adds a significant labor cost.

    Also, from the graphic design perspective, it’s kind of a nightmare, as the graphic designer needs to create 3 different layers for each mat. I’ve attached an example here from the Scythe expansion

    One of the stipulations for making any insert with holes in it (whether it’s like Scythe or Evolution) is that the holes need to be far enough away from each other and from the edge of the cardboard that the cardboard in between is substantial and sturdy. Some games don’t have that much room between information on the punchboard.

    Also, you run the risk of components not fitting into the mats. They might fit now, but things can change (sometimes without you knowing it) on subsequent print runs: the diecuts may be adjusted, the printing/punching/gluing methods may change, and the tokens may get slightly bigger or smaller based on paint, type of wood, plastic moulds, etc.

    Last, there is a higher risk of the dual-layered mats warping due to the way the glue expands and contracts.

    An alternative to the precarious dual-layered mat is something like the mats in Evolution and Dice Forge—a single mat with holes punched in it. You can use that if no information necessary under each hole. Also see Summit, which uses dual-layered mats similar to Scythe, but slightly different.

    For all of these reasons, I’m extremely hesitant to use dual-layered mats in future games. I would only do so if absolutely necessary.

    Follow up:
    I had originally thought about whether a cutout without the second layer (like you mentioned for Evolution and Dice Forge) would be good for my purpose, and I worried about how that would restrict those boards to flat surfaces (ie, not carpet and stuff), but seeing that in some successful games makes me worry less. Playing anywhere other than a flat surface is probably too much of an edge case to worry about really. I don’t need any information on the bottom layer, I just thought it would be helpful for support, but I’ll definitely heed your warnings. It sounds like it’s more hassle than it’s worth for that benefit.

    I’m hoping to use it to create counters that can count very high while still being easy to read and maintain. The idea is to cut a large circle out of the board, with increasingly smaller circles cut out of it. Each hollow circle would then have digits (0-9) around it, so that I could spin each line of digits independently to create a large number (the plan is 3 circles of digits to get up to 999). Since I need to make multiple counters like this, I felt this could be a good way to keep costs down (just cardboard) and make updating and reading numbers quick and easy for players. Another upside for this, it sounds like, is that the component fitting into the hole would actually be the component that was cut out of the hole, so theoretically it should fit nicely, but it sounds like warping could become a worry for fit in that case. I’ll definitely have to keep distance between these on the board in mind too, probably have to make sure the cardboard is thicker to give it some strength.

    Thanks again

  8. There’s one thing about board game cards that’s always bugged me and I can’t find any information on, and I wondered if you had any insight — Why are there so many different board game card size standards, and why would a publisher choose one size over another?

    In my head, surely it makes sense to go for what’s most efficient — theoretically there would be an optimum amount of cards to squeeze into one printed sheet by the manufacturer. And, as most manufacturing is coming out of China, you would think this would’ve been standardized by now, but it hasn’t. All sorts of games can have weird sizes and shapes (trust me, I own a board gaming venue and we sleeve all our games and they’re all over the place; some games have sizes that just cannot even be sleeved!)

    So I wondered if you conducted any research on this regarding the publishing of your games. Is there an ‘optimum size’?

    1. Thanks for asking your question here! I think the key to keep in mind is that cardboard and cardstock can be cut into ANY shape or size. It may seem like those are standards, but that’s just because people tend to use sizes that were previously used in other games. That’s become fairly important in an age where a number of people sleeve their cards.

      There are many reasons a publisher might choose one size over another, but I would say the universal idea is that you can fit more cards on a card sheet if those cards are small. So in many cases we try to select the smallest card size that gets the job done. That’s the “optimum” size, and it varies vastly based on how the cards are used in the game.

  9. Hi Jamey,

    I have been dabbling with both board/card game design and software development, since the latter is my main area of experience. Have you ever used software to prototype game ideas? Tabletop Simulator is an obvious tool, but I wondered whether something I create for myself might also be of use to other designers.

    Similarly, do you feel any aspect of playtesting, collecting statistics and feedback from players, etc. would be better with some piece of software that doesn’t yet exist? Or you might feel, for example, that it would be too much hassle compared to the tried and proven method of spreadsheet forms etc.

    1. Josh: Thanks for posting here! I always use Indesign to create prototypes, but I think you’re asking about playtesting. Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator are the two major programs used for that purpose…and honestly, I think it’s going to be tough to compete with them unless you’re able to maintain the flexibility they offer and solve the various problems they pose.

      I’m not a great person to answer your second question, as I haven’t run any playtests on those platforms (maybe reach out to Brad Talton ad Level 99 Games, as I think he uses one of them a bunch). However, I would say that the biggest reason I haven’t used them is that I want to be able to easily integrate various types of components into the system and have them linked back to Indesign so I don’t have to manually update each component in the playtesting software every time I make a change. It would also be fine if they could link to PDFs of the components.

  10. […] *NOTE! This is an entry from my EXCLUSIVE JOURNAL as I follow Jamey Stonemaier’s (of Stonemaier Games) advice on how to make a board game. Will it work? Will it be a success? Follow along and find out! — Posts available on BGG and […]

  11. First I would like to thank you for the plethora of information and sharing your experience. I am reading through this and amazed at how insightful and how the collective community is here and on Facebook.

    Now to the dreaded question; licensed IP’S

    Jamie,
    My question is about existing licensed IP’S and if creating something in a set universe is it okay to prototype to submit to the ownership or/and seek out a publisher to work with to bring the concept to the owner?

    I have seen a little of this discussed online. Specifically on reddit table top design, several people just say if it’s a property like Batman, Harry Potter, starwars, Lord of the rings,etc. The basic advise is walk away and Just get a new theme for your game. To me this seems daunting talking to a large company WB that owns an IP like Harry Potter.

    But we have companies like monolith and knight models and fantasy flight creating games for these IP’S. There are many concepts and stories/games that can still be told within these universes and part of the draw appeal is interacting with established characters that people have an emotional connection to already. I myself bought the Harry Potter miniature game because my wife will be more interested actually learning a miniature game be use she knows the characters and the world they live in.

    Does the larger publisher world just have the muscle to handle these IP licenses and therefore the reason people say to just walk away from big licenses? In my opinion some of..the execution of these licenses has fallen short of good gameplay from how these properties have been handled or even completely misses the spirit of the source material.

    While kickstarter is appealing with seeing the success of gotham city chronicles; to me pitching to a publisher and partnering or directly with the ownership such as DC/WB seems stronger to develop and secure rights to get the game to peoples tables. While I can see the other side that some license owners would require working with specific publishers or developers due to contract agreements.

    Have you encountered these barriers before or can you provide some insight to the relationship with designer/publisher/IP owned company?

    Thank you so much for your insight

    Michael

    1. Michael: It’s a great question, though my ability to answer it is somewhat limited by my lack of experience with IPs. Scythe came from the 1920+ IP, but all I did was reach out to Jakub and share my enthusiasm for it. That’s very different than approaching a big company about their very famous IP. It can be done, and it doesn’t hurt to try.

      I do have a few stories about IPs I tried to get but couldn’t–they’re in this video: https://youtu.be/1Bv4BidZ-6U

      I think this podcast episode might help you: https://player.fm/series/board-game-design-lab/designing-games-based-on-a-licensed-ip-with-daryl-andrews

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