My previous post contained a pricing breakdown for a board game and how that affects the overall cost for the final customer. And I made a promise to discuss the possibility to produce games locally, closer to the customers, in Europe and USA respectively. But before we go into details about what local production of board games means, let's take a quick look at a few facts about where our customers are based.
Location, location, location
In the board game industry there are two major business models when it comes to reaching our customers: direct sales (usually represented by crowd funding) and the classic model. In the classic model, games make their way from the publisher, to distributors, from there to retailers and finally to the gamers.
In the first model - in my case Kickstarter - it is really easy to make a breakdown of where all the pledges go. To have an accurate view (least biased by campaign specifics) I used 3 campaigns made by Board&Dice and one by another publisher (which I used simply as a threshold for eliminating bias).
To reduce shipping costs and minimize environmental impact, from the crowdfunding model it would seem best to manufacture in North America and/or Europe. But before we draw any conclusions, let's have a look at another set of data: how does the classic mode do in comparison. To have a good overview, I used the data from all games published by Board&Dice in 2020 and 2021, as I do not have data from another publisher (and I would speculate that no one would share their whole business model with me ). Games are once again grouped by the region where we delivered them, regardless of the language edition (for example in the Middle East and Asia we also see English copies on top of localized ones).
With the crowdfunding model, Europe and North America together represent 90% of our customers. When we look at the games sold through distribution, these two regions combined represent only 83%, Asia and South America are growing (this is not represented in the charts above) but they still make up a rather small piece of our revenue. And yet, all our games are made in Asia. Let's analyze why!
Initially I wanted to share a bit of the history of our own path through European and Chinese manufacturing partners, but then I decided to stick to raw data. I needed an example, but one that would not distort the results, that would not introduce a bias. We'll go back to this, turns out that history is needed
Everyone knows that all games containing plastic miniatures are made in China. Well... almost everyone. When we first started in this industry and we made Exodus: Proxima Centauri, we made it in Poland, even though it had plastic minis. I had searched for 2 years some European manufacturers of plastic minis, I talked to a few dozen companies, and even though Exodus (revised edition) is made by Granna in Poland, its minis and dice are made in China. That's when I joined the community of people who know that minis are made in China! Why? Simply because either no one would even consider production runs of under 1M piece, or because those who did offered prices that were off the charts (up to 25 times what we expected to pay).
That's when I also understood the process of making plastic miniatures and why it is so expensive to make them in Europe. But the reality is that very few games contain indeed plastic pieces. In fact, my estimation is that less than 15% of games have miniatures inside (probably a realistic number is 5%, and only thanks to publishers like CMON or Awaken Realms).
Detour is over. To keep the comparison fair, I had to take a look at a game that was made mostly of paper/cardboard components and some wooden pieces. But since not all wood is the same... let's take another small detour.
Custom wooden pieces
If you've played (or, at least, seen) Yedo: Deluxe Master Set or Snowdonia: Deluxe Master Set, you must have noticed that there are a lot of wooden pieces which have custom shapes and/or high quality printing on them. While none are manually painted, they do not use the classic way to print on wood which is silk screening, but rather a more modern technology which factories in China call (or used to call) plastic printing or hot printing. While this technology does not use plastic, it does provide a long lasting print, almost as good and as colorful as an image on paper. We used it before for the pyramid tiles in Teotihuacan: City of Gods and we were impressed with the quality.
Board game factories in Europe can source wooden pieces at a competitive price, they can even customize to some extent the wooden pieces, but the moment we (publishers) request either complex wooden pieces, or with high quality full color printing, they - the European manufacturers - cannot provide a local solution, which means that they have to outsource this to a factory in China.
Later edit: I compared prices for 8mm wooden cubes in Europe and China. Turns out that wood in China is at least 25% cheaper than in Europe.
So, my choice of games would exclude games with any sort of fancy pieces, like Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, Origins: First Builders, or Tabannusi: Builders of Ur. But fortunately not all games made by Board&Dice cross that threshold, so my weapon of choice is Founders of Teotihuacan, a game that we will release next year, but which has been in the works for the past 2 years.
In the spring of 2021 (which now seems like a lifetime ago), when shipping from China had first become a nuisance (and has since turned into an actual nigthmare), we though of it as an opportunity to bring production closer to home, namely in Europe. We had manufactured games in Europe in the past (2012-2015)and the quality was OK-ish, costs were in the acceptable range, and since then more factories have appeared. My colleagues and I reached out to 11 factories which were not located in Asia: most from Poland, but also from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Czech Republic. We have heard back from many of them (but not all) and instead of telling you a story, let's have a look at the actual offers (with any potentially sensitive data being blurred). I won't even show the most ridiculous one for almost $30 a piece, but the rest are from serious, established factories:
And then the same factory - a revised offer:
And more offers...
Now, these are simple facts and I do not intend to shame anyone by publicly showing these prices. This is just a piece of the reality we (board game publishers) are living in. Now, let's have a look at a single offer from China, which is NOT the cheapest by far, but it does provide the guarantee of quality:
So, a quick summary:
- best offer from Europe is for $6.83 vs 4.73 in China
- at shipping prices from the spring, the average cost to ship from China to all destinations was $1.85, and from Europe, $1.15
- the factory in China could produce exactly as we wanted the game to look like, producing in Europe would require some compromise on our side
- in Europe we'd have to choose the lowest price, and accept a longer lead time (by 30 days)
And this is the price story of one of the simples possible games. The differences grow deeper with every components that is not strictly made of paper or cardboard, and it can get sky high.
I won't go to conclusions just yet, as there are a few more key aspects.
Some weeks ago, in the summer, I had the chance to chat with a few friends from the industry, and we shared stories. I was, of course, complaining about shipping from China, whereas they had some different issues, funny ones when you look from the outside. One of the bigger factories in Poland had run out of cardboard, effectively delaying all board games in their production pipeline by 1-3 months. They were smaller and thus among the unlucky ones. Another had a contract with a different factory which post signing increase the price with a significant amount, as raw materials became more expensive. And there's a third one whose games got both delayed and more expensive.
This things happen not because the manufacturers in Europe are evil - in fact almost everyone I've met was an amazing person, and I loved working with them - it is simply their effort to remain in business. A lot of the raw materials are made in China, and the same issues that affects us also affect them, just in their case this is opaque for the publishers who are their customers. Chinese manufacturers sometime also source materials from other parts of the world (e.g. plastic foil from Middle East, linen paper from Germany) but pricing for shipping into China is quite decent. Some of the Chinese manufacturers are also quite big, and potentially richer, thus able to create stock of raw materials to cover more than their immediate needs. More importantly, they source a majority of raw materials from less than 1000 km away.
But, in my opinion, this is not the end of the story.
I must admit that the last time I stepped into a factory in Europe was 5 years ago, so I may not have the exact latest information. Here is how things looked back then...
The factories I visited operated in fairly new buildings, offering good working conditions to their employees, but the technology I have seen was already old-ish. A lot of the processes were manual or semi-automated. Moreover, the actual print (done on an offset printer such as Heidelberg Cx104) was outsourced to a subcontractor, as having a printer of that size (and this is a big-ass monster) and not using it all the time would not justify the investment. Around the same time, I also visited 8 factories in China. The top 3 factories that I've seen had state of the art technology and good working conditions.
Is technology the main advantage of Chinese factories? I cannot answer that with a fair degree of certainty, but it feels like that's relevant, because salaries are similar between Shanghai (where most factories I've seen are located) and Eastern Europe.
Technology allows us - publishers - good choices. In China we can actually produce the board games that we imagine, with needed plastic inserts, fancy wooden pieces, plastic miniatures, and even crazier stuff. Can you imagine 7 Wonders with all the components lying in the box flat, no insert? For me, as a young(er) gamer, that fairly basic but useful insert made an impression. Or Lords of Hellas without the miniatures? Or Teotihuacan: City of Gods without the fancy pyramid tiles?
What about producing in North America
The reason I did not mention any factory from USA or Canada is that I do not know of any that can make a modern board game. There is a list that some kind soul shared at some point (sadly I do not remember who) with almost all relevant game manufacturers in the world:
I know of a few board games with a "proudly made in the USA" big logo on their boxes (like Roll for the Galaxy). I suspect that board game is not made in its entirety in the US, but since I have no ties to the original publisher, I cannot confirm that theory. But I do know of another game featuring a similar quote on its box which should in fact say "assembled in the USA".
We do care about the environment and we'd love to be able to ship less in general. A game only assembled locally reduces its footprint only in part, IMO not justifying the increase in cost.
In the present, it is not realistically possible to make more than simple* board and card games in Europe, and almost nothing beyond Monopoly level in North America, while offering competitive prices. For example, Tawantinsuyu: The Inca Empire would have to have a price point of $80 if we made it in Europe. Teotihuacan: City of Gods would be almost $90 in the same conditions. The offer from China for Founders of Teotihuacan allowed us an amazing choice: have a decent margin, or introduce a few fancier components, or a bit of both - which is what we did.
(*) Simple does not mean a light game, or a game with just cards or a few tokens. It means that it does not have heavily customized wood, or printed wood, or a fancy insert, or miniatures.
As long as our industry follows current trends, with more customized components, and games looking far better than a decade ago, and with rather tight margins, manufacturing will mainly remain in Asia, simply because no one is ready to accept much higher prices for their favorite games. At the same time, European factories can still produce at full speed card games and simpler board games, being as busy as they can handle.
I would love to hear someone prove me wrong, to see an example of a complex board game made entirely in Europe or North America, close to its final customers. We would immediately try to follow suit: we could still serve Asia from China, we would like to also produce in Poland or Germany or Romania for the European market, and to print in US or Canada as well. So, if you know of any such possibility please share!
When one designs and published board games for a living, one tends to rant a lot about it. This is where we do that, the folks involved with Board & Dice and our special friends and supporters. We'll post here our ideas about gaming, about life, about gaming more often than not, about the specific challenges of making a business out of a hobby and... did we mention games?
- [+] Dice rolls
09 Sep 2021
Last month I talked about how the current shipping situation in the world affects the cost (and thus the price) of board games, but I feel that for a lot of people this is a merely theoretical issue, as long as you do not have a clear insight of what is the actual cost of a game. So, today, let's try to rectify this, and break apart the cost of a game, looking really into details. I hope that my colleagues won't kill me for disclosing this information, but I guess that's a risk I am going to take anyway
To do this breakdown effectively, I need to choose a title, and my weapon of choice is Origins: First Builders, a game that Board&Dice is releasing this year. But I must also acknowledge that countries have various way of taxing products, so I will try to also account for that, but since I don't work in world finances, it may not be 100% accurate.
This is the easiest part... in a way. Origins: First Builders is made in China, and our production cost per unit is $11. I know, it does not seem like a lot, for a game that will end up priced around $70, so please bare with me... This is the cost per copy for a first print run amounting to 22000 copies, spread over 10 languages. This is a lot for most small and medium publishers. But there is a trap along the way.
In future prints (if any), we need to assume that the total amount printed drops sharply, with a realistic number per print of 5000 copies. Even this is a bit optimistic. Why? Let's assume that Origins: First Builders will be a hit in Germany and Poland, but not so popular elsewhere. This means that our German and Polish partners can reorder, while no other partners join. We'd have three choices:
- do this print of let's say 3000 copies with a higher price per copy,
- add 2000 English copies, hoping that they will sell,
- or ask partners to wait until the time when someone else can join for a total of 5000 copies.
For simplicity sake, let's assume that we choose option 2 or 3, so we will end up printing no less than 5000 copies. In this case, while we do not have to pay again the fixed costs (printing plates, molds for plastics, etc), we'd still end up paying a higher price per copy, which is $12.5.
On the other hand, for these additional copies, we will no longer account for development or art costs, and marketing costs will be decreased, so we can assume that in the end the overall impact in our costs remains at the same level: $11.
Shipping used to be a straightforward business: we'd assume that for a Ticket-to-Ride size box we'd have to pay $1 per copy, and for a smaller box $0.5. The new reality looks like this: $3 per copy, with a high chance that would increase to $4, for various reasons:
- we asked for a shipping quote without guaranteed space on a vessel, which then falls apart, so we must accept a higher price or start paying port storage costs
- vessels are delayed at destination (see this article: A record-breaking 44 container ships are stuck off the coast of California) which means not only delays, but added costs (shipping companies will move that costs to customers one way or another)
- shipping is unavailable to Europe, which means we need to ship by train
So, to be on the safe side, we'll work with a shipping cost of $3.5, which should suffice (unless something really bad happens).
Art & Development cost
For Origins: First Builders we had a rather modest art budget, mostly because we have 3 people in house who are actively involved in this process, but accounting for their hours spent, we're looking at an overall cost of $8000.
But this game required a lot of development work, despite the fact that when we received it from Adam Kwapiński it was in a very advanced state. Still, we put in over 1000 hours of game development, rules writing, testing internally and externally, etc. This amounts to over $13000, and please bear in mind that our main office is in Poland, where salaries are still lower than in Western Europe or the United States.
Drawing the line, the art and development costs amount for a single dollar ($1) per copy, which is pretty amazing.
This is the only part I must admit I do now know by heart, it is outside my field of expertise, but since I deal with financial planning I know the overall amount, which is again $1 per copy (if our marketing department did not go rogue ).
Designers get a percentage of our net sales as royalties, and this is a percentage ranging from 7% to 9%, depending on the game genre, on the designer's experience and state of the game, and on a few other factors. But since we cannot disclose the details of an ongoing contract, we'll just assume that the amount is always 8%. This is what we know at this time, but I will go back to that after we look on the revenue side of things.
So... we work using computers, in an office which requires us to pay rent and get certain supplies . This also affects the cost of each of our games, but in a limited way. When we made the financial forecast for the next year, we simply divide our fixed costs among planned products, and without going into the really boring details, we end up with $0.25 per copy. It's not a lot, but it adds up.
Art + development: $1
Royalties: 8% of net sales (we'll come back to that)
Taxes (how could I forget about them?): 20% of profit
The supply chain
You, as the gamer and final customer, pay a price for a board game which is usually the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price), and you buy it from a retailer. That MSRP includes the VAT (if you're in Europe), GST or sales tax (North America), which is a tax that your government collects from all sales. The average VAT is 20% in the EU and the average sales tax is 10%. The retailer has its own costs as well, and they buy from distributors with an average discount of 50% of MSRP. The, distributors buy (or take under consignment) games from publishers with an average discount of 60% (in which case the publisher pays for shipping) or 65% (shipping is split). This would be the end of it, unless the publisher selling to the distributor is a localizing partner, in which case they would but from the original publisher (that would be us, Board&Dice) with a discount ranging from 70% to 75%. We will assume an average discount of 72.5% and co-publishers paying half of the cost of transport.
Yep, you're probably a little lost, unless you work in the industry, so let's switch to an image, assuming an MSRP of $70.
The first refers to the localization model: we - the original publisher - work with localization partners who translate and, later, sell the games. They get a high discount, but take all the risk, as they pay on delivery for all their games.
The second model is the classic distribution model: we - the original publisher - sell English copies to distributors. We get paid for half of the copies sent, while the other half remains under consignment, which means that we get paid if they get sold.
I know, a lot of people retain small pieces of the pie. There are a lot of conclusions to be drawn from these charts, for example that retailers retain more profit than it is shown because they can offer sometimes deep discounts. That is rarely the situation, and in most cases retails offer deeply discounted products that don't sell anymore to minimize loss (I know that there are exceptions). What we know for a fact is that in 2021 the shipping industry has made record profits, supported by price increasing 6 to 15 fold. Not knowing the exact details of every business down the "food chain" besides our own, it is hard to make more than educated guesses, so I will limit myself to talk about our own piece of the pie.
So, what's our profit in the end?
For Origins we made 7000 English copies and 15000 localized copied. With a weighted average, our profitability per copy would be $4.8. This is, of course, if:
- all English language copies are sold (remember, this is partially a consignment model)
- no copies are damaged in transport (we do not get paid for those)
- there are no significant defects, which would make us send an unusual amount of replacements
- the exchange rates between US dollars, Euro, and Polish zloty remain fairly constant.
But $70 was not the plan
We had originally planned Origins to be a $60 game. Going through the same model, our average profitability for a localized copy would be $0.4 and for an English copy $2, with a weighted average of $0.9, again under the same assumptions as before (the most relevant one being that all consignment copies get sold).
So, what changed?
Two important things changes: the shipping cost increased from under $1 to more than $3 per copy, and for this there are no smart(er) shipping strategies... because there is simply no cheaper shipping option. So, this cost had to be accounted for. The second one is a consequence of the first: raw materials became more expensive, because in a globalized economy nothing get sourced only from local suppliers (most of the time because there are not enough local suppliers). So, our manufacturing partners increased the costs only slightly, but enough to make a difference. Well, perhaps I should list a third: the pandemic increased the cost of risk, by a lot. What does that mean? Every time we publish a game (or, in general, an enterprise decides to invest in a new product) we are taking a risk: we invest in development, in people, in processes, etc. But the market and the supply chain come with bigger threats, which means that the outcome of failing is more costly. The cost of risk must be factored in, otherwise we'd have to either stop making new products, or accept that the first time we fail it will also be the last, as our business would no longer be viable.
Within the last 12 months, I noticed that a lot of successful games have an increased price point, among them I can count Terraforming Mars, Terra Mystica, or Maracaibo to name a few of my favorite titles. In Poland at least, Terraforming Mars
is about 1.5x more expensive than it was a few years back when I got my copy. In my opinion, neither of these publishers, distributors or retailers increased the prices because they wanted a bigger margin, but rather out of necessity and desire to remain in business.
Why not manufacture locally?
If we had a penny for every instance I've heard this, we would... have been able to keep the MSRP lower
This is an entirely new, long discussion, and I promise I will comment on this soon. In anticipation, what I can say now is that we tried. For the kind of games we make, there are no viable options to produce in US or Europe... yet!
- [+] Dice rolls
15 Aug 2021
I have to start my story in November 2019, a time I can now fondly call... normal. It did not seem like it back then, with lots of work and not enough time to prepare for the winter holidays. As responsible for production and logistics (and many more) at Board&Dice I had to make sure that some 50,000 copies of various games got picked up from our factory in China and shipped to various warehouses in USA, Europe and East Asia. That used to be a time consuming, yet routine job. It was as simple as asking for offers from a single logistics partners (FedEx), confirming them, and putting FedEx in touch with our factory (plus a bunch of documents, but that's besides the point). Bored yet? Well you should be, because that story is in no way exciting.
The special thing that happened in 2020 was, unfortunately, a pandemic. I won't dare discuss the social or personal impact of COVID, as I am far from an expect, and also luck enough to have my family and close friends alive and well. But the pandemic also affected almost every aspect of our lives, and it heavily still influences the economy. Board games are part of the aforementioned economy, and that's what I plan to write about.
Let's compare the situation from November 2019 to August 2021 and look at some data:
In Nov 2019, the cost of shipping by sea for 40ft container from Shanghai, China to Oakland, CA, USA (on the West coast) was $2900. On top of this amount, there are other charges (port, loading, unloading, customs, insurance, etc), but we're not going to talk about this part, as this pretty much remained unchanged.
Today, as I write this piece of text, I am able to check the cost of shipping for the same route live on www.freightos.com, which is an aggregator much like booking.com but for sea shipping. Even the largest suppliers of logistic services have integrated it into their quotation system, so that they can provide pricing to clients on the spot. Why the rant about freightos.com? Simple to underline that rates found there are totally realistic. Coming back to the main topic, today, the cost for the same service, on the same route is $18,000!
Let's make the same comparison for a different route, from Shanghai, China to Hamburg, Germany, which is one of the largest ports in Europe and the gateway to at least one third of the board games arriving on this continent.
In 2019, the cost is $1600...
...while today, in the summer of 2021 it is $16,500!
But why should anyone care about this surge in sea shipping prices? The obvious answer is that logistics cost is embedded in the overall pricing structure of products, and board game are... products. So, let's dive into a little more details, and for that we'll need a few titles to use as examples. To see how the container shipping price affects the price of a game, we need to look at its size (and thus how many games fit in a container) and its MSRP.
First, let's take a look at big (Ticket-to-Ride) box size games: Teotihuacan: City of Gods, with an MSRP of $50 is a good example. In one 40ft container, one can fit roughly 6000 copies of this sort of games, so the overall shipping cost per copy would be that of the container divided by 6000. Before we dig into the math, a few industry facts: a publisher offer distributors an average discount of 60% to 65%, so we (the publishers) retain 35% to 40% of the MSRP. We also cover a part of or the whole of the shipping cost to the distributor. Let's use an average scenario, in which the discount is 65% but the distributor covers the cost of shipping.
For Teotihuacan: City of Gods, in 2019, the publisher retains 35% of $50, which is $17.5. This $17.5 covers the production cost, marketing, designer royalties, etc. The distributor includes the shipping cost in the own price structure, but this shipping cost per copy is based on 2019 shipping prices (China to USA), so $2900/6000 = $0.48 per copy. Looking at 2021 shipping prices, this cost suddenly jumps to 18000/6000 = $3, so an increase of $2.52. In 2021 the distributor can no longer afford to cover the shipping cost, and asks the publisher to cover the difference, of $2.52 (let's say $2.5 for ease of calculations) per copy. The publisher has no choice but to accept, or lose the distribution deal, and this is in the end a fair request, since distributors take a fair amount of risk and retail a small margin. However, the publisher may not afford this reduction of profitability. Let's see why, looking at the usual costs for publishing a game:
- manufacturing (1/6 to 1/5 of MSRP, we take the average): $9
- marketing: $1
- designer royalties (usually 7% to 9%): $1.4
- operational costs (salaries, office, development costs, etc): $2
Subtracting all of these from $17.5 (see above, what a publisher retains from a $50 game), we have $4.1 left, which is the profit before taxes. You can see now that the extra $2.5 to be covered with the hike in shipping prices is a pill rather hard to swallow. Since manufacturers are also affected by the increase of cost of shipping raw materials, it is unlikely that they can lower the production cost, instead that cost is likely to grow.
Let's have a look at another game, 7 Wonders Duel, which has a smaller box, fitting 18,000 copies in one container. Based on 2019 shipping prices the cost of sea shipping per copy is 2900/18000 = $0.16 and in 2021 this is $1, an increase of $0.84.
Following the same logic as above, from an MSRP of $30 the publisher retains $10.5, from which production, marketing, royalties, and operational costs are covered. I expect that covering an additional $0.84 in shipping costs is nowhere near realistic (but that's an educated guess, since Board&Dice does not publish that game). However, after discussing the matter of increased shipping costs with other publishers, it is safe to assume that almost no one in the board games industry is able to simply assume these costs and carry on with their business as if nothing happened.
So, if I were you right now, I'd have a few questions (and concerns), like "Why did shippers increase their prices?", "When did this happen?", and "When is this going to go back to normal?".
Let's start with WHY?. After the first months of the pandemic when China has been pretty much shut down, their manufacturing sector picked up, based on an increase of demand from... everywhere in the world. (People under lock down buy instead of travel.)
When the demand exceeds the offer, prices grow until there is an equilibrium. With a massive shortage of containers in China and a backlog of hundreds of thousands of TEU worth of products ot be shipped out of China to North America and Europe especially, shipping prices went up, by a lot.
WHEN? We felt the first surge in shipping prices in November 2020, by January 2021 the price from China to USA (West coast) had already reached $11K, and then we got the good news: the situation should return to normal by May 2021. But it didn't. So let's go to the second WHEN?
According to industry experts (shipping, not board games), the prices should return to normal by Q2 of 2022, however back to normal means back to the prices of Jan 2021, which were already 3x higher than what we used to pay prior to the pandemic. Also, one extra thing is worth mentioning here: even at the ridiculous rates that shipping companies are asking nowadays, the space is severely limited. For our latest container to USA (containing Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun, and Tawantinsuyu: The Inca Empire) we had to wait for 85 days to find a free spot on a vessel, after paying a high-season fee of 50% of the shipping cost on top.
While I do not feel qualified to make prediction about the evolution of inflation worldwide, one thing seems to be certain: the price of board games is going to grow, because publisher simply won't be able to afford to bring their games from China otherwise. We (Board&Dice) have tried to wait it out without increasing the MSRP, and have been able to do that until this summer, hoping that shipping would again become business as usual. It looks like we will have no choice in the very near future.
There's another legitimate question to be asked here: "Why not manufacture locally in Europe or North America?". Without developing much, there simply aren't enough board game factories on those continents ready and able to produce modern board games (but that's a topic for another time).
- [+] Dice rolls
01 Oct 2018
Aesthetics are very important when it comes to board game publishing. Color and images are tools which are used to invoke emotions, to convey messages and meaning, often in form of symbols, icons, or patterns. We use color to denote player components or to provide separation and add meaning to game boards or the use of certain cards.
There is a lot more to this process than simply creating images or choosing an artistic style that fits the theme of the game.
Gamers everywhere continue to be selective when it comes to the aesthetics and artistic direction of the games they choose to enjoy or purchase, and this is a good thing! There should be a reasonable expectation that a publisher will put some effort into their published works. We expect game play and mechanisms to evolve and modernize, so we should also expect the visual aspects to do the same.
We live in an age where the collective information of our entire species is at our fingertips, where the history of the rise and fall of empires is well documented, readily available for our consumption. Technology and science continue to progress at an unstoppable rate. There is little to no excuse to not have this vast knowledge reflected in board games.
Many designers and publishers put a lot of thought and effort into their creative works, ensuring accuracy or basing their designs on historic facts. Others fall woefully short in this area.
During the development and pre-production process of Teotihuacan: City of Gods, a lot of time was devoted to ensuring the accuracy of the colors and icons used in the game. It was important to use colors that match those used on murals in the ancient city. Every key icon, symbol, or graphic detail was, in one form or another, based on the culture and art that the game is designed to depict. This same effort is put into upcoming games that we are currently working on.
Of course, artwork is always subjective. Not everyone is going to love the visual aspects of every game we create. But at least we can say that we tried, and that we take pride in the respectful and faithful depiction of any historic, fantastic, or futuristic game we decide to publish.
What are your thoughts on the visual aspects of board game publishing?
How important is it, for you, that the artwork and graphic design not only looks good, but also strives to portray with accuracy and in a way fitting the theme of the game?
What are some shining examples of games that "did it right"?
Are there areas where publishers can improve further?
- [+] Dice rolls
24 Sep 2018
Spiel Essen is about a month away and every true gamer has already prepared a list of their most wanted titles. Thus, we have a bunch of Geek lists dealing with the hottest titles for Essen. Probably the most popular one of these lists is the Essen preview curated by W. Eric Martin himself, followed by SPIEL'18 Most Wanted Games Tracker.
We (NSKN Games) are fortunate enough to have not one, but two games on these geek lists, very close to the top. This is a first for us, and we want to think this is a result of: our hard work over the past 8 years, famous designers added into the mix, good artwork, marketing effort and a bit of luck.
But this is not really about us or our games. If you look at the hottest games from past years - 2015 through 2017 - you will discover that Spiel's most anticipated games ended up being retail hits, with very few exceptions. More than 80% of the games listed in each year's top 25 most desired games before Essen came through and made the Essen hot list and later made a splash in retail, with numbers in the thousands (most of them) or even the tens of thousands (e.g. Terraforming Mars).
Quite recently, I have had the chance to speak face to face with one of the buyers of a major distributors, so I asked the following question: "what are, in your opinion, the most anticipated board games of the fall of 2018?". I expected an answer looking like a small subset of the games listed in the aforementioned geek lists. I did not expect to hear one of our titles listed in there, but latest games from Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenberg should have made it to the list. Well, if not that, how about Newton made by CMON Global Limited? It turns out my expectations were completely out of line. The hottest titles from where they stand are: latest release of Magic: The Gathering and whatever Asmodee and WizKids have up their sleeve, for example the new Star Wars: X-Wing (Second Edition).
In fact, even after a few follow-up questions like "Is Spiel Essen affecting the way you look at hot titles at all?", no new games made it to the list. The reality for small and medium publishers is that huge marketing budgets are dwarfing any other effort to promote board games. Carpe Diem, Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Architects of the West Kingdom, Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game or Reykholt are apparently not on the watch list of relevant buyers from the key distributors.
The effect of this affects everyone on the distribution chain: hot Essen titles will be stocked in very limited quantities by retailers, thus small/medium publishers are keeping print runs short to avoid over stocking (which can have really bad effects on cash flow and can lead even to bankruptcy) and gamers end up buying games on eBay at ridiculous prices.
Is there anything we can do - and I use "we" here to define all of us board game publishers who do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing budgets - anything at all we can come up with to compete?
My only thought is that more of us should put forces together, not in a large, fragile alliance, but rather properly consolidating, putting forces together and forming larger companies, which can start having at least a tenth of the marketing budgets of large publishers.
What do you think about this?
- [+] Dice rolls
20 Aug 2018
The recent developments in the Kickstarter campaign from CMON’s Death May Die have left the crowdfunding division of community in a state of uproar. The company that has been bringing us plastic zombies, Vikings and extra-terrestrial invaders has caught a lot of flak – some probably well-deserved.
A side effect of the lively discussion that ensued was also the rekindling of a certain sentiment, namely that big publishers should leave Kickstarter for good. I’m here to tell why this would be a major disservice to Kickstarter backers – and to small creators as well.
We all know what crowdfunding is for. Dream a project, find people ready to back you, and make it a reality. It’s a romantic notion, one that feeds off an almost universal desire to see the underdog succeed. However, when established publishers start throwing their hats into the ring, it seemingly becomes almost impossible for the little guy (or gal) to really break through.
Well, not necessarily.
I believe we can safely say that board games truly made it to Kickstarter for the first time in 2010. It was then, during a 60-day period between April and June that the first edition of Alien Frontiers was funded. It was a game that – for a time – took our imagination by storm.
Almost everybody was surprised that someone was able to put a board game on Kickstarter, receive almost triple the funds needed to print and deliver copies to backers, and then put it on store shelves, albeit for a blink of an eye, before players hungry for some dice-based innovation and retro sci-fi atmosphere gobbled up the first printing.
Now, stop for a moment and tell me if you remember how much Alien Frontiers made on Kickstarter? If you don’t (and chances are, you probably don’t), do me a favour and don’t check yet. Just try to recall what the perception of its initial success was – and hold on to that though for just a while more. We’ll get to it in a few short paragraphs.
I’m a project creator myself, so – using the default Kickstarter tool that tracks backer activity of a live project from within – I can vouch for a certain negative influence the biggest projects have on the smaller ones. If you ever ran your own campaign while a new CMON monster landed on Kickstarter, or when a game like Batman: Gotham City Chronicles launched, you definitely felt the ripples.
Some of your backers had to make some hard choices and left you for a bigger, more shiny box. At that moment it’s easy to state that the larger project sucked some life out of a number of smaller ones – and that statement would even be - in essence - true. Good projects of smaller size survive this short turmoil with but a few scratches. Projects fighting for their life usually suffer a mortal wound and go down forever.
Regardless of how many big projects are there on Kickstarter at any given moment, success still breeds success, and repeated failures almost uniformly push projects into a death spiral. The presence of bigger, louder and bolder games only enhances what is already a part of our nature: to change our mind and pursue things we perceive as better.
Still, when you compare a project like Death May Die – one that was actually pretty troubled when compared to the smoothness of other CMON’s vehicles – to a game of a small creator making their first steps in the world of board game crowdfunding, it’s easy to think that they stand no chance. After all, they will never get even a half of the money made by a big publisher. They will often make less than one tenth. Yet, with your help, that will be enough.
Remember when I asked you to hold on to your perception of how much money Alien Frontiers originally made on Kickstarter? It's time to tell you exactly how much: $14,885.
It may come as a bit of shocker. Even if you take into account that it was over 8 years ago (and adjust accordingly), you still end up with an amount that pales in comparison to what many projects today reach. And yet, it was enough to (pardon the pun) kickstart the game, which has since proven a commercial and critical success.
With Kickstarter being as popular as it is today, receiving double the backing Alien Frontiers had received back in the day is probably easier than it was in 2010. Competing with the likes of CMON is a whole different issue, but becoming a successful project creator is simply a matter of a lot of work, and a bit of knowledge.
The knowledge is suprisingly easy to obtain. You can ask around, and many project creators will share their experiences, allowing you to better prepare for the exprience of crowdfunding a game - and often avoiding their mistakes.
Kickstarters are now built for a more active audience, and one that is also a bit more "trained" in spotting their weaknesses. In fact, it's more difficult to make it with a good idea, and little actual preparation, which - in the end - works out well for both creators and backers. The latter are not left with a sub-par product (or a complete no-show) for their trouble, and the unready creators - when they inevitably fail - are left with a learning opportunity for the future.
The big companies often set the bar. They draw in more audience. They make Kickstarter more professional. And as much as we like to believe in the crowdfunding dreams, we're all better off sticking to current realities.
- [+] Dice rolls
26 Jun 2018
It is true, Snowdonia is making a comeback – and the countdown has already started!
If you’re a fan of the game, you’ve probably already seen this information in a news feed, but this time we are coming back with some details, and some dates!
If you don’t know Snowdonia, here’s all you need to know: Snowdonia is an awesome worker placement game – a modern classic of laying tracks and building stations in foggy Wales, and a work of art – polished and expanded with new scenarios (which will take you on a wild ride around the world), micro expansions and promos since 2012.
Out of print for some time now, Snowdonia will return in a glorious Deluxe Master Set edition: a huge box filled with pretty much all of the content ever published for the game, and with components upgraded to the deluxe level.
Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set will be launching on Kickstarter on July 3rd 2018 – a week from when this post is published.
What will Snowdonia Deluxe Master Set contain?
- All scenarios ever published for the game: 12 in total (2 from the base game, 10 published separately).
- A completely new scenario: The Bluebell Line by Mr Tony Boydell himself (so, a total of 13 scenarios right out of the gate).
- Over 360 wooden components: cubes, discs, wooden tiles (for player ownership markers) custom made labourers, surveyors and generals, custom made work rate markers (shovel and track piece), as well as specially designed scenario markers like water droplets, dynamite, daffodils, coffins, and more. Yes, this means that you no longer have to use player ownership markers in different scenarios, so you can play them with up to five players!
- Almost all of the promos ever published (excluding those which were printed for charity auctions, and a few which would infringe upon existing intellectual property), which – when added to all the scenario cards – make a whopping total of over 400 cards!
- A two part plastic box insert (both pieces coming with transparent lids of their own) for superior box control, as with the aforementioned 360 wooden components and the aforementioned 400 plus cards you will definitely need it!
- A new board, new cover art, deluxe player aids, two rulebooks, and a nice, big cloth bag for all the resource and event cubes!
- A new giant box (if you own a copy of Exodus: Event Horizon, you already know how huge), to house all of the components.
As you can see, when we say Deluxe, we in fact mean Deluxe. Still, if you’ve been a fan of the game for years, and you don’t want to purchase the whole Master Set Deluxe edition just for the new content, we will have a special veteran pledge level. Right off the bat it will include the Bluebell Line, but as the campaign grows, any stretch goals adding new, never before published content will also be included.
Finally, one more important piece of news: due to an insane number of components, we will be limiting the sales of Snowdonia Master Set Edition to Kickstarter, and to some direct sales after the project is over. Like other Kickstarter Limited content, you will be able to still purchase the Deluxe Master Set directly from us mainly at conventions, but the game will not enter regular distribution.
So, if you want to be on top of things, you can bookmark our countdown page available here. Once the campaign starts, it will lead you where you need to go!
- [+] Dice rolls
30 May 2018
As it has been a tradition for NSKN Games for the last six years, we are once again coming to UK Games Expo, where you'll be able to find us in hall 1, booth K-2. Here's some of the cool stuff we have to show you.
Let's start with some big games, shall we?
Firstly, there is Teotihuacan! The game by Daniele Tascini (the designer of Tzolk'in) is now in production, but we have an in-house prototype, which you will be able to see, touch, and - most importantly - play!
Secondly, Dávid Turczi's Dice Settlers! Our newest Kickstarter is being manufactured as we speak, and we will also have it available to try out. So, if you're a fan of light 4X and rolling loads of custom dice, definitely come by!
If you're curious about the newest entry in the Aestemyr (also known as the Mistfall universe), we will have an early production copy of Chronicles of Frost (by Yours Truly) for you to try out.
Finally, we will also be showing and selling Dragonsgate College - a game of dice drafting, where you're in charge of training wizards, warriors and rogues in a school of magic and mystery, from the designers of Yedo.
The above should satisfy the true heavy gamer, but we also have some great stuff for more family oriented among you:
Have you played Scare It!, our incredibly versatile game of scaring house pets (and elephants)? 15-minute gameplay, 1-8 players, different modes of play, and some amazing art, which has been a staple of Strawberry Studio for some time now.
If you're interested by upcoming titles from Strawberry Studio, you will also be able to try out Little Monster that Came for Lunch and Stayed for Tea, a new game of monstrously good fun from Robin Lees and Steve Mackenzie, as well as Bon Appetit! - a bidding game for the finest meals on the planet.
Okay, that is a lot of games, and we will be demoing them at different times of each of UKGE's three days. If you're there, come by booth K-2 in hall 1, we'll be happy to say hello, and have you seated for a cool gaming experience.
We're hoping to see you there!
- [+] Dice rolls
23 May 2018
If you’re reading this, chances are that table top gaming is one of your favourite pastimes, and that you are what society considers an adult. It’s also quite possible that at least once in your gaming life you caught a funny stare when you admitted to spending your personal time over what many consider a toy.
This is by far not the first time the way “regular people” look at gamers is explored. Dig long enough here on the Geek, and you’ll probably come up with stories of people forced to explain that they don’t wear elf ears to gaming nights (not that there’s anything wrong with wearing elf ears), or that a responsible adult would not consider game a worthy pastime unless they could make a few bucks winning. Still, most of those stories would be kind of old.
Gaming and “general geekery” is in a different place than it was five to eight years ago. Board games seem more widely recognized as an actual idea for a fun evening, as opposed to be the straw desperate parents clutch on a hopelessly rainy Sunday afternoon to somehow manage potentially destructive, boredom-induced tendencies of their offspring. Our non-gaming friends usually know what we do in our free time, and we’re not considered as weird as we were back in the day. Society, it seems, has accepted us as its fully functional members.
I bet that after reading the above paragraph, there is somebody there thinking about proving me wrong. Honestly, I would not be surprised. From what I see here in Poland, even though designer board games are available in chain bookstores and supermarkets, there are still people thinking that each of them is based on the idea of rolling a die and moving a pawn that many spaces, and – as a consequence – games are “only” toys.
So, perhaps something else has changed? Perhaps the fact that being a geek is no longer truly an insult, we ourselves are mellower when it comes to dealing with people who know all about our hobby having played only Monopoly, than we used to?
Finally I’m able to arrive at what I wanted to ask all along, but needed a few paragraphs to set the stage: does it really matter to you, how your pastime is perceived? Do you feel the need to prove that gaming is something people can treat seriously, as seriously as they treat more “adult” pastimes? If so, do you feel that your experience is somewhat lessened by other people looking down at the fun you have?
- [+] Dice rolls
11 May 2018
Kickstarter is about creating what otherwise would probably not exist at all – with the help of backers. For a creator, it’s about coming up with a creative idea, presenting it to a group of enthusiasts, and making it a reality. For the backer, at least until the promised game is delivered, it’s about participation.
Over the last few years, I’ve written a few “Why back now?” sections for a few of the NSKN Games Kickstarters, as well as for a handful of campaigns we helped to create. One of the reasons that would always make an appearance was: “to make the game better for everyone”.
I don’t think I was the first to come up with the “better for everyone” idea, but I am certain that I had used it, before I bumped into it on other Kickstarters. I believe it’s an idea many people came up with independently, and it does not surprise me one bit. After all, it’s not only a good thing to say, it’s also something that is generally true.
Unless it’s not.
As backers, all of us love to participate in the game expanded and grown before our very eyes, and as we speak our mind, we get to be part of a creative process. As creators, we have an opportunity to use the suggestions of people already in love with the game to make it even better. An opportunity we sometimes have to ignore.
Backers often don’t react too well to being told that the thing they want is not going to happen. With multiple interesting projects running on Kickstarter almost any given day now, it’s also easy to see how those unhappy with the answer they got pull their pledge and take their business elsewhere. Hard as it may be, sometimes the only right option a creator has is sticking to their guns.
Responsibility is the key here, for when a project has a few hundred backers (and we all know that a couple of hundred backers make for but a small Kickstarter), a creator of a mid-sized campaign will usually communicate with perhaps a few dozen backers on any given day. It’s easy to forget that there are hundreds (if not thousands) others, who are slower or less eager to communicate.
Listening to a fan base in the making is incredibly important. Interacting with backers makes the creator form a bit of a bond with people who are helping to bring their project to life. Saying no to people who genuinely want to make the game better for everyone can thus seem like saying something inappropriate. Nonetheless, it’s something that sometimes it has to be done, no matter how dirty it feels.
- [+] Dice rolls