Designing Games: A Couple's Perspective

This blog chronicles the game designing journey of husband and wife team Will and Sarah. Mostly written by Sarah, this blog is meant to be informative, interesting and fun. Oh, and a historical account so we can come back in the future and laugh at our naive selves. ;-D
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Designing Games with Cost in Mind

Sarah Reed
United States
Rancho Cordova
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If you haven’t already figured this out, let me save you some grief – design your games from the very beginning with the end cost in mind. I’m not an expert, but I’ve learned a lot about the cost of games from using The Game Crafter, a Print-on-Demand (POD) site. If you want to know the most expensive your game could be then use their site or another POD site as it will be a good gauge. I bring this up now because I’ve seen a lot of Kickstarters fail lately partially due to their game costing more than what customers want to spend on it.

Regardless of whether you want to do a Kickstarter or submit your game to a publisher, here are some simple tips on keeping the costs down on your game to make it more appealing to potential companies and/or buyers. And it will save you the trouble of trying to redesign later to make it less expensive.

Most manufacturers that I’ve heard of print the standard Poker-sized cards (2.5 inches by 3.5 inches) with 18 cards to a sheet. So you should try to design your whole game to use multiples of 18 cards. So if you have three decks of cards, make sure that they total a multiple of 18. They don’t each need to be that way, though, so you can have odd number of cards in the decks if you want. But the worst thing you could do is have 55 cards because that’s three sheets of 18 plus one extra card. Most places will charge you the full price of each sheet regardless of whether you fill up the sheet completely. That’s also why the standard tuck box holds 54 cards because it’s a multiple of 18 (three sheets to be exact).

There are other sizes of cards, which you should experiment with when you have the chance. Just make sure to do some research on the manufacturer you think you’re going to use to see how many cards fit per sheet for the various sizes. If you want a quick reference, I highly recommend The Game Crafter as most of their templates are industry standard (as far as I know). Just be careful of going too crazy with card sizes as many people like to sleeve cards so you’ll want to make sure there are readily available card sleeves for the size you want to use, or ignore the issue completely if you don’t care about sleeves. It’s your choice.

This can be one of the most expensive components in a game (next to custom dice, but I’ll talk about that in a moment). Boards are what makes a game cost $45 instead of $25. So think carefully on how essential your board is.

If you don’t want to get rid of having a board, consider doing multiple smaller boards that lay next to each other and/or having player mats. Any of these can help reduce the cost of your game and make it more viable for selling. But if you really think a board is essential then don’t compromise on your game design. Just keep it realistic.

Another cost factor of boards is that they often dictate the size of your game box. The bigger the box, the more it costs both in production and shipping. Even if you submit your game to a publisher, these are things they will be considering on whether to publish your game.

People love dice. People love custom dice. People don’t like paying a lot for custom dice. So think carefully on what kind of dice you want in your game. Just like boards, this is an expensive component and should be essential to your game design. When possible, use basic dice, but in fun colors. Otherwise, look into sticker dice for your prototypes as you’ll get an idea of how expensive they can be, but engraved dice are a lot more expensive plus you have to have simple symbols for easy recognition.

Most of the time, you shouldn’t worry too much about the box size if you’re going to submit to a publisher or work with a manufacturer for Crowdfunding. However, if you are going to self-publish through POD sites, their box choices are much more limited. So you’ll want to see what box sizes they have and do what you can to fit into the smallest box possible so it’s more affordable.

General Components
These are the markers, counters, meeples, and other bits that help track the game. The more detailed and fancy you make these pieces, the more costly they will be. While you obviously don’t want to go with the least expensive options, you shouldn’t necessarily go for the more expensive either. For example, winks, which are thin plastic discs, are really cheap and good for prototyping, but nothing you’d want in your finished product. On the other hand, having laser-engraved ceramic discs would be too costly plus potentially too delicate for long-term use.

One general rule of thumb is to make your game as small as possible. If you don’t need a large board, don’t make one. Don’t need 10 dice, but can get away with 5, then you should use 5. Ask yourself whether you really need 4 copies of every card or will it be balanced with 2 copies. These things will not only make your game less expensive, it should help make the game stronger. The more unnecessary stuff you take out, the tighter the game will be.

What other advice do you have about keeping cost in mind while designing games? Anything you’ve learned from trial & error that you’d like to share? I’d love to know if I missed anything above. Also, do you use POD sites? If so, which ones and what do you think about them? Please leave your comments below.

Also, check out James Mathe's blog on Trimming the Fat: Board Game on a Diet which has even more advice on cutting costs, especially if you're about to publish.
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