Development of the Board Gaming Industry (a designer and publisher's perspective)
Keng Leong Yeo
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My Significant Other and I have designed a board game, Three Kingdoms Redux, over the course of four years. She has since set up a publishing company, Starting Player, to publish it. The game was launched in November 2014.

It has been a long arduous journey thus far, to say the least. We've learnt a whole lot about the board gaming industry along the way. As our game development took such a long time, we've also observed the development of the industry and trends that came and gone.

In this geeklist, I share some of these observations.


Disclaimer: These observations are our own and our own only.
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1. Board Game: Risky Business [Average Rating:2.33 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Kickstarter and Risk Taking

Kickstarter gave many budding game designers an avenue to showcase their ideas and work. Previously, game designers would have to submit their game ideas to established game publishers, usually at their own cost, and hope for the best. As the risks sit with the game publishers, they would conduct due diligence on the game design and perhaps change the way the game idea is presented (to put it mildly).

With Kickstarter, game designers can now put up their ideas and get them funded reasonably quickly. Via it, most of the risk has been transferred to the consumers. Gestation time may also be reduced if the game idea is already well-developed and ready for manufacturing. The main drawback is the lack of a second independent opinion on the game idea before it goes into production. Another frequent complaint is that gestation time may be increased instead, perhaps due to poor planning or due to the production of the many extra components that comes from achieving stretch goals.

The above effects have played out in a big way over the past few years. The number of board games coming into the market via Kickstarter has exploded. Many board gamers hold the opinion that many kickstarted board games are not playtested thoroughly enough and lacks balance.

The knock-on effect of the huge number of board games coming out is the shortening of each game's life or shelf span. Just as you get excited about a new game after watching a video on it or after playing it once or twice, another new one comes along and grabs your attention. With so many board games vying for your attention, distributors and retailers have become more risk averse, especially towards new designers and new publishers. Understandably so (and we're not bitter about it).

As such, the big names continue to grab attention and that sets high barriers of entry for the entire industry.

Kickstarter, boon or bane for the board gaming industry ?


P.S. We're prudent and have never kickstarted any board game before, preferring to wait for the game to be available via retailers. Oh, and we did not kickstart Three Kingdoms Redux.
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2. Board Game: Weights & Measures [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Lighter Board Games

There is a sense that the board gaming hobby is gaining a little more traction with the general public. We are certainly happy to observe this and to have played our small role in it (not just in designing, but in introducing board games to our family and friends).

5-7 years ago, when I go back for my annual ICTs (in-camp training, which is basically reservist training), I would attract really strange looks when I professed board gaming as one of my main hobbies. That has changed for the past 2-3 years; I am now usually able to find at least one person in the entire group of men who also enjoys this hobby.

With the broadening of the hobby, it is perhaps inevitable that game designers are plumping for simpler game designs with shorter playing time. These tend to attract a wider audience and may therefore sell better. As a result, we are observing a greater proportion of lighter games coming out.


P.S. We have a few well-meaning gaming friends who asked us why our first game design is a heavy game. Their advice was for us to design a much simpler game and launch that first before we launch Three Kingdoms Redux later. For us, it was a case of the Three Kingdoms game idea taking a life of its own, holding our interest at the expense of our other game ideas. It eventually held all of our attention until the project was completed.
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3. Board Game: Treasures & Traps: Expanded Realms 1 [Average Rating:6.83 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.83 Unranked]
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Expansions

The trend of launching expansions has been happening for quite a while now, and is certainly not a recent trend. These days, it is not surprising to observe a base game launch almost concurrently with an expansion. Indeed, it is probably harder to find a board game without any expansions.

Launching an expansion affords the designer and publisher a second (and third, fourth, ...) marketing opportunity. The designer may also have received feedback on certain flaws (from a section of gamers who tried the game) and utilises the opportunity to improve the game.

We confess to owning quite a number of game expansions too, especially for those which base game we really love blush. A number of them do improve the base game significantly and/or increase its replayability. But there are also a number that we go after trying it.


P.S. It is interesting to note that a number of our playtesters were already asking us if we were planning any expansions when we were still playtesting the base game. After its launch, quite a number of the game's fans also asked us the same thing.

Three Kingdoms Redux does not have an expansion. Yet (just in case we ever do).
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4. Board Game: Get Paul That Promotion [Average Rating:6.23 Unranked]
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Promos

Besides expansions, there are also the promo expansions. Usually in the form of single cards, tiles or tokens, to help promote the base game. They appeal to the completionists in many board gamers. We're also afflicted by it for some of our favourite games blush.

Promos is a great way for publishers to encourage early sales of their games. As they usually consist of a single game component, they are not overly expensive to produce and ship.

The main criticism about promos comes from the completionists in us because they are sometimes just that difficult to track down. Especially so for board gamers residing in regions far from the main areas of board gaming activity, e.g. the Far East. Happily for us, the BoardGameGeek Store has stepped in over the past few years to fill in that gap. Most of the promos do eventually find their way to the store, we just have to be patient.

Another criticism about promos is that they may not be well-playtested. When added to the base game, it has the potential to unbalance an otherwise well-balanced base game. Nonetheless, since it is usually just a single game component, it is easy to exclude from future games.


P.S. We also produced a promo for our game, the Generals' Illustration Booklet. It is different from other promos in that it is not a game component. Instead, it is a booklet showcasing the fine artwork by the game's artist, Ray Toh, as well as providing some historical background to each general included in the game.
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5. Board Game: Carcassonne Big Box [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.60 Unranked]
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Big Boxes

This is perhaps a follow-on trend from having so many expansions. Some of the more popular games have had so many expansions that the game publisher has grouped them together to publish a Big Box edition.

The advantage to the new gamer is potential cost savings, assuming he/she is already interested in a number of expansions. For the publisher, it's the opportunity to push out another "new" product and give the base game another marketing boost.

Storage space may also be reduced for the consumer (compared with producing and purchasing each individual expansion separately).

Purchasing a Big Box does run the risk of picking up the odd expansion that you really dislike after trying. Which is why the game publishers also tend to pick the more popular expansions to include in the Big Box editions.
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6. Board Game: Fairy Meat Components Pack [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.50 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Quality of Game Components

The plethora of new game ideas also meant that the board game manufacturers needed to step up their game. They have certainly done so over the past 5-7 years.

If we revisit our older board game purchases, it is not unusual to find poorly cut die-cut boards (not cut cleanly through or off-centre cuts), thinner card stock and thinner game boards. These days, our eyes and fingers are pampered with vibrant colours, well-cut and thick tokens, thicker and bigger cards, and thicker and bigger game boards with fine matt finishes.

These improvements have certainly added to our enjoyment of the games. Kudos to the game manufacturers.


P.S. We gave our game manufacturer, Panda Game Manufacturing, the tough assignment of producing interlocking state tokens. The interlocking has to be precise so that each state's name, written in English and Chinese, will not be distorted. They passed the assignment with flying colours and we are really happy with how the state tokens turned out.
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7. Board Game: A Fistfull of Miniatures [Average Rating:6.50 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Miniatures

There is something about the three-dimensional aspect of game components that attracts and holds our attention zombie. Game publishers has noted that and used that to their advantage. This was also made possible with the advent in technology as the game manufacturers stepped up to the plate.

From a marketing perspective, beautiful artwork and a game board that stands out (instead of being largely flat and two-dimensional) can certainly attract eyeballs. Particularly at a huge gaming con where every publisher is vying for your attention.

The main downside to miniatures is they are likely to take up a lot of time during the manufacturing stage. More checks and tweaks have to be carried out before the final version is approved. Indeed, we understand that this is a big cause for the delays in kickstarted games; Many of them have miniatures as stretch goals and achieving those stretch goals means a significant lengthening of manufacturing time, something that the original project estimate may not have taken into account.


P.S. Three Kingdoms Redux does not have any miniatures, though our playtesters jokingly requested that we produce a deluxe edition with 69 unique sculpts for the 69 unique generals in the game.
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8. Board Game: Card Dice [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Dice and Card Versions

We cannot help but notice that the number of board games with dice or card versions has gone up in the last couple of years. I suppose as board gamers, many of us have some kind of affinity for dice (I do!), so designing a dice version panders to that affinity.

Or perhaps the goal of the exercise is to make a more portable version of the base game. Maybe it is to give the base game yet another marketing push. Or maybe it is to appeal to the completionist in the die-hard fans of the base game.

I personally haven't tried many dice or card versions of base games, but for those that I did, well...


P.S. A dice or card version of Three Kingdoms Redux is not in the works.
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9. Board Game: Balance of Power [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:13175]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Power of Game Reviewers

Affinity for board games is a very personal and subjective topic. That makes marketing a board game challenging for game publishers. It is common for game publishers to release pictures, rules and even videos on gameplay at an early stage to get some buzz going. However, it also becomes apparent quickly to the customers that the designers and publishers will naturally only have mostly good things to say about their game. This leads to the search for other opinions.

Enter the game reviewers. These are usually board gamers that extend their enjoyment of the hobby to include board game reviewing. Some do so via blogs, others via podcasts or videos. Whatever the form, they are a valuable avenue for designers and publishers to tap into for marketing a new game.

The main benefit of being a game reviewer is you start getting offers for review copies of the game once you start gaining traction and becoming popular. However, producing quality game reviews on a regular basis requires persistence, time and effort.

By quality, I meant familiarity in the rules of the game being reviewed, insight into what makes this particular game different from others, explaining those differences and providing well-justified opinions on the game and perhaps most importantly, the entertainment value of the review. These qualities are almost certainly a result of time spent reading the rules with care and repeated plays of the game.

While researching for potential game reviewers for Three Kingdoms Redux, we found many quality game reviewers. However, we also found out (to our disappointment) and many have stopped board game reviewing after a year or two. Possible reasons include fatigue, changing priorities in life and in one case, IP rights.

It was another case of survival of the fittest. The few game reviewers that ploughed on gained more traction and became increasingly influential in the board gaming industry. Having put in so much hard work and perseverance, they have well and truly earned their current popularity, influence and power.

However, with power comes responsibility.

Over the past few years, the board gaming industry is becoming increasingly reliant on these select few game reviewers to promote the latest game designs. There is certainly space for more game reviewers and indeed, a diversity of opinions can only benefit the entire board gaming industry. There are new game reviewers coming onto the scene, but it seems that a significant proportion give up as they may have found it hard to challenge the popularity of the select few.

Most game reviewers take it upon themselves to declare that the copy of game they are reviewing is a review copy, if indeed so. That is commendable.

Most game reviewers also present a balanced view of the game they are reviewing, stating what they like and dislike about the game and more importantly, justifying them with reasons and examples. That is also commendable.

Having said the above, it is perhaps timely to include a reminder to all game reviewers that the review copies sent to you come at the cost of the publishers. For small time publishers like ourselves, that means it came from our savings. As such, do spend some time doing research into whether the game fits your review style and preferences, and checking that it also fits your schedule before accepting the offer.

Note that the above reminder is not an appeal for positive reviews just because it is a review copy. Rather, this is an appeal for fair and objective treatment of all review copies. We would also like to put on record here that we appreciate and respect the hard work that all game reviewers have put in for their reviews.


P.S. Our single most astonishing experience with a board game reviewer was Robert Florence of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. We received a slew of new game orders that day and found out after some googling that there was a new game review posted on the internet. We certainly were not expecting that particular review as we had not sent Robert a review copy. Indeed, we did not know about Rock, Paper, Shotgun until that eventful day.

It was only upon close reading of his review of Three Kingdoms Redux that we discovered Robert had gone out to buy his own copy and wrote up the review on his own accord cry.

An excerpt from his review of Three Kingdoms Redux:
"When I saw that it was available, I considered – for a moment – getting in touch to ask for a review copy. But then I saw that this was a small company, with no great distrbution chain, and I bought an imported copy. I figured that, at the very least, it would be interesting to see what an attempt at a Three Kingdoms board game might be like. I didn’t expect to play a game that would easily shoot straight into my top ten games of all time list."
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10. Board Game: Geography Game [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Geographical Difficulties

The main board gaming action takes place in the US and Europe. It is therefore not surprising that most of the major board gaming conventions are held in these two regions as well. This puts designers and publishers from outside of these two regions at a distinct disadvantage.

The inability to attend many of these conventions, unless at great costs, means far less visibility for non-US non-EU game designs. As a result, distributors and retailers from these two regions are more reluctant to bring in stock of these game designs. Shipping individual copies into these regions is also costly (shipping costs, taxes, handling fees etc.). All these difficulties mean non-US non-EU game designs are likely to continue to be rare and more costly.

To overcome these difficulties, there is a tendency for non-US non-EU game designs to be simpler, thereby requiring less game components, a smaller game box and lighter weight.

The Japanese has another solution to the above conundrum, i.e. design and publish for domestic consumption only and not bother too much with other markets. This solution works as the Japanese domestic market is large enough to sustain their local game designs.

Most Japanese games are available only in the Japanese language. It is only after a particular Japanese game becomes popular and a Western publisher notices it that the game get a translation and international release.

We also discovered that the Japanese play almost exclusively Japanese language board games and do not play English language games. At least this was our conclusion after we wrote to Japanese distributors and retailers to market Three Kingdoms Redux, with little success.

Non-US and non-EU game designers have much to bring to the table. However, as the above mentioned constraints are difficult to overcome and US and EU-based board gamers have more than enough board gaming options to not feel the need to pay a premium for non-US non-EU game designs, it is hard to see such game designs making a bigger impact in the near future.


P.S. Three Kingdoms Redux is designed by two Singaporeans. The game's artwork is also by a Singaporean.
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11. Board Game: Oldies but Goodies [Average Rating:4.50 Unranked]
Keng Leong Yeo
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Old/Classic Board Game Reprints

It may seem strange to hear two board game designers and publishers say this ninja, but my Significant Other and I like to think of ourselves as part of the Cult of the Old mb. Older games tend to exude an elegance and presence that newer designs may lack. We have also found that we are more likely to enjoy "new old" games than "new new" games whenever we are exposed to new board games.

The most recent trend is the revival and reprinting of a number of these old classics. These were mostly first published in the late 90s or early 2000s. The old classics have stood the test of time well and definitely deserve to be available to new board gamers joining the hobby.

We certainly view this trend favourably and hope it will persist. The only negative is I sometimes have to fight back the urge to buy the latest reprint edition with better looking game components when I already own the older edition blush.
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