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Subject: What information should be on a board game box? rss

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Jeremy Holcomb
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What information should be on a board game box?

I’m working to standardize the information on the outside of the box for all of the games we make here at Bucephalus games. As an industry, board games have no consistent way of displaying information, and this can create confusions for customers, retailers and designers alike. Some information clearly has to be on the box (e.g. number of players), some perhaps should not be on the box (e.g. the msrp), and some information is helpful but not mandatory.

I would like to take ideas from the gaming community at large for what information is helpful, and how it should be laid out and displayed on the game box. By displaying relevant information in an easily used way, I hope to help Bucephalus Games customers make more informed purchasing decisions, and drive more sales at retail outlets.

Here is a list of information to be included:

Number of players:

This should be not only the number of players that CAN play a game, but the number that SHOULD play the game. If a game is playable but lame with 2 players, the box should say 3-X. Customers should not have to look at a box that says 2-X and ask “is this really playable with two people?” I understand the desire of game designers to sell product to a broad audience, but I’m hoping that more accurate information will drive more sales.

Play time:

This is another item that gets put on every box but that has no standard value. What are we using as our metric? If the game is a Gamer game, should we use the time it will take a Gamer to play it? If the game is 2-8 players, do we use the time for 8 players as our high end, even if a two player game never takes more than 30 min? Some games (Diplomacy) don’t add time as you add players. Others (Advanced Civilization) very much do.

Here is my proposed rule for time: unless your game is just way over the head of non-gamers, use the general lowercase gamer public for your time rating. If hard core gamers need more information they can always go to BGG…

The low end should be the amount of time to finish a game when all players know how, but no one is rushing. Example: Puerto Rico would start at 30 min on this scale. The high end should be the amount of time the max number of players will take, again with knowledgeable players, UNLESS the difference between max times is huge (an hour or so) between min and max players. Then, split the time icon into two icons, reading for example “Players: 2-4: 45min - 1 hour Players: 5-6 1 - 2 hours”

Game stats:

I’ve seen a variety of ways to list information about a game, showing difficulty or other scales. Here is what I’ve been using. Each is ranked on a 5 point scale, which I envision being listed with symbols so that customers can see the scale (thus, luck 2 would have 5 dice, two showing dice and three grayed out):

Difficulty:

This is how difficult the game is to learn and play. This is not how hard the game is to play well (that’s strategy, below). This gives users an idea of how difficult it will be to pick up a game, as well as how hard it will be to teach new players. Example: If I want to play a war game with light gamers, I should play Risk (Difficulty: 2). If my (soon to be ex) friends can handle more, let’s play Diplomacy (Difficulty: 3). More attention span? Try Axis and Allies (Difficulty 4). Willing to go way in depth? Play World in Flames (Difficulty 5).

Strategy:

This is how hard it is to be good at a game, to plan for the long term, to interact with and foil other players, and so on. A good example of the difference between Difficulty and Strategy might be chess. Chess would have a low difficulty but a very high strategy. Go would have a Difficulty of 1 or 2, but a strategy of 4.

Luck:

I don’t recall ever seeing a game try to rate this metric on the box, but I have found the customers I talk to find this very helpful. This is a measure of how much luck impacts game play. No (good) game should be pure luck, but games will have different ways to handle random elements. Some games have very clear values (Chess: 1). I also include games where the only random factor is a shuffled deck (Suicide bomber: 1). Other games deal with luck by generating so many rolls that you should be able to ‘predict’ results (Settlers of Catan: 3). Our own game, Toboggans of Doom, allows players to manipulate rolls in a bunch of ways, but ultimately comes down to rolling dice many times (Luck: 4). Some players don’t mind the random factors, some hate them. This stat lets them buy games that match their randomness tolerance.

Age:
The least well used stat on any board game, this is always included on the box and almost totally useless. As far as I can tell, we game producers use three numbers: 8, 12, 18. These are based on the legal requirements for product testing that get triggered at each level, but really aren’t useful to the end user. Upper levels are clearly pointless (no one is ever too old for board games). I’ve actually seen 8-800 on a box for age. What, are you playing with elves?

I understand the desire to sell to a broad audience, but if we are going to have this on the box, let’s make it useful. Unless you need to put an adults only label on the box, I suggest this stat being 8 plus the difficulty level (above). This is of course always going to be approximate, but should give a more useful set of information to users. This should never have an upper limit, instead reading like this: “Age: 11+”

I welcome comments on modifying these ideas or adding anything I’ve missed. My goal is to have the information on the box be as useful to the end user as possible, to help retailers know where to put games in their stores and to help customers buy games they like. What do you think?
 
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Edition:

This is probably not very important to the casual gamer, but those of us who either collect or are trying to get a specific version would like to know what they are getting. Just because the game has been re-issued with new box art does not tell me anything about the contents inside. Mayfair's Empire Builder is a great example. They have released several editions with different box art. However, the catalog number remains the same. Am I getting the original, U.S. only version? Is it the later version with Mexico and new cards? This can be a problem if one is not an expert on all the available versions. I do not have this problem with Talisman. All editions are clearly marked with edition number along with distictive box art. If you do mark this an a new edition, tell us what is new and different from the previous version.
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Jeff Binning
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As a collector, I always want to see the designer's name on the box. That's usually there, except for commercially mass produced games, but if that name is missing I'll definitely be checking it out rather than making an impulse purchase.
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Jeremy Holcomb wrote:

Age:

My recollection is that a guideline for age is that it is the minimum age that a group of humans who are all that age could be reasonably expected to open the game and teach themselves with just the contents of the game, i.e. no other experienced or elder player.

e.g. 11+ means a group of kids aged 11 should be able to get going with it.

How many publishers follow this is another matter cool
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Jeremy Holcomb
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Very good point. An edition number or version number should be added. I'll add that to my list.
 
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Jim Cote
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Download the rules from [website].
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Jeremy Holcomb
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ekted wrote:
Download the rules from [website].


Do we need this? I'm inclinded to list "For FAQ's and rules updates, go to www.Bucephalus.biz." in the rulebook. For games with one page rules we often just put them on the back of the box, but for longer rulebooks, do you find downloading them online useful?

I try to include player aid cards in every game, if someone was going to download anything, I'd assume it would be something like that.
 
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Game Title
Cover Art
Game description/synopsis - What am I playing?
Mechanics summary - How will I be playing it?
Components list - What am I getting?
Time to play - How long will I need to set aside (typical game once you know the rules)
# players - (agree that you don't list 2 or 5 if they're not good play experiences)
Age Range (yes, range, upper limits are appropriate for games primarily aimed at children/toddlers)
Author/Designer
Publisher
MSRP
UPC/Edition

Any relative ratings (strategy, luck, difficulty, one particular company's ubiquituous "FUN: 10!" rating) are subjective and probably false - so leave them off the box.

Indeed, the more times 'fun' appear on the box, the less likely I am to play that particular game.
 
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Jeremy Holcomb wrote:
ekted wrote:
Download the rules from [website].


Do we need this? I'm inclinded to list "For FAQ's and rules updates, go to www.Bucephalus.biz." in the rulebook. For games with one page rules we often just put them on the back of the box, but for longer rulebooks, do you find downloading them online useful?

I try to include player aid cards in every game, if someone was going to download anything, I'd assume it would be something like that.


The *best* way to get people to evaluate the play-worthy-ness of your games is to publish the rules on the website. It is low cost (you already have the print masters) and gets people the ability to evaluate the game without buying it.

Then when they make the purchase, they KNOW they want the game. It also means you have to provide quality components and value in that box.
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Chris Ferejohn
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byronczimmer wrote:

Any relative ratings (strategy, luck, difficulty, one particular company's ubiquituous "FUN: 10!" rating) are subjective and probably false - so leave them off the box.


Awww, I love Uberplay's "fun" rating, right next to their (actually somewhat useful) strategy vs. luck rating. It was just so adorable.
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
The low end should be the amount of time to finish a game when all players know how, but no one is rushing. Example: Puerto Rico would start at 30 min on this scale.


I know it's not the point, but 30 minutes is pretty darn low here. I'm not sure i could finish a game that fast even if we *were* all rushing.
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Jonathan Morton
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Make a game purchase decision based on what is or is not written on the box? Not a chance!
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Jeremy Holcomb
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Jonny5 wrote:
Make a game purchase decision based on what is or is not written on the box? Not a chance!


Ok, sure, but even so, the question is what information on a box you find helpful, or feel that designers should include. What would make you pick up a game and at least move it to your "I should go to BGG and look at this game" list?
 
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Jonathan Morton
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- Whatever the Title & art tell me about the theme (I'll pass it by immediately if it looks like hardcore fantasy or WW2 or pure abstract)
- Snappy art (I may even read the back of the box if the art is good)
- Price (If it's selling cheap I'm more inclined to find out if it's something I might be interested in. There are plenty of things I'm interested in that aren't selling cheap.)

I am not easy to sell to.
 
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Jeremy Holcomb
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Jonny5 wrote:
- Designer
- Whatever the Title & art tell me about the theme (I'll pass it by immediately if it looks like hardcore fantasy or WW2 or pure abstract)
- Snappy art (I may even read the back of the box if the art is good)
- Price (If it's selling cheap I'm more inclined to find out if it's something I might be interested in. There are plenty of things I'm interested in that aren't selling cheap.)

I am not easy to sell to.


Good, 'not easy to sell to' is who I want to be talking to. Many of our games MSRP for 20 bucks, so they are (hopefully) resonable impulse buys. That's why the info on the box is so key. I need to provide enough information for someone to go 'hum, I think I'll get at least 20 bucks worth of fun out of this.' and pick it up.
 
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Matthew Kloth
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Jeremy Holcomb wrote:
...impulse buys...

If Jonny5 is like me this never happens.
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Jonathan Morton
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Close to true, Matthew. I never go to the FLGS without a specific purchase in mind. But I do like to browse through everything and might slip into an impulse buy... but it will always be of something I have already done a lot of research on, something I was on the fence about. So the box is once again irrelevant. In fact, chances are very high that I've handled the box previously before I make the impulse buy.

But when I say "hard to sell to", I don't just mean as a gamer who spends too much time on BGG, nor just as a conservative consumer who won't be sucked in by whatever's on the box. Where I'm really hard to sell to is that I simply won't buy anything that I can't justify in terms of likelihood of it getting played. The box can't tell me that.

Twilight Struggle causes me great pain in this regard.
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To tell the truth I never use the information on the side of a box when making a purchase. I have either already researched and decided or don't even care.

The time I do use the side of the box is when deciding what to play.
We have five people, what games take five? Better rule out those 2-4 games.
We have three hours and are all happy to play just one game, may as well rule out the 90 minute or less games.
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You have all missed the most pertinent information of all. Will a cat fit into the box lid and will it make for a good photo op.

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Greg Jones
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I just looked at the back of the Agricola box for the first time. They give a rules summary that tells you the basic steps you're going to be taking when you play this game.

I really get little use when the back of the box says something like, "Recreate the days of the ancient Incan shamans. Defeat rival tribes, collect offerings, and become the most prestigious shaman in Peru!" But how does it play? I don't even know if there are cards or dice, a board or tiles. Maybe there are pictures of these things and that's good, but I need to know something about what you do with them.

I think it's really cool that you print your full rules on the back of the box when they fit. I would just suggest that when they don't fit, do like Agricola and summarize them.
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I totally agree about making the number of players honest. Some games play in whatever the standard way is with, say, 3-5 players, but have a variant that allows play with 2. I'd appreciate knowing that when it's the case. What's the range for playing the game normally, and then if there's a way to play with more or fewer, tell us.
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I like having the game's title on the side of the box in such a fashion that when its on my bookshelf, its still easy to read (not sideways). This is obviously not nescessary for big games like Railroad Tycoon.
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If a game *can* be played with 2-6, then put that on the box. Don't presume that I won't like it with 2. There's a great many games out there that folks say suck with 2 that I disagree heavily with.

If you feel strongly about it not being optimal, then put Players: 2-6 (3-5 recommended).
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Jeremy Holcomb wrote:
For games with one page rules we often just put them on the back of the box, but for longer rulebooks, do you find downloading them online useful?


Absolutely. Quite simply, no rules download on your website = no sale. It's why I don't buy Mayfair.

You don't have to list a specific rules url on the box, just having your company url listed by your company info is fine.
 
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UnknownParkerBrother wrote:
Jeremy Holcomb wrote:
For games with one page rules we often just put them on the back of the box, but for longer rulebooks, do you find downloading them online useful?


Absolutely. Quite simply, no rules download on your website = no sale. It's why I don't buy Mayfair.

You don't have to list a specific rules url on the box, just having your company url listed by your company info is fine.


Does making the rules available on BGG count? I'm actually curious about this, because our site links back to the BGG page for the latest docs related to our game. Does that bother people at all?

(Sorry for the thread necromancy.)

Cheers! meeple
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