How to Make a Board Game: A Step-by-Step Guide
The creation and marketing process for board games can be extremely difficult for independent game developers. But we did it, so you can too. If you're thinking about diving into board game creation, here's a long list of (hopefully) helpful tips and links that we wish we knew about before jumping into the process ourselves.
1.) Develop a Unique Idea
You have an idea. But is it good enough? Is it original? Funny? Interesting? Or is it a copy?
People will probably say one of two things when you tell them that you're making a party game:
"Oh, so it's like Cards Against Humanity?" Or "Oh, that's interesting. That sounds way better than Cards Against Humanity."
You obviously want them to say the latter. That's not a knock on CAH, but it's a knock on you if people think it sounds exactly like something else.
Google it. Google it hard. All the way to page ten.
Industry research and ideation are the two most important aspects of the early game design process. Go to game shops. Go to Target and Walmart to check out their game aisle. You need to be able to identify a target market that hasn't been attacked seven-hundred times before.
Be Original! Eliminate the competition!
Create a game that you enjoy playing and that other people are interested in buying. It's easier said than done, but it's possible.
Here's the thing. If an established publisher has already developed a game with the same theme and game mechanics, they're already beating you. They can charge much less for their product since they'll almost definitely have the ability to purchase a larger quantity than you. Remember, you're the newbie game creator who hardly has any money.
You'll need to beat them by being unique.
2.) Decide on a Printer
I know it seems weird to be thinking about buying thousands of copies of your game before you design it. But it's important to know how much money you'll spend before you dedicate hundreds of hours to the design and development process.
Some printers will offer better pricing for the certain elements your game needs (cards, mats, figurines, etc). For example, we found the best pricing for our game at www.makeplayingcards.com and www.boardgamesmaker.com.
The "no minimum" option these entities offer helps small-time guys like us spend about $100 per mistake (per unit) instead of spending thousands on each shipment for dozens of games we don't need yet.
If you're wondering, the first shipment of 1,000 units of Rotten Plots cost us $12,000. International shipping and Customs fees brought that to a hefty $12,800. It's a lot of dough, for sure. But believe us, the calculated cost of the other outlets and printers was much more.
We even ran the numbers on home printing, but it also ended up being more expensive due to time, ink, and equipment cost.
In order to properly price these outlets, you'll need to decide on a bulk order quantity.
How many games will you need to print in order to get an ROI that helps you create your next project?
The process of finding a printer and understanding the associated fees will help you (and force you) to make informed design decisions based on cost.
3.) Start Designing
Makeplayingcards.com and boardgamesmaker.com both offer downloadable Photoshop and Illustrator templates for every single one of their products (cards, mats, boards, boxes, dice, etc). So if you decide to give them your business, make sure you take advantage of those tools.
If you're unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, design templates help ensure that your eventual prototype will look accurate, saving you shitloads of money and preventing plenty fits of rage.
Important Info to Have on the Box:
Amount of Players
Casual card gamers want to know how many people can play the game before they buy it for game night. Saying the game is for "3-10 players" is a pretty safe spectrum that encourages purchasing for a variety of friend groups and situations.
People who play board games typically want to know that they can finish the game in 30-60 minutes. They have shit to do. They don't want to be there all night.
Your Website URL
You need a website. Get a damn website.
Start by at least buying and developing one domain relevant to your game title (or publishing company).
It's Important To Start Small
You don't want to give up halfway through the creation process. And let's be honest: if you're this far in the process of research, there's a chance you're wondering whether or not to even begin.
When we first designed Rotten Plots, the box was huge, and that was a totally novice approach.
We were in the "It's going to be the biggest, most ridiculous novelty game out there" head space. That was dumb.
We designed for the biggest box possible, and we chose to implement novelty items (like spinners, pencils, blank cards, and a bunch of other shit) that drove up the cost immensely.
4.) Start Minimizing and Reducing Novelty
I'm not saying that you need to strip away fundamental or crucial gaming mechanisms. I'm saying that sometimes there are more cost effective ways of implementing those mechanisms.
For example, instead of using a physical template to mark where each card should be laid, we decided to the put the text between the plot elements on the cards themselves. This saved us $10 per unit and gave us a cleaner, tighter gaming process.
Here's the shitty template we scrapped:
As we mentioned before, the movie genres were listed on a spinning wheel that the "Executive Producer" would spin at the beginning of each round.
We decided to dig through the cards, remove our least favorite ones, and replace them with "genre cards" that would be chosen by the "Executive Producer."
This allowed us to use a smaller, more cost effective box, which ultimately translated to "more sales from drunk college kids."
While spinning wheels for movie genres and user-friendly game mats were interactive and offered comedic value, they added $8 to the cost of each game, so we scrapped them. People would rather spend that $8 on a beer than our spinner that they might render one insignificant chuckle at best.
5.) Start Prototyping
When we started the prototyping stage, we would order one game at a time.
We'd play test it at local bars and with different groups of friends and families. That gave us an idea as to which type of person liked which type of gaming mechanism and design style.
When we decided on a final-ish design, a single prototype game cost us $80 (shipping included). While this might seem quite expensive, it was much cheaper than if we had ordered a bunch of games and realized there were tons of mistakes later.
An expensive quality prototype will force you and your fellow creators to write down all the edits possible, eliminating the cost of having to edit a thousand prototypes.
While no one wants to shell out money for a unfinished product, sometimes it's necessary.
6.) Start a Crowdfunding Campaign
A crowdfunding campaign is always a worthwhile endeavor when creating a card game or board game.
That way, you'll get to keep all the money that's pledged, no matter what. It's not a "go big or go home" mentality. It's a "see how much you can raise" mentality. It's all yours (minus the somewhat absurd platform fees) regardless of whether or not you make your goal.
Since it was our first attempt at crowdfunding (and marketing in general, honestly), we wanted to be sure that even if we only got half the money, we could use it in some way to help fund the project. That's why we chose IndieGoGo.
Set a goal that makes sense.
We set our goal at $10,000 because we felt that it was a semi-reasonable amount.
We needed to print 1,000 games, and we thought it would cost us $11k for the entirety of the process.
We wanted to make sure the campaign was successful, so we shot low.
However, something we didn't consider was international shipping fees. That was another ~$1,000. So be cautious of that!
Make Perks Attractive and Easy to Fulfill.
Limit service based perks.
While these were the most fun perks for us to fulfill (as we thoroughly enjoyed screaming in CVS parking lots and writing sensual blog posts), this took way too much time.
Consider charging more for these. You never know how many people might be interested in your services once you throw them on a crowdfunding platform.
Find cheap but interesting and funny giveaways.For example, you could give away print and play versions of your game, or you could offer printable extra decks.
We also happened to have extra weird products that we knew people were interested in, so we tossed those in as a perk.
For more information about how we ran a successful IndieGoGo campaign, read more about our hellish but successful experience here.
7.) Print Your Game.
Placing our initial bulk order (1,000 units) was the scariest part of the whole game creation experience. It's technically still a small quantity, but it was a huge deal for a couple of guys who have never made a board game before.
We chose to purchase through makeplayingcards.com, the same place where we ordered our five prototypes.
Issues we ran into:
Makeplayingcards and Boardgamesmaker are subsidiaries of QP (a company based in China). We didn't know that at the time, so when we tried to make a $12,800 purchase to from China on a company debit card, it threw a couple big red flags....HA!
The international purchase.
"Why the hell are these 26-year-olds buying all this board game shit from China? Something's super weird here."
The transaction was flagged as fraud.
We had to request permission from our bank to let transactions from Hong Kong come through for a three-day period. So that's a thing, in case you were wondering.
There was cap of $5000 per transaction on our business debit card. Since the final cost was more than double that amount, the payment did not go through, which was a huge headache.
We explained our situation thoroughly, and the bank increased our cap. They were pretty suspicious that anyone would spend over $12,000 on a board game, but after we explained that we were selling the games and not just playing all 1,000 of them like psychopaths, they understood.
After the bank hassles, and after paying the customs fees, we finally got the games delivered.
8.) Start an Online Store.
One way to sell the game is on an ecommerce site. Shopify (what we use), Square (with the Weebly integration), SquareSpace, and many others will let you create a store with ecommerce functionality for around $30 a month.
While not all of these entities make you enter your EIN (Employer Identification Number), it's probably a good idea to start an LLC anyway in case some asshole decides to sue you. We did, and it has worked in our favor.
We used LegalZoom, and it cost us only about $500 total to setup an LLC.
Why do we bother selling other products?
Not everyone will want your game. Not everyone wants ours. But we've realized that these other website visitors want other products we have to offer, and sometimes they'll end up adding Rotten Plots to their cart as an upsell. These extra purchases can help you pay for monthly costs and promotions for your game.
For example, we sell novelty t-shirts. Our best selling shirt, the "Nothing is Possible" shirt, has brought in a lot of money that those customers would not have spent on the game.
Who do we target?
Through months of testing, we found out that most of our customers aren't gamers, but comedians, movie-lovers, writers, and lovers of absurdity. Keep in mind that just because your product is a game, that doesn't mean you can assume the audience will be "the gaming community"
9.) Put Your Game in Local Bars
Since Rotten Plots is a perfect game for drunk people who want something non-strategic to do for 30-60 minutes, a bar is a natural environment. This is probably the same for you if you'd classify your game as a "party" game.
We placed our game in 12 establishments within the region, and this helped us reach our organic web traffic and sales goals for launch.
New visitors mean new customers.
Take some time to drive around your city (and region) to deliver free copies to establishments that make sense. The bars that we picked tend to be smaller, "quieter" bars that don't have music blasting, assholes punching each other, and douchebags spilling beer all over the place when the other team wins.
Give games away for free?
Yes. Definitely. When you order your games in bulk, you need to understand that you'll have to give some of them away for free. A lot of people won't buy the game until they see it played (or until they play it).
Also, don't forget, board game bars are a thing! Here's a list of board game bars where Rotten Plots is available to play.
Send your game to them! See if they'll add it to the shelf!
10.) Sell at Trade Shows, Conventions, and Arts Gatherings
We receive a better response and a higher return on investment at events that aren't related to board games. Board game events only happen a few times a year. They typically aren't local, and booth rental tends to be extremely expensive.
This doesn't mean we avoid those events. We attend GenCon every year, but the demographic is more difficult for us to sell to there. Our game isn't necessarily strategic or complex, and those two gaming elements seem to do really well in environments like that.
Try "Gamifying" Your Booth
We try to make our vendor booth stand out by gamifying it. That way, even if people aren't immediately interested in our products, they're at least interested in playing a game at our booth.
We bring bean bag boards, a spinning "deal wheel," a bunch of prizes, and many more things that separate ourselves from the rest of the vendors.
Want More Information?
These are all the things we've implemented in order to successfully sell Rotten Plots, our own movie-making party game. If you have other marketing ideas that you've found to be successful, or if you want to know more about how we've navigated the gaming industry, get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also buy the game right here if you want: