I went all out on printing a prototype of my game and here's a breakdown of it all in case you're thinking about doing it too.
Top Edit: You might have already seen this post on Reddit, but I thought I'd share here as well!
Six months ago I decided I needed an at-home project. I hadn’t been doing much, work was in a bit of a rut, I needed to fill a gap. I’ve dabbled in design over the years and for some reason had always wanted to design a box, but never really had a good chance. Why not make a game? Go all out on the components and see what comes out. Six months and a decent chunk of money later I just mailed out six of my copies to testers. Here’s what I did!
I had the idea when I started. Party games feel like well-tread territory but I think there’s still more there to explore and tread on. My Girlfriend and I had played some Don’t Get Got after the Shut Up & Sit Down review, and while it was fun the first game or so it didn’t stick. That idea though of Hidden Missions and Tableless really stuck though.
I nailed down most of the game over the next couple of weeks. Focusing on those hidden missions but more open-ended as well as implementing some ideas around finite health passing in between players to breed more rivalry. I’m not going to dive in too much here as I want to talk more about the actual making of the game.
I did nearly all of this in four programs. Procreate on IPad for some illustrations. Affinity Designer on both IPad and PC for the bulk of the assets, Affinity Publisher for things like filling out cards and Notion for Project Management and writing. I loved working with all these programs, especially Affinity. It’s a great alternative to the Adobe products and way more reasonable price.
The box was the first thing I started on. I know that seems weird but had a couple of reasons. One, I knew it would help land on a base look and visual style for the game and two, I was excited to make a box. I decided to work with Packlane, a company that makes high-end shipping boxes. Not ideal for a game but they have no minimums on certain sizes, good template resources and great customer service. That to me was worth a weird form factor.
Small note: If you haven’t designed for Print before, definitely read a few guides to understand the process. It will really help you make your final product look great as well as navigate conversations with printers.
I received a template from Packlane for my box size (4x4x2) and got to work. Basically spent the next month designing a box and nailing my style down. My desk was basically a giant pile of board game boxes I liked. I don’t have much advice here other than make sure your print settings are right from the start. Shifting DPI between different files or realizing later you had the wrong DPI can cause some issues and just make extra work.
Once I was done I sent it to Packlane, we had one small issue that after a back and forth just wasn’t working. Essentially the inside left and right sides were not showing the pattern properly. At the end of the day, we just couldn’t fix it so I removed the pattern on those sides. Packlane was really helpful and incredibly patient.
Once it was finalized it took around 20 days to receive them. A good bit ahead of the 30 days they predicted. Overall I’m happy with the final product, that being said they’re not perfect despite using Packlane’s HDPrint Gloss printing. There’s definitely some alignment issues you can see heavily here on the exterior of the box: Link. This was my biggest issue. I was hoping for a clean black and white box, but you can clearly see the purple. There are also various print defects, most are small. These I’m ok with as I think they fit the theme and make each one a little unique, see the “A” here: Link. The inside looked great, could have been sharper but I love it still: Link
Final Box Breakdown: I ordered 10 boxes, I think they actually sent 13. With a 10% discount code, they give you when you sign up this cost $96.06. I think next time I would look at other providers but overall I enjoyed their service and these boxes feel unique. You can find more pictures here: Link
The Cards and Manuals
So, cards are expensive. This was a big cost. I used MakePlayingCards.com. This really is the inverse of the boxes. I love the final product, but the process was rough. Their product variety is huge. I opted for US Mini Size. It made sense for my game to use smaller cards. I will say make sure you measure or find a similar card to envision what your content will look like on the card. If you own a few board games you probably have a card of whatever size playing around. This was huge in helping me set how much I wanted to put on my card.
I used a line template provided by their site to help me get my document setup to their specs. My game has two different card types. One type has a static or same image on the back and front of every card, while the other has a static back but a unique front. I designed everything in Affinity Designer. Except for that dynamic front. I made the background in margins in Designer then moved it into Publisher where I made templates so I could easily create a ton of cards.
I went through a few review rounds where I exported all the cards to a PDF then my girlfriend and I wrote notes on them on the couch of things to fix. I did three rounds of this. We found a ton of errors so definitely review, review, review and not just alone. Get other people to look too and credit them.
Small note: Affinity Publisher does not have Macro Filling as Adobe Indesign does. This was a pain. It could have been worse, but I really had to triple check everything after creating my cards as it was hours of mindless copy & paste work from my content sheet.
Once my cards were reviewed and ready I started the process with MakePlayingCards which was rough at times. The first time I logged in through Google it dropped me into someone else's account. I logged out immediately and retried and got into my own account, but this was jarring, to say the least. The process of uploading the cards failed multiple times. My payment info gave weird errors. It was basically an afternoon.
I also ordered the manual from them. They have a decent number of options. There’s not much to say here. I used a 3.5-inch double square. It was the perfect size for my box but a pretty small piece of paper to work with. I got the text in there and didn't add much else as I was up to the margins.
Final Cards and Manual Breakdown
I ordered 11 packs of US Mini Size Game Cards with 80 cards in each pack. I used an S27 Smooth card stock with a Game Card Finish each packaged in a Plain White Tuck Box. I wanted to go thicker and linen, but the price increase would make your head spin. The end product looks great. Here are a few pictures as well as on comparing them to the Bargain Quest cards which use a thicker stock and a linen finish: Link. I think they won’t hold up great over time, but they look great.
The cards were $12.11 per pack and the manuals were $2.50 per copy. With shipping this cost in total $189.20. They took around a month to arrive. I’ll probably shop around a little more next time, but I’m happy with the final product.
The game also has bags and pins. Both of these were pretty easy. I ordered a pack of small canvas bags from Amazon specifically looking for bags that took ink well. I ended up with 100 for $18. Way more than I need but we’re finding other uses. I also ordered a custom stamp from Vistaprint to add a little extra to the bags. This was $35, but the end bags look pretty cool:Link
I also ordered some small pins. I got a ton for $12 shipped. I was going to do another round with a fancier design as I did the first go lazily after a few beers, but they took way longer than expected to arrive (~two months) so I stuck with these guys. I did look into enamel, but couldn’t justify the price for such a small run. It was massive.
What did it cost?
This is the first time I’ve added up the cost of this project. Time to find what I’ve spent more on, this or Root expansions.
Programs: Affinity Designer and Publisher $50 all together
Font Licensing: $20
Cards and Manuals: $189.20
Shipping it to my testers and friends: $65
Total of $485.26 or $44 per game (I made 11). Alright, that’s definitely more than Root. There are totally better ways to do this, but my goal wasn’t to create an economically viable game for production. My goal was to dump some money and sweat into a personal project to prove to myself I could. I’m lucky and grateful my job stayed stable through this crazy time and I was able to do this. I know that’s not the case for so many folks.
I don’t really know if I have some big lesson or learning to leave you all with. Personal projects are tough, I personally didn’t share I was working on this with anyone but my girlfriend and a close friend because I always have that fear I might not finish something. I think we all have fears around the things we make. We’re not like kids who can show off a Macaroni necklace like they just cured cancer. Every time you talk about a project you don't finish you have that chance someone will bring it up just to ask about it and reminding you of something that maybe you feel like you failed yourself at.
It’s even tougher to share things with a larger audience full of people you don’t know and might not be as nice. As I’m typing this to post it’s being played at a get together by one of my testers on the other side of the country and I’m terrified. What if they don’t like it? What if it doesn’t make sense? At the end of the day, I guess I just need to look at this thing and remember I did it, I accomplished the goal I set out and feel a ton of pride looking at this kick-ass box. It may not be perfect, but it's mine.
What’s next? Who knows, I don’t even know if the game is good. It has some flaws I’m aware of as is. I think we all dream of having that next hit game on Kickstarter and maybe I’ll get there after some testing and refinement. For now, I’m excited and nervous to start sharing this thing with you folks here. If you have any questions about this process or anything I’m happy to answer.
If you want to learn more about my game you can check it out at cuts.games. It’s a good escape from this mess going on outside and might make your time inside a little more interesting and there’s a free Print and Play. I’m working on a web app version as well and have a few extra physical copies I put up for sale.
Thanks for reading this obnoxiously long post.
Until next time!
TL;DR: I spent six months fulfilling my personal project dreams and a little too much money. In the end, I’m happy with what I made and learned a decent bit. The game is okay too I guess.