Brent Povis
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This primer is designed for anyone considering self-publishing a board or card game. The goal is to provide an in-depth, detailed account of the entire process right down to the nitty-gritties of tray dimensions, mold costs, printing bleeds, box thickness, card thickness, shipping times and prices, port comparisons, etc. Gathering this information was difficult and I found that precise details were tough to come by. As such, you’ll see that I provide specific numbers whenever possible, whether dealing with measurements, quantities, or prices. Yes, prices. The goal here is to provide clarity and make it as easy as possible for you to get your game published.

There was an excellent guide on starting a game business published in 2008 on BGG by Byron Collins (“frontlinegeneral”). He achieved a strong balance of breadth and depth that covers the scope of business operations, including playtesting, web site development, submitting designs to publishers, and many other general business concerns. This guide will build on his by focusing on the specifics of self-publishing. If considering self-publishing and choosing an order for reading these guides, it would be better to read Byron’s guide first, this one second.

Over the past year, I endeavored to publish the game Morels under the banner of Two Lanterns Games, our small startup company, and found it a challenging but highly rewarding experience. With this primer, I hope to illuminate the many dark corners of the path so that aspiring self-publishers can embrace creative control and publish with a reasonable, efficient investment of time and money. This is the guide I wish I had found prior to self-publishing. With one game in print, I’m not an expert, but I figure sharing the first year of a beginner’s journey will help many a beginners’ journey in their first year.

This primer will also serve as a review for the quality and process of working with two specific Shenzhen/Hong-Kong based manufacturers: Shenzhen Senfutong, which I will hereafter refer to as Senfutong, and WinGo. Both were a pleasure to work with. I ask that ethics conversations regarding working with China be reserved for other forums as this is not the purpose of this post. If, having weighed the information available, you decide to publish across the Pacific, then these reviews will hopefully prove helpful to you. I have also referenced my dealings with Panda Game Manufacturing, who I did not use but are becoming increasingly popular for their coordination of Chinese manufacturing from their company offices in Vancouver.

Contents:

Art
-Finding an Artist
-The Illustrations
-Printing Specs

Finding a Manufacturer

The Box
-Box Dimensions
-Box Bleed
-Box Finish: Matte vs Gloss
-UPC Code

The Cards
-Card Stock
-Card Size and Corners
-Card Finish

The Tray
-Bane of My Existence, or The Black Plastic Tray
-Tray Dimensions

Custom Plastic Pieces

Tokens

Rules

Manufacturing
-Samples
-Shipping
-Freight Forwarding
-Prices for Shenzhen Senfutong
-Report Card for Shenzhen Senfutong
-Prices for WinGo
-Report Card for WinGo
-Panda Game Manufacturing
-Alternatives

Final Thoughts

It begins…

Playtesting is done, the game is rocking, time to find an artist!
There are other posts that treat the importance of thorough playtesting. I’m going to assume that you are beyond that, have a smoking game in hand, and are ready to take the self-publishing plunge. If you can do your own art, you’re a big step ahead of the game. If you can’t, like me, you need to find an artist, not only a talented artist but a professional who will work well with you since you are going to be intimate colleagues for the next several months.

The first problem was where to find this artist. At first I thought a student would be ideal. “It will be cheap, exciting for them, and we’ll build street cred together…perfect!”. Having been through the process, I can’t think of any student on earth that would have had the time and patience to properly navigate the artistic production of a game. If it’s very simple, say just a few illustrations, maybe you could go this route. Morels was 25 illustrations and a box, way too much for a student to tackle with the zeal and level of detail that I was envisioning. So, I began my quest in earnest and soon discovered that what I really needed was a computer-based graphic illustrator. I browsed on BGG and also checked out my local Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators. Most cities have an Illustrator’s Society. If you do go this route it’s useful for face-to-face meetings, not that you couldn’t work with anyone whose portfolio appeals to you and collaborate long distance, utilizing Skype for meetings if necessary.

Through the Illustrator’s Society web page, I scanned through the galleries and portfolios of about 50 artists, narrowed it down to a few that had the feel I was looking for, and emailed three. One had an agent (bad sign for the pocketbook), one didn’t reply at all, and one replied with gusto. I had found my illustrator, the patient and exceptionally talented Vince Dorse. He asked for a description of the project, including the size and number of illustrations required, and asked for my budget. I wrote back with honesty, citing my low budget and original ambition to work with a student, and we worked out a deal that came out to $100 per illustration plus extra for the box (which includes oodles of graphic design, font choice and purchase, modification of illustrations, etc), bringing the total in at just over $3000…and I could tell that was cutting me a deal. At first I was lamenting what felt like a huge expenditure, but in the end it was worth every penny and he put in well over a hundred hours, possibly upwards of two hundred, on the project.

The Illustrations

For the first couple of months, I was running two parallel streams of thought and work. One was the art and the verbiage for the rules (which involved coordinating further playtesting at each iteration), the other was researching manufacturers and teasing through options for the possible game components. Let’s start with the art.

After muddling through the first couple of illustrations, Vince and I found a system that worked well for us. I would prepare a one page dossier for each illustration, which he would review and ask a few questions, then he would prepare a “chicken-scratch” illustration and run it by me, I would make suggested edits, he would prepare a black and white, more editing, he’d make a color draft, more editing, and then we’d arrive at our final illustration. The edits from me were seldom major since, thanks to the dossier and the rough drafts, we were usually on the same page from the early going. Each dossier took about an hour for me to prepare (it included my ideas for the illustration, details of the biology of each mushroom, ideas for the overall feel of the card, and reference pictures), but it was well worth the work and ultimately saved us both time and effort.

Printing Specs: CMYK vs RGB, DPI, File Type

Both manufacturers that I worked with, and most from what I gather, want your art in CMYK format. You might want to have your artist also give you the files in RGB in case you need to work with them later, since not all software (including GIMP…see “Tokens” and “Rules”) is compatible with CMYK.

DPI, or Dots Per Inch, is a measure of resolution. The printing standard is 300 DPI. As for file type, you’ll want to confer with your manufacturer on what format they prefer before your artist forwards you the final images. I sent mine as both PDF and PSD to Shenzhen Senfutong and PDF only to WinGo.

Finding a Manufacturer

There are numerous websites that provide search engines for Asian manufacturers. The most well known is probably Alibaba, which is what I used. There are mixed reviews for that site, but it worked out well for me. If you decide you want to use WinGo or Senfutong, you can find them there. Based on my experience, both of these manufacturers are completely legit. I also tried NingBo, but was not happy with the quality of English and was worried about the pitfalls that can arise when zigzagging language barriers. My contact with WinGo was Leon Lau and later Alison Zheng. My contact with Senfutong was Battle Hu. All three were professional, spoke very good English, and, one of the most important elements, were prompt with all of their email replies.

Upon striking up a connection with Battle at Senfutong, he suggested that we Skype to talk more about the project and to show me samples of other games they have done. This was tremendously helpful and I also discovered via this Skype that they do games for some of the big dogs (a Gigamic game was pulled out while we were talking).

Leon and Alison were also excellent right from the outset, with thorough emails and clarifications on any points that required it. My only criticism is that they were a bit pushy in “suggesting” certain specs for the cards or the box, but in the end that proved helpful as my ideas (particularly for a thicker box) could have been disastrous.

Box: Dimensions

When working with your artist, you will need to give exact dimensions for the box top, box sides, and box bottom, including bleed (see below). For Morels, I asked that the box top be 204x204 mm, or about 8x8 inches (unlike the cards and tray, which require a mold/dye, you can easily specify whatever box size you like). A box thickness of 1.5mm-2.5mm is pretty standard…my exact words to the manufacturer were “I’d like a 3 year old child to be able to sit on the box without crushing it” and 2mm is what they recommended. With a 2mm thickness, the box bottom needed dimensions 4-6 mm less than the box top to ensure a snug but not overly tight fit. For Morels, the box bottom measures 199x199 compared to the top’s 204x204. If you already have a manufacturer picked out before doing the box art, you can get a template up front to streamline things.

Box: Bleed

For the box, you will send two files to the manufacturer: the box top, which includes the sides, and the box bottom. Each file will require bleed as specified by your manufacturer. The standard is about 5-7mm. The manufacturer should send you a template that includes the cut lines. You can then forward these templates to your artist. My final files came back looking like this:






Box: Finish…Matte vs Gloss

The finish for the box includes the same options as the finish for the cards (see below), though “gloss” or “matte” distills it down to the simple. Some companies, as with their cards, prefer to linen emboss their boxes. For me, I find that these boxes get dirty/dusty easily and are much more susceptible to mold, so I had no interest in a linen embossing. This brought me back to gloss or matte. I had both manufacturers do a sample in each. My favorite of the four was the matte box from WinGo. The print quality is just a little sharper than Senfutong’s and the colors a little more true to the art. That said, I’m sure I would have been perfectly happy with Senfutong’s box had I not had it sitting right next to WinGo’s. Comparison breeds nitpicking and really both boxes were well done.

Box: UPC Code

If you’d like a bar code for your game, it’s very simple and will run you about $85. I used “buyabarcode.com”.

The Cards: Stock

There are two factors to consider when figuring out the stock for your cards: the stock itself and the thickness of that stock. The stock of a good paper card will be denoted by its core. Black-core, blue-core, grey-core, and white-core are similar except for whether they can be penetrated by light. Having a colored (including black) core, even if your cards are white, will make for opaque cards due to the presence of a core layer at the center of the card. White-core does not have this colored center layer and is therefore not opaque. The overall quality of color-core and white-core is similar, but color-core tends to be bit more expensive. Plastic is another option that would get you away from paper entirely, but is more expensive still and I never considered this option due more to feel than price, so will not comment on it. The advantage to plastic is that it is highly durable and has no memory for bending.

Card thickness is measured in GSM, or grams per square meter. 280 GSM (like Munchkin) is a bit lightweight, 300 GSM seems to be the standard for Euro-games, 310-330 GSM is “casino-quality”, and 350 GSM is heavy. I was very pleased with the 300 GSM white-core cards from Senfutong. They were printed beautifully and well-centered. The only problem was that, every so often, a card was not perfectly cut. That is, the cutting edge of their dye did not perfectly slice the card from the printed sheet, leaving a tiny irregular notch somewhere on the perimeter of the card. It was rare and I discussed the problem with Battle at which point they assured me that it would be fixed. As far as bendability, you can bend the cards quickly with no memory, but severe crimping or severe bending will crinkle the card. On the whole, I was very pleased with the quality of the Senfutong cards and eager to press on.

WinGo, on the other hand, uses more of a paper-card stock than a playing-card stock, which is not good. Even at 350 GSM, the cards are flimsy and do not shuffle well. There is an advantage in that the cards have no memory for bending, but it is because they are just way too pliable. I personally would not order cards from them again unless they agreed to use a different stock than their standard and confirm that it is playing-card white-core, grey-core, etc. In market testing, I found that many non-gamers (ie members of the mycology, or “study of mushrooms”, community, who build in a nice secondary market for this game and are really getting a kick out of it) actually preferred these cards, so I didn’t cancel my order for them, but gamers strongly preferred the Senfutong cards. This will require some mixing, matching, and re-shrinkwrapping on my part since I’m committed to only selling the Senfutong cards to gamers.

The Cards: Size and Corners

There are many sizes of cards that you could opt for, but the most common are poker size (2.5” x 3.5”, or 63 x 88 mm) or bridge size (2.25” x 3.5”, or 57 x 88 mm). If you would like a custom size, it will likely require paying a dye/mold charge. First, ask what dyes they have on hand since you might be able to avoid the dye/mold charge if they’ve got something in the neighborhood of what you’re after. This worked out well for me and my “guide card”, which is 88 x 142 mm.

If you would like rounded corners, indicate that right up front as my manufacturers did not assume that. They can then send a template that the artist can use, or the artist can assume rounded corners and insert non-printing crop marks into the art as shown below (very faint blue that may require squinting or tilting the computer screen):



The Cards: Finish

It goes without saying that the feel and finish of the cards is exceptionally important. The most commonly seen are poker oil (glossy), aqueous (in between glossy and matte), and matte. Each of these can then be linen embossed (that crisscrossed linen feel on many cards) according to your taste. Matte is pretty unorthodox for a game that will have a deck of cards because they do not slide well against each other. Poker oil, which is the common choice for Chinese manufacturing, is nice but can feel cheap depending on the stock of the card. The poker oil samples I got from WinGo felt very cheap, largely due to the flimsy stock. The overall effect was like a deck of souvenir-photo playing cards you’d pick up at a gas station. The poker oil cards I got from Senfutong, on the other hand, look and feel good, helped by the significantly higher quality stock. Aqueous (AQ) is the choice of higher end manufacturers. It costs more but looks great. For me, it wasn’t worth the extra cost to go with aqueous finishing or linen embossing given how pleased I was with Senfutong’s product. Those options can be nice if you have the money and are so inclined, but a good poker oil card is durable and plays great with little visual difference from a non-linen embossed aqueous card. I personally don’t care for linen embossing as it tends to look and feel a bit dirty over time to me, but it’s a popular option.

Bane of Existence, or the Black Plastic Tray

For several months, my greatest worry was something that we all take for granted to one extent or another…the black plastic tray that holds the game components. Much of the advice out there recommends that beginning/low-budget publishers go with a cardboard insert rather than a plastic tray. Of course this is a matter of preference, but my preference sides strongly with a sturdy, plastic tray. For a game like Carcassonne, the cardboard works, but for a game like Citadels or for my game Morels, it quickly evolves into a nightmare. So, black plastic it is.

Having weighed in on this, I went shopping for manufacturers. First I had to figure out what I was looking for. I learned that the process for making a tray like this is called thermoforming. There are some good videos online that show how it’s done. I then began searching domestically, but this turned out to be a laughable enterprise. I got four different quotes and none of them were for less than $5000 for 1000 trays…$5 per tray! Out of the question. The lion’s share of this cost was for mold/dye cutting. That charge alone was $4000-$5000, and 8 cents per tray production cost.

Recovering from my shock, I proceeded to look overseas and was not disappointed. Even if I had decided to do all of the other components domestically, I may still have gone overseas for the tray. The reason: $150 mold charge (compare to $5000) and 20 cents per tray. Total cost for 1000 trays: $350 or 35 cents per game. That is roughly 14 times cheaper than doing the same product in the US.

Now the second challenge…making a graphic representation of the tray design I had in mind. I don’t know CAD. Paying a CAD technician gets expensive, and domestic manufacturers want it from you in this format. Again, China to the rescue. I spent an afternoon learning Google Sketchup, prepared the following graphic with handwritten dimensions, and their designers created the CAD file at no charge. Here’s what I sent overseas:



And here’s what they sent me. Both did a great job…very sturdy, thick black plastic with the correct dimensions:



Tray Dimensions

It is important to note that the LxW dimensions for your tray should be about 3-5mm less than the inside of your box bottom and the H dimension should allow room for your instructions, tokens, etc to sit on top. I made the mistake of only allowing 2mm tolerance in the L x W dimension, so the tray fit is tight (not necessarily a bad thing, but probably difficult for the workers doing the assembly). The H dimension will be specific to your needs, but you can measure games in your collection to get an idea of the space required.

One additional note…the depth of the wells for your cards should allow several mm tolerance for the “fluffing” of the card decks after they’ve been opened, shuffled, and played with. This one almost bit me. I did account for the “fluff” and my wells are deep enough, but just barely. Any shallower and there would be a danger of cards washing over the top of the wells.

Custom Plastic Game Pieces

In addition to the cards and rules, I knew that Morels would require about 20 pieces in each game: 16-20 foraging sticks and 2 frying pans. Given their intricate nature, mass-produced wooden tokens would be too expensive. Plastic was looking like a better option, and this was quite the puzzle. One route would be to have Senfutong or WinGo use one of their plastic manufacturing partners to make the pieces via plastic injection molding. For each the pan and the stick, Senfutong gave me a quote at $1500 per mold and, since the foraging sticks and the pans are similarly sized at about 5 cm long, 8 cents per part. Even going overseas, that was coming out to $4600, or $4.60 per game, for the plastic bits….prohibitive to say the least. This likely would have been cheaper had I coordinated with a plastics manufacturer directly, but I was turned off by the idea of plastic for this particular game. So I got crafty, literally. I decided that I would use punch tokens instead of plastic bits for half of the games (a routine and much cheaper alternative) and would custom make tokens for the other half. See “Tokens” below for information about the punch tokens. The handcrafted bits are specific to my game, but if you’re interested, it was about 200 hours of work with a bandsaw and a Dremel to make 8000 wooden foraging sticks and about 20 hours of work to modify and vinyl dye 2000 multi-color plastic pan charms. The wood and tools ran me about $550 and the pans and dye about $150. $700 and a lot of elbow grease for picture perfect parts was well worth it to me, but wouldn’t be for everyone. I was particularly happy with the feel of the hand crafted wood foraging sticks since they complement the organic, woodsy feel of the game so well. I decided to include the handcrafted bits as a limited edition special available at conventions and via promotions.

Tokens

Using the various illustrations supplied by the artist, I chose to create the tokens and rules myself. This required learning both graphics manipulation software and open-source desktop publishing software. After much research, I chose to use Gimp for the graphics (free whereas Photoshop and others can be very spendy) and Scribus for the desktop publishing. Both were incredibly user-friendly, even for a complete caveman like myself. Can’t speak highly enough of both software programs.

Using Gimp, I cropped and modified selections from various illustrations and then arranged them symmetrically in Scribus so that WinGo (I only used them for tokens…didn’t try Senfutong because I knew I’d be handcrafting bits for those games) could print them front and back. The tokens from WinGo are high quality and not expensive. For 1000 sets of 20 tokens per 7.5 x 7.5 inch sheet, it ran me $230, or 23 cents per game . While good, they are not premium quality, since they punch out in one direction only, but they do punch out cleanly every time with no tearing. I had been warned about poor token quality coming from China, so this fear was happily shelved. We did have one communications error that unfortunately resulted in the entire set being printed with the foraging sticks too small. The cause of the error was my electing to change the art after seeing the sample and them failing to apply the change correctly. After this experience, I would caution to try to get things right the first time. Making changes dramatically increases the chance for error. This was a bummer and I could have been a stickler for them to change it (they did offer to, free of charge), but the tokens ultimately still passed muster and I didn’t want to sacrifice the time that it would take to make amends for a small and non-critical change. With the art they did use, the tokens printed crisply and were of good quality.

Rules

The rules were the great triumph of my computing life to date. Which is to say, if you taught a T-Rex to play volleyball, he’d be pretty pleased with his first jump serve. Using Scribus and Gimp (again, both free) in tandem, I learned new tricks every day and had a final product after about 40 hours of work. Given what this would have cost to have someone else do it and the satisfaction of complete creative control, I was thrilled. If you can type, use a mouse, and read help files, you can create a nice rule book with these programs. I elected to use a simple front/back tri-fold design for my rules, though there are many options available. Scribus allows you to choose the fold/layout design and set the bleed for that design, which you’ll want at about 5mm, so that’s a breeze.

Samples

Though samples are expensive, about $500 per company including mandatory air-shipping, the manufacturers probably lose money on this deal if you choose not to press on with production. They’re basically doing a print run of 2 or 3 for a complete product. You’ll need to do this eventually no matter what, but if you’d like to start off with a cheaper option as a preview to see if you want to do business with the manufacturer at all, most manufacturers will send you a “samples kit” of components from other games they’ve produced.

Shipping…by Ship!...and Port Selection

The first question to answer here is to which port you’d like your games delivered. Key ports in the US are Baltimore, Charleston, Houston/Galveston, Jacksonville, LA, Miami, New York, Port Everglades, Norfolk, San Francisco, Savannah, and Seattle/Tacoma. Interestingly, the cost of shipping from China varies almost zero among destination ports! The cost to have Morels go to LA, a sail time of only 10 days, was $240. The cost to have them go to New York, a 20 day sail time including passage through the Suez Canal, was $260! You’ll save a lot of money by choosing the port closest to your warehouse/basement since domestic shipping charges and times will show a marked jump the farther the games travel. From LA, I was looking at $1000+ per manufacturer and two weeks to get them to me in Pittsburgh. From New York, which I chose, it was $480 per manufacturer and one week. Overall, from China to Pittsburgh, I was choosing between $1200-$1400 for 3.5 weeks through LA or $700-$800 for four weeks through NY, per manufacturer. Easy call there.

If you’re in a rush, you can have some of your games air-mailed directly from China, but this is insanely expensive. Luckily I didn’t have to go that route, but I would have if the games weren’t going to arrive for their launch at Origins, Gen-Con, etc. I didn’t price it, but I’ve heard several hundred dollars for just a small batch (think 30) of games. The manufacturers never even suggest air-mail because they know the wild costs associated.

Freight Forwarding and Customs

Unless you’re willing to negotiate the complex stage of the import theatre, you’ll need a freight forwarding agent to handle things for you. Considerations include bonding, ISF forms, customs, and all of the logistics involved in getting the goods from their container to your door. I went with BGI Worldwide through their office in New York. I would never use BGI again. Freight-forwarding turned out to be the worst part of the whole process. The original quote came in far under the the final amount. In the end, after all of the unmentioned/hidden fees surfaced, freight forwarding ran about $1000 per manufacturer, more than double the quote ($480)! They overpromised and underdelivered in every respect. Back to the drawing board on this one to figure out a new freight forwarder for our next production.

Update 1/22/18: We have been using OTX Logistics to handle every aspect of shipments from Panda and have been very happy with them.

Total Price for 1000 Morels games with Shenzhen Senfutong

This section breaks down the price for 1000 games. I don’t list the quotes for doing 2000 games, but the price break is not nearly as much as you’d expect based on price structures of US manufacturers (who tend to build in a much bigger profit margin and can therefore give huge volume discounts if you’re in the market for 50,000 games instead of 1,000), only about 10% per unit.

Total Price for 1000 games: $3450

Itemized Costs:

1000 games: $1800 (tray, rules, box, 92 cards packed in two 46 card shrinkwrapped decks, game assembled and shrinkwrapped)
Mold charge for plastic tray: $150
Setup fees: $200
FOB local charges: $300
Shipping to NY: $405 (noticeably higher than WinGo)
Samples, including air-mail: $485
Wire fees ($55 each) to send two payments: $110 (the first for samples and the second for the game, though you may prefer to send three payments…one for the samples, a second for 30% of the remaining total to initiate production, and a third for 70% of the remaining total upon completion of production)

Report Card for Shenzhen Senfutong:

To review, my contact was Battle Hu. The communication period ranged from October 2011 to April 2012. The production period ranged from February 2012 to April 2012.

Overall Experience: A-
Quality of communication: A- (good English, replies within two days, replies usually detailed)
Price: A

Overall Card Quality: A-
Card Print Clarity: A+
Clean Cut and Centered: C (centering was good, but small notchings in the cut of about 1 in 50 cards in the samples were the most worrisome concern in working with Senfutong)

UPDATE 6/4/12:

Card Cut: A+! (The final version of the cards were all clean-cut, a tremendous relief. Centering was an issue in about 1 in 25 decks).

Card Centering: D (Card Centering was a bit off in about 1 in 10 decks and considerably off in about 1 in 40. Thankfully we are reassembling, so we have full quality control, but I wouldn't want to reassemble again. Panda is looking better and better).

Card Stock: A- (white-core 300 GSM…good feel without going all out for aqueous or linen)

UPDATE 6/4/12: Talked to some experts at Origins, and our stock is grey-core, which is a good thing.

Card Flex: A- (crinkles in severe cases, but pleasantly forgiving of bending and no memory for shuffling)

Overall Box Quality: B+
Box Print Clarity: B (feels just a tinge blurred, but only on very close inspection. My wife had to keep reminding me that consumers are probably unlikely to notice…the author is always his/her harshest critic)
Box structure: A+
Box seams: A+

Overall Tray Quality: A
Tray Structure: A

Overall Rules Quality: B-
Rules Print Clarity: B- (moreso than the box, they feel a bit blurred. The font also printed “thicker” than expected, resulting in a small decrease in readability)

UPDATE 6/4/12: Happy to report that the final version of the rules are perfect print quality. For whatever reason, the text in the samples was thicker and blurred, but this problem has disappeared.


Rules Stock: A

Tokens: I did not research tokens with Senfutong because I knew I’d be handcrafting wooden pieces for the limited-edition of Morels.

Total Price for 1000 Morels games with WinGo

As with Senfutong, the price break in going from 1000 to 2000 games with WinGo was not a big jump, about 10% per unit.

Total price for 1000 games: $4044

Itemized Costs:

1000 games: $2974 (tray, rules, box, 92 cards packed in two 46 card shrinkwrapped decks, token sheet of 20 tokens, game assembled and shrinkwrapped)
Mold charge for plastic tray: $150
Shipping to NY: $260 (noticeably lower than Senfutong)
Samples, including air-mail: $550 (a bit higher than Senfutong)
Wire fees ($55 each) to send two payments: $110 (the first for samples and the second for the game, though you may prefer to send three payments…one for the samples, a second for 30% of the remaining total to initiate production, and a third for 70% of the remaining total upon completion of production)

Report Card for WinGo

My contacts were Leon Lau (pre-production) and Alison Zheng (post-production). The communication period ranged from January 2012 to April 2012. The production period ranged from February 2012 to April 2012. I decided to use WinGo as a second manufacturer for several reasons:

1. I didn’t want to have all my eggs in one basket in case I didn’t like my samples from Senfutong. With summer cons approaching, I was worried about having a final product in time.
2. I wanted to compare the process and quality of working with more than one manufacturer for future productions.
3. I wanted to be able to create this guide, all the more useful because it represents a comparison of two manufacturers and thus is not marred by reporting only on what may be the quirks of an individual manufacturer.

Overall Experience: B (cards are not so good and you’d want to talk with them about using a different stock than their standard, but the box, rules, and tray are fantastic and the tokens are very good)
Quality of communication: A (good English, replies within one day, replies always detailed)
Price: A-

Overall Card Quality: D+
Card Print Clarity: C (feels a little blurred)
Clean Cut and Centered: A- (very rarely off center, and only a smidge)
Card Stock: D (paper-card stock 350 GSM… I can’t give them an F because a lot of the non-gamers I’ve shared the game with really like these cards, and like that I went with matte. For gamers, even if you went with glossy, they don’t feel professional. If you decide to work with WinGo, evaluate a lot of samples and see if you can get them to use a better stock.)
Card Flex: B (a double edged sword…because they are paper stock, they are highly bendable. This doesn’t feel good in the shuffle but means that the cards have no memory for even severe bending)

Overall Box Quality: A+
Box Print Clarity: A+ (perfect!)
Box structure: A+
Box seams: A+

Overall Tray Quality: A+
Tray Structure: A+

Overall Rules Quality: A+
Rules Print Clarity: A+ (perfect!)
Rules Stock: A

Interestingly, the print clarity of the cards was superior with Senfutong, but the print clarity of the box and rules was superior with WinGo. In both cases, the lesser clarity wasn’t terrible, but did stand out in comparison upon close inspection.

An Alternative: Panda Game Manufacturing

Another option for self-publishing your game is going with a turn-key game manufacturer that operates in your corner of the world. Knowing the quality of games from Panda Game Manufacturing (see their website) and having heard good reviews of their process, I decided to get a quote from them. The first concern is that their minimum is 2000 games, unlike the 1000 (or possibly fewer, I didn’t ask) minimum with Senfutong and WinGo. If you’re okay with 2000 games, you’ll pay somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5x to 2x the cost of working directly with a Chinese manufacturer. For that extra expense, you get excellent quality control, aqueous coated, grey-core cards, and a rock-solid product all around. You also get a local contact. The representative was professional and attentive, writing detailed emails that give that warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the flip side, in addition to the higher cost, they are very busy and the production times are long. The total time with Senfutong or Wingo to go from art submission to games arriving at my door was 4 months…in time for Origins (end of May) after having only initiated production at the beginning of February. With Panda, they were worried about having the games to me by Gen-Con (mid-August). The nice thing is, if you decide to go this route, you can be assured that the most important element, quality, will be there. The quote looked like this:
Cost, not including shipping, for 2000 games: $11000
Estimated cost including shipping: $12000-$12500

This includes tooling for a black plastic tray at $620 (compare at $150).

Several Alternatives: Quotes from other manufacturers for various Morels components

As part of my initial research, I looked into costs if I were to “part out” Morels to various manufacturers that specialize in boxes, trays, cards, etc. You’ll see why I didn’t go this route:

1000 Decks of 92 Cards, CMYK, rounded corners, shrinkwrapped as two decks of 46 cards each

TM Cards: $5.06 per deck
Custom Playing Cards: $3.20 per deck
Carta Mundi (Dallas office): had them quote me for 3000…came in at $1.91 per deck + a $550 proof charge, which would bring it to $2.46 per deck…likely much more expensive for only 1000

Compare to Shenzhen Senfutong and WinGo, both at about $1.25 per deck for 1000

1000 Boxes: 8” x 8” x 1.2”, ~ 2mm thick, CMYK

Colad: $7.85 per box (!...they work with professional sports franchises)
Taylor: $4.80 per box
All Packaging: $2.49 per box
Nationwide Carton: $2.13 per box
PreStar: $1.83 per box (and only $1.09 per box if going with 2000…considered this option at first)

1000 Black Plastic Trays

Universal Plastics: $6.68 per tray (!)
Pather Plastics: $5.63 per tray (!)

It was at this point that I fully shifted my research overseas.

Final Thoughts

Luckily, there is not much I would have changed about my approach to self-publishing Morels. Both Shenzhen Senfutong and WinGo were good values and a pleasure to work with. If I were to go with a single manufacturer, it would be WinGo if and only if they can change their card stock and card print clarity to better align with the quality standard for the Euro-game market (UPDATE 6/4/12: I have spoken to WinGo and they were not receptive to changing their card stock). Their box, instructions, tokens, and tray all met this quality standard and were a bit superior to Senfutong’s. If they cannot change the card stock, then I would go with Senfutong. The cards printed beautifully and are much higher quality stock. The card centering is the main fear with them. The box passes muster but could be improved slightly. If I had the luxury of more time and money, I would have strongly considered Panda for their quality assurance. The 2000 game minimum is a central concern with them. UPDATE 6/4/12: I will almost certainly be using Panda for future productions. Because I am reassembling to add custom tokens and swap out any WinGo cards, we have full quality control and can weed out off-centered decks, making for perfect games, but there is just no way I'd want to do this for a larger print run. Panda, on the other hand, guarantees 99% or better defect-free.

Update 1/22/18: We have used Panda for all printing of Morels subsequent to this post, as well as for Agility and Morels Foray, and have been very pleased. The few issues we have had over a minor printing errors here or there were addressed professionally and to our satisfaction. Price is excellent, customer service reliable, and finished products look great.

In the end, I hope that this guide proves helpful regardless of which direction you choose for publishing your game. My notion was that full disclosure would be the optimal contribution for fellow designers, you, to pursue your ambition. If you have any questions or would like further clarification on any points, please do not hesitate to reply and I'll get back to you. Hopefully we can have some games together sometime, yours and mine!

Best wishes and happy gaming…

Brent Povis






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Jay Sheely
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Thanks for putting these thoughts down in one place. It was something I had been hoping to see and read.

What was the total cost? Including everything?

Total hours per person involved?

Jay
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Thank you so much for sharing with the community! Your experience and disclosure are greatly appreciated. I am expecting that this post will eventually get "stickied", like Collins' guide.

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bpovis wrote:

An Alternative: Panda Game Manufacturing

Another option for self-publishing your game is going with a turn-key game manufacturer that operates in your corner of the world. Knowing the quality of games from Panda Game Manufacturing (see their website) and having heard good reviews of their process, I decided to get a quote from them. The first concern is that their minimum is 2000 games, unlike the 1000 (or possibly fewer, I didn’t ask) minimum with Senfutong and WinGo. If you’re okay with 2000 games, you’ll pay somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5x to 2x the cost of working directly with a Chinese manufacturer. For that extra expense, you get excellent quality control, aqueous coated, grey-core cards, and a rock-solid product all around. You also get a local contact. The representative was professional and attentive, writing detailed emails that give that warm and fuzzy feeling.

On the flip side, in addition to the higher cost, they are very busy and the production times are long. The total time with Senfutong or Wingo to go from art submission to games arriving at my door was 4 months…in time for Origins (end of May) after having only initiated production at the beginning of February. With Panda, they were worried about having the games tom me by Gen-Con (mid-August). The nice thing is, if you decide to go this route, you can be assured that the most important element, quality, will be there. The quote looked like this:
Cost, not including shipping, for 2000 games: $11000
Estimated cost including shipping: $12000-$12500

This includes tooling for a black plastic tray at $620 (compare at $150).



Brent, Excellent and informative post.

+1 for Panda Games: Chris at Panda has been exceptional with correspondence and a pleasure to work with so far...

I am curious about the weight of your game. Your shipping cost seem reasonable in comparison to a recent quotation I reviewed for the cost to ship a game with an Ameritrash like component list coming in at about 1.8 kg at the tune of a volatile $5000 for 2000 games. A tough pill to swallow and gauge when it comes to trying to fund a dream...arrrh

You have packed this post with information and many can benefit from your willingness to share your experience.

Thanks for sharing...



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Fantastic post! Thank you!
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Man or Astroman wrote:
Thanks for putting these thoughts down in one place. It was something I had been hoping to see and read.

What was the total cost? Including everything?

Total hours per person involved?

Jay


Hi Jay. I gave this a good think...I've been working on the publishing and business end about 15-20 hours a week on average from the beginning of October until now. That would be approximately 400 hours. Once the game launches in mid-May, the weekly hours may (hopefully will) spike. I don't have an exact bead on the artist's total investment, but I would guess 3-4 hours per illustration (which may actually be on the light end) and a good deal more when factoring in communication and the box, which is a tremendous amount of work. If we put Vince at 175 hours, then combined we've got 575 hours in on the production side of the equation. If we factor in the 200 hours I've spent (read as enjoyed) woodworking on the custom foraging sticks for the promo edition of the game, that brings it up to 775, but I wouldn't expect others to tackle something like that. One of my goals for this period of my life was to make a concerted effort with my reading list, so books on cd late at night while carving/sanding effectively combine two hobbies to make work. All said and done, as you might surmise, a labor of love and well worth it!

As for total cost, I checked my spreadsheets and I'm just over $12,000 in total expenditures, including prototyping through Printer Studio and shipping these prototypes to playtest groups, the art with Vince, manufacturing for 2000 games (1000 each from WinGo and Shenzhen Senfutong), international and domestic shipping, my shipping supplies, website fees, and other miscellaneous small expenditures.

Hope this helps. Best of luck! BP
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PlayCrosbones wrote:


+1 for Panda Games: Chris at Panda has been exceptional with correspondence and a pleasure to work with so far...

I am curious about the weight of your game. Your shipping cost seem reasonable in comparison to a recent quotation I reviewed for the cost to ship a game with an Ameritrash like component list coming in at about 1.8 kg at the tune of a volatile $5000 for 2000 games. A tough pill to swallow and gauge when it comes to trying to fund a dream...



Hi Tom. Glad the primer is proving useful and that Panda is working out for you! Their business model seems excellent and their customer service is clearly on par.

To answer your question regarding shipping, Morels weighs 12oz, or 0.34kg. The box is 8" x 8" x 1.2". I mention that because for the "ship" part of the shipping, it is volume in CBM, or cubic meters, that is the determining factor. Once it arrives at your port, then weight becomes the primary concern for domestic shipping to your place of business. Even with a hefty game at 1.8kg, $5000 for 2000 games is a bummer. Best of luck...hopefully a solution comes around and your dream will become reality yet. BP
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Great read! Thanks for posting this. I have just ordered some copies of my own game to send out to reviewer and to start my Kickstarter campaign, and you gave me a few ideas.
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Thank you for choose our company,WinGo,as your final manufacturer.We are great honored to build this business relationship with you.

WinGo have more than 18 years new product development &production experiences on different kind of board games. We are offering from product concept development, artwork design,sampling,testing,production,shipment. "One-stop" service for global customers. Let's talk if you are looking for reliable manufacture in China. We are welcomed for customized order!


Wingo Industry Ltd
Tel: + 86-769-83911238;
Http://www.wingoindustry.com
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Fu Qin,

What is your minimum order size for a card game at WinGo?
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GreyGnome wrote:
What is your minimum order size for a card game at WinGo?


Hello Jason! I'll let Fu Qin answer for WinGo...from checking my earlier emails, I think their minimum is 1000, but he may have further details. If he doesn't post in a week or so, I'll dig up all that I have and post another reply.

Thought I would jump in since I had been thinking about emailing Shenzhen Senfutong with this very question, and after your query decided to go ahead and send it off. Just heard back (this is from Battle):

"Any order is ok, but you know for small order, will charge you setup charges, die-cutting mould charges, and film, etc. so try to make your order to big, if no other way, we also can accept, just price is different. I also can do any parts of your games, no problem, same problem for price only."

Of course there are a number of manufacturers out there, and with this guide the goal was much more "how-to" self-publish than touting of either company I happened to self-publish with. Both had their pros and cons. As far as the prices go, the intent there is to provide itemization and specific figures that you can use as a reference while researching options for your game. If one of these two manufacturers happens to work out for you as well, that's great. I hope they offer an experience consistent to what I've reported here (I can't assure it) and as always, the supreme hope is that every dedicated designer can get his or her game(s) published, however they decide to approach it.

Best of luck...happy to provide any further details that may be of assistance. BP
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Thanks for getting back to me. I figured that 1000 was the magic number. That seems to be the number that most overseas companies are looking for which makes sense. I will just have to hope that my Kickstarter campaign does well enough to make that kind of order.

Thanks again,
Jason
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Very informative, thanks for sharing.
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bpovis wrote:
I'll let Fu Qin answer for WinGo...from checking my earlier emails, I think their minimum is 1000, but he may have further details. If he doesn't post in a week or so, I'll dig up all that I have and post another reply.


Looked through my previous communications. WinGo does maintain a 1000 minimum but will do components at that quantity. Doesn't necessarily need to be the full game. Shenzhen Senfutong has no minimum.

Anybody else have experience with other China/Hong Kong/India manufacturers that can comment on their minimums or experiences?
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Thanks for this amazing post.
I've included it in The best BGG forum threads & geeklists on board game design geeklist.

Also, I confirme from my own experience that Chinese manufacturers can be very helpful and responsive, but one must beware of misunderstandings, especially concerning cardboard design, trays, colours, etc.
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Just wanted to chime in here and let everybody know we are lowering our minimum order quantity to 1500 units.

We are also conservative in our estimate for delivery times. Due to the numerous processes involved in manufacturing, we try our best to under promise and over deliver.

Feel free to email me at michael@pandagm.com if you have any questions or would like a quote for your project.
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panda_gm wrote:
Just wanted to chime in here and let everybody know we are lowering our minimum order quantity to 1500 units.


Well, Michael, this brings even more appeal to an already appealing group. With impressive quality at a fair price, I imagine this lower minimum will boost Panda's volume significantly. You'll be hearing from us for future quotes. Thanks for jumping in with this update.
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great report -- thanks for taking the time!
would love to see pics of more components, particularly the pieces you made yourself. (looked on the game's page but saw only images of cards.)
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Thanks for this informative breakdown!

I am currently using Panda Games to produce some custom laser-engraved dice, and they are very attentive, and friendly in their Emails... Also much more reasonable on pricing that I ever thought would be possible (after having dice made in the US already.) I am glad to hear the vote of confidence coming from all of you.

Self publishing takes a lot of time, and can be daunting. It's nice to have an option like Panda to handle everything through one company.
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prael wrote:

would love to see pics of more components, particularly the pieces you made yourself.


Hello Patrick! Happy to hear you enjoyed the guide. My wife and I indulged in a morels feast this past weekend and I managed to take a few pics featuring the hand-made components that will accompany the promo edition for the pre-sale and conventions (plug alert!!! The presale is running now and will end May 15th, 2012, when the game officially launches). I changed the art for the tokens, but will post pics of them once they are in hand.

Also, for any of you who have your games shipped from overseas, I stumbled on to a website called marinetraffic.com that allows you to input a vessel name and track the ship. As a bit of a geography nerd (read as full on fanatic who reads atlases when dining alone and ineffectively lobbied his wife to name their first daughter Meridian), this provides more hours of entertainment than it probably should. The "Wingo ship" (the Hanjin Ottawa) just passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and is heading out into the Atlantic. The "Senfutong ship" (the James River Bridge) recently exited the Suez Canal and is now cruising the Mediterranean. Fun stuff.

Here are the pics of the hand-made promo pieces...20 sticks and 2 pans per game, plus a sample of the rules created with Gimp and Scribus:









Please let me know if there were any other specific components you were hoping to check out in further detail. Happy gaming! BP

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Hello again to all that are considering self-publishing! I'm reposting this thread because there are some key updates that I have inserted in bold. They deal primarily with freight forwarding (I may do a separate post on this since it was such an incredible pain in the rump)and the quality of Senfutong's final version of the game that just arrived 2 weeks ago. Their card cut and rules clarity bumped from low grades up to perfect, while they slipped considerably on card centering. As a result, we had to inspect each deck carefully while reassembling and will have to junk/demo many of them.

I'm happy to report that we just had an incredibly fun and successful Origins weekend. As it tends to go, the final shipment of Morels arrived just in time (1 week out), so we had to hustle to get everything ready, but once we got set up and were ready to go on Thursday morning, it was an incredible 4 days. Met a ton of fantastic people and am happy to say that the game was very well received. So rewarding, validating, and just outright fun. We had a blast!

In the end, for the Origins deadline we were racing to meet since January, we made it and we could not be more pleased with the end result of this whole process. As always, I'm eager to help if you have any questions. Just post a reply and I'll get back to you right away (except for between June 14-23, when we'll be canoeing on a vacation that is 2 years in the making and will be out of touch entirely). Best of luck with your game playing and game creating!
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I'll add my own experience with both a manufacturer and a freight forwarder, when I just recently publishedScripts and Scribes: The Dice Game.

I chose to manufacture the game with Whatz Games in part because Iello used them to manufacture Biblios. I wondered whether I should do so, since Biblios cards had a tremendously bad odor and were very stiff. However, Aaron at Whatz Games ensured me the second run of Biblios would be better, which it was. Also, by ordering with them, I could have Biblios and my dice game shipped to me at the same time (I distribute Biblios in the US).

Overall, I am pleased with the quality and service of Whatz Games, though I was not pleased with the matte finish of the board (it seemed a little too whitewashed, though it is not bad). Also, the cards are a little flimsy in my dice game, but again, not bad. The price was better than others and the minimum order was 1000 units. The only outstanding problem is that I have not received the replacement parts for the games (which I was told I would receive). Although I have said many negative things here, Aaron was good to work with and Whatz Games was fine.

My freight forwarder, ClearFreight, was very good and I highly recommend their services. However, since it is a large company, I guess I can only recommend the NY offices.






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Amazing post, thanks for all the insight that you have provided. It gives a good picture of all the effort and work it takes to get a game from playtesting to published.
 
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Great article Brent.

I'd like to hear a bit about the marketing and distribution end of things as well. I've heard it is pretty hard to get on with the major distributors, which in turn of course get your game in to the hands of B&M stores and OLGS.

In other words, what is your plan to go room a garage full of games to money in your pocket?

Comments?
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Well, it certainly seems like you can save quite a bit of money by working directly with the manufacturers, which is a good thing for many indie developers. I'm interested in knowing whether the Panda quote would have included your custom components that you were slipping in each box. The extra hundreds of hours you put in (possibly more if you're still doing it) seems like ultimately you might have been spending more for the Sentufong and WinGo versions. That is assuming you thought your time valuable enough to assume a wage.
 
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