Originally written: October, 2002. Latest update: January, 2012
NOTE: these articles are primarily aimed at aspiring game designers, but many of the concepts described herein also apply to those who aspire to other types of jobs in the game industry. This article is subject to changes and improvements; reader comments are welcome. Some paid links which used to be in this article have been removed.
Designing a paper game can be an end in itself (to make a game you can enjoy among friends and family), a business venture (to create a product for sale), or even as a prototype for an electronic game. As to the latter, there's an excellent article on Gamasutra - http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20050913/sigman_01.shtml.
Whereas an electronic game usually requires a large team of creative people, board games and card games can be created by a solitary inventor. It's much easier to create a board game than a video game. But along with the enhanced ease go other challenges - nothing is ever as easy as we might wish.
Let's assume (for the purposes of this article) that your concept is for a board game, and that your game requires a board, some playing tokens, some dice, and some cards. Your first board should be "quick and dirty." It just needs to be functional. For dice and tokens, you can just borrow parts from another board game.
Way back in 1977, I designed an original board game.
My final prototype was a thing of beauty, developed over many hours' worth of hard work. I certainly didn't go to all that trouble for the first prototype! For the board, I began by just using a big sheet of construction paper. I tried to do a reasonably neat job of laying out the playing area - since this concept involved a circular board, I used a compass, so it didn't look too crude. But I didn't worry too much about it looking professional at that point. I borrowed tokens and dice from a Risk game, and I used index cards for the cards. Then I invited friends to come over, told them how the game worked, and we played it.
The rules need to be written down, because a game inventor can all too easily forget what he'd intended, making up rules on the spot during test play. As you play in these early stages, keep notes of comments and suggestions made by the players. You'll also find that some rules aren't clearly enough spelled out, and need clarification.
If you don't want to use a cannibalized board, and you're handy with your hands, you can make a board out of foamcore or another stiff material that's easy to cut (that leaves plywood out of the picture, and linoleum...). After mounting your game board on the face of the foamcore, cut it apart in neat squares. Then you can put flexible cloth tape over the seams on the back (where you want the board to fold outwards) and long-lasting flexible clear tape over the seams on the front (where you want to fold the board inwards). I suppose if you don't like the look of the tape, you could print the seam on some full-sheet label stock, and have a printed seam.
You can also make a cheaper folding paper board, or roll it up like a poster. Nowadays we have Kinko's, which can take computer graphics and enlarge them professionally to a variety of sizes.
You should think about what you want, and explore various options to create it. Look for board games to cannibalize at toy stores and discovery stores. Visit arts/crafts stores, office supply, and plastic supply stores. See what kinds of materials are there, and picture working with them to make your particular project. Staff at arts/crafts and plastic supply stores are usually very helpful about what the materials are like to work with, so ask. Don't be afraid to try several things until you find a solution you like. Once you've finished making your prototype and are in the business phase of your project, you'll pine for this creative phase and all the fun you had. So while you're in it now, experiment and have fun!
>Name = Jeremy Klein
>Email = firstname.lastname@example.org
>Age-Ed-Occ = 40-50
>Date = 1/26/05
>Comments = Do you know where one might find blank hexagonal boards (approx the size of the old Avalon Hill war games) for use in game design? My son is working on a couple of ideas...
I do not know if such a thing exists. What I do have is an Excel file you can use to print your own hex grid on your home PC printer. It's at http://www.sloperama.com/downlode/HexGridTemplate.xls. Have fun! - Tom
Los Angeles, Calif., USA
Jan. 26, 2005
>From: James Davis
>Sent: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 7:05 PM
>Subject: Board Game creation ideas.
>Just thought I'd pass along some tips on how I create a game board for games I design. I go to either Michael's or Tall Mouse craft stores and purchase Illustration Board about 3/32" thick and cut it to the size of the Game board (usually 19"x19"). I use Printmaster for my graphics and print the board layout on full sheets of self sticking labels (this can get dicey and you must be absolutely accurate when lining up the sheets). You can also do as you suggested and use spray glue to hold the printouts on plain paper which gives you a little more leeway. I cut the board in half, flip it over and use Duct Tape on the back to let it fold out (printed side to the outside). Trim off the excess Duct tape and there you have a pretty durable game board. The board costs about $5.00 and the self adhesive sheets are about $12.00 for a pack of 25. You won't want to do this until you are sure you have all elements of your game pretty much the way you want them. Hope you can use any of this.
Great stuff, Jim! Thanks! I'll add this to FAQ 20. Happy Year of the Dog...
Tom Sloper (湯姆スローパー)
Los Angeles, California
January 17, 2006
Another kind of random number generator is the dreidel. The dreidel is a game implement used in Jewish games. Usually 6-sided, it can be used as a substitute for dice.
If you want your dice to be special to your game, you can use Avery label stock (available at the local office supply store), and print your own designs, then stick them on regular dice (available at the local drugstore). I like to laminate the stickers so they don't get dirty, but sometimes the lamination can peel at the corners. Experiment with various techniques until you find something you like. There are also ready-made special dice available from Koplow (see Resources, below), if you don't just want regular dice with 1-6 spots, or if you want dice with more than 6 sides.
This Lesson is necessarily short on details. If you want to discuss alternative prototyping ideas with me or with other game designers, it is recommended that you ask questions, either on my Game Design Q&A Bulletin Board or on the newsgroup rec.games.design (if your computer isn't set up to access newsgroups, you can access them via http://groups.google.com).
All in all, making the preliminary prototype and the final prototype are the most fun aspects of designing an original non-electronic game.
Don't let that happen to you!
The rejection rate matrix in Lesson 11 doesn't exactly apply to non-electronic games, but if you haven't checked it out, you might want to click here and take a quick look. That matrix applies to the video game biz, where the timeframes and development costs are much higher than for non-electronic products. Nevertheless, there are substantial costs and risks involved in the manufacture and distribution of non-electronic games. So it's a tough sell in this world too, as it is in the digital game world.
You can start locally, and if the product is selling well, eventually buy a booth in trade shows (Toy Fair, ASD/AMD - see Resources, below). Trade shows are a good way to meet specialty shop owners without having to live in your car.
Once your product is selling well in specialty outlets, it may well be that the chains will come to you and place orders - and it sometimes happens that successful self-published games are picked up by a major manufacturer who wants to get in on the success of the product.
It's a huge investment in time, effort and money to self-manufacture and self-distribute, but you have total control over the quality of the product if you go this route.
Article 60 (February, 2006) discusses ways to distribute print-it-yourself paper games.
More on this topic, to clarify...
From: "Tom Sloper" <tomsterATsloperamaDOTcom>
Subject: Re: Need advice on publishers
Date: Tue, 29 Apr 2003 16:40:54 GMT
I had done wrote...
>> But I don't recommend the licensing route (you'll work harder,
From: "Glenn Kuntz" <email@example.com>
>Tom, that seems to contradict your own lesson! :-)
>>If you succeed in having a major manufacturer license your game concept
>>from you, then you are freed from having to do a huge amount of work
>>you would have to take on if you self-manufactured and self-distributed)
>>It's a huge investment in time, effort and money to self-manufacture and
>Why do you consider licensing to be more
Sorry I was unclear, but there aren't TWO options, there are THREE.
2. License - with an agent
3. License - you act as your own agent
Of those three, I recommend #1. It's the most work but the profits are
higher and you have total creative control.
#2 is the
control is the lowest of the three, but this is the easiest of the three.
Your chances of success this way are lower than #1 but higher than #3
(assuming you don't have a track record as a designer).
#3 is potentially the most frustrating route, if you haven't got an
established track record as a designer. You're likely to work hard to get
meeting after meeting, only to get rejection after rejection. Your profits
(and creative control) are less than #1 but higher than #2 with this path.
In my Lesson 20, I wasn't really mentioning #3 much. I added it in this
time in recognition of the difference in how things are done in Europe.
Maybe I'll just paste this discussion in there as an adjunct.
[To be continued...]
From: "Tom Sloper" <tomsterATsloperamaDOTcom>
As you can plainly see, there are tradeoffs, either way you go. My recommendation is still self-publishing. Yes, it's hard work, but your likelihood of succeeding at getting the game out in the market is higher, your creative control is greatest, and you stand to make the most money that way. Besides which, once the game has shown itself to be attractive to the market, game publishers are more likely to want to deal with you.
My #2 recommendation (should you decide not to self-publish) is getting an agent. I assume that your priority is to get the game into the marketplace as a finished product. If that's what you want, then the agent knows how to facilitate that. If, on the other hand, you're not going to self-publish (for whatever reason) and your priorities are profit and creative control, then go ahead, try becoming your own agent - if this is the route you take, then I hope you have a lot of time, energy, and a thick skin.
And you might find it difficult to get a game manufacturer to buy your game idea, if they have to go to the extra trouble of dealing with Escape Enterprises to get the board game rights (you might want to have preliminary discussions with Escape Enterprises yourself, before approaching board game manufacturers). Or (assuming that Spacebar is a "hot" show), the board game manufacturer might be all the more interested in your game concept, if they think that the TV show's name will help sell the game in big numbers.
If a particular board game manufacturer (let's call that company "GameCo") has already acquired the Spacebar board game rights from Escape Enterprises, then you should pitch your concept to GameCo only. No other company except GameCo is in a position to make use of your Spacebar game! If they don't want it, then you have no other recourse, and you should just think about getting another new original game idea entirely (and just forget about Spacebar altogether).
For more about using other people's IP, see Article 39 and Article 61.
TGIF is a fantastic opportunity to meet experts in toy and game design, patents, financing, manufacturing, law and more. You'll hear from VPs of the manufacturers as they tell of the submission process. You'll hear success stories. You'll get to pitch your concept to manufacturers and buyers, gaining a whole new perspective on your brainchild. You'll meet other inventors and you'll get valuable information about resources that will help you in getting your invention realized into a successful product.
I learned some enlightening things about the industry. It's very difficult to get a new board game into the market, for a variety of reasons.
My board game. Sorry, I'm not ready to show my dice games here on the website just yet. (-_-)
The inventors enjoy checking out each others' inventions. A really interesting group of people.
Before you start following the links below, here is another GREAT article, "So you've invented a board game. Now what?" It's at http://www.amherstlodge.com/games/reference/gameinvented.htm (thanks to a guy who decided to go with an abstract moniker rather than a real name)
Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games wrote "How To Make A Board Game - A Publishing Guide," and you can read it at http://playtmg.com/pages/how-to-make-board-game.
Alison Summers ("The GameBabe") has resources for game designers on her site, www.thegamebabe.com - if you're going to self-publish, check out her free list of all the distributors, for instance.
Four Four Four Limited is a board game manufacturer in Ontario Canada with a 30,000 sq ft. manufacturing facility. They provide complete board game and jigsaw puzzle manufacturing. http://www.payperbox.com.
FRV Group can help you get your game parts manufactured and packaged. Go to their website at www.frvgroup.com to request a quote.
Paragon Packaging - http://www.paragonpackaging.com/game-frame-structure.htm. Note: Game boxes are known in the trade as 'Setup Paperboard boxes.' The covering on the box is known as the 'wrap.' (Thanks to John Bohrer for that info.)
Northern Games Company - http://www.northerngames.com/.
Ludo Fact / Ludo Packt (Europe) - http://www.ludofact.de/index_e.html.
Koplow Games are purveyors of multitudinous types of special dice, and blank dice as well. If they don't already have what you need, then you need something custom made. Their website is at http://www.koplowgames.com.
You can order BLANK dice of various types from Advancing Hordes. http://www.advancinghordes.com/index.php/cPath/2_77/sort/2a/page/2 - if they change their site so that link no longer works, just go to advancinghordes.com.
The Board Game Designers Forum Wiki includes a page of great tips on prototyping your game design. http://www.bgdf.com/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=Prototyping
See Playthings' annual Buyer's Guide from http://www.playthings.com if you are looking for manufacturing/packaging help.
A source for pieces for your board game is www.gamersguildhobbies.com (Click on the hobby supplies link.) - Thanks to Rex Ungericht for that link. And another place you can try for plastic pieces is www.plasticsforgames.com/ - thanks to Matthew Frederick for that one. (Note: plasticsforgames is in the UK, so be mindful of the time difference if you phone, and be mindful of the shipping costs.)
Randy (firstname.lastname@example.org) owns a small plastics company and can help you make plastic board game pieces "at very reasonable costs. Anything's negotiable," says Randy (last name unknown - goes by screen name "lazerlinker").
Another option for getting custom plastic pieces made is www.stratysys.com. One method they use is to start with a CAD file (a digital 3D model of the piece), then a laser is run through a gel to create precise sculptures. You can get quotes, and there may be other methods suitable for what you need too.
Rolco Games offers board game parts, pieces, blank boards, and a Game Inventor Kit.
See the Rehtmeyer Design & Licensing (RDL) description, below (agents and a manufacturing resource).
TM Playing Cards, at http://www.tmcards.com/playingcards_basic.php, will make custom playing cards. They have flexible options for size, quantity, and packaging. TM Playing Cards has offices in Sacramento, CA (USA) and Mumbai (India).
K.K. Printing Enterprise Ltd. is a manufacturer of Board Games(OEM) located in Hong Kong and China. They've been producing board games for more than 10 years. Production line is located in China so their pricing is reasonable. Email: email@example.com - Tel : (852) 2426 6272 - Fax : (852) 2424 1777
Yaquinto is another place you can go for printing of board games. http://www.yaquinto.com/.
More card printers are listed in Article 38.
Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. is a resource for making packaging. http://www.smurfit-stone.com/Content/.
A domestic manufacturing resource for those wishing to self-publish: Chicago Game and Card Co, Jack Saltzman. The website is www.chicagogameandcard.com. Phone number 630-903-7152.
For more manufacturers in America, see Playthings magazine and the Thomas Register Directory of American manufacturers - http://www.playthings.com/, http://www.thomasregister.com (you can even just go to your public library, if you don't want to subscribe).
My listing the agents and resources here does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of their services. Do your own due diligence in vetting a company before signing a contract (references, Better Business Bureau, etc.). Note that the best agents work on commission only - I do not recommend signing an agent who wants an advance payment. And I do not recommend signing with one of those invention companies who advertise on TV, saying that they'll do all the work for you.
DESIGNER RESOURCES & AGENTS
Discover Games is an important resource for the game inventor. Need help finding an agent? Need manufacturing? Need information about the industry and the processes? http://www.discovergames.com/... "Resource for toy and game inventors to show their products to board game retailers, manufacturers & licensors and game players." Discover can help show your game(s) at game shows/conventions, and help with mailings to catalog houses, media and retailers. The website has tons of excellent articles to read, about all aspects of game inventing. Tell Mary Couzin that I sent you!
Here are three links for game agents, mentioned in a rec.games.design newsgroup post on April 30, 2003. Browse and choose.
And a little bird told me that this agency is endorsed by Hasbro - http://www.exceld.com. [Update, 2008: This link was written sometime in the foggy past. The "little bird" reference probably means that somebody pseudonymously using a birdlike moniker either posted this information online or emailed it. I've never used this company's services. See disclaimer below.
And another little bird told us about this one - http://www.marradesign.com/.
And a "little bird" who turned out to be an agent, told me about herself: Mary D. Ellroy, GameBird. Toys and Games - Invention and Ideation - Contract and Spec. http://www.gamebird.biz. Endorsed by Hasbro and Mattel, the bird told me. (Added 7/11, 2009)
http://spotlightongames.com/list/design.html has to be on your list of sites to check too.
Also see the Toy Inventor / Designer Guide on the website of the Toy Industry Association, Inc. (formerly Toy Manufacturers of America, Inc.). Very excellent info on every aspect. Go to http://www.toy-tia.org.
The Game Designer Association (SpieleAutorenZunft or SAZ) is an alliance of game designers to further their common interests. Founded in 1991 in Germany, the Game Designer Association is becoming increasingly international. http://www.spieleautorenseite.de/saz/start_uk.htm. I just discovered this site in June of 2003, and I plan to join. Highly recommended that you look into this site.
There's a thriving industry in Germany for table games and board games. See Mik Svellov's Brett 'n Board site at http://www.brettboard.dk. Information and News about German family board games and other Designer games And make sure you don't overlook the Links page there. http://www.brettboard.dk/links.htm. Learn about important conventions/trade shows like the one in Essen in October, the one in Nuremberg in January.
John Bohrer's Winsome Games is a company that makes games mostly involving trains and railroads, and mostly sold in Germany. The reason I mention it is that the site has information and links that are useful for game designers. http://www.fyi.net/~winsome/.
Designing a wargame and need to make a hex board, or counters? Stefano MacGregor has a web page for generating numbered hexmaps in three sizes, plus 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch counters, and other useful goodies, at http://steve-and-pattie.com/boardgames/.
Richard Gottlieb's blog on Playthings.com is a good read. His March 2008 entry calls for board games "to be treated with the same respect given to books. Specifically, they want to see more acclaim for game inventors and serious reviews of these games in the media." It makes sense to me that the American game market catch up with what's been going on already in Germany and elsewhere.
"Board and Card Games" is a collaboratively edited question and answer site for people who love Board and Card Games. It's 100% free, no registration required. http://boardgames.stackexchange.com/. Added link October 2010. Also see my Game Biz Links page for more resources and forums etc. (Click this or just use the nav frame at left.)
Rehtmeyer Design & Licensing (RDL) is run by Carol Rehtmeyer. Website: http://toysngames.com
Disclaimer: My listing the agents and resources here does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of their services. Do your own due diligence in vetting a company before signing a contract (references, Better Business Bureau, etc.). Note that the best agents work on commission only - I do not recommend signing an agent who wants an advance payment. And I do not recommend signing with one of those invention companies who advertise on TV, saying that they'll do all the work for you.
ORGANIZATIONS, TRADE SHOWS & CONFERENCES
TGIF (Toy and Game Inventors Forum) is a fantastic yearly opportunity to meet experts in toy and game design, patents, financing, manufacturing, law and more. http://tgifcon.com
Toy Fair is the yearly event for the toy and game industry. Pitch your completed manufactured product to store buyers from around the world. Open to the trade ONLY. New York City, February. Website: http://www.toy-tma.org/AITF/
Chicago International Toy & Game Fair (CHITAG) is a yearly event for toy and game inventors to market their wares. Go to www.chitag.com or Google "CHITAG" or "Chicago toy game event."
The Game Manufacturers Association is an international non-profit trade association serving the adventure games industry. Visit http://www.gama.org/ to get information on the games industry as well as GAMA and the many events and activities that GAMA sponsors. "Every year, GAMA sponsors the premier trade-only convention of the games industry. The GAMA Trade Show, or GTS, is a gathering of hundreds of manufacturers, distributors, and retailers--where manufacturers unveil their plans for the coming year, distributors show off their services, and retailers plug directly into the upper echelons of the adventure game industry. GAMA Trade Show, March 17-20, 2003, The Orleans Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas"
Origins is one of the largest game conventions in North America, offering every form of game experience from strategic war simulations, board games, card games, and miniatures. http://www.originsgames.com/. Takes place every July in Columbus, Ohio.
ASD/AMD is a recurring trade show for all kinds of goods. Don't ignore this one, especially the August show in Las Vegas. http://www.merchandisegroup.com or just Google "ASD/AMD."
The biggest game show in Europe is the Internationale Spieltage in Essen, Germany, The International Essen Games Event (also called Essen Spiel), both a trade show and game convention. Usually held in October. You can see pictures of a past show at http://www.solicitor.de/gamebox/specials/messe/essen01/essen012.htm.
There's Lincon in Linkoping, Sweden (another big game convention in that part of the world). May 28-June 1, 2003. http://lincon.sverok.net/.
Ropecon is a big game convention that's held in Finland. The dates I found through Google are "8.-10.8.2003" but I don't know if that means it's in August or October! I hear there is a website at http://www.ropecon.fi/ but I can't get it to work. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
See http://www.abgames.com for a searchable database of game conventions in North America.
Name: Tom Sloper
Date: 26 May 2003
Thanks to Martin Samuel for emailing me the following, to supplement Lesson 20:
Not a question but an observation . . .
I design abstract strategy board and competitive solitaire card games - with Hijara in N.Y. Games Magazine Top 100.
Having been down many if not all of the roads listed, I would recommend your lessons as required reading for anyone with designs on game production and marketing.
Ambition, enthusiasm, creativity, flexibility, originality, tenacity, professionalism and good old common sense would be my watchwords for, if not passwords to success . . . and don't take "No" for an answer!
May I offer a fourth method of promoting games . . . self manufacture AND licensing (without and agent) to a game Co.
I had a booth at N.Y. Toy Fair 2003 yet took the time and trouble to walk the aisles and meet the presidents of other game companies which profited me by licensing six games to three companies.
My 'secret weapon' is that I am an international flight attendant and not only do I have a captive audience to test play my games, at 35,000 feet, but I am able to research games and their trends around the world.
As a result, I package and promote my products as convenient travel games - whereas the game companies are all doing their usual generic, primary color, small game in a big box marketing ploy.
Onward and upward . . . as I am virtually computer illiterate, finding a Co. to program my games for interactive electronic entertainment is my next challenge.
All the best, Martin Samuel
Our Books FAQ lists several books pertinent to board game design (not only video game design). They cover not only prototyping but also the business aspects (the hard part -- how to sell the game after you've done the easy part, making the game).
More Sloperama FAQs pertinent to aspiring board game designers: FAQ 38, FAQ 39, FAQ 60. You should also scroll through the article titles in the nav frame (at left) to see if more of the Sloperama articles could be of help to you.
Read FAQ 1 and FAQ 11 and FAQ 21, all about the realities of selling your video game concept - some of the same concepts apply equally to board games.
And check our Game Biz Links page. Links to more sites where you'll find useful info in your board game project - info on protecting your intellectual property, for instance.
Here's a link to a site where you can get tips about how to make game counters (little cardboard squares used in hex-map war games).
Article: Board Games and Video Games commingle in South Korea
Tabletop roleplaying games are a staple ingredient of modern video games. Check out this link and this link. If those links don't work, well, tough noogies. Let me know and I'll delete them.
Got a question about this FAQ? Click here to go to the bulletin board. You'll get answers!
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© 2002-2012 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. May not be re-published without written permission of the author.