Going Postal

You’ve got all the art, ran a successful Kickstarter and manufactured everything? It’s time to post everything out. This stage is going to be as simple as you make it, but it’s going to cost. We need to consider:

  • Keeping everything in good condition and packaging costs
  • Domestic and foreign postage costs
  • Posting goods abroad (including friendly shipping)
  • Logistics

First thing we need are postage costs. Again, this is primarily for a UK audience, so here are the Royal Mail costs:

Hopefully now you can see why thickness of the deck is important. If you’ve got 50 cards you’ll be about 150g. Expect to pay around £1.32 per game for domestic UK postage. If you’re thickness is 2.6cm, you’re paying £3.00 per game. Might not sound much, but for a small box £12 game that’s a bite either your losing, or your asking your customers to pay.

However, for cheaper and more efficient postage, I used https://www.parcel2go.com/services/letters-and-small-parcels Drop of addressed packages and they’ll post them, and for cheaper too. You don’t get proof of postage, but in return you’ll save hours. If you’ve got ~200 games to post in the UK they come recommended.

Internationally there are a lot of companies who will do friendly batch dispatching, but they simply aren’t worth it for games this size. Here are the international Royal Mail prices

Again, you want to be a large letter at this point, but your looking at around £5 per game no matter where it goes. We partially subsidised this for Forks, moreso for Americans. All batch dispatching companies started at £5 per parcel minimum plus an initial setup payment.

For packaging we went with thin layers of card shrinkwrapped to keep the game free from scuffs. This was measured out to keep the game as a large letter, and we did test posts to make sure everything arrived in perfect condition. For some reason we also sent the mini-expansion as a stretch goal, which meant trying to keep a small pack of cards from getting bent. For this we used glue dots and card, and I haven’t heard anything negative yet (let me know if there was an issue though, please!). Grey polythene postage bags kept the thickness razor thin.

For labels we did a mail-merge from the Kickstarter and just printed them onto labels from a regular printer. However, for international orders there are a few other things you’ll need:

A7 document wallets. For international orders you’ll need to enclose an invoice on the outside for any customs checks. For invoices I just did a mail merge again from Kickstarter with details of how much was paid, how much was paid in shipping, tax paid (0 when not VAT registered).

A CN22 form. These are easy but time consuming to fill in. You’ll be sick of them by the time you finish. It’s all self-explanatory except for HS Tariff number. For a card game the number is 95044000. Make sure you put UK as country of origin (assuming you’ve gone the self-manufacturing route). These you can pick up for free from any post office- just ask and they’ll give them to you. Better you fill them in elsewhere then on the counter.

The total value is there, and it’s probably worth talking about friendly shipping now. Until Brexit is done/revoked Europe is an unknown. Currently you can ship there with no tariffs in place. USA and Australia have high import thresholds which you are not going to breach with a small card game. Check for other types of game, but generally assume you are friendly to the USA and Australia until calculated otherwise. Canada is different. If your game is worth £10 it should be okay depending upon exchange rate. At £12 you’ll likely be above the threshold, and your customer will have to pay tariffs. Tread carefully! If you offer freindly Canadian shipping and charge £12 for the game, you’ll either have to lie on the CN22 and invoice (don’t do this), offer to refund any tarrifs and fees paid by your customers (not ideal at all, and technically not friendly shipping), or find a Canadian distributor (this will cost you more than you have got for the game).

Overall expect to pay ~£1.40 for domestic postage and ~£5.10 for international postage and packaging. If you charge for this on Kickstarter rather than a pledge manager, people will prefer it, but you’ll lose 10% of those postage costs as well. Feel free to subsidise these as much as you think you can, or shift costs to the game (I think people would rather pay £10 for a game and £2 postage, then £8 for a game and £4 postage, even though the total cost is the same), but make sure you’ve considered them. The worst Kickstarter results have been from ignoring p&p.

Making Your Own Boxes

If you’re happy getting your boxes made, by either the printers making your cards or elsewhere, feel free to skip this post. Because here I’m just going to explain how I made the boxes. So you’ve probably already realised this post

via GIPHY

I first got the idea of making my own boxes after reading Jackson Pope’s site about handcrafting games. The link is here: http://creationandplay.blogspot.com/2018/05/how-to-craft-tray-and-lid-box.html and full of excellent advice, not all of which I’m about to copy here. The entire website is really useful for anybody interested in games design, production or publishing, so I recommend giving it a read.

I did things slightly differently to Jackson. First thing I did was purchase a Cricut Explore. There are machines which will cut card for you, and save an incredible amount of time when it comes to cutting out the boxes. They’re also useful for cutting out shapes and constructs for prototyping. Mine was second hand and cost around £200, and whilst it’s by no means essential, I wouldn’t have done it without one.

The net of my box was determined by two things- card size and UK postage designations. The maximum height, including packing, could be 2.5cm. Taking into account the thickness of the card I was using (75mm greyboard), I went with a length of 89mm for the box (91mm for the lid); width of 65mm for the box (67mm for the lid), and height of 19mm for the box (17mm for the lid). The 2mm allowed the lid to fit whilst still being a snug fit, and the gap in height meant it could be gripped from below.

The Cricut design is here: https://design.cricut.com/#/design/151555166 (that’t the first design I’ve linked to, so let me know if it doesn’t work). With a simple cut around the perimeter and score the rectangle in the middle. Here’s an image of it:

I went through a number of iterations before landing on this. Hence the name of the file.

The Cricut itself worked a charm. Except when it didn’t. But I learnt through going through a number of sheets of grey board: take care of your cutting mat and blade. I didn’t think about it, but I was using that machine to it’s fullest. I didn’t realise how badly until after a number of poor cuts I tried replacing the blade and mat. All the following cuts were like a hot knife through butter. My cut was a pressure of 300, done three times over, which gave me enough time to fold and stick together the previous box by the time the next one was done.

Once I’d made 300 boxes, it was time to cover them. Jackson recommends vinyl, and I did have some great success with matt laminated vinyl, but after some discussions with a local printing company they persuaded me to try matt laminated paper, and there was no difference. Well, actually, one- it cost about a third as much as the vinyl.

The matt laminated sheets were all printed and I picked them up. I had to cut them out, which was probably the most laborious part of the manufacturing process. I initially started by doing small wing cuts at the corners, keeping as much of the material as possible. Unfortunately, this resulted in some of the sides not sticking to the inside of the box, as there was too much material there. Instead I just cut rectangles form the corners, trying to match the outline of the box closely, whilst leaving a small amount of overlap to keep things structurally sound. The rest followed Jackson’s guide to a tee: start by placing the lid/box face down on the laminate, fold it onto the front and rear side. Fold the flaps around, cut the tops at the corners and fold the rest onto the inner part of the box. Then fold the longer sides up and over.

All of this took longer than actually cutting out the boxes. For one thing, with the Cricut doing all the work I was able to just sit back and watch tv (or SGDQ, which I managed to catch incredibly amounts of), but when wrapping the boxes I had to be focused all the time. But the results were worth it. If you want to make a 2-part lidded box then I hope this was helpful, and get a cricut.

Printing the Cards

I’m writing this from a UK persepctive, so anybody reading this in the USA will probably have closer card printers.

There are three things you’ll need to get printed for your card game. The cards, a box and the rules. Some people combine 1 & 3 and print the rules on additional cards, which will save money at the expense of being able to have the rules on one sheet. If you get the cards printed through a company which does set numbers of cards and won’t change in single increments than this can be a money saver or impossible depending upon the card numbers.

When it comes to card numbers, one thing you need to consider is the size of the box required. In the UK if you need to post anything over 2.5cm the cost goes from a large letter to a small parcel. This includes the packing you need to include to make sure it gets to its destination in one piece. If you need over 60 cards and want to keep postage costs down you need to consider a double deck box, which will obviously increase the box price.

Once you know exactly how many cards you need you can start looking at the printing options. Obviously China is an option, but unlike larger games the savings on card games compared to EU printing aren’t that great, and outweighed by the need to have CE testing and shipping costs. Ivory Games Maker and Cartamundi are obvious UK printing options here, but unless you are printing a lot expect to pay significantly more for them. In the end I went with Ludocards. Their pricing is transparent, easy to see (instant quotes), all safety checks on the materials has been done and they were easy to communicate with. They were also a lot more competitive on price. The great thing about using them was when I was running the Kickstarter I could price in additional cards quickly for the stretch goals.

For the artwork it was just a matter of using the templates provided. Photoshop is the easiest for me, so it was just a case of making sure the bleed etc was correct, then saving the whole thing as a multi-page pdf.

There are a few things to consider when using Ludocards:

  • The tuck boxes aren’t great. For my promo copies I didn’t get them laminated, which may have made a difference, but the box quality was what made me want to make my own. I’ll talk more about making my own next time, but definitely check out the tuck box quality before deciding upon using it to sell. I can’t talk about the other boxes as I never ordered them. One good thing about this was I knew that my boxes would be considered large letters instead of small parcels (the postage costs of which was untenable).
  • You need to ask via email for things such as spray varnishing, which is free, but something I expected as standard. If you’re aware of this it’s no problem though.
  • Additional leaflets are expensive for what they are. This is understandable as it does complicate the manufacturing process somewhat, but you can get them printed elsewhere for a fraction of the price. We’re talking 0.85 euro vs 0.10 euro per leaflet.
  • If you are getting them printed cards only, it actually isn’t always cheaper to get them printed in sets. When I needed sets of 60 cards, it was actually cheaper to get them printed in sets of 120. This changed depending upon the total sets I wanted, with the cheapests varying between 60, 120, 180 and 240 depending upon the numbers. We’re talking a few pence per set, but if you’re on a budget that adds up, heres an example of a spreadsheet I made to work it out:
Luckily I like spreadsheets
  • Don’t forget to add the 22% tax, unless you’re VAT registered (which, unless you expect to sell a lot of your game, it doesn’t really make sense to be if you can avoid it (disclaimer- I am not an accountant))
  • Brexit. God knows what’s going to happen here, but on the flip side if you manufacturer in the EU and the UK you won’t get hit with US China tarrifs.

I had my cards printed at Ludocards, made the boxes myself, and had the rules leaflets printed at an online printing company. I’ll go over making a box next post, as it’s quite detailed, but leaflets are suprisingly easy- any leaflet printing company will give you quotes instantly. Your rules leaflet should fold up to be the size of your cards and printed double sided. For costs I paid a little over £25 for 400 rules leaflets.

Getting Art

pt 2 of how to publish a small card game

You’ve designed your card game, playtested it until it’s in a state you’re happy with, and you want to make it and sell it. One of the biggest obstacles to this is the art; where to source it from and how much it costs. If you’re already something of an artist yourself then excellent, but most of us can’t draw for toffee, so need to get it elsewhere. Hopefully some of these experiences regarding art are helpful.

  1. Art isn’t graphic design. Before you go looking for artwork ensure you understand what you want your cards to look like. For Forks I had a chat with some friends who suggested some looks, and we settled on a clear yet distinct look. This meant when I needed to source the artwork for the cards I could specify dimensions, colour and give as much detail as possible about what I needed.
  2. How much art do you actually need? If you’ve got ~50 cards, each with unique art, that is going to cost a lot. Consider ways to cut down on the art requirements per card. Can cards share the artwork, or zoom in on different parts of the same art? Can a change in colour help to differentiate? Does every card need a piece of artwork? Also, are you remembering art for the box and the back of cards? For Forks, we used the boxart for the art for the back of the cards, changing the colour and removing different parts depending upon the type of card. This allowed us to get the most out of the most expensive piece of art.
  3. Is it possible to use pre-existing art? If you like something, approach the artist and ask how much to use it commercially. This is what I did for some of the logos, and it should work out much cheaper than paying for commissions.
  4. Budget for a good artist for the most critical pieces. As I detailed here: https://radical8games.com/forks/designer-diary-8-choice-art/ unlike the logos on the card, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted for the box art, just something striking, clean and distinct. In this case I decided to budget much more for something which I would be discussing with the artist, rather than just telling them what I want. The results ended up being fantastic, and suitable for use not just on the box, but on the back of each card.
  5. Where to look. I used conceptart.org, which was a wonderful resource full of artists who actually listened to commission requests before pitching. Unfortunately that’s now dead. I’d now recommend Deviant Art for small commissions. If you offer a paying job you will be able to find someone to fit your budget. Just make sure you look at their previous work and how much they read your commission, because there are a number of artists there who reply to every commission offer no matter what. Other sites like ArtStation allow you to contact artists directly, but charge a fee for posting adverts.
  6. Write a contract before exchanging money or art. It doesn’t need to be filled with legalese, just a clear expectation of:
    • When you will pay (I did two payments- half up front with the rest to follow after milestones have been met)
    • The timescale you agree on, and what will happen if they’re not met
    • How many revisions you can expect, and what will happen if you exceed that number
    • What format you will receive the artwork in, and at what resolution if digital
    • Confirm that the art will be used for commercial purposes, and whether or not you want exclusivity of it.
  7. The cost will vary massively, and you should be able to find something to fit your budget. I don’t want to give a price here, because you’ll be able to find a hundred examples that prove me wrong. The more you can budget per art, the better it will be, but if you’re desperate to get lots of low quality pieces you will be able to do that (to a point), but at that stage it will feel exploitative. Better to think cleverly about your art requirements.

I hope I haven’t missed anything about the art, really it’s a case of knowing what you want, budgeting for as good art as you can get, and making sure yourartist also knows what you want. Let me know if I’ve missed anything out!

What’s Stopping You?

pt 1 of how to publish a small card game

I was at a Van Gogh exhibition today, and the quote “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”, admittedly this was followed up by “The sadness will last forever”, but that initial quote still sums up the importance of taking a risk. And self-publishing your own card game is a big risk. So what’s stopping you?

Costs? The biggest cost will be artwork, followed by production of prototype copies for reviewers. Assuming a Kickstarter route, provided you have costed everything else up accurately you won’t pay out for anything else until you’ve got the money. As for the artwork, clever design is required- a card game requiring unique art on every card will be prohibitively expensive, but rarely is such a thing needed.

Contacts? It’s a myth that games publishing is some exclusive club you need to break into. All you really need is a facebook account and a willingness to approach people at conventions. Most people want to discuss there projects with each other, and there are always reviewers, podcasters and bloggers looking for games to review and designers to chat with. You just need to reach out to them.

Lack of confidence in your game? If you’ve designed a small card game, playtested it to a point where your happy with it and people enjoy it, you’ve nothing to be concerned about. You’ve already done so much more than other people in terms of games design, and if people enjoy it it’s by definition an enjoyable game. Some people won’t like it, but you can’t let that hold you back- even your favourite game is hated by someone, just don’t take negative comments personally.

The legal stuff? I’ll be writing primarily for UK designers, and am not a lawyer, but this was my main concern, and one which needed a bit of research, but the legal side of self-publishing is actually navigable. Labels required to be on the package, CE marking, starting a company- I’ll try and explain what I’ve done for these to ease other people through them.

Time? This one I can’t help with. Publishing Forks took all of my spare time over a period of months, and a good proportion of spare time outside of that. If you have lots of time commitments and can’t dedicate your time to self publishing, then it’s probably not for you. Especially as soon as you become customer facing on Kickstarter (although, I did manage to go on holiday in Japan for two weeks between Kickstarter and fulfillment, so you can have some time to yourself).

Inclination? If your not inclined to self-publish then don’t. You’d end up spending all of your time doing stuff you don’t like and it would drag.

So whilst there are some reasons for not self-publishing, there are more which can easily be overcome. Clearly if you want to go the publisher route there are loads of benefits to that- I’m not suggesting that self-publishing is objectively better, just wanting to help those people who want to (I loved the ability to keep control). I’m definitely no expert, just talking from experience. If you can think of any other reasons people might be reluctant to self-publish, or any other comments, please let me know!

Forks- Post KS thoughts

Now that Forks has been Kickstarted, manufactured and sent to all backers, it’s time for a look back at how the entire process went. Not the design- I’ve already written about that (and as with most games it’s just about playtesting, playtesting, playtesting), but about launching the Kickstarter, promoting it, making it (oof!), delivering it, and everything that went with it. Whilst there were a whole bunch of things I could have done better, or at least more efficiently, overall it was a great success, and one which was suprisingly do-able. A number of people have approached me since, and asked questions about how the whole thing works, always because they’ve got an idea for a game in their head. Now, I had a lot of people to thank for helping me, but there was still so much I had to work out myself. From the best way to make boxes, and where things could be sourced from, to legalise such as CE marking and shipping invoices. I intend to write a guide to help anybody to produce a small box card game for cheap, and hopefully Kickstart it successfully. Or at least let people learn from what I did, whether the mistakes or successes.

However, before all that, here’s a quick overview of some of the basic successes and regrets which happened before the Kickstarter:

Success! Despite not getting a proper gaming table at Airecon, I was able to demo it a few times there, give away demo copies to reviewers, and hang around with great people who’ve gone on to have major successes on KS. It’s a fantastic convention and I simply couldn’t have made Forks without it.

Regret 🙁 Not getting a demo table at Airecon. This is my own fault, and one that comes from prevaricating too much, rather than cracking on and booking everything. I’m too worried about what would happen if I didn’t need it, that I miss out when it actually comes to needing it. Be confident and book things in time.

Success! Had a decent internet presence in a certain corner of the internet world called rllmuk. However, this is more because that’s my online home rather than any concerted effort to drive support. A better success would be getting advice from Nick Welford on how to drive Facebook traffic, and went from literally nothing to pretty much nothing, but still made progress and got a good number of sales through FB.

Regret 🙁 Despite reading the BGG designer forums all the time, I neglected to post in there about Forks, which was a missed opportunity. I had a blog, but did little to engage with the people on the forums, even though I have done for umpteen other games I never published. Not really sure shy, probably the fear of finally producing something to be judged upon, but definitely a missed opportunity.

Success! Getting prototypes out in time for reviewers.

Regret 🙁 Leaving it so late and paying a hefty fee to get their production expedited.

Success! The artwork. George was fantastic, and despite being on holiday in Australia during the time art was being discussed, I still enjoyed this work. No regrets on this one. Seriously couldn’t be happier with it.

So those are a few things about the campaign. Finance wise it made a tiny profit, not bad considering I’m including fees for my card making machine and webpage etc. It does give me a loooow amount per hour I worked for if broken down as a wage, but I successfully released a game, which is more than money. I mean, my goal at the start was just to not accidentally go bankrupt, so I’m happy with profit. Especially as it gives an excellent foundation for the next game!

The End of the Beginning

Over the last few days I have dispatched almost all copied of Forks. A few copies have been held back for people who need to confirm there address, but otherwise over 250 copies are winging their way over the world, to the US, Australia, Europe and plenty more throughout the UK. It’s been a long journey (much more time spent wrapping boxes then I thought there would be!) but it’s almost done.

Obviously, nothing’s ever really done, and with the fulfillment of Forks finished it means new things can emerge! For one, there’s now a shop on this website (and eventually on Amazon), https://radical8games.com/store/, where people can buy Forks (plus the KS included mini-expansion). The postage is still subsidised, thought not to the level in the Kickstarter. So if you enjoy the game and want to get it as a present, or are interested but missed the KS, now you can order more copies. Whilst I’m relishing a break from the manufacturing process, we do have a limited number of additional copies from the print run, so if you really want a copy order when you can, as I don’t know when (if) more will be made.

Finally I’m going to write a ‘How to kickstart, manufacturer and fulfill a simple card game’ piece for this site and Boardgamegeek, as a lot of brilliant people have asked for advice, and the truth is it’s easier than you might think. That might take a while though, so don’t expect it immediately. Otherwise, keep an eye out for our next game, and if you like Forks please let us know, either through messaging or leave us a review/comment on Boardgamegeek!

Thanks, Mark

Working 9-5

It’s been over a month since my last blog update, so here;s a quick update to say the reason for that is because I’m working on getting Forks made. Cards are printed, rules are being proofread (here: main instructions stretch goal instructions) and boxes are being made. Here’s a quick show of how the boxes are coming along:

First sheets of greyboard are cut into nets for boxes

Then these are taped into boxes

Then the laminated wrap is cut to shape

This is applied to the box, which strengthens the sides and protects it (as well as looks good)

Resulting in the final box!