boardgame

Simple Thoughts on Signs

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The first board game convention I attended, I did not even think about bringing a sign. After all, the convention had a schedule and numbered tables to indicate where games were being played; why did I need to provide a sign? Admittedly, I was naive thinking that the convention organizers should hold any responsibility in getting my game played. After all, as a game creator you are your game’s salesman and it is up to you to hook people on your game.

From the experience I learned 2 important lessons:

  1. Not all gamers read the schedule
  2. An appealing sign pushes browsing gamers into playing your game

Since that lackluster day of sitting alone at my gaming table, I have learned a few important points that are shared below.

Banners and Free-standing Signs

My local university print shop.
My local university print shop.

The type of sign you use will depend on the convention you are attending. For conventions where a full-size table is given, a large banner to hang off the edge is an effective option, though they can be expensive. If you choose to go with a banner, shop around at local stores and you may find a better deal than online printer. I found competitive pricing at a local university print-shop and saved even more on not having to pay shipping.

If floor space is in plentiful supply, you may also consider a free-standing sign, though again you will want to shop around for a cost effective solution. Building your own stand to hang the sign on is also a viable strategy. A guide to building a free-standing sign post out of PVC can be found here.

Table Signs

A simple table sign on 8.5 x 11
A simple table sign on 8.5 x 11″ card stock.

Regardless of the convention specifics, I always bring along small table signs printed on Letter paper. When folded lengthwise, they should have your game on one side and your company (if applicable) on the other. They stand on their own, are portable, and are handy regardless of the table size. I get mine printed on cardstock so they don’t get crushed when I put them in my bag (a crinkled sign does not exude professionalism).

Whether to get them printed on Matte or Glossy card stock is a personal preference. I prefer Matte because it generates less glare from room lights that can obscure the sign

Another lesson I learned the hard way is to always bring more copies of signs than you need.

You can and will lose signs at conventions.

Consider the following scenarios when deciding how many copies of your sign to print:

  1. You have poor memory and misplace the sign
  2. Another attendee misplaces the sign for you (i.e. steals it)
  3. An attendee handles your sign while in the process of consuming Cheetos
  4. The sign gets soaked by a Blade-runner level downpour on your way to the convention
  5. A teething toddler gnaws on your tasty (and somewhat toxic) sign
  6. An ill child decided to reproduce the sum total of the day’s caloric intake on your sign

Any and all of the above can happen so print more signs than you need. That way, when you spot a child happily consuming your sign while the absent-minded parent looks on with pride, you can simply smile and nod, producing a new sign from your bag.

The “Back in 15” Sign

The reverse of my Table Sign.
The reverse of my Table Sign.

I am bad for having to make last-minute dashes to the bathroom after consuming coffee at regular intervals. During one such experience, I returned to a small note small note stating “WHERE WERE YOU? Creator was not here so we went to another game”. Do yourself a favor and have small sign to throw down when you have to dart away for food, the bathroom, or to argue with your phone provider about last month’s bill. I write mine on the inside of my table signs and then just turn them inside out when I have to leave.

To recap:

  • Signs attract people to your game, even in schedule-heavy conventions
  • Banners and free-standing signs are great, but check if your convention will allow them
  • Use small table-sized signs at all conventions
  • Bring back-up signs in case the first ones become unusable
  • Create a “Back in 15 minutes sign” for those moments of inconvenience

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Designing with Materials in Mind

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I recently listened to an interview with Phil Reed, CEO of Steve Jackson that you can find here.

During the lengthy interview, Phil brings up the concept of designing with material costs in mind. In essence, he argues that when designing a game to start by researching and keeping a running total of the component costs and use this background information to dictate what components to include in a game based on the prince point you are aiming for.

Wow, did I wish I had heard of this before I started designing games!

It seems like a common sense notion, but it is not…at least for me. I did not price out components prior to beginning the game design process. For Crop Cycle, I knew I wanted to make a smaller game than Centaurus (i.e not miniatures, a game board, full-box, etc.), but I did not have an outline for exactly how small the game should be. With no previous games under my belt, I also did not have the background knowledge and experience that Phil Reed and other serial game publishers hold.

In hindsight, if I did it again I would begin with researching the manufacturing. The easiest way to get accurate information is to request a few quotes from manufacturers that provide component breakdowns (Panda Games and Wingo both provide this). Alternatively, ask around in game publishing circles such as the Facebook communities here and here.

What I did instead was use the prices of a print-on-demand service as an estimate for the relative differences in cost. For example, I assumed that the comparative difference in cost between cards and tokens when I approached a manufacturer. I did not ask for quotes until later in the process and failed to realize that the price differences of a Print-on-Demand service can vary wildly from a print-run manufacturer.

To use Crop Cycle as an example, the game uses small tokens to use both indicators and as a means of keeping score. For the prototype, I used Circle Shards from The Game Crafter. The cost was cheap and I naively assumed that the cost would be comparable when speaking with manufacturers.

This was a mistake.

It turned out that die-cut tokens can dramatically increase the cost of a project, particularly as some manufacturers lack the required machinery and will outsource the component to another factory. I would have known this if I asked for quotes from manufacturers at the outset rather than waiting around.

Of course, I am not recommending that you pester manufacturers with every conceivable piece component imaginable, but if you have a few manufacturers in mind, ask them for the component costs of common items such as cards, game boxes, dice, and tokens. Then, when you to sit to thrash out the finer points of your game, you will have a much better idea of the overall cost of manufacturing and whether adding an extra cards or dice will still keep the game within the price range you intend. Remember that the MSRP (price retailers sell the game for) is typically 4-5 times your production cost.

Give it a try. Once you have decided to take the leap from designing game to publishing, get your component costs down and then delve into designing your first foray into the world of publishing.

Additional Reading:

James Mathe, a serial kickstarter creator and experienced game publisher wrote three fantastic articles on speaking with manufacturers and the costs of game design. I recommend you read them all!

http://www.jamesmathe.com/the-art-of-the-rfq/

http://www.jamesmathe.com/trimming-the-fat-board-game-on-a-diet/

http://www.jamesmathe.com/hitchhikers-guide-to-game-manufacturers/

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Validating Players and Accepting Feedback

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boardtopoI always bring a notepad to conventions. Nothing fancy; purely the Dollar Store variety. This notepad is to record feedback from gamers who stop at my booth (perhaps attracted by a candy dish or hook line).

As a rule, I write down all feedback players provide when playing my game. It doesn’t matter if I agree with it at the time, I write it down.

The reason for meticulous record keeping is two-fold:

  1. Feedback allows for a broader perspective on the game than my own limited perspective as the game’s designer affords
  2. Recording feedback is a sign of respect to my players. It validates their opinions, demonstrating that I value the time and energy they dedicate to improving my game.

The first point goes without saying. As a game designer, I tend to be protective of the game designs I have poured so many hours into and am oblivious to obvious flaws. The selective blindness starts when the game is printed on index cards and only gets worse as I invest more and more time into the game’s development.

That is not to say that all feedback is good. Suggestions that I turn my farming game Crop Cycle into a Mad Max or zombie-themed card games (a la plants v.s zombies) were invariably scrapped, but whenever I notice a recurring suggestion, I take notice. Recurring feedback can be an indicator of deeper problems with the game or a mismatched target market.

Equally if not more important than the feedback itself is that the act of recording the opinions empowers players. They are no longer passive gamers, but co-creators, helping to shape and mould the game into the final product they want to play.

That does not mean that on reflection, all of their suggestions will be incorporated (design by committee rarely yields stellar results), but it helps convention attendees kind enough to stop off at your booth feel they are part of a game’s creation and not just another face in a crowded exhibition hall.

Ultimately, we design games to create a positive experience for players. The act of accepting and reflecting on feedback not only validates and empowers the players providing it, but improves the quality of the game for everyone to enjoy!

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