A worldwide celebration of board games called International Table Top day took place on April 11th, 2015. As part of the big event, a number of communities and stores within my hometown of Winnipeg put on events. As I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign for a card game in May, I was determined to attend as many events as possible on this day. What followed was a 15 hour odyssey that took me to five separate events.
One of these events was held at a bookstore called McNally Robinson. By this point in the day, it was 6:00 P.M. and I had been going hard for nine hours. After demonstrating the game at a table the store had graciously provided me, I got up and doggedly began to shuffle towards the exit.
As I walked, I pulled out my smart phone and observed my social media activity. I am still new to social media and have yet to fully appreciate the finer nuances of followers. General crowd funding theories state that engaged followers are fundamentally good and generally nobody argues that gaining followers is a bad thing as long as they are a human and not a software algorithm. The more people following you, the bigger the audience that will view your content.
When it comes to Twitter, follower numbers are the most straightforward (if somewhat crude) metric for monitoring your effectiveness. Looking at my phone I was disheartened that I lost several followers since earlier that day despite posting multiple times about audience-relevant board game materials.
Darn, losing followers sucks.
As I was dwelling in my little emotional pit of social media ineptitude, I was surprised when a woman that had played my game a few minutes ago approached me. She asked me where I was going to now. I replied that I was attending another gaming event to show off my game. Then she dropped a more unusual question on me.
“I know this is awkward, but do you mind if I come with you”, she asked?
“Sure”, I replied. “As long as you can help me find my car.”
It is worth noting that I have incredibly poor navigational skills and what she initially took as a joke led to a fifteen minute ordeal as I wandered around a large parking, searching for my generic silver Corolla.
We eventually found my car and were off to the next board game event. I had been to event earlier that day and one of the organizers raised an amused eyebrow when I returned with a follower in tow. When the question came up, I simply replied that while I struggled to gain and keep digital followers, I was much better at gaining physical ones.
On reflection, I realize that face-to-face conversation is my preferred means of communication. The immediate reasons are that I like to be outside, my day job looking at a monitor and my weak wrists don’t lend to extended typing sessions on a smart phone.
Beyond that, with social media I find it difficult to share in the same type of communication. The nuances of body language and vocal variety are obscured in the text. While readers can imagine the tone of the text, this can quickly lead to misunderstandings. With the internet being the internet, these misunderstandings quickly lead to thermonuclear emotional meltdowns and ensuing flame wars.
It is much rarer for such incidents to happen during conversation. Take the rest of Table Top Day for example. I ended the day playing board games with my new found friend and exposed her to a hobby that she was relatively new to.
We went for coffee after and discussed everything from Chinese-Canadian culture, pursuing a degree in the performing arts to communal living and the roles of our political parties. I learned that she lived in Ontario where she taught performing arts at a local university. To celebrate turning thirty, she was on a journey across Canada via railcar, stopping at the major cities (and yes, I will defend to the death that Winnipeg is a major city). Most of all though, we discussed the question that we all wonder about, what to do with the limited time we have on this Earth.
Each of the aforementioned topics was a conversational minefield that if posted online, would recreate Chernobyl within the residents of my little corner of cyberspace. In person and within a relaxed setting, I was much more comfortable to glide between these topics, knowing that a misstep will result in an immediate que (hopefully not a slap) as opposed to being vented as a vitriolic text wall.
With all that being said, I shouldn’t discount social media followers. After all, I owe very real connections with board game designers and publishers to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to me social media has always been a jumping off points to more significant forms of communication. Twitter is great for Q&A, Facebook feed can provide helpful news and updates; but discussing the meaning of life is something I have always struggled to fit into 140 characters.
Hello aspiring game designers,
The information below is a compilation of information I wish I knew 6 months ago when I began creating my first Print and Play (PnP) game. I am not a graphic designer and this is by no means a comprehensive how-to guide for creating files. It is my hope however, that this guide will help you decide when and why to design a PnP as well as help you avoid some common formatting and design pitfalls.
What the heck is a print-and-play?
A Print-and-Play is a digital file containing all the components of a board game. The file can be shared with enthusiastic players to allow them to print, assemble, and play your game without having to buy a professionally manufactured version.
But I am trying to sell my game, why would I want to let others play my game without giving me money?
There are several reasons for game designers and publishers to use a PnP:
- Make additional money
Selling a PnP copy of your game online for a fraction of a retail copy is a way to make money from consumers unwilling or unable to purchase a manufactured copy of the game.* When pricing a PnP, prices are typically low given that customers pay additional costs printing the game. PnP games rarely sell for more than $5 (excluding pen and paper RPG games), but it is still money that you may not otherwise have.
- Obtaining Kickstarter/Crowdfunding Pledges
If you are running a crowdfunding campaign for your game, a low level pledge offering a PnP can be a great way to generate pledges. More backers is always a good thing and a PnP is a great way to get people to commit to your campaign and still feel they are receiving a reward without having to worry about shipping a physical object. With all the momentum and excitement of the campaign, they may even bump their pledge levels as the campaign progresses. From my observations, most reward levels for a PnP are between $1 and $5.
- Promoting a game
Giving away your PnP for free can be a great promotional tool. Offering the file to reviewers, distributors, publishers, and even the general public can pique their interest and gain support for your project. Offering a PnP also builds credibility as a new game designer, showing the world that you have taken steps to make the game and are not just showcasing the ideas on a napkin.
Debate exists over whether giving out free copies of the PnP will hinder or enhance your sales. I personally cannot speak to this as I did not provide a free version of my PnP, but I recommend that you read James Mathe’s in-depth analysis of the impact giving away a free PnP had on his Kickstarter as well as the counterpoints offered in the comments of his article.
Finally, you have the option of giving away an incomplete version of the PnP for free and offering a finished or higher resolution version as a Kickstarter reward or online sale. That is not to say the free version is unplayable, just that it is missing some artwork or has been formatted in black and white or low resolution. For an example of this, Teale Fristoe offered up both a free and purchasable version for his Kickstarter: Birds of a Feather.
Now you’ve got me excited to make a Print-and-Play. How do I make one?
Now we enter the nitty-gritty of design. Like all creative endeavours, there is no end to debate over best practices. The formatting strategies below are based on my experience creating a PnP for my Kickstarter campaign and the copious amount of trial and error that ensued. Though admittedly, I did not implement all of the strategies listed below. If I create another PnP, this is the information I’d want to know.
What format to use?
I prefer a PDF file. It protects the files from being tampered with and more importantly, maintains the proportions of the images when printing. Users will require Adobe PDF reader to access the file, but it is free and available here. Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop both allow for the creation of PDF files and both offer free trials to assist you in creating the files. The majority of print shops are capable of reading and modifying adobe files. If they do not have the software, this would be a big red flag for me to print the game elsewhere.
Another strategy is to save the rules and each component as separate files for faster loading. While I do advocate having your game rules posted online as a separate file, I find creating a separate file for each component creates issues for some printers attempting to print double-sided pages across multiple files simultaneously. Keep all of the components together for easier printing.
When posting the rules online, have the text for the rulebook portion of the PnP formatted into a single column so that smartphones and tablets can simply scroll up and down to access all of the materials. Of course, users will not necessarily be accessing the PnP regularly on their phones, but to quickly check rules, the single column of text is very helpful.
What type of Paper?
Two topics are included here, the first being the type of paper/materials gamers will use to print your game. Paper quality is a decision that players need to make and will be determined by the quality of PnP they are looking to produce. I recommend throwing novice game printers a bone by including a recommended GSM or the components used in the final game version of the game.
The second issue has to do with the fact that the dimensions of printer paper are different around the world. In North America, US letter is the standard size and measures 215.9mm x 279mm (8.5” x 11”). Many other countries use A4 paper measuring 210 x 279 mm (8.27” x 11.69”)
What it boils down to is that US Letter is wider and A4 is longer.
When making a PnP, ensure that your game fits the smaller dimensions of both formats, with the width of A4 and the length of US Letter. That way, the PnP will not have its portions distorted or cut-off regardless of whether it is printed on A4 or US Letter. This uses more paper, but will satisfy most audiences and avoids having to create multiple versions of the PnP.
What about Ink?
A full-colour version of the PnP is a must to show off your game in all its glory, but many price conscious players will look for ways to save money. Some game designers offer a black and white, low ink version to reduce the cost of printing. Designers may even remove all the artwork and just leave the bare bones essentials to reduce cost. A stripped down version is a good way to ensure a wide price gap between the PnP and the retail version, particularly if your game has a low retail cost to begin with.
How about resolution?
When it comes to resolution (how detailed the images are based on the number of dots per inch), the community is split. Supporters of a low resolution PnP (around 150 DPI) state that many printers can’t produce a noticeable difference in quality at higher DPI level and that the file sizes are much smaller. Supporters of higher resolution files (300 DPI) argue it looks nicer and that file size does not matter. The jury is still out on this one, so you will have to make a choice. Of course, if you have the time you can also offer both formats, such as a low resolution version for free and then a high resolution version at a cost or a Kickstarter pledge.
Cool, so how do arrange the images…I always hated Rubik’s cubes?
If possible, have a digital designer do this for you. I was fortunate enough to have a digital designer with a history in print layout, so he just went to town.
If you happen to be a one man/woman show or just don’t have a digital designer, grab yourself a trial version of an image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign and remember the following principles:
- Keep all cards flush against one another. Leave no blank space in between as this will reduce the number of cuts you have to make. Also, be sure to leave some bleed room around where the cuts are supposed to be made. Bleed room is a space where the background image is consistent and does not change (such as a solid colour or a continuous pattern), which helps to hide any imperfect cuts.
- Place the backs of cards/components on the next page of the PnP. I prefer having them formatted for duplex printing, though from speaking with designers there will always be someone whose printer is unable to print the components properly. I stuck with duplex printing, but if your audience is up in arms, another printer layout may be appropriate.
- Keep the cuts for all components square/rectangular whenever possible, even if the manufactured version of the game offers alternative shapes. Cutting anything other than a straight line consistently requires special equipment sold at craft stores or the ability to wield scissors with the steadiness of a member of the bomb squad. Make it easy for players and avoid irregularly shaped components whenever possible.
- Avoid placing cut lines across the page. Full or even dotted indicator lines highlight imperfect cuts by showcasing little bits of line on the sides of game components. Instead, use short indicator lines along the page edges for players to line up their cuts. If players really want cut lines, they can use a ruler and draw a line between the indicator marks.
Some argue for indicator lines around oddly shaped components, but as mentioned above, it is better to keep components square whenever possible. The only situation where indicator lines are necessary are if you are trying to save space and cram different game components onto the same page, making the edge indicators interfere with one another. In this case, cut lines are necessary, but make sure that the line colour does not blend in with the components (I recommend black or white depending on the component’s colour)
Great, I made my Print and Play; now how do I distribute it?
There are lots of ways to distribute a PnP while still limiting access to only certain users. If you are looking to sell the file, there are numerous online stores that are available if you don’t feel like hosting the file yourself. Two popular examples are the War Game Vault and The Game Crafter, though certainly other outlets exist. The appeal of these sites is that they shoulder the hosting cost and offer a turn-key solution as well as exposure in exchange for a portion of the sales.
If you are looking to upload and distribute the file yourself, Drop Box and Google Drive are both popular avenues that allow you to share the PnP through a link. I personally prefer Google Drive as it does not require a login like Drop Box, but for my Kickstarter I offered the PnP through both so supporters had their choice.
How did you learn all this?
Lots of trial and error, discussions with my digital designer Daniel Prairie and a supportive online community. Thank you for the feedback from Board Game Geek and this Facebook community of game designers.
*There is debate in the industry over whether selling PnP games will reduce retail sales, but I have yet to find a comprehensive survey of the industry on the overall impact offering a PnP has on final sales numbers.
Tables are a scarce and valuable resource at conventions.
As the platform for budding game designers an promoters to showcase their games, convention managers know the value of these tables and charge accordingly.
Larger conventions can charge hundreds of dollars for you to set up a table, knowing that used correctly, you can get a lot of attention for your game.
This high cost conflicts with the budgets of many game designers…budgets that are somewhere in the $0 ballpark range.
One solution to the cost is table-sharing. The concept is exactly what it sounds like. You pay for half the table and another game designer/promoter pays for the other half. The benefits of having half a table include:
- Reduced Cost. Half a table costs less than a full table (theoretically half the cost, but some conventions use different math)
- If a number of people are at your table (even if it is for another game), this will help you through the Law of Gameplay Attraction.
- Networking: Unless other designer you are sharing a table with has the personality of a paper bag, they are going to take an interest in your game.
- Anyone who comes to the table will be exposed to your game. That is not to say you should be trying to pester players to try your game while they are in the middle of the another designer’s game, but the moment they are done, they are open for hook lines.
- The Security of having another designer/promoter to watch your stuff when you make a sprint to the bathroom.
- An opportunity for Cross-Promotion. For example, if I am sharing a table and my farming game (Crop Cycle) with a game promoter showcasing Street Fighter, I might come up with a phrase like:
“You have proven your might in the fields, now take it to the streets!”
Does the phrase make any sense?
Does it promise the two games offer a similar experience?
Does it get players finished with my game to look across the table to Street Fighter?
The benefits of table-sharing are numerous and the costs few. Though you have less space to work with, unless you are promoting Twilight Imperium or looking to use the table as a bed (in which case why are you at a convention?) you can make do with less.
But what about you? Have you tried out Table-sharing? Share your Success and/or Horror stories in the Comments below.
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