My Take on

The Game CrafterI am using The Game Crafter (TGC) to publish my board games.  If you are familiar with CafePress or Lulu, TGC has a similar publish-on-demand take on board games.

As a game designer, I am able to upload any graphics needed for custom cards and game boards, and then select a collection of bits needed for a game, and TGC makes that set of materials available as a game in their shop.  I can choose to keep something unpublished — just for me to order — such as prototypes, or personal game versions … or I can publish a game, which makes it available for anyone to order.

This is all done on-demand … when an order is placed for a game, the cards and boards are printed at that time and all parts are picked.  The whole set is then packed and shipped to the buyer.  The advantage of on-demand fulfillment is that I don’t need to pre-print and store a few hundred copies of the game.  The disadvantage is that the costs can be higher since things are not being produced in large quantities.

I am very happy that such a service is available … and I am happy that the TGC team seem to be quite focused on delivering great customer service.  I thought I would take a post to spell out my own personal opinions on the good and bad points around The Game Crafter.

I should start by saying that the staff at The Game Crafter are very interactive with the people using their service.  They monitor and respond to posts on their forums, and are quick to reply to e-mails as well.  I have already expressed my takes on the things I like and don’t like at TGC directly with the crew there.  They are aware of the things that still need improving, and have done a nice job of already making improvements for a business that is less than a year old … and I expect they will continue to improve as time goes on.

What I Like …

  • Example of Bits from TheGameCrafter.comBits Selection — TGC has a nice selection of bit available — pawns, rockets, airplanes, rings, stones, cubes, meeples, cars, boats, tanks, dice, etc.  While there are always things I can think of that aren’t available, I can usually figure out a way to use what they do have.  Some of the items are more expensive than I would like to see them … but, again, I can almost always find a way to use the less expensive components.  So, overall, I’m happy with the selection.
  • Cards — I think the best thing that TGC does is their custom cards.  The pricing seems quite good for a print-on-demand product, and the quality is very good for a digital print shop.  The weight and feel of the cards is very nice for handling.  They do start out a bit rigid, but they soften as they are shuffled a dozen-or-two times.  There are some quirks around the printing and cutting process that a designer needs to work around.  For example, the cutting of the cards may shift around by a millimeter or two, which can be quite visible when using outlines and borders.  Their card design templates make the “safe zone” very clear — so, paying attention to this will have an impact on the quality of the way the cards look.
  • The Publication Model — I really like the potential of TGC’s publication model.  First, when I am prototyping and testing a game, I love that I can upload my card and board images and pick bits that I need and then order a rather nice looking prototype to test with.  Most of my games are smaller and only cost $10-$20 … that’s quite a nice price, I think.  When a game is ready for a public reveal, I like that I don’t need to worry about the production, stocking, sales processing, picking-packing-shipping, etc.  I can just work on promoting the game and pointing everyone to the game’s TGC shop page for people to order it.  (Not to mention that I’m not shelling out a few thousand bucks to get the ball rolling.)  I’ve done the make-it-by-hand self-publishing route, including responding to orders, packing and shipping, etc. … I’m very happy to let someone else take care of those parts of the deal.

What Needs Improving …

  • Example White Box from TheGameCrafter.comGame Boxes — My main pet peeve is the plain white boxes that TGC uses to pack all of their games in.  It is a sturdy shipping box, but does nothing to make the game seem attractive while sitting on a shelf.  They also only provide a small, low-res, black-and-white label with the game’s title graphic on it to be put on the outside of the box.  If you only order a single game from TGC, then that white box *is* your shipping box, which I really don’t like.  (It does give the buyer an incentive to buy multiple games — since 2 or more games on the same order are each packed into their own white boxes, which are then put into a larger box for shipping — but that’s a negative “incentive”, which isn’t cool.)  Providing some sort of traditional game box with outer graphics printing would add a ton of value to the games produced by TGC, and allow for more careful packing for shipment.
  • Rules Printing — TGC only offers a single method for printing rules documents:  They print 2-sided to letter sized paper in black-and-white.  These papers are *not* bound in any way … and they usually just fold the stack of papers in whatever manner makes it easiest to fit in the box with the rest of the bits.  This doesn’t give a designer much help in presenting their game rules in the best possible way.  They do host files for download from the game’s shop page, though — so, the best option available is to produce a full-color PDF of the rules and post them as a link for players to download and print themselves.  I am hoping to see this improve soon.
  • Jump Gate Black Hole BoardGame Boards — The game boards available through TGC are made from the same paper and use the same printing process as their cards.  While this means that it allows for full-bleed, nicely-printed graphics, it means that the boards are thin and do not resemble traditional chip-board-backed game boards.  They are also only available in a few sizes (4×4, 10×4, 10×10, and 16×10) and are not folded.  This can usually work okay (such as when having a bunch of small 4×4 boards like Jump Gate does), but it means that bigger games will suffer from not having a nice, solid, folding board to play on.
  • International Shipping Costs — While the US shipping costs are pretty standard USPS Priority package shipping, the shipping costs determined for non-US destinations — including Canada — seem quite high compared to what I’ve had when shipping something myself at a US Post Office.  They have stated that they are using an integrated software package from the USPS, but I think they will need to continue tweaking things to improve in this area — or it will greatly reduce any non-US orders.

As you can see, I don’t consider TGC to be a perfect service yet … still a number of important things that need improving.  However, I do consider it a pretty good service already, and plan to continue using it to publish my board game designs.  They take care of the things I don’t really want to spend my time and money doing, so that I can spend my effort on designing and promoting my games.

It’s in my best interest to wish them nothing but success — so that’s exactly what I do.

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