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How to Choose a Board Game Manufacturer

Finding a manufacturer for your board game or card game can feel daunting, especially if it’s your first time creating a game. You’re spending a significant amount with a company located halfway around the world. Add language barriers, cultural differences and plenty of jargon into the process and it’s easy to feel stressed and unsure of what to do.

The good news is that choosing a manufacturer isn’t as difficult as it seems once you’re aware of how the game manufacturing industry actually works, as well as the factors that separate a great manufacturer from one that doesn’t belong on your list. 

The purpose of this guide is to take you from a nervous first-time creator into someone with a strong understanding of:

  • How to find board game manufacturers.

  • Key questions to ask when comparing manufacturers.

  • What the process of working with a board game manufacturer is like.

In other words, we want you to have all of the knowledge you need to make sure your game is manufactured successfully, without any of the common issues that often affect first-time game creators. 

Where Board Game Manufacturers Are Located

The vast majority of board game manufacturers are located in China. For example, we’re based in Yiwu, approximately 300 km from Shanghai. Yiwu is the world’s largest wholesale market for small commodities and a major world center for toy production.

China offers numerous advantages for board game manufacturing, which is why it’s the location of most of the world’s top game manufacturing companies.

The first of these advantages is pricing. Factory costs such as rent and building space are more competitive in China than in the EU or USA. Furthermore, the machines that we and many other manufacturers use to manufacture board games are made here in China. 

This means that the costs associated with operating a factory are simply lower in China than in other countries, resulting in more competitive pricing for you as a board game creator.

While labor is less expensive in China than in the EU or US, lower labor costs aren’t the primary reason board game manufacturers are mostly in China. In fact, many countries with much lower labor costs than China aren’t competitive for board game manufacturing. Why?

The first reason is simple: China has an incredible supply chain for board games. Just about every type of component you can imagine for board games is made here, making it easy to pick and choose the perfect parts for your game without importing from other countries.

In fact, because of this incredible supply chain for game parts, many Western manufacturers of board games and card games outsource most of their production to China anyway, then add a profit margin to the price they quote you. 

The second reason is that labor costs don’t play a very significant role in the cost of making a board game, meaning a country with lower labor costs than China but a low quality supply chain will actually end up being more expensive. Most of the processes involves in board game manufacturing are automated (unless you are making very heavy, detailed games with lots of miniatures). For example, a printing or coating machine can process between 10,000 and 7,000 sheets per hour. Other machines, such a gluing machines, can easily process 1,000 sheets per hour.

The end result is that cost-efficiency is much more about access to machinery, materials and infrastructure than cheap labor. (By the way, you will want to make sure any factory you work with, in China or elsewhere, has a BSCI certificate to verify that their staff are treated fairly and adequately compensated — something we’ve discussed more further down the page).

China also has other advantages, such as economies of scale and excellent shipping services that make it easy to deliver your game to your fulfillment providers (or directly to your backers).

In other words, it’s not just cost — you’ll find the most effective manufacturers in China because it’s the only location that offers these advantages.

We’ve expanded on this more in our About Us page if you’re interested in learning more about the business side of manufacturing games. But for now, just be aware that 90+% of the board game and card game manufacturers you’ll find when searching will be located in China. 

Choose 4-5 Manufacturers and Add Them to Your Shortlist

If you’re manufacturing for the first time and don’t know where to begin, a good approach is to find four to five manufacturers that meet your criteria and add them to a shortlist.

You can find board game manufacturers by Googling “board game manufacturers China” and “board game manufacturers,” or by asking in communities like Reddit’s Tabletop Game Design subreddit.

BoardGameGeek also has an alphabetical list of board game manufacturers that you can use to quickly build a shortlist of potential manufacturers for your game. 

Once you have a shortlist of potential manufacturers, you can start screening them and narrow your choices down to the companies that best match your needs.

Check Reviews and Ask the Community for Feedback

Whenever possible, try to look up reviews and feedback on manufacturers from the tabletop game design community. You’re almost sure to find at least someone who’s worked with the manufacturers on your shortlist who can provide their feedback on the experience.

Good places to look for reviews and feedback on game manufacturers include:

  • Reddit and BoardGameGeek, especially communities that focus on game design and manufacturing.

  • The Board Game Design Lab Community Facebook group. Search for “manufacturer” and you’ll find previous discussions where people share their feedback.

Key Questions to Ask When Comparing Manufacturers

Do they own their own factory?

The dirty little secret of the board game manufacturing industry is that not all manufacturers are actually manufacturers. Many companies that offer board game manufacturing services partner with third-party factories, meaning they will take your order and act as a middleman passing it to a manufacturer that will make your game on their behalf. We refer to these companies as trading companies rather than manufacturers.

We strongly advise against working with a company that outsources production of your game to another factory for several reasons.

First, these companies are inherently unreliable partners. Because they don’t actually manufacture themselves, they can become less stable as you scale your board game business. They depend on third parties to actually manufacture your game, and these third parties have their own work orders and challenges. This means that you’re more at risk of delays and other setbacks that can have a significant cost on your ability to get your game into players’ hands.

Second, there’s a strong correlation between companies that outsource manufacturing to other factories and poor quality. These companies rarely produce the best, meaning you end up with higher costs per unit and mediocre quality. 

Expanding on this point, when it comes to pricing, some trading companies will be able to offer lower pricing than direct manufacturers. How is this possible? Mostly, it’s because they don’t perform any quality control themselves, and simply shop your game to other manufacturers. Since they don’t need to account for any QC issues, you may get cheap pricing, as well as a lot of risks related to your game’s materials, printing quality and other factors.

Third, by adding an additional person in the communications, there’s a much higher risk of your game’s details getting lost in translation. This means you might not get the exact materials you wanted for your game, or your finished game might have design or quality issues caused by a communication error between your agent and the factory that makes your game.

Because of this, the #1 question you should ask any manufacturer is whether they use their own factory or outsource production to a third party manufacturer. If they’re a trading company, make sure you weigh up the risks of working with them and the impact these risks could have on you game and business.

What games have they made?

Another topic to bring up with potential manufacturers is games they’ve made. This gives you a quick idea of whether a game manufacturer is well established, and also gives you a good list of existing games you can use to assess the manufacturer’s average quality.

If you’re interested in a manufacturer, consider ordering copies of games similar to yours they’ve manufactured for other clients. Look at factors like the printing quality, how solid the components feel, and just the general durability of the game boards and other items. 

You can also ask manufacturers for a sample pack, which will give you an idea of what they can produce and the typical quality level you can expect from them. 

Do they have ISO, FSC, BSCI and other industry certificates?

Whenever you’re manufacturing anything (this advice doesn’t just apply to board games), you’ll want to check that your selected manufacturer complies with international standards for quality control, safety and responsible sourcing and ethical business practices.

The easiest, most effective way to do this is to look for certification from respected international industry groups and standardization organizations.

Look for the following certificates:

  • ISO 9001

  • FSC

  • BSCI

These demonstrate that a factory has good quality practices, uses sustainable materials when possible, and achieves high levels of social responsibility for workers.

You’ll also want to verify that the manufacturer got these certificates for products related to card games or board games, not just for managing an office. Ask your sales rep to provide a copy of any relevant certificates and check that they actually correlate with the name of the factory, not a third party.

You can view our industry certificates on our board game manufacturing page. Not all factories will list these publicly, so make sure to ask your sales rep about certification when you compare manufacturers from your shortlist. 

What’s the minimum order quantity (MOQ)?

All factories have a minimum order quantity. This is because it takes time and resources to set up the manufacturing equipment to make your game. These costs are fixed, meaning there’s a minimum amount of copies you’ll need to print for your game to be a viable project. 

If you’re planning on doing a small production run of 1,000 units or less, make sure you ask the manufacturers on your shortlist about their MOQ. Pricing for your game will generally be higher per unit for a small production run, and some manufacturers may not be willing or able to do a small-volume production run. 

For very low volume manufacturing, you will need to use a print on demand (POD) manufacturer.

What’s the prototype/sample process and pricing?

You’ll want to receive samples of your game before going into production. Receiving samples allows you to identify potential issues in your game before you commit to a full production run, then address these issues ahead of time.

Every game manufacturer should allow you to receive pre-production samples of your game, but the process and pricing will likely differ between manufacturers. Make sure you ask your shortlisted game manufacturers to explain how their prototyping and sample process works, as well as what the associated costs are (if the manufacturer doesn’t provide free pre-production samples). 

We offer free pre-production samples for all game creators, as well as paid prototypes for marketing purposes. You can learn more about how our prototyping process works here

How good is the service and communication?

Good service and communication is extremely important in a manufacturer. Your board game contains lots of unique pieces that need to be designed, printed and manufactured accurately, and every step down in communication quality greatly increases the risk that one or several of these pieces aren’t made to your expectations.

Look for manufacturers that have sales staff fluent in your language. Furthermore, make sure that the chain of communication is as short as possible. The more people your project passes through on the way to manufacturing, the more likely it is for errors to occur. 

This is one of many reasons we do not recommend working with a company that outsources manufacturing to a third party. The more parties involved in making your game, the more you face the risk of translation issues and communication problems that lead to quality issues.

What happens if something goes wrong?

No manufacturer has a 100% accuracy rate. Every company in the board game manufacturing industry occasionally makes mistakes, including some that can affect the look and feel of your game. These include scratches on cards, cutting errors, imperfect punch-out of tokens, or assembly mistakes like extra glue on some game components.

Additionally, all manufacturers are at risk of communication issues that could lead to problems with your game.

This is where a clear contract with your manufacturer is essential for protecting you.

Before you manufacture with any company, you’ll need to enter into an agreement that details your print run, as well as additional services such as storage, shipping and safety testing. This agreement needs to clearly state the specifications of your game, the manufacturer’s commitment to quality, as well as what the process is if something goes wrong.

Your manufacturer should provide clear information about all of these factors and potential issues so that you can proceed with confidence, knowing you’re protected if things go wrong. Avoid manufacturers that provide unclear contracts or give value promises instead of concrete information. Make sure everything is written into your contract so that you know what will happen and know you’re protected.

You can view our terms and conditions here.

How competitive and transparent is the pricing?

There are three key things you’ll want to look at when you’re comparing pricing between game manufacturers:

  • What is the total price quoted for your game? You don’t want to pick a manufacturer based solely on the total cost for your game, but it’s still important to know what you’re going to pay at a per-unit and total price.

  • How transparent is the pricing? A good manufacturer will break down your costs by component so you can see exactly where your money is going and which components contribute most to the cost of your game.

  • How flexible is the pricing? When your quote is transparent and you can see pricing for each item, you can negotiate. If you’re aiming for a specific price point, reach out to your manufacturer and ask if they can suggest ways to lower cost on components.

What other services do they offer?

Ask your manufacturer about additional services they offer, or people they can connect you with to help you with your game. They might be able to connect you with their recommended artists, crowdfunding specialists, and other professionals who can help you with your game.

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– Hersh (Founder of HeroTime)