Trimming the Fat: Board Game on a Diet

Energy Empire


A common problem in board game production is how can you control product production costs. One of the most critical things you can do to have a successful reboot of a failed Kickstarer is to bring the overall goal down. The easiest and most effective way to do that is by cutting the costs to produce the game. In many cases those cut/reduced items can then get added back in as stretch goals which helps build momentum for the campaign.

I own 3 game stores and have been in the hobby retail business for nearly 20 years. I have a good feel for what price points games need to be at these days to sell:

Card Game $8-15
Party game $15-30
Family game $25-40
Medium/Heavy game $40-55
Heavy game with miniatures $50-75
Huge game with tons of bits $75-99

In our hobby industry it’s typical that a distributor only pays your 40% of the MSRP and you need to ship to them for free. If you use a fulfillment company they’ll take 18% of the 40% (roughly 10% MSRP) but will handle the shipping for you. I use a fulfillment company and using our industry’s current distribution I see about 36% of MSRP when I sell a game to a retail store.

Selling direct to customers on Kickstarer thought, you can see as much as 75% of your MSRP. So it makes sense to plan to get your game mostly paid from Kickstarter and your profit come from the distribution network of the extra copies after KS.

You will find you need to keep your manufacturing costs to 1/5th the MSRP at most. So a $50 game needs to be produced and shipping to the USA for $10. This of course is very loosely lumping in all the other development costs such as artwork into the mix.

Most manufacturers will require a 1500 unit print run, most USA based manufacturers will require 3000-5000 MOQ (minimum order quantity). You should only print 1500 as most games from small publishers in distribution may see 500 units sold. So you add that to your Kickstarter of 500-1000 units and you might make a profit. Some manufacturers will do only 1000 units but beware as they tend to be the shops with sub-part manufacturing that are seeking anyone willing to give them a chance.

Shipping 1500 games in from China is going to cost you about $3000-5000. Maybe $1500-2500 for a small card game.

Most Kickstarters from smaller publishers are lucky if they get 500 backers. Some might achieve 1000 but that’s very hard, especially on a more expensive game.

So, doing the math, if you need to print 1500 of a game, add in shipping/customs costs, take out Kickstarter/Amazon fees, add costs to deliver to your customers, and then leave some wiggle room- you will probably find you’ll need roughly these Kickstarter goals:

Card Game 840 backers goal of $7,500
Party game 560 backers goal of $13,000
Family game 510 backers goal of $16,000
Medium/Heavy game 500 backers goal of $22,000
Heavy game with miniatures 455 backers goal of $31,000
Huge game with tons of bits 442 backers goal of $40,000

Remember the shipping and extras (add-ons) you charge for on Kickstarer will be applied to the amount needed to reach your goal so the above values are what I’d consider minimal goals with all USA backers.

Tips on reducing cost without sacrificing much in quality

(Obviously this all varies based on the manufacturer, so ask them):


  • Use 14mm dice instead of 16mm. I would not recommend 12mm though.
  • Use dice with a single color ink
  • Make all dice from the same plastic color (usually there is a cleaning charge between colors)


  • Make the board size smaller if at all possible
  • Remove the 5th player and make it an expansion IF you ever sell enough bases units.
  • To reduce the cost of punchboards (actually extra DIE costs of $200-300) is to ensure that ALL punchboards use the exact same die-cut pattern.
  • You can fit more items on a punchboard if you design them so that some items share a common border. This allows you to use less of a bleed or even share a single knife cut with no bleed.


  • Use 1mm thick chipboard instead of 2mm
  • Reduce the amount of additional content (like extra cards and tiles) that are not required for the overall game experience.


  •  Use 15mm miniatures instead of 25mm
  •  Use cardboard stand-ups instead of miniatures. While not as cool they save you a TON of expense and allow you to put full color art on the figures. They tend to be well received from smaller publishers (like you).


  • An 8″x8″ 12 page manual can to be cheaper then a 10″x10″ 8 page manual. Where is is not worth cutting corners is on the manual. You should keep it full color and as detailed as you can, though fluff (story) text can be reduced. Manuals grow and shrink by 4 page increments though so this is hard to make any significant changes too.
  • Use the back cover for text, don’t leave it blank. A good use would be to add a player aid and remove any cardboard player aid you had.


  • Use standard size cards for everything. Even if you need to use 2 cards or a front and back to make it work. This will save you at least $300 for a die.
  • Make use of mini-Euro sized (44x67mm) or mini-American (41x63mm) cards when possible.
  • Use a common boarder (single die cut) card layout.
  • 275 gsm is just fine for cards, you don’t need 300+gsm
  • Linen coating is nice but costs extra so don’t use it
  • You do not need back-core or Casino quality card stock unless your game is a card game or constantly shuffling the cards. Grey-core is more then sufficient for all board games.
  • Promo cards cost extra to separate, but Kickstarer people want exclusives. So tough call here to make any suggestions. I lean toward them being a valid expense.
  • Use fewer cards if possible. Most games do not require far less then 200 cards – why are you using 300+ ?  Ask your manufacturer if there is a savings if you cut just a couple cards based on the die setup they are using. Or for that matter if you can add 1 or 2 for free.
  • Consider DriveThruCards or The Game Crafter or other POD services to offer mini expansions to your game so you don’t have to pay for full production of those parts.


  • Reduce the amount of wood bits. Sure it might be physically possible to have a situation that requires X bits, but if 90% of the time you only need Y bits, just make the game with Y bits and state they are not limited in the manual.
  • 10mm wood cubes are just fine for all games and no one will complain they are not large enough.
  • If you have a lot of cubes as a resource, use 8mm cubes. We’ve done so many times and they are just fine.
  • 14mm dia disks are an acceptable alternative to larger ones
  • Make your meeples & bits smaller if possible
  • Can that wood bit instead be a flat chipboard token? Remember you can put color artwork on these and so they look nice.
  • Plastic cubes are around 25-30% cheaper than wooden cubes. Many games require 100 or 200+ cubes. This can essentially reduce the price of a game by 50 cents or more… The new Pandemic uses plastic cubes.


  • Use thick poster (chroma) paper instead of 1mm+ chipboard for your player mats.


  • As the manufacturer for some standard box dies that you might be able to reuse and thus not have to pay for your own dies.
  • Use the smallest possible box size to hold your game in. Boxes are one of the largest costs.
  • Use a simple e-form cardboard insert, not a plastic vac-tray.
  • If you have a larger game, make sure your box fits into a USPS Medium Flat Rate box (inside: 13 5/8″ x 11 7/8″ x 3 3/8″).


  • Don’t design an expansion now. Don’t include extra things for the expansion to work in your base game. Chances are you will never make that expansion. So design a tight clean game. Expansions do not drive core game sales. Don’t plan to make/pay for the expansion when you make your first print.


  • Try to find other small publishers using the same manufacturer. Share a shipping carton with them and save some money!


It may to understand the details required for a game quote if I shared a specs list for one of our games. Here you can see all the normal details required to make sure you get what this industry expects in quality.


One last item that should be obvious, but I assume nothing is when I write my blogs. That is to SHOP AROUND! You’ll get a large swing in prices. Don’t take the cheapest, don’t take the most expensive. Do so background checking and ask for references (better find your own) for the company. While Panda GM and Ludo Fact are very good is also expensive, but you know what you’re getting. Did you know Ludo Fact owns a factory in China that you can use: Ludo Fact Asia. WinGo and LongPack and many others are trying to get into this industry more so they are offering good prices as reasonable (though admittedly lower) quality then the well known manufacturers. But avoid low ball pricing at 1000 units and you’ll most likely get what you pay for.

Overall look at your game with your head not your heart. It will take some hard decisions to get your game’s cost in line. In the end a tighter cleaner smaller game tends to play better!


ALSO SEE: Hitchhikers Guide to Game Manufacturers

and The Art of the RFQ



Pricing Psychology: 10 Timeless Strategies to Increase Sales

The Price is Right

Stonemaier Games – Kickstarter Lesson #7: The Funding Goal

Designing Games with Cost in Mind

The Cost of a Board Game: Money

Pricing ending in 9’s

Worksheet for costs analysis:

Chain Reaction



  1. Kim Brebach on

    another fantastic article full of good advice based on real experience.- thank you!

    question James – what do you think is a good ballpark MSRP for a game with 270 cards with the majority having unique high quality art + 80 cardboard coins?

    • I’d say a game with 270 cards and tokens would be able $25-35 depending who it’s target audience was. Lighter/family/party games being more toward $25. A mini euro game being in the $30s. It sure won’t sell over $39.99 and that would be a hard sell. So $29.99 or $34.99

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for this article, it is helpful.

    I am creating a game, where the game boards are vertical triangles that connect at the sides to make a mountain shape. Each triangle has 66 small holes for placing tiny 3mm pegs (somewhat similar to the old version of marking hits in Battleship). This lets players “climb” around the mountain.

    Do you know if game manufacturers have the ability to cut these types of holes, and create associated colored pegs/markers for inserting into the holes? If so, which game manufacturers would you recommend contacting first for obtaining quotes?

    Thanks again!

    • Most manufacturers can do just about anything or find someone to outsource it to make it happen. So just submit quotes. Please refer to my manufacturers list blog post.

    • jfeast on

      Corey, your game (Mountaineers) looks great. Where did you wind up getting the manufacturing done. I haven’t seen the game in person, but in photos it looks terrific.

  3. Tomas Fuentes on

    Hi James,

    What manufacturing company did you go with to make Dead Men Tell No Tales?

    I would like to compare your quote sheet to the actual product.

    Thank You

      • Tomas Fuentes on

        I notice that when sending a quote to Panda GM you fill out the info on their web page. Is this what you do or do you send it on a sheet as in your example?

        • Yeah, they make me do that too. But that’s a good thing, makes sure you have all the info you need.

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