First off, there won’t be a Wasteland Wednesday next week. We’ll be at Origins meeting up with Jon, Matt and Ben. We’ll have a prototype of the game at the show (more on that to come), along with some Wasteland Express hats (more on that to come). So, hopefully you enjoy this (rambling) post about how games are printed, and how game prototypes get made. We also have some sweet photos of the Wasteland Prototype. So, please share this on the interwebs as you see fit to people who might enjoy it, and be sure you are following us on social media so you don’t miss anything from Origins next week.
Today’s Wasteland Wednesday is going to be all about prototyping and the printing process. One of the things that a lot of people don’t know is that you generally speaking are not able to get a high quality prototype of a game until very, very late in the process. The games that you are used to playing on are created in a factory as part of a mass production process called “going on press”. You will normally get a printer to run a handful of proof copies of a game before moving into full production, but at that point the final forms of all of a games are finished.
When a game is printed there are a number of items that are used. There are giant printing machines that can run huge numbers of cards, box covers and punch tokens. Then there is a tool that cuts these into the game pieces that you are used to seeing. So, getting things like high quality punch tokens requires the game to have been tooled already. These tools cost thousands of dollars and you don’t want to pay for a tool to find out you forgot about a piece of cardboard you needed in the game and have to redo the entire process again. Boxes are folded by folding machines, punches are perforated by machines that perforate, cards are collated and shrink wrapped by machines that do that. Which is all to say, the final form of a game comes together right before a game is ready to enter mass production.
Then there are the pieces that are “buy outs”. Generally the printer that I interface with is exactly that. A printer. They don’t make wooden tokens, dice, miniatures, plastic stands, metal coins, plastic insert trays or any of that fun stuff that makes games really stand out. They generally are working with another manufacturer to acquire those items. Some things are off the shelf parts that are relatively easy to get a hold of. Dragon’s Gold uses some awesome plastic pieces for gems that are pre-produced by a plastic factory and can be had easily. Same goes with wooden cubes. Standard meeples can often be off the shelf purchased, custom meeples require tooling. I was playing Viticulture the other day and saw the clear acrylic pieces used to mark your wine production and excitedly exclaimed “oh, these cost [insert amount of money here]” and realized I’m a weirdo.
You can save money in the production process of a game by interfacing with these other factories directly. Printers are businesses and if they are taking time out of their day to send 3d models to another printer, or time to order dice or wooden cubes they are going to mark up the cost of those items. This is super fair. I don’t expect a company to do work for free. But, a fair number of printers will allow you to directly purchase those pieces yourself and have them sent to the printer to be packed out and charge a nominal packing fee (for counting, sorting, bagging, dropping in game boxes, etc). The trick here is, you can screw this up. The other factory may not speak English as well as the printer that is accustomed to interfacing with English speaking publishers and mistakes can be made. It also means that a delay or logistical issue can cause a chain reaction that you are now on the hook for. Printers don’t like to store containers worth of games in their warehouse for very long. And if they are finished and your dice producing factory didn’t deliver on time, you are on the hook for that. Generally, I have always let our printer handle all of the logistics for these exact headaches. We have occasionally gotten our hands dirty for miniature production for quality control reasons, but that isn’t the norm.
This brings us to another issue I want to touch on briefly. Quality Control. QC is super tricky. I am not in China. Or Germany. Or Korea. Or any of the countries that our games are printed in (US printers and pricing is another post for another day). Normally we get a number of pre-production copies and a number of games that come off the line during the final process. We check these super thoroughly for errors, which should yield the big problems. Like when Lost Valley had two pieces that didn’t separate that really needed to.
What this isn’t going to catch is the 200 copies where the ink ran low on the printer and the cards looked faded. Or the 100 copies where the machine that picks up cards left a mark (if you have a copy of the Game that has this issue, shoot us an e-mail, we’ve got replacement cards on the way from Germany). Or the odd copy here or there where the printed material wasn’t aligned correctly on the form and the cut marks were off center. Or the copy here or there where the pack out dropped in two bags of green meeples but no blue. These are the kind of errors that are unfortunately out of the hands of pretty much all publishers that work on the hobby side of board gaming because none of us own our own manufacturing centers. This is where the old e-mail and send replacement parts comes into play, and believe me it is as frustrating for us as it is for you, but there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it other than avoiding printers that seem to have more problems than others and making sure you take care of customers that got a copy of the game with a production issue.
Ok, back on message now. So, all of this is to say. We will have a nice set-up copy of Wasteland Express at Origins! Because this guy made it by hand using a home printer, some stuff ordered from Office Max, a box cutter and a lot of lost brain cells from using Elmer’s Glue to adhere things to each other. Also, I need a new copy of 7 Wonders because I used those as the base for the cards we are bringing to Origins, and used the box top from Fire and Axe to wrap the printed box art on top of. What we won’t have are our miniatures because while the models are all complete and in the tooling process, they aren’t done just yet. We also won’t have the punchboard or finished player boards because that art isn’t set to be finished for a week or two and I won’t have time to get it together.
So, if you want to play Wasteland Express, you’ll have to track down the design team at some point and play it off of a whiteboard copy without art, because that is the most playable version of the game right now. But, we will have a nice foam board mock-up to check out that is going to look super sweet and give you a really good idea of what the final version will look like on your table. So, come check it out, say hi and you can get a look at our sweet Wasteland Express Delivery Service trucker hats.
There are 100 of these in existence. We own them all. We will be giving them away on social over the next few months through nebulous means. People who share stuff on social, people who dress up as a Raider or Rider at GenCon (for real, if you Cosplay our characters at a Con we will give you a hat and a free copy of the game, and maybe one of our three dogs). So, make sure you hashtag #WEDS on social and drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you do something insane to promote Wasteland Express that we should know about. Don’t do anything that might hurt you (like strapping yourself to the back of a truck to play sweet guitar riffs), but be creative, have fun and you can get yourself one of these super dope hats.