Q&A on Card Game Design, Costs and Prices

Last week, I sought council from Fred Hicks (Evil Hat), Matt Gandy (Margaret Weis Productions), Chris Hanrahan (Endgame), and Jeff Tidball (Who needs no introduction). I was curious about how price this card game:

A Game of Glorious Captains and Their Short-Lived Crew
1-6 Players * 30-45 Minutes * Ages 12+
Pitch: Zap Brannigan's Catan meets Zombie Dice.
Description: You're a Star Captain serving in the ragtag rebel fleet. Your ship is a civilian vessel just barely fit for active duty. Hey, the Fleet takes what it can get. Trash haulers, pleasure yachts, and scrappy shuttlecraft – all against the dastardly Imperial Armada. Cooperate with the other captains to warp across the galaxy, raid Imperial targets, and earn futuristic resources. Keep your crew alive and bring home glory… FOR THE FLEET!
Genre: Humor, Cooperation, Light Strategy, Resource Management, Push-Your-Luck Dice Rolling

I already calculated numbers on costs for production, shipping and retail for a small print run. Using SuperiorPOD, here's what I got for a 100-unit small run.

Specs: 72-Card Deck, Full Color, Double-Sided
Deck of 2.5x3" Cards: $5.52 per unit, $552 for 100
A 8.5x7.25x1" box: $1.50 per unit, $150 for 100
with rigid foam packing: $0.60 per unit, $60 for 100
A 7"x10" Color Rules Sheet: $0.30 per unit, $30 for 100
TOTAL: $7.92 per unit, $792 for 100

So I asked the gurus a few questions.

Price and Box Size: If I used a fitted tuckbox, my per unit cost would be $6.57. However, for a product that size, I don't think I could get away with charging more than $15 at most. The larger box increases my per unit cost by over a dollar, but I feel like it psychologically allows an MSRP of $25 or even $30. Am I right?

FRED: Personally I don't think you can easily go over $20 for a simple deck
no matter how overpackaged it is. $25 for light componentry. $30 would
have to bring me a lot of componentry, I think, though 6 dice and
"lots of chips" may be just fine.

CHRIS: $20 is _way_ too high IMHO. In your card count, you have a ton of titles you are competing with that are as much as 25 - 50% less in terms of MSRP. Up your print run, and let volume sort this out.

JEFF: my gut says you can't go higher than $20 for a 72-card game with no additional components. You'll see lots of games with 100 or 110 cards at that price point, but worse than that, your 72 cards are really closer to 60 than to 100 in the eyes of your customers, and those games retail for $12 to $15. That is to say, basically, there's no way you can complete on price with a 72-card game if you're making 100 of them at a time.

MATT: I think it's good to ask these questions now, but I think the cart is getting a little ahead of the horse, based on your current prototype. I'd like to see you refine the game a bit further, to get a better sense of what you're really looking at. As is, I worry that you're working your design around print restrictions, rather than designing the game you want to see.

JEFF: In case it's not obvious, the 1-player capacity is huge. This is a *substantial* selling point of your game. Highlight it in all marketing.

I think the large box might sell more units, but only (essentially) as subterfuge, and at a substantial cost in customer satisfaction for everyone who actually opens the box. Be prepared for every review of your game to include at least one sentence to the effect of, "This is a large, mostly empty box containing a game that should have cost $12."

My recommendation is that you should shoot for whatever physical format for resources that their usage calls for. If they work best as poker chips (for example), don't use cards. Players will find that annoying. Speaking of printing, ODT is a new POD-like card printing option that will have substantially better quality than SuperiorPOD, at a slightly higher price. I'm attaching their booklet of pricing. Check out their small-format cards as an option for your resources. You might also look at The Game Crafter . They've recently rolled out some improved quality printing and componentry, so if you're looked at them before and been appalled, you may be pleasantly surprised at a re-visit.

My suggestion: Compete on awesome. Spitballing: Buy 100 sci-fi-looking metal ammo boxes as the packaging, hand-distress them all with a big metal file and a blowtorch, sign and number them all, make a video of yourself explaining the rules (and hand-distressing the ammo boxes!) and put it on a flash drive that you put inside the box, and charge $50 for the thing. Or $100. Then, in addition to that, sell a PDF version with a few alternate formats of the cards: one for avery nametag labels that fit playing cards well, one for cutting out and putting inside card sleeves, one for… i don't know, little tiny cards that fit on a keychain. Charge $5 or $6 for that. So, anybody who wants to play the game can do it inexpensively, and anyone who wants something Totally Awesome can give you lots of money for it. And in neither of those cases must you compete on even terms with a Mayfair or Fantasy Flight that's printing 5,000 copies at a time.

Components, Costs and Buyer's Remorse: If charging $30, should the game come with more components? Presently, the game calls for players to provide 6d6 and lots of chips for resource tracking. If those components were included, would the cost of production make a $30 MSRP unfeasible? Is $30 too much to ask for a game that doesn't come with everything you need to play?

FRED: Beware that as something with non-printed components, there's no
guarantee without paying for expensive testing that your product is
safe for kids & all that. So this might not be something that'd sell
into/through retail at all.

JEFF: There's no iron-clad liability dodge based on labeling alone, sadly, as the administration that interprets the rules has pretty broad discretion. Probably: You'd get away with it at 100-unit runs. It sort of depends on your tolerance for a low potential of high disaster. Two years ago, GAMA's legal counsel did a presentation on CPSIA, the most recent legislation on testing requirements, and provided a good handout.

Shipping Costs: Any idea on what a ballpark shipping price would be for a product of this size and weight?

JEFF: $5.20 is what the USPS small priority mail flat rate box costs. I'd choose a box size that fits inside it. Getting the shipping box for free is worthwhile. (Compare to shipping box prices at Uline, for example.) Depending on the game's weight, first-class mail could get down to $3.50 or $3.75 per game, but that will vary depending on the zip codes involved, and then you'll be paying for the shipping box as well.

It looks like if FOR THE FLEET is a card game, it will need to be a lot cheaper to produce. This is especially true if it doesn't come with all the components, even if some of the resources were included as additional cards to increase the size and weight of the box.

If FOR THE FLEET is not a card game, the price point can be higher because it would include more custom components and come in a larger box. However, the liabilities of hazards, labeling and product safety testing are cause for some concern. The best I could do to avoid those liabilities would be a print-and-play PDF with components you construct yourself. I might be able to give away prototypes, too, but that's more iffy.

Jeff's suggestion that single-player mode is that much of a selling point came as a surprise, honestly. I know there's a nice demand for good two-player games, especially ones that a couple can play in under an hour. But solitaire games? Huh. Very surprising.

Plenty to think about here. Years ago, I focused on making free games so I wouldn't have to worry about commercial potential. Now I find myself thinking about costs and MSRP for a game earlier and earlier in the design process. Matt's right, of course, it's too early to worry about that when the game is so nascent. Still, this was all very useful information and I thought it would be valuable to you, too.

As a thought experiment, I structured a plan for how I could use Kickstarter to fund production of prototypes, but that's another post.

» Photo: CC-BY Chris Metcalf


  1. Sounds intriguing. I buy way too many games, and I really like about half of them. Let me know if you'd ever want a customer's point of view...

  2. I'd like to hear more about ODT; what it stands for, who/what/where they are. I'm interested in card printing, generally.

  3. Yeah, single player modes are great selling points, even for people who may not ever engage them. It's another "well, huh, if I'm bored & solo I could actually still play this..." justification for people who are looking to buy a game.

    Remember, you're not just selling to people who want a specific game. You're often selling to people who want to engage in some retailer therapy or boredom alleviation. (Or, like at times at Endgame, a desire to support a place they're having fun at.)

    - Ryan

  4. $20 is way too high, unfortunately.
    If you want a benchmark to look for in this, check out Munchkin.
    168 cards (more than twice yours). 6 page glossy full color illustrated rule sheet, and one custom die. For $25.

    Given that you're going for a boutique game, you can get away with a higher price... as long as you have the buzz and killer gameplay to get away with it.

    Innovation is also $25... and consists of just 105 cards plus rules. However, it's got some serious designer pedigree: Carl Chudyk, who designed Glory to Rome. With a name like that on the box, you can charge a premium.

    At this point, I'd be looking for a larger print run, With more cards (at least 100), at a lower price point, and Kickstarting the whole thing

  5. Minion Games (www.miniongames.com, unsurprisingly), the company I do graphic design for, just released two card games. One, Nitro Dice, is mostly cards, six 10-sided dice, and some tokens. The other, Nile DeLuxor, has no extra components, but includes an expansion set. They both retail for $26.99.

  6. ODT is On Demand Technologies, located here: http://www.odtinc.com/

  7. I definitely will do so. I will always tweet or post about this process, too.

  8. If you tweet at Jeff, he can tell you more. I have not talked to a rep there yet.

  9. Makes sense, and kinda makes me want to develop more coop games just for that market. Not solo only, but coop games with solo potential.

  10. Actually, I suspect this game might just be better suited as a different format. Some cards, yes, but also chits, dice, etc. I have some future blog posts thinking about this and how kickstarter might get involved.

  11. Thanks for the price check!

  12. Tanks for all your input, Jeff!

  13. I really like the 1-2 player aspect, I have friends, plus my wife and me, for whom this is a very appealing feature. I've been following the original Cheap Ass Games model for my packaging, but the simple fact is that the closer you get to and exceed $20 for a card game, there's a progressive reduction in sales. I'm working on version 2.0 of Zombie Cafe and it's going to take some careful study. I'd like to go color, but I don't think that's going to happen.

    There's always direct sales and IPR to reduce the cost of the distributor which translates to improved profits.

    And if you'd like some more beta testers for one and two player play, I've got some for you.

  14. Awesome. Look for more posts in the future, I might do a call for beta testers.


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