Jorge Zhang

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So, you want to launch a board game on Kickstarter? Read this first. (2019)

July 3, 2019

Hey everyone! Sorry for my one month hiatus from writing blog posts- during this time I have been managing the campaign for Daggers Highschool. Anyway, Kickstarter is what I want to talk about in this blog post. There’s already a wealth of information on this topic online, and so for this post I wanted to mostly focus on what worked for me, and what was difficult/something I didn’t expect (even after reading all those online articles)! Between the campaign I’ve run and the board games I’ve reviewed that have gone up on Kickstarter, I have a few takeaways that you will want to keep in mind if you decide to launch a project.

Though it may not seem like it from the tone I take in this article, I highly encourage you to pursue a board game project if you have one in mind since it honestly is a really cool experience that I am very glad to have had. Despite the fact that my project failed to fund, I would definitely do it all over again if I had that choice. The point of this article is not to discourage you from Kickstarter, but to prepare you for what a project like this might entail.

This is what my game looked like on Kickstarter

1. Everything costs money (and takes time)

I’m first going to talk about some of the first advice you’ll likely hear when you tell people that you are running a Kickstarter campaign. And while a lot of it is good advice- I then want to talk about all the costs associated with using this advice. Preparing to launch Daggers High took me about a year of work, and I was forced to cheap out in a lot of areas because I was not expecting the amount that it would cost to pursue something like this. These costs are based on a medium weight game (think Settlers of Catan’s box size), so a smaller game might cost less, and a game with minis or more specialized components may cost more. I will say this: regardless of whether the game is small or big, the super successful campaigns I’ve seen spent a lot of money. They hired professional artists, had the nicest prototypes, had tons of previewers, attended a lot of conventions, and advertised heavily. It’s easy to see campaigns raise $100,000 or more and not see these costs, but it’s something you want to think about because you will essentially be running a small business. If you want to make a Kickstarter project, you first have to ask yourself: do you have the funds to gamble on creating a project/business that may or may not succeed?

Art: I ended up working with a friend to create the art rather than hiring a professional. For the box art, I went with an artist in Poland who charged about $170 for the whole box. I then learned Photoshop, Inkscape, and Gimp in order to do the graphic design myself. I’ll get to why this might not have been the best option in the art section of this article, but for now I just want to talk about the costs if I had not done this. Hiring a professional artist to illustrate and graphically design everything I needed for Daggers Highschool would have costed me around $4000.

Prototypes: Buying prototypes can cost a ton. I talked with a lot of other game designers, and for just 1-3 prototypes it might cost about $100-150 per prototype. If you are like me and want do what I did, which is order components separately in bulk from a lot of different companies and then assemble them myself, it will cost you closer to $30 per prototype and then an additional $15 to ship it somewhere domestically (keep in mind that by doing this, you will end up spending more money overall and may have leftover prototypes). Compare this to about $12 per game in a print run of 500. Funny story, I ordered components directly from a factory I found through and then ordered specialized components from a US company and they arrived together. Anecdotal evidence, but some of the US companies that offer prototyping services are just ordering them from china and sending them to you.

Previewers: As a previewer myself, I don’t blame other previewers for this, but they will often times charge money and some of them will flat out refuse to work with you because they don’t think they would like your project. I’ve personally been quoted for about $700 per video, not including the cost to send a prototype, so it’s not cheap at all. The ones that are free tend to be a lot choosier as the popular ones probably get hundreds of requests per year. I am lucky that I was able to go with free previewers entirely, and am really grateful to them for helping me out. That being said, I think there’s a big disconnect between creators and backers where I’d say most people aren’t aware of the fact that a lot of these preview videos are paid for.

Attending Conventions: Conventions are generally affordable. Ticket prices range from $0-$35 for local conventions, and closer to $100 for the big conventions that are likely not local. You also have the costs of things like hotels and transportation for non-local conventions, which I’d estimate costs at least $500 in total per trip. That’s part of why I ended up deciding not to attend any conventions outside of my state.

Advertising: I’m not the best person to talk to if you want to know about how much advertising will cost you, so instead I’ll share how a game I rulebook previewed called Too Many Poops raised almost $120,000 on Kickstarter. The creator shared some incredible advertising insights in a Facebook group called Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice, which I would highly recommend you join if you are planning to run a Kickstarter. Anyway, he found that his return on investment from spending $300/day on Facebook ads was huge. As he explains, this is because of two reasons:

1. People will click on your ad.
2. The more people that click on your ad, the higher Kickstarter will list you on their website.

This means that even if you aren’t getting any backers from Facebook Ads directly, as long as you are getting clicks it can still mean a significant boost to your Kickstarter page as the algorithm will put you near the top. With hundreds (and possibly thousands) of Kickstarters that you are competing against, advertising is a must. Too Many Poop’s creator estimates that his campaign would have only raised $30,000 had he not spent any money on Facebook ads, as over the few days where he was not running ads, his backer rate dropped significantly. Of course, if you want to be running these ads, you need to be able to afford $300/day for 30 days before you even get paid by Kickstarter.

Too Many Poops

2. Must-have components and art

Jamey Stegmaier has some of the greatest online resources on tips for launching a Kickstarter project, and I admittedly ignored some of his famous advice. Firstly, you shouldn’t skimp on your art budget, and secondly, that you should always include one must-have component. What I really like about Jamey’s blog is that he actually practices what he preaches to great effect. Let’s take Wingspan, an excellent game published by Jamey’s company. I would say that Wingspan’s must-have component would be the silicon eggs that feel extremely nice. People couldn’t stop talking about them on social media- and funnily enough, about how much they wanted to eat them (they were that appealing). A lot of these people probably didn’t have the game yet, but it became a huge discussion point and something that contributed to the massive hype behind Wingspan. It made people go, “ooh, I want that,” and is why the first, second, and third print runs for Wingspan completely sold out.

Wingspan’s eggs

I actually didn’t put any thought into the having a must-have component because I was so focused on cutting costs with the prototype. In order to do that, I mostly ordered common components (such as the cubes in Daggers High that can also be found in Pandemic and Terraforming Mars). Thus, I missed an easy way to increase the perceived value of Daggers High. As I mentioned earlier, I also cheaped out on the art. I was honestly really happy with the way the art for Daggers High turned out considering that I didn’t invest as much as I should have into it, as I found it very humorous and cartoonish. But what I should have also considered is that art is what people see first, and what makes someone think “ooh, I should click that.”

The game mentioned in the previous section, Too Many Poops, had these really unique poop tokens that served as a must-have component. And one more game I wanted to talk about, Crystallo, also found a lot of success, raising over $42,000. Crystallo has these really nice crystals included in the game. They draw you into the theme, and enhance the player experience. Because of this must-have component, people kept talking about Crystallo and how neat the game was. Both Crystallo and Too Many Poops were created by first-time creators.

Crystallo has these beautiful crystals

3. Your hardcore supporters are friends and family

This mostly applies to a first-time creator, but I was really blown away by how much my friends and family were willing to back and help promote my game. As an example, a large portion of my backers were people who I had met through playing at Diplomacy tournaments. I didn’t expect so much support to come from them in particular, but it reflectively makes a lot of sense: it’s a tight-knit group of people who love board games and know me personally (and probably want me to support them to Belgium the next time we play). I honestly was initially a bit hesitant at first to share my project, especially with friends. I was worried I’d come across as spammy, but the vast majority of people I reached out to responded positively and wished me luck. If you are running a Kickstarter project, I’d definitely reach out to as many of your friends and family as you can.

Some Daggers High at the 2018 world championships of diplomacy


I wrote this article so that I could hopefully help aspiring Kickstarter creators. But I also wrote it for myself, so that I could record some of my own reflections on what seems to work on Kickstarter and where I could have done better. If there’s only one thing I hope you take away from this article, it’s that if you want to succeed on Kickstarter you have to treat your project like a business and not a thing you are doing for fun. That means investing heavily into your project and putting down some non-insignificant amount of money to make it happen.

What does this mean for Daggers High? I plan to elaborate more on those plans in a blog post once they have been finalized further. If you are interested in reading what I have to say about some potential possibilities, you can see the last update on my Kickstarter page here. For now, I am selling prototypes of my game for $49 a piece. If you’d like a prototype and were a backer, let me know and I’d love to send one to you.

Did something in this article surprise you? Anything I missed or got wrong? Let me know in the comments below, and thanks for reading as always!

© 2020 Jorge Zhang