Help us publish a board game
November 9, 2006 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Help us get an original (and awesome) board game published

My friend has designed a very well thought-out board game, and we are convinced it will do really well. It's a novel concept, but if I had to categorize it, I'd put it in the humorous strategy section.

So far, we've tested it with various groups of people with a high success rate (many asking us to when we can all play again), so while it still needs a little bit of polishing, it's pretty far along.

We'd like to get it published and not get screwed in a contract, and we're working on a fairly limited budget, so a few starter questions:
1. Where do we start?
2. How do we find a publisher?
3. What's the best way to pitch it to them, once we find one we like?
4. How much of the creation does the publisher actually do? Meaning, I'm sure they're the ones who contract physically making the board, but do they hire graphic designers for the final art? Do we do that?

Thanks Metafilter!
posted by spiderskull to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Here's's list of boardgame manufacturers. There are three smallish companies that come to mind, if you don't need lots of complex parts made (Cheapass; Steve Jackson; Looney Labs) -- they mainly make card-based games. If you need complex parts or a big board or want very wide distribution, then you'll want a larger company. Go to your good local game store and see what companies make games that are similar to yours. (Or, tell us a bit more about what the physical setup of the game is like, and about how much mass appeal you think it would have -- eg how long does it take to play? And I can try to think of what companies make similar games.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2006

I'd recommend checking out both and The Board Game Designers Forum

You need to create a prototype and send it in to the publishers you think might be interested in the game. Yes the publishers typically do the graphic design, sometimes going so far as to change the theme of the game altogether if they think they have something that will work better.
posted by meta87 at 3:19 PM on November 9, 2006

Just on a quick scan, I'd say if you want it to have nice pieces and a real board, a la Settlers of Catan or Puerto Rico, then your first places to look would be Mayfair and Rio Grande.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2006

Mayfair has detailed submission guidelines on their site. Click on "About Mayfair" and you'll see the option for "submission guidelines".
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:50 PM on November 9, 2006

Best answer: A couple more things:

One thing I hear alot is to make sure you do some blind play tests. That is take the game to a group that hasn't played it and just hand them the game and instructions. Don't help explain the game, just observe and see what they have a hard time with and what rules they miss. This can really help you find out what rules and strategies in your game seem obvious to you, but might not be.

Also, there are tons of prototypes sent to these publishers each year and they can only do a few a year. They tend stick with well known designers because people will by games made by designers they already like, so don't get depressed if it takes a while to get someone interested.
posted by meta87 at 3:55 PM on November 9, 2006

Steve Jackson Games's submission guidelines.

Cheapass Games says on their website that they don't accept submissions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2006

Can you find a lawyer who has done this before?
posted by caddis at 5:45 PM on November 9, 2006

Best answer: spiderskull, I see that you're in Anaheim. Nov. 16-19 is GenCon SoCal in -- dum da dum dum -- Anaheim. If your game is actually ready to be shown to publishers, then you are extremely fortunate, because quite a few of them are coming to your doorstep.

All the advice so far in the thread is good, but let's turn it into a process.

0. Don't make a clone of Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, etc. You say you're game is strategic; that's sellable, and that's good. Trivia and party games can be sold, but publishers see a lot of terrible trivia and party games, so it's much more uphill to trying to sell that.

1. Make a prototype. It doesn't have to be great, but it has to be nice and legible. If you want to make a fancy prototype, you're welcome to -- in my experience, people respond differently to a prototype that looks like a game than they do to a prototype that looks like a prototype -- but all that's really important is legibility. Make it look like this is something you take seriously.

2. Write the rules. This is very important, for reasons described above.

3. Playtest. This is an iterative step. This is your test for prototype legibility and rules clarity, as well as fun. Playtest the thing until you're sick of it.

4. Revise the prototype and rules as necessary.

5. Research the market. Who makes games for the same audience as your game? These are the publishers you're interested in. (Self-publishing is another possibility, but it's expensive, and distribution is pretty tricky.) If the publishers you're interested in turn out to be Hasbro, Mattel, Parker Bros., etc., you need to do more research -- those places don't take submissions, but there are publishers that do reach the same audience. (If you can't find them, you need to look to retailers besides Wal-Mart, Target, etc., and find the independents.)

6. If you can do all of that before GenCon, then rock on. Pack up your prototype and see if the publishers you want to meet are there. (You can buzz their websites ahead of time -- for one thing, it might indicate whether they will be at GenCon SoCal, and for another, it might provide you with an e-mail address to which you can drop a line of introduction in advance.)

If you can't do this before GenCon, it might be a good idea to go anyway and scope out the people you'll be dealing with, make some introductions. You can tell them that you have a prototype that you want to send them in a few months, or you can not, but almost anything is better than a 100% cold call.

If you skip GenCon, then you can proceed via the standard channels of e-mail. Most publishers' websites make it clear whether they're accepting submissions at that time. For a reputable publisher -- anyone that shows up at GenCon is likely to be reputable -- sign whatever they want you to sign in terms of releases, but I've submitted a number of games and never had to sign anything. Don't worry about them stealing your idea -- it's much easier to buy the game from you/your friend than to risk litigation. Again, we're talking about reputable publishers.

That's basically it. Read this and this. It's actually pretty easy to do due diligence on any publisher -- there's not a lot of board game journalism, but there's enough.

If I think of more, I'll let you know. Good luck.
posted by blueshammer at 5:58 PM on November 9, 2006

I see I managed to not answer some of the things you asked directly.

The best way to pitch it to them is to play it with them, although there will be some pre-pitch business of, you know, telling them the title, concept, etc., in a compelling way, but this is no different than pitching anything to anyone else. If you can't do it in person, send it in with bulletproof rules.

You are licensing (not selling) them the idea, and any associated writing. (For instance, if it was a trivia game, you're selling both the ideas and the questions you've written.) You don't need to worry about art. In this regard, it's a lot like book publishing.
posted by blueshammer at 6:05 PM on November 9, 2006

Response by poster: This is all great info! Unfortunately, my profile is deceptive -- I'm not longer in Anaheim, so we can't make it to the convention, but maybe next year we'll be ready and can make a trip down there.

The legal stuff concerns me a bit too, since they could very well copy several ideas from us (meaning, they like the idea, but not the implementation or theme, so they do their own), but I imagine with a good copyright lawyer, we'd be okay.
posted by spiderskull at 6:22 PM on November 9, 2006

skull, GenCon SoCal is not the best of the conventions -- just the closest to Anaheim. If you're geographically unconstrained, I recommend Origins in Columbus and GenCon in Indianapolis.

A lot of the legal stuff is more trouble than its worth. Your game is copywrighted in and of itself simply by putting it down on paper. Every reputable game company needs designers, and no designers will work for a company who's accused of stealing games. I mean, yeah, get it on paper, take good notes, etc., but the only next level of protection, if I'm not mistaken, is patents, and I can guarantee that it's not worth the trouble of getting a patent to prevent a game company from stealing your idea. Save your legal money for contract review.

I should add that most game companies expect exclusivity while considering your prototypes -- that is, they're the only person currently extended the opportunity to select it. This seems counterintuitive knowing that in other arenas there's nothing better for a creator than to get a bidding war going, but boardgames are a small, provincial market driven largely by the tastes of a very few individuals. Continued success (i.e. your second game) is about your success in building relationships with those few.
posted by blueshammer at 4:59 AM on November 10, 2006

An easy way to find a group to do the blind test meta87 mentions is to look into area board-game nights. In Boston, there's a monthly Board Game Night where all are welcome, and where it would be easy to find some people who are willing to try the game, and can give some good feedback.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:21 AM on November 10, 2006

Sprout's advice is good, but at the same time, I have found groups with a regular game night tend to be pretty territorial about what gets played. They'll be happy to have you join in, but this is their four hours of boardgaming for the week, and they're going to play Puerto Rico, thankyouverymuch. So do seek these groups out, but understand where they're coming from and that you might not get much traction.
posted by blueshammer at 7:42 AM on November 10, 2006

Response by poster: I think I might just research local board game groups and contact them first to see if they'd be interested in testing for us. I imagine with some compensation (read: free food or alcohol), they might be more willing.
posted by spiderskull at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2006

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