How I designed and Kickstarted my first board game – PART II

Less than half a year after releasing Tapiru: A Bubble Tea Game at Tokyo Game Market (which you can read about in Part I of this article), I launched my first Kickstarter to re-print and re-release the game to a wider international market. I’ve always wanted to try Kickstarting my own product and certain circumstances aligned that made me just go for it with Tapiru!

I think with Kickstarter, people are very interested in the number side of things so let me begin with a basic breakdown.

When your campaign is successfully funded, there is a burst of digital confetti on your page!

At the end of my campaign, I had $8,367 USD from 339 generous backers. My initial goal was $2,500 so that made for 334% funding. In reality, my goal was too low and I would say a funding goal of $5,000 was necessary. Since shipping costs are charged separately from the distinct pledge levels, I didn’t realize that they would be added into your total. Do not make this mistake with your own campaign.

In my opinion, a goal around $7,000 might be a good sweet spot in that it’s very attainable which is encouraging to backers…but also isn’t so easy that there’s less motivation for backers to help you out. I’m sure there is a lot of in-depth analysis about this elsewhere on the web, so I would encourage you to seek out other sources when strategically setting your funding goal based on how much your product will cost to manufacture.

Shipping 📫 (Me→Backers)

As I mentioned, shipping cost was my first mistake (of many). Not only did I not realize they would be included into my campaign’s total goal—and also subject to Kickstarter’s percentage cut—I also estimated slightly less than I actually needed. For US shipping, I could send my game to Zone 1 for $4.18 but further zones costed me between $4.25~$4.71 even with wholesale pricing.

One of my many shipping invoices from Shippo. (US Shipping)
I think the Shippo hippo logo is so cute.

In the end, my average US shipping spend was $4.50+. However, there is a silver lining to charging less for shipping than you actually need. From my elementary understanding, you aren’t required to pay sales tax on shipping if the cost is exact/or less than what it costs you. (But, please don’t quote me on this! I’m not qualified by any means.)

International shipping spend was more all over the place since there was a lot of COVID-19 related difficulties, including Japan Post not supporting tracking for some countries. But I will say that shipping internationally via Japan Post is quite reasonable. It was daunting at first but turned out to be a very positive experience (we did most of it using Japan Post’s International Mail My Page Service although we didn’t end up using their label printing machines.)

You can see an approximate distribution of where packages were shipped in the maps below.

Honestly, I originally had this romantic idea of sending every package by stamp (I love stamps). This wasn’t logistically or financially realistic…but I did end up getting to send my postcard rewards separately by stamp which made me happy…although that was another added expense since I originally intended to send the games and postcard rewards together.

First time in my life buying bubble wrap instead of just reusing it from other packages.

And I was a bit naive about how much bubble wrap costs. It is not cheap to buy pre-inflated! And if you are doing things on a small scale, you probably won’t have the machinery available to you that is needed for pumping air into the wholesale sheets. I should have factored in the expenses of packaging into my shipping costs. In fact, I wish I had researched more packaging options from the very beginning. I think I could have got a reasonable deal on better, earth-friendly options if I had only invested the time into figuring this out.

It’s also good to keep your stretch goals in mind and be aware of the potential weight they will add to your game—and, therefore, the potential increase in postage. For my case, the game got heavier…and that end up affecting the cost for my Tea for Two (two game pack) shipping. The extra weight pushed the cost into the next tier and it end up being cheaper to ship each game separately for within the United States.

It was very important to me to keep shipping costs as low as possible for all backers, so even though I did take a small hit on my profits due to some subsidizing…overall, I still think that I did pretty good on balancing the actual cost of postage and the repulsiveness of it.

As you can see in the table below, shipping to backers was my biggest expense aside from production itself. I think in most cases shipping could easily cost you more than the unit price of your product.

So when you calculate your funding goal, be sure that goal is not only for an estimated production cost (and, just to comment on that, you should be considering your “landed cost” which includes the shipping from the factory). In my case, if I thought it would be $2,500 landed for my game…I really should have set my Kickstarter funding goal at a minimum 2x that to account for shipping costs.

And that’s not even considering how much I would have had to spend if I had an artist, a distribution company, or anybody else to pay along the way.

Without further ado, here are my numbers* for a one-man* run campaign:
※ Not all of these numbers are exact.
※ I did get some free labor from my family for packaging and shipping.

Kickstarter (after fees)$7,607.18
Sample$45
Production$2500
Shipping (factory → US/Japan)$1800
Shipping (→individual backers)$2000
Packaging (envelopes, bubble wrap, tape, ink, etc)$150
Barcode$60
Reddit ads$25
Total Profit$1,027.18

As you can see, I started out with $7,607.18 instead of the $8,367 pledged on my campaign page. You must pay your tribute to the Kickstarter gods after all.

I also had one dropped pledge (usually means someone’s
credit card information didn’t go through).

For the United States (it differs by what country you base your campaign from), the fees are the following:

Kickstarter fee
5% of total funds raised

Payment processing fees
3% + $0.20 per pledge
Pledges under $10 have a discounted micropledge fee of 5% + $0.05 per pledge

More Shipping 📦 (Factory→Me)

My shipping costs from the manufacturer to the US/Japan were extremely high ($1800) but this was because I used express shipping for a good majority of my units. Normally, I would 100% recommend using the cheapest shipping method: cargo ship. It doesn’t take that much longer than express shipping (approx. +1 month) but at only about 25% of the cost.

It feels great to open up a case of a product you created!

I had a delay in my production because of some indecision on my part, as well as the Chinese Golden week holiday and some longer wait times (particularly in communication after the sample phase) from the manufacturer. This ended up making it difficult to deliver Tapiru in time for Christmas without the extra expense of expedited shipping. $$$

I knew that a good number of my backers had purchased the game as a present and I really didn’t want to disappoint them. So I decided to shell out the extra $1,100 it took to upgrade from cargo ship to express air mail. This basically halved my profit.

I made this expensive decision because I felt responsible for my own indecision. But, I would do everything in my control to never repeat this again. Adding a proper amount of buffer time to the production schedule is one way to avoid this. Especially if you have Stretch Goals that involve new design and new decisions. Another way to is to plan the timing of your delivery date to avoid falling in the 3 months leading up to Christmas. Don’t put the extra pressure on yourself to deliver it in time for the holidays.

The perfect stocking stuffer if I do say so myself.

Damage 🤕

That being said, I did have slightly more damage from cargo shipping compared to express shipping.

The express boxes themselves arrived much grungier and broken than the cargo ship boxes (which were thoroughly taped where the express boxes were not). About 1/3 of my express boxes had major tearing on the edges of the boxes. Before shipment, I would remind your manufacture to at least add one line of tape completely around the box for support.

Express boxes that could use a bit more tape.

Oppositely, the outside of the cargo ship boxes looked almost pristine…but there was damage to the actual games inside. Nine games arrived wrecked and unusable (although could be repurposed for parts). Several more games had pretty bad dings so I plan to sell them at a heavy discount someday.

Well-taped boxes sent by cargo ship.

I would suggest that you assume that for every 100 units you order, at least one unit will be horribly damaged and another one unit will be averagely damaged.

My manufacturer said they sent me 8 additional units to account for damage but it seems three of those must have gotten lost somewhere so I only received 5 bonus units. Since 9 copies were basically destroyed in shipping, the additional 5 pieces fell short. If you can, it may be beneficial to bargain for a greater amount of extra units in case of damage but I’m still not sure what is the norm.

As for damage that occurred after I shipped out the games to backers, so far I haven’t had too many problems. I did have to replace the box lid for one backer after it was badly damaged by USPS. Other than that, I feel I’ve been pretty lucky. It’s very expensive to reship so it was definitely something that has given me anxiety over the last couple months.

Some other postal mishap anecdotes (that costed me some $ to reship) are:

  • Accidentally sent a backer two copies because I printed the same label twice.
  • A couple packages didn’t show USPS tracking updates for extended periods of time but did finally end up at their destinations (after I already sent a new copy unfortunately).
  • I sent two packages to a Tea for Two backer in the US. One arrived without issue, one was mysteriously forwarded back to me.
  • A mis-click led to an address label being autofilled with an address that didn’t exist. Game was returned to me.
  • A backer was away from home for an extended period of time. Game was returned to me.

So be prepared for some extra expense from postal damage and mistakes…some of your own and some out of your control.

But what about production? 🏭

I may have gotten a bit ahead of myself with all the shipping talk. I just wrapped up shipping a few weeks ago so it’s the freshest in my mind.

Photo from the first production of Tapiru.

Although shipping logistics are a huge part of your campaign (both financially and mentally), production is just as big—and a lot more exciting.

You should already start researching your potential manufacturers before your campaign begins. It will help you figure out your funding goal, price your pledge levels, and will give you a head start into production once you are funded.

I didn’t decide on my final partner until a couple weeks after the campaign ended because I was stumbling over the added requirements and costs of Stretch Goals. I recommend that you get a good grasp on your Stretch Goals before your campaign begins so that you can already ask questions about feasibility and price to your potential manufacturers. That way you will be able to chose your partner as soon as your campaign ends or even sooner.

I wasted some time at the end of my campaign trying to figure out which manufacturer would be able to do my stretch goals (such as Spot UV and a box insert) for a reasonable cost. Actually, my Stretch Goals were very simple. But if you have more complicated Stretch Goals, this can be a huge communication task so definitely figure out all the Stretch Goal details that you can upfront.

Image of the WinGo Games website.

I ended up choosing my manufacturing partner, WinGo Games, based on the following factors.

  • Communication (Quick reply time, understands my questions, gave detailed answers, outstanding English).
  • Price (Easy to understand quote with detailed breakdown including setup fees, competitive pricing, some free services provided, cost for assembly is clear)
  • Lower, Flexible Minimum Order Requirements (500, 1000)
  • Reviews (found a couple beaming reviews on BGG.com)
  • Website (decent, although currently a bit empty)

Other companies I looked into had some, if not all of these qualities, but just were not quite at the same level as WinGo Games. I really appreciated how well they communicated everything and their professional manner. I felt my questions were really understood and found their answers to be very helpful.

I will say that Panda Game Manufacturing was very kind to send me samples of some different card materials and box options which I really appreciated. Their website is also very informative and I recommend checking them out just to get some more knowledge about the process. But it was just more economical to deal directly with a Chinese manufacturer rather than going through them (they basically work with the Chinese manufacturer for you). If you are anxious about working with a manufacturer directly and want the security of a US-based company that will guide you through the process, they may be a good choice.

The estimated manufacturing timeline looked like this:

Sampling lead time: 14 days

Sea Shipment lead time: 15-20 days

Mass Production Lead Time Upon Sample Approval: 30 days


Here is my timeline and summary of the entire process with my manufacturer.


May~June 2020: Communication with manufacturers, initial quotations.

End of June: Finalizing details and Stretch Goal specifications.

End of July: Paid first invoice.

Beginning of August: Files finalized.

August 25th: Sample completed and shipped out.

August 29th: Sample arrives.

Most of September: Momentum lost as there is a lot of back and forth about small changes to box size (recommended by the manufacturer), and other final tweaks from the sample.

Sept 23: I think all files were good and we seem ready to move onto mass production.

Sept 30: Still being asked for confirmation on some files.

Oct 1st~8th: Chinese National Holiday (Golden Week).

Oct 13th: Haven’t heard any updates since before Golden Week so I reach out.

Oct 17th: Receive reply that promises some production photos.

Oct 24th: Still no photos or updates. Getting nervous.

End of October: Production still ongoing but am receiving a couple photos.

Beginning of November: Am told that production will wrap up in a week.

November 11th: Receive more production photos.

November 14th: Shipping details finalized. WinGo was really good about showing me different options. Definitely was a smooth process.

November 17th: Final invoice paid.

November 18th: Games shipped.

November 27th: All games shipped via express have arrived. (Boxes didn’t come all at once; they kind of trickled in). I begin shipping all games to backers.

End of December 2020: All games shipped via cargo ship have arrived. (Boxes arrived all at once)


Around 400 games to be shipped to backers!

As you can see, I got off to a slow start which kind of doomed my delivery date and unfortunately I had to delay. I should have finished a lot more of the initial steps in April before the campaign, figured out all my Stretch Goals before the end of May, and got off to a running start on June 1st (the day my Kickstarter ended). Instead, I suffered a false sense of security. Thinking that my deadline was still far off and I took too much time pondering over decisions instead of making them.

In addition, the sample took a little longer than I thought it would to be completed. And after that, there was still a bit too much indecision on my part about some proposed changes by the manufacturer.

But I feel the most momentum loss and uncertainty came with the Golden Week holiday. For a few weeks, I really didn’t know if we had truly moved into mass production (and how long it would actually take) or if files were still going to come back to me for more confirmation. But, the delays are understandable coming off a major holiday and especially considering the amount of labor needed to assemble the games.

Tokens and tiles before assembly.

Once production wrapped up, things moved quickly! Shipping options (I shipped to two countries: US and Japan) were worked out and I received my final invoice. The very next day after payment, hundreds of copies of Tapiru were on their way.

Boxes about to be shipped to me from the manufacturer.

One quick tip on communication: It’s best to use Skype chat to communicate if you can, rather than email. I wanted to stick to email at first because I thought it would be be better for documentation but Skype allowed for much quicker replies.


And…oh yeah, Kickstarter!

I’ve been doing the Part II of the this process article in reverse order so let’s continue back. Before shipping and production was…of course, the Kickstarter campaign itself! So let’s finally discuss the Kickstarter part of all of this!

The campaign page is your lifeblood and where it all starts. Although my campaign was successfully funded, I’m not sure how much credit I can really give to my rather plain page. If I was going back, I would definitely increase the readability of it and replace explanatory images with animated gifs.

Here are some Kickstarter project pages I recommend taking a look at for inspiration!

I think I would also use a header image that shows more components since I consider that to be a strength of my game. Think about your game’s strength and what you want to emphasize and do it an clean, concise way.

I probably could have also benefited from using the word “boba” in a bigger way since “Tapiru” doesn’t elicit much from a non-Japanese audience.

Probably should have used this header image instead.
And perhaps changed the game’s name to BOBA BATTLE!

Kickstarter gives you some recommendations and I do strongly believe you should follow these. It may help you get chosen as a “Project We Love” project and give you an incredible boost with the above-the-fold real estate you’ll get from that.
(Note: Tapiru did not get selected as a “Project We Love”.)

I think one thing that made me very anxious about the campaign page was the video requirement. As Kickstarter emphasize in their handbook, it’s not really crucial to have the most professional video in the world…but I think for the board game category, it’s not bad to put some extra effort into this if you can. That being said, my video is pretty basic but I did have the advantage of having a completed prototype to film.

My video includes these main points:

  • My face (I read on some Kickstarter video guide that it’s great to put your face in it so backers know who you are…but I’m not sure if I really agree with this. Plenty of board game campaigns are successful without it. However, it probably doesn’t hurt to include your mini bio somewhere on your page.)
  • Intro to the game concept/background for making it
  • Simple gameplay overview

You probably want to make a separate video for in-depth gameplay/rules since your campaign video should be kept short and sweet.

Conversion Tracking

Maybe I’m strange but don’t really watch Kickstarter campaign videos because I find them to usually just be fluff…but just because I don’t (or you don’t), doesn’t mean your backers won’t. So let’s take a look at the analytics data regarding my video.

My video was viewed from start to finish approx. 532 times.

There doesn’t seem to be any data on whether a video view converted into a pledge but 532 full video views seems significant enough. Luckily, your Kickstarter dashboard does give you conversion data when it comes to referrers. You can use custom urls to track specific referrers and even connect to Google Analytics.

It’s fun to see where all your backers came from.

As you can see, my biggest external source was Reddit. Which is one of the reasons why I chose to use all of my extremely limited marketing budget of $25 on Reddit ads. (The other reason is that Instagram ads require you to have a Facebook page for your brand/product and I just was really repelled by that at the time. For my next campaign, I may consider it.)

Be sure to use custom URLs to track your marketing conversions.

My $25 dollar spend on Reddit only led to a $26 dollar conversion (one single purchase) based on my tracking data…so that put me into the red. However, I would still encourage you to look into Reddit as a marketing tool for your future campaign since I have seen a lot of people getting a much better return. I really didn’t plan any budget for marketing which was a mistake and severely limited the incoming leads I could possible generate from ads. On top of that, I may not have targeted the best demographics and/or subreddits.

Banners I created for my Reddit ads using Kickstarter’s official branding assets.
Not sure if these were actually shown or not since my budget was so low.

I chiefly depended on organic traffic for my campaign…which wasn’t the smartest thing to do considering I have virtually no sphere of social influence and had never really uttered a peep about Tapiru outside of Game Market Tokyo promotion. I left everything to chance—hoping enough backers would stumble across my page. And Kickstarter does naturally give you the bulk of your traffic, in my experience, thanks to their Discovery pages and recommendations. Outside of Kickstarter, my next biggest boost was the (more than) 15 conversions from Reddit…purely because someone was kind enough to post about my game.

If you want to get more organic traffic, you need to start planning way ahead. Talk about your game’s ongoing development on forums, in Facebook groups, at conventions…generate interest before your campaign even begins and that will most likely come back as organic traffic later.

33 Days of Funding

My campaign lasted around 33 days and it took about 10 days for my game to be funded (reach $2,500). My overall average daily gain was 10 backers ($246) a day. But in reality, there was some days were there was virtually no gain and other days with big spikes (which I have highlighted in green below).

Goal met on May 10th: 100 backers for 100% funded.
DateTotal RaisedDaily RaisedTotal
Backers
Daily BackersPercent Funded
April 30 (LAUNCH!)$735$735242429%
May 1st$1,004$269361240%
May 2nd$1,104$10041544%
May 3rd$1,234$13048749%
May 4th$1,356$12254654%
May 5th$1,624$268651164%
May 6th$1,881$257771275%
May 7th$2,050$16985882%
May 8th$2,271$22192790%
May 9th$2,507$2361008100%
May 10th$2,702$1951088108%
May 11th$2,719$171091108%
May 12th$3,612$89314839144%
May 13th$3,811$1991557152%
May 14th$3,966$1551627158%
May 15th$4,280$31417412171%
May 16th$4,386$1061795175%
May 17th$4,548$1621845181%
May 18th$4,605$571862184%
May 19th$4,611$61860184%
May 20th$4,764$1531948190%
May 21st$5,171$40720915206%
May 22nd$5,540$36922415221%
May 23rd$5,603$632273224%
May 24th$5,714$1112314228%
May 25th$5,849$1352365233%
May 26th$5,932$832404237%
May 27th$5,998$662434239%
May 28th$6,061$632452242%
May 29th$6,233$1722527249%
May 30th$6,425$1922608257%
May 31st$6,808$38327414272%
June 1st$7,484$67630127299%
June 2nd (DEADLINE!)$8,367$88333938334%

The biggest spikes were the first day and last two days of the campaign. Although I have read that the last day of your campaign will often bring the largest increase in backers…it was May 12th that actually witnessed the largest influx. That was the day of the kind Reddit post that I mentioned earlier. It’s amazing how one supporter can make such a difference for a campaign!

And that’s a good note to wrap this all up on. Your backers are really everything in your campaign so make sure you build your campaign with them in mind. I was really surprised how generous, patient, helpful and friendly my backers were…it’s very humbling and encouraging. Thank you again to all 339 of you!

I really hope that some of them love Tapiru enough to support my future projects (I’m working on a figure skating themed one right now!) You are able to establish a open line of communication with your backers that can remain open via project updates or even email newsletters (if you ask for permission to do this in your rewards survey).

Btw, you will have some backers who will never reply to your rewards survey even after you’ve sent multiple reminders. I’ve set their games aside and will continue to wait.

A list of takeaways (things I’ve learned)

  • If you are sending loads and loads of packages, you may want to consider a distribution partner…or maybe at least a label printer like the Dymo Thermal Printer. For 400~500 packages, it is manageable to do yourself if you are looking to save money.

  • Make sure your packaging will be suitable for combined rewards and various pledge levels so you won’t have to send everything separately.

  • Stretch goals can change the size and weight of your game…and drastically affect shipping costs. For example, the original size of Tapiru was projected to fit 54 games to a carton. In the end, each carton could only contain 36 games. In addition, the cost for shipping a double pack within the US went up since the new combined weight of two games went over the First Class limits.

  • Your funding goal includes the money you get for shipping (unless you chose to use a 3rd party pledge manager) so keep that in mind when setting your goal. Also, remember that Kickstarter will take a bite of that shipping money too.

  • For US shipping, use a service like Shippo or Stamps.com to print prepaid shipping labels. Buying directly at the post office is always more expensive. I saved an average of 18% off retail price per package. That’s a big deal!

  • Give yourself a buffer when setting your delivery dates.

  • Avoid a delivery date near Christmas. Not only will you feel a lot of pressure…the postal service is also slower and has more issues during that time period. Enjoy your holidays without the stress!

  • Likewise, also be sure to consider Chinese holidays if you are using a Chinese manufacturer. Late January/Early February, early may, and early October are the big ones.

  • Take good photos and make nice animated gifs for your Kickstarter page.

  • Never type your project updates directly into the form on Kickstarter. Their website is very buggy and things disappear. If you have problems uploading an image into your post: save your draft, navigate away, and try again.

  • You will probably have some changes from your quote to what you actually pay. I made quite a few tweaks based on Stretch Goals and sizing recommendations from the manufacture after the sample. This increased my cost a couple hundred dollars.

  • Consider buying a barcode. If you hope to sell to retailers or on Amazon.com, this will probably be necessary. The cheapest option is around $60 from BuyABarcode.com. You will also need to include this in your packaging design.

  • It’s important to keep in mind that your campaign page will be an asset far past your campaign. People will continuously find you through it as probably will rank high on Google results for any related search to your brand/product. And once your campaign ends, you are limited in the changes you can make to it…so make sure you are building something that can continue to represent you and lead to more conversions. And get in your final edits before your funding deadline!

I hope this two-part post can be a good beginner’s guide for any aspiring board game designers out there. Let me know if you have any additional questions or comments—hey, even feel free to promote your Kickstarter here! I will be sure to check it out.


You can get your own copy of Tapiru in my shop!

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2 Comments

  1. This is a great project post-mortem! Writing and organizing everything down really helps, and this work is useful both for your next game and for anyone who is looking to follow your footsteps.

    But don’t be too harsh on yourself! You just published your first board game, how awesome is that!

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