Jeff Zhou is the director of Boda Games Manufacturing. Over 20 years ago he entered the printing & packaging industry and started working with paper and related materials. This was how he was first introduced to board games. As the production of board games involves non-paper components as well, over 10 years ago he decided to specialize in board games and has been running a board game manufacturing company ever since. We recently sat down to find out more!
Hi Jeff. So 10 years of making games! What does your business specialise in now?
Boda Games Manufacturing, as the name suggests, is a manufacturing company for board and card games. What this means is that while the publishers and the game designers develop the game, the artwork and everything surrounding the game conceptually, when it is time for the actual printing of the cards, the boards and creating the tokens, the meeples and more we step in. We receive the files and make sure everything is ready to be manufactured as well as producing prototypes and samples of the game to check dimensions and artwork. We coordinate the production of all the different components and assemble them to complete games, which are then packed up for shipment.
What games have you helped make?
In these past 10 years we have made more games than I can probably remember! I reckon we produce 50-100 new titles every year. But I can discuss some titles that stand out from the recent period. For Pandasaurus Games we have worked on Machi Koro: Legacy, Dinosaur Island, Dead Man’s Cabal, Sonora and more. With Floodgate Games we have produced Sagrada and all its expansions, Busk, Cosmic Colonies. For IDW Publishing we produce a lot of titles including Rick & Morty, Batman, Dragonball Z. The viking smash-hit Champions of Midgard and all the different iterations published by Grey Fox Games have come out of our factory as well. For clients like CMON we produced Newton and for Iello we produced Bunny Kingdom. We recently finished a print run of the new game by the folks behind Exploding Kittens, Throw Throw Burrito Outdoor edition. It comes with a huge inflatable burrito that’s almost man-sized!
What involvement does your business have in the production process?
In the industry we often talk about “printing games,” but actually with games having such a big variety of components there are a lot of different production processes. For punchboards we need to create die-cut molds that match the exact shape of the cardboard tokens. For plastic components and miniatures, we need to make a casting mold that is the exact opposite of the final item, so that once the plastic gets poured into the casing you get the shape and design. Wooden components need to be cut, painted and then special things can be added such as laser engraving or silk-screen printing. As you can see, these production processes vary by quite a lot and each requires specialized knowledge and equipment. We have our own factory located in the Zhejiang province of China that is 100% dedicated to only printing board and card games. For non paper components, we partner with some of the best companies in their respective fields, utilizing their knowledge and experience. Together with our understanding of the board game industry and the industry specific demands customers have, we are able to smoothly work with our partners on components such as meeples, miniatures and others, ensuring that the final product is exactly according to customer’s expectations. Quality control and final assembly are both performed at our own factory, making sure that we can control the quality of each component that goes into the box.
How else can your business help people reading?
What we also do is provide publishers and designers with consultation, feedback and input throughout the development phase of their games. This can be a lot of different things, whether it is publishers who are trying to create unique and never-before seen components, or those struggling how to translate their design and concept into a set of components that fits their projected budget. Especially when meeting customers at conventions, a lot of time we end up talking about these things instead!
As more and more of our customers are running Kickstarter campaigns, we have also been getting more involved in the planning of Kickstarter campaigns. Because for our customers it might be their first or second KS campaign, but for us it has been a whole lot more. So, customers find it useful to discuss things such as their stretch goals with us, or their intended plan of promotion and marketing for the campaign. Besides the manufacturing process we also help customers figure out the difficult process of finding and arranging fulfillment and shipping for their products and help introduce them to companies that we know and trust to do a good job. But we’ve also helped publishers create marketing materials for conventions, whether it is printing flyers and brochures or helping them create enamel pin badges or other goods to give away to visitors. In general, our staff has a “can-do” attitude so I am confident that if we get approached with requests, we can generally help the customer achieve what they want.
How do you see your business developing in the coming years?
First of all, I hope we can keep on helping publishers manufacture more and more titles of course! Now having said that, the board game industry as a whole is getting more crowded. Platforms such as Kickstarter have given a podium to a whole new slew of designers and publishers, and there are more and more new games being published every year. What we see is that the average print run size per game, from both established big-name publishers as well as new smaller publishers, is decreasing. In addition to this, the sheer amount of new games that appear on the market every year means that the lifespan of a game is getting shorter compared to say 5 years ago. As a result, we are seeing less reprints of existing titles as publishers have a hard time catching customers' attention with reprints, instead opting to focus on putting out new titles as much as possible.
Besides this, we consider the board game industry to be a very convention centric industry. As nearly all major conventions that we along with the rest of the industry attend have been cancelled this year, I expect that this will have some effect on the amount of new titles we will see in the next 6-12 months and perhaps even until conventions can be held again as usual.
What would your top 3 tips be for people looking to develop new games?
That’s a good question! Let me try to answer them from a manufacturing point of view. The first one would be an open mind to alternatives. Sometimes components may need to be changed to something different than was initially in mind, due to production, size or budgetary restrictions. We firmly believe that with board games, there are many roads that lead to Rome. Secondly don’t get too hung up on what is out on the market or what is currently trending in the industry. There was a certain time where almost every developer we spoke with was telling he must absolutely have miniatures in his game, because companies like CMON had them. Miniatures can be great, but a game without it can also be great. Lastly: talk, talk talk. Talk to other publishers. Talk to play testers. Talk to your manufacturer. Some of the most successful publishers we have worked with have told us that the constant input from so many different sides and different perspectives really helped them elevate their game from good to great!
What would have been your dream game to have been involved with making?
Monopoly? Ha-ha no that is just a joke. Tough question! I think rather than trying to think of and name 1 particular title that we would have loved to have been involved in, I can describe in general the type of projects that are the most fun and exciting to work on. One is when a customer comes to us and says, “we have this idea, but we have no idea how to turn it into a workable product.” This is when we all sit down together and start bouncing ideas around. Another are projects with never seen nor done before components. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the inflatable burrito from Throw Throw Burritos! It was huge! Especially with plastic components you see some of the crazier ideas come by, but it’s also great to try to push the envelope with wooden or paper components. Lastly, I know a lot of our staff around the office really enjoys working on titles that are connected to a famous franchise they are familiar with like a movie or television series. I’ve caught colleagues playing a round of Rick & Morty during lunch break, and 2 other ones put a Goku miniature on their desk after we finished a Dragon Ball Z game.
It was great chatting with Jeff and finding out a little more in regards to the actual production of these bits of wood and plastic that we all love so much!