Hivernation by Ramstar Games - How to Optimize your game design for the best shipping rates

Kickstarter Advice: Why Optimizing for Shipping is SO Important

Well, Hello There!

I’m assuming that you’re in the right place since this is an article about shipping for board game Kickstarters and why thinking clearly about it when designing your super special, amaze-balls game is so important. If you weren’t interested in this topic, you’d be somewhere else playing with a cat, playing a board game or playing a board game with a cat theme. (Anyone up for Isle of Cats?) So, let’s dive straight in, shall we?

SHIPPING AND YOU

Whatever your tabletop game happens to be — from a simple card game to a tabletop RPG with a ton of minis — there’s a very good chance that you’ve tied that product in to an international audience (welcome to the age of the internet). Now you’re looking at the many-headed beast that is shipping and what it means to you, your product and your business. If your horizons aren’t that broad just yet then you may be thinking about national or just local shipping depending on your needs.

Shipping can be daunting and I’m happy to admit that. There are a lot of choices out there, thanks to the Internet making it possible for businesses to go global if they choose to. Do you go with a national carrier (that would be Canada Post for RAMSTAR Games) or should you look to a shipping service such as Fedex? What about using a fulfillment service to complete your orders and get them out to your customers? Perhaps you’d be better off with a middle man label printing service who’ll give you great shipping rates while allowing you to complete the orders yourself giving them that personal touch?

What ever your situation and what ever choice you make when you go to fulfill your Kickstarter pledge rewards, there are two things that you have to be very conscious of: size and weight.

— Size —

Size is the first thing to consider. How physically large is your game? While this question may seem like a no-brainer, it’s not always apparent at first glance how efficiency in size is going to impact how your board game ships.

When we first went to present our Kickstarter for Hivernation (formerly Honey Bomb) our game box was massive at 10 inches square and 4 inches deep. That’s a whopping 400 square inches. This was because we were presented with only one option for the hex tiles in our game: punch boards. There are 57 hex tiles and 24 tokens in a game of Hivernation which added up to 8 punch board sheets.

As any game enthusiast knows, many of our favourite game pieces come in punch board format. There’s a wonderful satisfaction that comes from pulling those punch board sheets our of the box and punching a big ‘ol pile of tokens, standees, and markers out on the table. After that, what are you left with? Oddly shaped cardboard extras that you’re going to donate to the recycling bin, that’s what. (Note: We recycle in most places in Ontario – hopefully, whereever you are, you can too!)

Of course, as much fun as punch boards are, they take up quite a bit of space inside a game box, usually taking up residence underneath the game insert (if the game comes with one) after all the punched out parts find a permanent home inside the insert. This is why so many game boxes are as large as they are, and after the punch boards are gone leave a lot of space filled with air inside the box.

Upper Deck Legendary Encounters: X-files game box showing just how much air is inside the box when properly organized.
Sometimes MORE air than you might imagine! like our copy of Upper Decks Legendary Encounters: X-files

Before we decided to cancel our first attempt at Kickstarting Hivernation, I was chatting with a friend from Gap Closer Games. He queried me about the size of our box. When I told him the specs, he questioned why we needed such a large box for such a compact game. I told him it was because of the punch boards for all the tiles involved. He suggested that we look for another solution, something that would allow us to shrink the size of the game to make it more shipping friendly.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, when we went back to Panda Games to discuss the subject, there was a second option available to us called mat-cutting that would allow our tiles to be punched out individually from a single die set and stacked inside the insert. This method eliminated the need for punch boards altogether, allowing us to change the physical dimensions of the box by stacking the tiles inside the insert right from the get go. No extra space needed for a stack of punch boards. No need to accommodate useless cardboard.

Step one achieved.

— Weight —

The second hurdle to get over was weight.

Of course, changing the production format of our tiles for Hivernation had the added benefit of removing the excess cardboard that would have accompanied our punch boards and therefore eliminated their excess weight.

On top of that, we were able to change the shape and size of our box. We scaled it back by almost 75% of its original size. The dimensions we’re going with now are 8 inches by 6.5 inches by 2.125 inches (a total of 110.5 square inches). Almost all of that is going to be filled up with game pieces, not excess cardboard and not air. When game players open up our game, they’re going to find only one thing and one thing only, Hivernation.

This of course has led to a reduction in weight by a large degree, giving our prototype a base weight of just over 1 pound. This doesn’t mean that the final product we get from Panda Games will be as lean as our prototype, but it gives us a pretty good ballpark figure as to what we can expect when we go to print the final version of Hivernation.

What does all this mean?

WHY SIZE AND WEIGHT MATTER

It means that Hivernation has been optimized for shipping.

Before redesigning the box, I had a good chat with our contact at Quartermaster Logistics (QML), a fulfillment centre based out of the US. He let me in on how shipping works when using their fulfillment service.

There are two factors that QML looks at when figuring out the best way to ship a board game. If you guessed size and weight then you win! The smallest box they have to offer gets you their best shipping rate by size. If your game weighs in between 0.1 and 2 pounds then you get their best shipping rate by weight. Both of these factors are taken in to consideration when calculating shipping and every carrier is the same be they QML, Fedex, or your national postal carrier.

So what do you when your game fits in their smallest box but weighs in at 10 pounds? What then?

Well, that will push you up to the next tier (possibly more) by weight. If your game goes beyond either their first tier size or their first tier weight, you will be pushed into the next price bracket they have set based upon those metrics. That, of course, means higher shipping rates for your backers. Every carrier has a schedule of fees, and it’s important to understand which carrier(s) you plan to use to fulfill your Kickstarter and how much they charge based on the size and weight of what you’re shipping.

Hivernation by Ramstar Games and the evolution of the box design, optimized for shipping.
Re-design after re-design. But a game designer has to do what a game designer has to do!

WHY THIS MATTERS

Sticker shock. It’s a real thing.

According to Shopify, the number one reason that anyone abandons a shopping cart online is because of unexpected shipping costs. They’ve searched you out, found your perfect product (in this case your wonderful, wonderful tabletop game!), added it to their cart in their favourite colour no less, then BAM! Shipping is as much or more than what they’re buying, and they walk away, abandoning their shopping cart. So much for that sale!

The rate of abandoned carts is astronomical, somewhere in the range of 75%+ . Usually this is because shoppers don’t know what the shipping will be. Kickstarter works a little differently.

On Kickstarter, backers want to see your shipping estimates up front. It’s better to know and understand what shipping will mean for the tabletop game you’ve created and be transparent about it. And if the math doesn’t add up, your Kickstarter will fall flat before it even has a chance to launch.

This is the main reason that we decided to postpone our Kickstarter back in November. The numbers didn’t jive. The design of our game was too big, pushing our per unit cost up to a point where our asking price was too high for what we were proposing. Also, it pushed our shipping up into tiers where it shouldn’t have been. When I presented our campaign to the good folks in the Tabletop Game Kickstarter Advice group on Facebook (which I highly recommend you join), their biggest criticism was the cost of shipping. I believe one gregarious individual referred to our numbers as “a joke”. That was fun criticism to receive. 😉 But I digress.

IN CONCLUSION

DON’T PANIC!

First and foremost, I hope that I haven’t slapped the frighteners on you. Please don’t freak out about your game or run off to start redesigning in a flurry of panic over its size and weight or getting better shipping rates, especially if you’re just about to Kickstart your project. That is not the intent of this article. Also, your game may be perfect just the way it is.

What I’m trying to highlight is the importance of understanding shipping before you head to Kickstarter, what it means once you’re on Kickstarter, and what it means to your backers most of all. It is also my intent to suggest that you think beyond your Kickstarter campaign to a time when you’ve got physical copies of your game in hand to sell to new fans. I have a feeling that the shipping model you create for your Kickstarter campaign is one that is going to follow you forward when you start selling additional copies of your game to the public, at least for now.

As much as we’d all love to believe that selling our games live at conventions is going to be a thing this year (and yes, I’ve heard people whispering about GenCon and Essen Spiel), the incidence of Covid 19 is fluctuating but hanging with us. The efficacy of the vaccines that have been developed is questionable at best. I think we’ll be waiting a while to see if they work as well as we hope they do. Personally, I don’t expect to see the inside of a convention hall in 2021. That really only leaves one way to get your game out to your fans — direct shipping. At this point, it’s not a bad idea to design for it. 🙂

For now, that is all.

Rockin!

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