Monday, May 14

How To: Craft a Tray and Lid Box

Last week on Google+ long time reader Derek asked for more details on how to make game boxes. So here's a detailed tutorial on how I made the boxes for Border Reivers, It's Alive 1st Edition and the two hand-crafted versions of Zombology I've done. It's quite long, but there's lots of pictures to break it up!

If you found this interesting and are planning on attending the UK Games Expo at the beginnging of June in Birmingham you can see me hand-craft a copy of Zombology from scratch in front of a live audience! My Made by Hand seminar is 1-2pm on Sunday 3rd June in the Piazza Small.

For this tutorial you'll need a good ruler with a steel cutting edge (ideally that lies flat with the cutting surface) and a clear scale for measuring, a self-healing cutting mat and a sharp knife (I use an Xacto-style knife with snap off blades).

So, let's get started. The first thing you'll need to do is choose a box size. For this I strongly recommend choosing a game you own and making your box that size. There's three good reasons for this:

  • You can empty that game's box and check the bits fit in ok


  • Games look cool on the shelf if they are all the same size - it's easier to store them and stores to stock them


  • If you want your game to go into manufacturing, using a standard box size saves you the cost of tooling new dies for the box blanks and labels, shipping crates, etc.



  • My personal philosophy is that the game box should be the smallest one that the components can comfortably fit in, but if you're hoping to go into retail your box needs to reflect your MSRP. Being the only £25 game on the small games shelf really hurt sales of Sumeria. Once you know your manufacturing cost, times that by five and go into a game store - how big are the boxes for games that cost that much?

    Once you've picked a box size, measure the width (W), height (H) and depth (D - the distance between the lid opening and the top of the lid) of the box lid. The dimensions of your box blank (BW and BH) are W+2*D by H+2*D. You need two rectangles of greyboard (chipboard I think in the US and Canada) that size. I usually use 750micron (0.75 millimetres thick) greyboard for a small box or light game and 1250micron (1.25 millimetres thick) for heavy or larger games.


    On that greyboard measure out two rectangles that are BW by BH. Then draw lines that are D in from every edge on one of them (this is your box lid). For the tray the lines need to be further in, for a 750micron thick box you can draw them D + 1mm in, for 1.25micron greyboard you'll need D + 2mm. Making the box blanks the same total size means that the tray is smaller, but taller than the lid - this means you have a small amount of tray showing when the lid is on, so it's easier to open the box.


    The next step is to cut the small squares out from each corner of the tray and lid blanks, and to score (gently scratch with a knife - not all the way through) the remaining bits of the lines you drew.


    Now turn the blanks over so the drawn and scored lines are underneath and fold the sides of the tray and lid up along the scored lines.


    The final step of making the blanks is to tape the box corners. I use Scotch Magic Tape for this as it has a nice matt surface that the label sticks to nicely.


    For a prototype I'll often stop there:


    But for a hand-crafted game you want this to look like a real game that's been professionally manufactured. So you need labels. In the old days I used to get these printed onto paper (and then professionally laminated for durability) and then glue them on by coating them in watered down PVA glue. This is an awful idea - don't do that! For a smaller game where high fidelity isn't critical you can print onto label paper (I think you can get it in up to A4/Letter size), but I've started using Vinyl labels (also professionally laminated) for Zombology which are awesome (if expensive). Your box art will need to be W+2*D+30mm by H+2*H+30mm so that there's 15mm of label on each side to wrap over the box into the inside. Do the box label art (and getting it all the right way up!) is enough content for another post, needless to say you'll have to get this right!


    My next step is to cut out the labels. You want the long edges to go from the corners of the box top/bottom straight out to the edge of the label (you can make them 2 or 3mm narrower at the label edge if you want - this makes the wrap slightly smoother on the inside, but it slows down cutting a bit as you can't do both cuts at the same time without moving the ruler). The shorter edges need to go from the corners of the box tray/lid 45° to the depth of the box, before going straight out to the label edge - see below:


    Once you've cut out the labels, take the box lid label and the box lid blank (be careful at this point - the box blank lid and tray look almost identical!). Remove the label backing and place it face down. Place the box blank on top, being very careful to line up all four corners of the box blank with the corners cut into the label. Press down firmly across the whole blank surface to get a good adhesion to the label.


    The next step is to do the shorter sides. Roll the blank onto one short side, pressing firmly along the blank to make sure it adheres well to the label. Now cut from just inside the corner of the box to the label edge (so the cut goes slightly towards the middle of label edge), and then again towards the corner of the label where the 45° cut turns towards the label edge. You want to err towards the 45° cut at this point, you don't want any label ending above the blank edge when you wrap the label over the corners.


    Now starting in the middle and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge.


    You can now wrap the two diagonally cut pieces round the corners of the box - this strengthens the box corners and also ensures that none of the greyboard will be visible on the corners. Repeat the last four steps on the other short side.


    Next up are the long edges. Roll the box blank onto one of the long edges and press down firmly along the edge to ensure the label sticks well across the whole edge.


    Starting in the middle again and working out towards the corners, pinch the label over the edge of the blank. Make sure the label sticks really well both on the inside and the outside of the box edge. If you cut the long edge straight out to the label edge you might need to pay attention to pressing the label into the corners on the inside, which is less of a problem if you cut the label slightly in towards the middle. Repeat this process on the other long edge.


    Repeat this process on the box tray and Hey Presto! you have a professional looking tray and lid box!


    I hope this was helpful - let me know in the comments if you'd like any more details or another How To post on something else (e.g. box art layout).

    Monday, May 7

    Brief but Thankful

    I usually write my blog posts in my lunch break at work or, failing that, at the weekend. This week I’ve spent my lunch breaks finishing off my new website (any feedback appreciated!) and this weekend we’re going away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! So needless to say I’ll not be spending a decent chunk of our holiday writing a long blog post!

    So this is a short one to say: in your quest to be successful at designing games (or whatever else it is that you want to achieve) make sure you have a support network. One or more people who love you and want you to be happy and succeed. They could be a partner, spouse, parent, child, sibling or best mate. Find them and treasure them - their support is priceless.

    And thank you to The Wife for being mine for the last 21 years!

    Monday, April 30

    All At Once

    April was going pretty slowly in terms of Zombology sales, I’d been focusing on FlickFleet again (and learning about Kickstarter! - Jamey Stegmaier’s book is great by the way), and although I’d made a batch of Zombology I’d not sold any at all. My sales targets are pretty low and I’d already missed last quarter’s by a little, so I wasn’t relishing the chance to slip back by another whole month. I popped into my local FLGS, Travelling Man and they have a small press shelf where people who hand-craft comics can sell their wares. They were willing to take on Zombology too. I chose a price - £12.99, similar to other similarly-sized games in the store, and it has the benefit that it’s cheaper for the customer than buying it from my website with UK shipping, but means that after the shop’s cut the take home for me is similar to a web sale after PayPal fees and shipping.


    Price of place on the Small Press shelf

    I gave them three copies on sale or return on Thursday and by Monday they’d already sold one! This was the start of a great week. I got another order on Tuesday while on the train to Manchester for work and then sold a couple to people I’d met through work on Friday and then another online order on Friday evening. Saturday one of my tweets went unexpectedly ‘viral’ (viral for me - it got a bunch of RTs from people I don’t know including John Kovalic, the artist of Munchkin) and I got a couple more orders - including my first Print and Play one!

    Saturday I also made it along to Newcastle Gamers for their International Tabletop Day session - I just joined for a couple of hours in the evening, but I got to play a few games of mine and Sentinels of the Multiverse for the first time (I wasn’t a fan - maybe we had an unusual set-up or draw, but it felt very mechanical).

    Finally, this morning when I checked with Travelling Man they'd sold another one too, so I delivered them another two and invoiced them for the two copies they've sold. I've ended April ahead of target!

    This week I’ve got Newcastle Playtest on Tuesday and then Games Night on Thursday before a weekend away to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! Time flies!

    Monday, April 23

    Final Changes

    This week has been all about tweaking FlickFleet. There are now three blindplaytesting copies in three different countries. Three sets of people trying to learn the game from my rulebook and then provide feedback on the rulebook and the game. The first set of feedback has come in with some great suggestions for improving the rulebook and some comments about the game.

    The playtester found the game fundamentally fun and loved a few bits about it, but there were a couple of things he didn't enjoy. The biggest problem he has was that it is possible to get yourself into a situation where victory is impossible for one of the players. I'd seen this happen a few times - it's an asymmetric game, so the players often have different forces, and some of the ships need to be played in a particular way to be successful (e.g. carriers need to launch their fighters and bombers quickly as they are weak on their own) and the ramming rules were an attempt to dealt with this, but clearly for new players without my experience (or strategy advice) the problem was bigger than I realised.



    Clearly this situation is no fun at all for the loser and not much fun for the winner, so it was something that needed addressing. The playtester had even volunteered a couple of suggestions that he thought might fixed the problem - which was great.

    As a designer you will get a lot of suggestions about your game. Some will be great, some will be rubbish. Some will be great, but take your game in a direction you are unhappy with. One of the things you need to be good at is to take the suggestions (and where not spelled out work out the root issue) and then decide what to do with them. Are they a good idea? Do they take your game in a direction you are happy with? What's the problem the suggestion is trying to fix? Is there a better or different solution to that problem you should also consider? Is that problem just that the the game is not the suggester's type of game? Perhaps the suggester's perceived problem is not a problem in your eyes, or something you are happy to live with? As creator of the game, the editorial control lies with you until you sign it over to a publisher.

    As it turns out the problems spotted by the playtester were an issue and something I wanted to address. Paul (my co-designer) and I talked it over and we had an alternative solution that we've been trying out this week (and over the weekend while Paul was visiting with his family). It seems at first blush that our solution improves the game and largely addresses the problem. As a result of this feedback the game has improved, despite the fact we didn't go with the playtester's suggestion. Hopefully, he will find our solution addresses the problem as he experienced it too.

    Remember that playtesters suggestions are valid, and are shaped by their experience of your game. But the control lies with you. Are you happy to leave the problem they experience un-addressed? If not, is their suggestion the best resolution to the problem they experienced? It might be. Or it might not. You decide!

    Monday, April 16

    Lots Going On

    After last week's Kickstarter revelation I've had a week of many different tasks.

    Before I can Kickstart the game I need to get the rules finished, the ship dashboards done and do the box art. I've a rough cut of the ship dashboards already, and a first stab at the rules that are currently being blind playtested in three separate countries. The box is very much a rough sketch though.

    This week, during the hours of 5-6:30 I've taken The Baby downstairs a couple of times to give The Wife a bit more sleep. A couple of times The Baby has gone back to sleep so I've had an hour or so sat on the sofa in the dark with my iPad. I bought the Procreate drawing app and I've been having a play with that to flesh out the box art. One of its coolest features is that it automatically builds a time-lapse video of your work. It's so cool I've created an Instagram account to share it!

    Started sketching out a #FlickFleet box illustration

    A post shared by Jackson Pope (@jacksonpopeeg) on



    I'm not an artist by any stretch of the imagination (to the chagrin of my father who was an art teacher for nearly 35 years), but one of the ways I'll keep costs down on the hand-made run of FlickFleet is by doing the art myself (possible stretch goal if it's wildly successful: professional art! By an actual artist!). Using an app like Procreate that lets me tweak things as I go is definitely my best chance of coming up with something acceptable. I've invested in an Apple Pencil to allow me to do the finer work (my large hands aren't designed for fingertip art on a tablet!). I've also taken to watching/listening to Procreate tutorials while washing up! Now that's multi-tasking!

    In addition to this early morning shift I've been using my lunch breaks at work to revisit my website. It was a pretty hurried effort last autumn while simultaneously trying to get Zombology off the ground and when I showed it to my friend Wilka he described it as 'retro', which clearly meant old-fashioned and a bit rubbish. I've not had much time to work on it recently, but I've been refreshing it a bit this last week. Hopefully there'll be a refresh coming in the next week or two.

    All in all, pretty busy!

    Monday, April 9

    Time For Humble Pie

    If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know my views on Kickstarter. I'm not a fan. Evidence: Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C.

    You'll also know I've been working hard on FlickFleet for the last six months or so, and I'm clearly planning to bring it to market in the future. Behind the scenes I've been getting quotes for a small run like the 200 copies I'm making of Zombology. It turns out that acrylic is expensive, and commercial laser cutting is very expensive. And because you're paying for laser time, there's very little in the way of economies of scale. I could make a 200 copy run, but the cost to me would be so high that I'd need to charge £40 for the game, which is too high for what it is.

    There is another option. I could buy a laser cutter and do the cutting myself. This would mean the laser cutting would essentially be free (though I'd obviously need to cover the cost of the laser cutter over time). If I made 300 copies I'd be able to pay for the laser cutter and the materials and charge £30 a game for FlickFleet - which is much more reasonable. The only downside is that I can't afford to buy the materials for 300 games and a laser cutter. I'd need to seek alternative funding. A great example of that would be Kickstarter. :-(

    Time to eat some humble pie.

    Blueberry Pie
    Blueberry Pie by Andrew Malone on Flickr

    I need to swallow my pride and admit that Kickstarter really is the best venue to get FlickFleet made at a price that's reasonable. By admitting I was wrong I can save the potential customers £10, which seeing as lots of them will be my biggest fans is the right thing to do.

    So, reluctantly I've decided to Kickstart a small print run of FlickFleet, probably in the September timeframe. I'll set the target high enough to cover the cost of a laser cutter and take it from there. Marketing isn't my strong suit, so I'm certainly not expecting Fireball Island levels of success, but hopefully with a low target I'll be able to sneak across the line and get the funds I need to make a small run.

    If you have any advice on running Kickstarters, or who to speak to, what to read or listen to on the subject I'm all ears - I'll need all the help I can get!

    Monday, April 2

    Crowdsourced Art Direction!

    I'm currently on holiday in Bristol, so I'm auto-posting this post that I wrote last week. Over the last couple of weeks I've started to make a more 'finished' looking set of ship dashboards for FlickFleet. These dashboards serve two purposes - they remind you what actions each ship can take and they show the status of the ship in terms of whether the shields are still up and which bits of the ship are currently damaged and inoperable. There are three types of large ship in FlickFleet - destroyers, carriers and dreadnoughts. Each has different capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Here are the latest versions of their dashboards, I would really appreciate any feedback you have on the look, and also the clarity of information.


    The destroyer - a heavily armed but flimsy gun boat

    The destroyer has two shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), 3 guns (damaged on 1-3), plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). A result of four will destroy them once their shields are down. They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location.


    The carrier - weak by itself, but it carries a lot of fighters and bombers

    The carrier has two shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), a gun (damaged on 1), a fighter bay (damaged on a 2 or 3) that allows you to launch a couple of fighter wings during the game, a bomber bay (4) that allows you to launch a bomber wing, plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location.


    The dreadnought - fear its might


    The destroyer has four shields (damaged on a 1-10 die result), nuclear warheads (damaged on 1), two guns (damaged on a 2 or 3), a fighter bay (damaged on a 4) that allows you to launch a couple of fighter wings during the game, plus shield generator (5) and engines (6). They can be moved by flicking the rear three surfaces, as long as the engines are not damaged. They also have an engineering location that cannot be damaged that allows you to repair a damaged location or repair the hull. In addition to the locations above, dreadnoughts also have three hull points.

    How clearly do you think that information is portrayed? Do you like the look? Any thoughts or comments?