I thought it might be interesting/useful to see what is involved when sending a game to the printers.
I'm getting Sumeria manufactured in Germany by Ludo Fact, the same company that did such an excellent job on Carpe Astra. So what is the process?
The process begins many months before the game is ready, by requesting a quote from the manufacturers. I tend to ask for quotes for a few different sized runs so I can see how much cheaper per game a larger run would be, and how much more expensive in total it would be. For example I asked for quotes for 2,000, 3,000 and 4,000 copies of Sumeria. The quote comes back and Ludo Fact show a breakdown of where all the costs come from (e.g. the cost of the box, the board, the punchboards, the wooden pieces, etc.) so you can make a few changes if necessary in an attempt to reduce the price or improve the component quality. Ludo Fact show their quotes with the cost per 1,000 games so you can easily compare the prices, but they don't include the cost of proofs and tooling costs and obviously you need to consider additional costs such as bank charges, prototyping costs, art costs, etc.
Ludo Fact take about 8-10 weeks to manufacture a small run like one of mine, and they don't require everything up front. The first time you order they do want half payment up front, but for later runs they will accept payment on delivery. The 8-10 weeks is due to the time required to manufacture the wooden pieces, so in the first instance all they need is a signed order so they can go ahead and place the order for the wooden pieces from their supplier. They will send out a 'white sample' of the box and boards to show you how the various bits will fit together inside the box. The white sample is made from all the correct materials, just not printed, so it can be used to check the weight of the finished item as well.
The next stage for Sumeria was to FTP the artwork for the punchboards and the gameboard, and that wasn't required until two weeks after the order was placed. The artwork is checked over by their data quality department (who are very thorough and found several problems with the Carpe Astra art - but none with Sumeria :-) ), and if necessary new art is requested. Once the art has been approved you are sent a proof and a plot for each component. The proof is colour-accurate showing what the components will look like. If you've ever tried printing colour files you'll notice that each printer prints slightly different colours, which in turn are slightly different from how they appear on the screen - the proofs are guaranteed to be the same as the finished items. Since you pay extra from the proofs you can choose which components to have proofs of, and you can choose to have proofs that are slightly smaller than the finished item, or only cover some of them (e.g. a selection of cards from the deck - not all of them). Plots on the other hand are not colour accurate (and in fact are often hideously garish!), but they show all the components and any cut lines for you to check that things line up correctly. These need to be checked and approved in writing to the manufacture to allow them to proceed.
The last of the artwork for Sumeria (the box and rules art) was required a further two weeks after the boards art. Again, it gets FTPed to their server, their data quality department check it over and send out the proofs and plots for approval.
The final piece of the puzzle will be a production run sample of the wooden pieces (complete with a zip-loc bag which they'll send on to me when the wooden pieces arrive at their factory from the suppliers.
Once everything is ready at their factory they will assemble the games, box them, shrink-wrap them, put them in cases, put the cases on pallets and shrink-wrap the pallets. About a week later those will arrive at my warehouse, and I'll get an invoice to pay for the manufacturing.
Sumeria is about half-way through the process at the moment - I sent them the last of the artwork on Monday, and I've received the proofs and plots of the boards, with the box and rules due early next week. I'm due to receive the games in week 21, a week before the UK Games Expo where Sumeria is due to be launched.