Thursday, August 27

A How To Guide to Submissions

I've received over 150 submissions in the three years I've been running Reiver Games. I've published four games. Not many make the cut! But I'm on the lookout for more games all the time. I'd love to have a full pipeline, where I know the next 15 games I'm going to publish. I'm nowhere near that point yet.

I'm most interested in light- to medium-weight strategy, ideally language-independent games with a fun theme that play in an hour or less, like the games I've already published. In this post I give some advice to aspiring game designers on how to submit a game to me.

Obviously this information only applies to submitting a game to Reiver Games - other companies will have different procedures and preferences. But I would imagine a lot of the information is similar across the board among those publishers who accept submissions.

I run a three stage submissions procedure, with the first two stages designed to weed out things I'm really not interested in and the third being the real test of the games.

Stage 1: Overview

In the first instance I ask for a couple of paragraphs via email describing the components, theme and major mechanics. This stage is designed to quickly weed out broad categories of games I'm not interested in: trivia games, mass-market games, sports games and card games playable with a standard deck of cards. I can also rule out a few games based on other criteria: if I find the theme offensive or games featuring very expensive components (if it's got 1,200 plastic space ships I'm not going to be able to make a small print run affordably). I also like a brief description of the number of players, game length and age category.

Stage 2: Rules

The next thing I ask for is a copy of the rules. To be honest very few games fail at this stage, only those that I realise have too many components or actually sound more mass-market after reading the rules that they did during reading the overview.

For the rulebook, the following can definitely help:

  • Get it proof-read by someone with excellent English - the more readable it is, the easier it is to understand how the game works.
  • Get the game blind-playtested: get someone who hasn't playtested it yet to learn it from the rules. This is a great way to find out what is missing or unclear in the rulebook.
  • Add diagrams. They don't need to be works of art but they can help to clarify the more complicated bits of the game.
  • Read the rulebooks of a few of your favourite games. Try to copy the style and structure of a well-written rulebook for a published game.

Stage 3: Prototype

If I still like the sound of your game I'll ask you to send me a prototype to try out with my playtesters. This will ideally take several months but with some of the submissions I've received it's taken a lot longer than that. Here's what I look for in a prototype:

  • A box. Seriously. It doesn't have to be a nice tray-and-lid style board game box, a corrugated mailing box is fine, but it makes it easier to store, easier to cart around and easier to send back.
  • Include the rules. Again it sounds obvious, and I know you've already sent them to me via email, but if you don't I won't always check the box before I take it to a playtesting session and not having the rules in the box is very frustrating if I've just got all the bits out to play with.
  • Include all the bits required. They don't need to be wazzy plastic miniatures, custom wooden figures or little FIMO sculptures, generic wooden pieces is fine. Sure, I've got a spares box, but there's no guarantee I've got the three different sizes of pieces in eight different colours that you need.
  • Ensure cards are shufflable. If you can't print onto thick card, you can print onto paper and put them in card-sleeves with Magic: The Gathering commons for added rigidity.
  • If your game includes cardboard counters with labels attached use a decent glue. Label paper is good. Permanent spray adhesive is good. It's worth knowing that glues can fail as they age. It may seem fine at the beginning, but after a couple of weeks it might fall apart. Test it at home first.
  • Good art is not required. I'll be redoing the art anyway to ensure it fits with my company style. It's not worth paying a designer to do the art for you, or spending hours on it. I'll probably want to change a few things, and it's easier to do that on a simple home-made prototype than a professional-looking product. Prototype art doesn't affect my decision, it's the gameplay I'm testing not the aesthetics.
  • If your game has a board make sure it fits in the box. Making a quad- or six-folding board isn't straightforward, but it is possible to do at home (I've made a few, and several submissions I've received have got them). If it fits in the box it's easier to cart around and send back to you if necessary. I'll not necessarily keep the box you shipped it in for all of the (potentially several months of) time I'm testing it.

If at the end of all that I don't want to publish your game (the most likely outcome!) I'm happy to return the prototype at your expense, or I can dispose of it - your call.


Mal said...

You should make a Word doc for people to download, a bit like that web web design brief document I sent you. You know - with sections already laid out, so that people are just filling in a standard game-submission form.

Mal said...

"web web"? I appear to have developed a keyboard stutter.

Jack said...

Hiya Mal,

I was thinking of making a permanent link to this blog post from my web site and the blog front page instead.



Claudio said...

Hi Mr. Jackson,
I want to write you an email about my board game, for an opinion, but I've not found your email.

Can you give me it?
Mine is claudio at

Jack said...

Hiya Claudio,

Unfortunately I'm in the process of shutting down my company so I will not be publishing any more games.