Having finally caught up with Essen (and having recovered the site from a backup where a near-complete draft of this post was lost), it’s time to take a look at the state of the sample boxes / designers kits.

A couple of points before diving in:

  • I picked all of these up at Essen 2018 in Germany – think of this post as a snapshot in time of things that will change.
  • These are intended for game designers and other professionals in the industry to understand a manufacturer’s capabilities. They are not for the gaming masses. We have to make the games before you can play them, after all!

With that out of the way, here we go!

The State of the Sample Box / Designer Kit, Late 2018 edition

Gameland

While their kit fits in one of the smaller boxes, Gameland‘s kit features plenty of chipboard punchouts, a deck’s worth of card sample, a small bag of assorted tokens and bits, a great little player board, and a game designer’s guide. This last piece is probably the most helpful if you decide to manufacture with them — sure, a lot of the info is online, but having it all in a little booklet is great to give to your graphic designer.

The State of the Sample Box / Designer Kit, Late 2018 edition

Wingo

Wingo goes beyond the stuff inside the box and uses the box to make two great points: it’s not a game (yet) — meaning it’s for designers to play with before gamers can sink their teeth into it — and it shows some standard places for things to go on the sides of the box. Complete with a couple of custom dice, a mini, some punchboards, a pack of sample cards, and a small bag of acrylic cubes

It’s worth going Wingo is coming out with a 2nd version of their Designer Kit. To have a say in what’s inside, have a look at their Facebook group.

The State of the Sample Box / Designer Kit, Late 2018 edition

LongPack Games

A step up in size from the first two boxes, this is LongPack Games‘ brand-spanking-new sample box, complete with a felt / fabric finish on the plastic insert. Build a factory floor with the punchboard and double-thick base (to the left), complete with an inset for some of the pieces. Some dice, a pack of sample cards, a poker chip, a couple of minis, and a very nice metal coin / token are all here.

The State of the Sample Box / Designer Kit, Late 2018 edition

Trefl

The only publisher in this list that doesn’t manufacture in China, Trefl is based in Poland. While the components inside are less about showing off a wide range of capabilities, they can be used to play several basic games like Snakes and Ladders, Tic-tac-toe, and a couple of new ones like Crazy Ball and Trefl Factory. As you might guess, the last one works in some clever mentions of the production process in a game you could easily play with kids. (Not shown in this picture are a couple of double-sided, dry-erase sheets that were misplaced at the time of the picture — these are used to play the games seen on the back of the box.)

The State of the Sample Box / Designer Kit, Late 2018 edition

Eastar

As a contrast to Trefl’s box, Eastar decided to show its manufacturing capabilities by including a wide variety of bits, including five (!) minis along with materials used in a couple of games. They credit several publishers who agreed to allow parts of their games to be used in the sample box — that’s Potion Explosion in the lower-right, though I haven’t played the game with the map in the upper-right. That these are real-world production samples and not simply something created for the purposes of being included in a sample box is a worthy mention. Beyond those items are a pack of sample cards, a couple of metal coins, and a small bag of assorted bits.

A couple of other notes

In the interest of completion, a few other manufacturers were at Essen.

  • GPI didn’t appear to have any samples available at all.
  • MakePlayingCards had a nice layout of card samples – take a couple samples of their many sizes or ask questions
  • Starry Games had a wide variety of bits on display, carefully organized in small bags throughout their display. They offered some sample cards but didn’t appear to have a full-on sample kit.

There’s also a good chance I missed some manufacturers — my main focus while at Essen was pitching, and looking for manufacturers was a fairly distant second priority.

Opinions and the future

Personally, I would like to see a greater separation and clarification between the terms ‘Manufacturers Sample Kits‘ (or ‘sample boxes‘) and ‘Designer Kits’. All of the boxes / kits mentioned above fall into the former category, and they’re a great way to feel the difference between, say, 300gsm cards with linen finish and 350gsm cards without. The measurements are printed on the card, so it’s a great way to get experience with these materials. I do wish there was more explanation of the materials (why are black cores for playing cards ‘better’, for example) straight from the manufacturer in kits like these — especially in ways that aim to inform over just marketing their product to people. (Until there is, this great page by Gatekeeper Gaming remains a bookmarked explanation.)

A ‘Designer Kit‘ takes this one step further, and is intentionally constructed to be used in plenty of ways beyond . The White Box by Gameplaywright is a perfect example of a designer kit, and for anyone just getting started in game design, I’d consider this the gold standard as of late 2018. Designer Kits, by definition, reduce the focus and role of the manufacturer to (essentially) a footnote while putting the spotlight on the designer themselves.

According to this Board Game Geek post from October 2018, Wingo’s second version of their Designer Kit looks to be on this track, though the post admits it’s “too costly to give away as a sample box to every one of our customers”. It will be looking to Kickstart this at some point, so look to the Facebook group for details.

The final word… for now

I have not used any of these manufacturers first-hand. All of these sample kits have very good to excellent quality, as expected — I wouldn’t expect any of them to put sub-standard stuff in a kit like this — and they certainly have the ability to create the files that make everything look perfect.

You can’t and shouldn’t judge a manufacturer solely by the contents of their sample kit, though. At the end of the day, it’s about connection and communication. All the printers and tools in the world won’t help if your contact takes a week to respond to requests or doesn’t deliver the quality you expect. Ask questions, get answers, clarify expectations, and understand the process. These kits can’t do that, but they can start the conversation on the right foot.

Over to you

What’s been your experience with manufacturers?