How To Make Your Own Card Game

Want to bring a board or card game to life? Here's what you can expect in terms of costs and money you'll make.

Hello, I’ve created a card game where you have to avoid medical bankruptcy. You can buy it on Amazon.

Why did I do this? Because it’s funny to me.


The game doesn’t require any healthcare knowledge to play it, but you’ll learn about some of the wild and wacky ways money flows through the healthcare system, some of which might bankrupt you. The game takes 2 minutes to learn and 15 minutes to play.

If you want to be really nice, please leave a review on Amazon :)

This project was much more of a challenge for me than the children’s book, because it required a third-party manufacturer. For “If You Give A Mouse Metformin”, that was handled entirely through Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing which meant Amazon printed it on-demand, warehoused it, fulfilled it, and handled all payment/tax stuff. You can read more about that process here if you’re interested in writing your own children’s book (including the economics as a writer).

This was a good project to learn more about the world of e-commerce. For anyone that wants to make their own board game, I thought I’d walk through the process + costs + profits.

P.S. If you want to help me convince your HR department to include this game as a part of new employee onboarding or customer success teams to give to clients, hit me up at nikhil@outofpocket.health :).

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Step 1: Figure out your gameplay

I’m going to skip over this, because I took some well-known game mechanics, adjusted them slightly, and then made it a healthcare game. 

However, if you’re thinking about making a card game with entirely new mechanics, this will be the hardest part. I joined a few online board game groups to understand the process of making a game and people spend years refining the game mechanics, getting playtesters online to give it a shot, use paper/cardboard cutouts to prototype things, etc. 

If you’re trying to create something from scratch, be prepared to invest the time in figuring out game mechanics.

Step 2: Finding a designer

Once I settled on a card game, I wrote out text for the image + text on each card, box art, and instruction manual. Now I needed to get it designed.



I actually ended up using the same designer who did my children’s book! It cost about $1100 to do everything. You can find great designers on Upwork/Fiverr, just make sure to look through their portfolios to get a sense of the art style and you’ll definitely want someone highly communicative since there will be lots of small adjustments + back and forth.

If you need other pieces, etc. designed you can either work with the manufacturers who frequently have designers on staff or find a board game designer on Upwork as well.

*NOTE: The different manufacturers will actually use different file formats + color models (CMYK, RGB, etc.). While it’s not too difficult to switch between these, it might be worth deciding the manufacturer first. You can have the designer make a handful of cards in different file formats to test out the manufacturers. 

Step 3: Find a manufacturer

Some stuff to consider when finding a manufacturer:

  • Volume you expect to manufacture
  • Whether or not they do on-demand printing
  • Price per unit + volume discounts
  • Availability of units (if your game needs custom units/specific types of pieces)
  • Whether or not you want to create “test copies”
  • Preferences in quality, coloration
  • How long you’re willing to wait for manufacturing
  • Customer service/ease of communications

I evaluated 5 different vendors, ran test copies with 2, and eventually decided to go with The Game Crafter. I liked the card quality, I was able to run a couple of test copies and make edits, and got some discounts for buying in volume. Here’s what 500 units being shipped to your apartment looks like.


The real sell of The Game Crafter is their ability to print-on-demand, so you could go that route and not pre-buy inventory at all (though the per unit cost would be higher). Plus they have a wide variety of game piece types and  a “lab” that will help with customization.


The part that was eye-opening for me was comparing the costs between using a Chinese manufacturer and a US manufacturer. 

The unit cost for manufacturing 500 cards in the US was $6.06, $6.66 if you include shipping,  etc.  At 1000 units, it would have been $5.36.


I got a quote from one of the Chinese manufacturers and it came out to $3.45/unit for 500 and drops to $2.48/unit at 1000 units.


I ended up picking a US manufacturer for the first run because I really wanted to get some physical test copies done, which was harder with Chinese manufacturers. Plus prices were actually much higher to ship from China due to COVID constraints, so the delta wasn’t as large. I was okay with eating margin in the first run, but for future runs it’s definitely something I’ll be considering! 

Step 4: Choose where you’re going to sell

Choosing where you’re going to sell is based on whether you think you can generate the demand yourself, the volume you expect to do, and how involved you want to be in terms of customer service + returns.

You can sell on your own site, which would require you to handle all customer service issues + generate demand for the cards. Alternatively, you can use third-party marketplaces like Amazon. 

If you go with your own site, you don’t have to pay a cut of each sale to the marketplaces. You’d also have to find a third-party fulfillment company that will work with the site you’re selling on and you have a system to route orders properly. 

I decided to go with Amazon. They handle customer service, the demand is generated by the marketplace, and you can easily hook into their fulfillment centers. But just to list on the Amazon marketplace you can expect them to take a 15% cut of the sale for anything they sell. 


Step 5: Choose your third-party logistics company

This is dependent on the amount of volume you expect to sell, the speed of inventory turnaround (aka how much space are you going to take up in the warehouse at a given time), speed at which you want your orders fulfilled, geographies covered, and any special packaging, etc. you might need. If you want to sell on multiple platforms, you’re going to want to use a third-party logistics company (Shipbob, Shipmonk, etc.)

Since I’m doing all sales on Amazon, it was much easier to just use Fulfilled By Amazon. This lets you qualify for Prime + Amazon gets really good shipping rates via their negotiated price with UPS. You can use Fulfilled by Amazon and still sell on third-party sites, but certain companies won’t let you (e.g. Walmart I believe) and the rates are higher than if you sell on Amazon. 

The amount you’ll pay Amazon is dependent on the size/weight of the package, distance it’s being shipped, etc. Amazon will also add a $1 per item fee if you’re not a professional seller (which is $40/month, meaning you need to sell 40+ items a month to make that worthwhile).

So once you take out the Amazon marketplace fee (15%) and all the Fulfilled by Amazon Fees, I’ll make about $10.14 on a $16.99 sale.


*NOTE: You’ll need to have a GS1 barcode to use third-party logistics companies. If you need one it’s only like $30 (which works if you have one product with no variations). For Amazon, you have to get a GS1 barcode to be able to list, but then they use their own barcode for their own warehouses. Since I’m only selling on Amazon I just printed that barcode directly on the back of the package, but otherwise you need to actually put the Amazon label on every product. Once you do that, voila! Your product is listed on Amazon and you can sell.

Final Economics

Here’s an approximate breakdown of the economics. As you can see, after all costs I make about ~$1.50 or less per game. So just to break even I’ll have to sell every copy. Over time the margins will go up as fixed costs get amortized and order volumes potentially increase. But I still don’t expect this to actually make any real money lol.

This game is the worst possible e-commerce category - low volume, low margin, low dollar sale. However, once you start hitting thousands of units per month, you can actually start making closer to 60-70% margins due to manufacturing costs dropping like crazy + fixed costs like design getting amortized. aRe CaRD GaMeS ThE NeW SofTWarE?


Miscellaneous

Random things:

  1. Sales tax is complicated and outdated as hell. You’ll probably want to read this to understand how it works but luckily thanks to new marketplace facilitator laws the e-commerce marketplaces will collect and remit sales tax for you. BUT, you’ll still potentially need sales tax licenses depending on how you’re doing third-party logistics. 
  2. Many parts of this equation come down to understanding how many units you think you can sell. I used my children’s book as a proxy for this, but if you have 0 idea then you might want to consider doing a crowdfunding campaign to pre-estimate units + get capital upfront to buy inventory.
  3. Thanks to the dropshipping boom there are TONS of YouTube channels dedicated to helping you figure out e-commerce stuff and selling on Amazon. I’m very impressed with the wealth of knowledge being shared and how engaging some of these channel creators are with the comments section.
  4. If you want to be able to sell your game to children or international markets, some require different types of testing in order to certify your game (PSIA & ASTM testing since it's selling to kids, CE testing for sales in the European marketplace and UKCA for the UK post Brexit).
  5. Board games are a big industry and potentially lucrative if you do it right. Exploding Kittens raised $30M, Cards Against Humanity is estimated to do $1.5M+ in sales per month, the maker of Settlers of Catan was acquired at a $1.4B valuation (which explains why all the expansion packs are so damn expensive now - more like Pillagers of Settlers of Catan).
  6. It feels like there’s an opportunity for more of these “creator has an idea for a physical product and wants to bring it to life” tools. I almost think of it as no-code for physical objects, where I can mess around/prototype and bring something janky to life quickly. The children’s book was extremely easy because Amazon is the printer, fulfiller, storage, and marketplace. Doing this for more products would be cool.

Conclusion

For me I just wanted to learn about how the e-commerce process works, make a physical product from end-to-end, and put something fun out into the world. It’s a learning and marketing expense, not something that will make me money. My brain is so messed up from this process that every time I play a board game now I start thinking about how expensive the manufacturing of different components might be. Plus I also understand why board games cost so much.

Honestly I messed up many steps along the way + will probably learn a lot more once the game actually is selling and will update this post with new lessons. :) So your-mileage-may-vary.


I also think novelty products are a fun way to get people vaguely interested in healthcare if they’ve had no exposure to the space. For example, people will pick up the children’s book just because it looks funny and then might take away one random healthcare fact from the book that piqued their interest. My hope is novelty products can do that a bit, but honestly I’m fine if they just turn out to be failed experiments lol.

So if you or someone you know would enjoy the game, buy a copy! If you want to make your own game/have questions let me know.

Thinkboi out,

Nikhil aka. “Wtf am I doing with my life”

P.S. Big shoutout to Peter Levin, maker of the Incohearent card game who painstakingly answered all my naive questions.

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