Creating a board game can be really difficult! First, you have to create a design and play-test it until it’s a great game. You have to build a business around it in order to raise funds, market, and eventually sell it. Of course, then there’s the small matter of actually turning it into a real, physical product. That’s where companies like Panda Game Manufacturing come in.
I recently had the pleasure of working with Jennifer Lee, CMO of Panda Game Manufacturing. I sent a bunch of questions her way by email, and she sent some insightful responses back which we’re going to share with you!
What follows are her answers to Fulfillrite’s questions, unedited.
1. What does Panda Game Manufacturing specialize in?
We specialize in making tabletop board games of the highest quality, and our mission is to produce (and play!) the best games in the industry. We believe we are at our best when there is a mix of different pieces in the box, as we have significant experience with a vast array of different materials and components. In addition, as Panda Project Managers, we are dedicated gamers and scrutinize each game we work on with a discerning eye to help our customers maximize the impact of their design.
2. Panda Game Manufacturing has been in business for 15 years now! Any special plans?
We do have some fun things going on to celebrate 15 years. We just launched an updated website design that should be easier for users to navigate and better showcase our capabilities. A critical part of the new design is our all-new pricing estimator tool. Now prospective designers and publishers can price out their game and adjust components on the fly to see how it affects the overall project. Lastly, we are celebrating by sharing some 15th-anniversary discounts and promos with our clients. You can learn more about them here.
3. What’s the toughest-to-manufacture game that Panda has ever done?
That is a tough one to answer. All projects bring their own unique issues, but we love a new challenge! Our team loves taking on a new or innovative design and figuring out how to make it work and look great. We actually have a project we are working on right now that has a game board, unlike anything we have made before – it is really wild. We can’t share too much more about it right now, but you will know it when you see it!
4. What materials are most commonly used in manufacturing board games?
Paper, cardstock, and greyboard make up the majority of components in a game since nearly every game has a box (greyboard) and rules (paper). Additionally, many have cards (cardstock). Panda has our own printing facility so we manufacture all of these items in-house under the guidance of our own specially trained staff. We think it’s especially important to have control of this process since most games contain printed components and quality control is so critical.
5. I’ve noticed that many of your games, such as Shiver Me Timbers and Mechs vs. Minions, tend to use unique game pieces. How do you make them?
It is a collaborative effort. Our clients come to us with a vision for what they want to do, then our team samples different iterations of these unique components until we get them to a place where the client and we are happy with everything. It is really amazing to see the prototypes of games and then compare them to the end product! It takes a lot of creative, hard-working people to make that happen and we love being in the middle of that process.
6. Panda Game Manufacturing is known for sending out really cool sample kits. What’s your current one like and how did you create it?
Many years ago, Panda pioneered making toolkits so people could see and feel our high-quality components. We’re thrilled that the industry responded so positively! Of course, toolkits have since become a standard in the game manufacturing industry. So, we’ve challenged ourselves to continue to innovate with even better and more useful toolkits.
In the past, we took a broad approach, with various cool components inside the toolkit. Recently, our toolkit honed in on just print and paper components so we could really explore all of the options available to our clients. Of course, with a bunch of paper samples, we had to print something on them, so we introduced our Panda adventurers exploring a board game-inspired fantasy world.
For our upcoming toolkit, our band of adventurers has wandered into some mysterious woods, so we’re focusing on wood components. We always want to wow clients and players so we sought out unusual or underutilized wood options to feature. That means our Panda Ranger meeple will ride an oversized moose meeple, roll wooden dice featuring metallic ink, and stash her winnings in a buildable wooden treasure chest!
7. How often does Panda manufacture crowdfunded games vs. mass market games?
Over the years the ratio of crowdfunded games to mass market games has ebbed and flowed. Early on we made almost exclusively crowdfunded games, including some of the early pioneers in the crowdfunding space – Eminent Domain, Alien Frontiers, and Viticulture. We now have a very good balance between crowdfunded and non-crowdfunded games. So you are about as likely to see the “Made by Panda” logo on a crowdfunding campaign page as you are on the back of a game box at Target or Barnes & Noble.
8. Have you ever manufactured a game that started as a small crowdfunding campaign, and then saw massive success later?
Absolutely! One of the biggest thrills we have in our line of work is watching clients grow into full-time board game publishers. We have a lot of creators that started off with a single crowdfunded project and then built on that over time until they have a fully-fledged board game business on their hands. Stonemaier Games is probably one of the biggest examples of this, but there are a ton of others like Keymaster Games (Parks) and Thunderworks Games (the Roll Player and Cartographers series).
9. What’s the most fun kind of game to manufacture?
Any game with a passionate publisher. We are fortunate to work in the business of fun, so every game we make is enjoyable in some way or another. But when a creator is really jazzed about the design and puts their all into it, it gets us even more excited about the manufacturing work that goes into that game. We look at our client relationships as partnerships and it’s always good to have vision and enthusiasm!
10. How did life change at Panda Game Manufacturing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As with so many in the industry, the pandemic has also been a challenging time for Panda. The early months of COVID were the most harrowing as we faced an extended, government-mandated shutdown in Asia coming out of the Chinese New Year. We focused very hard on additional safety protocols and procedures to ensure that everyone in our manufacturing facility felt comfortable in this new environment.
On the Western side of our business, we were a little ahead of the game. Panda has been a work-from-home company since it was formed, so remote work during the pandemic came naturally to us. Eighteen months ago, we made one of the most difficult decisions in our company’s history: we temporarily shut down our website quote tool. We did that to focus our energy on existing clients and their projects, and to provide them with our 5-star service amid historic disruptions to the shipping and supply chains. We don’t regret that decision, but we do regret that we didn’t have the chance to work with more new creators during that time. Thankfully, we’re opening up more like so much of the world and we feel ready to work with new creators again.
As far as COVID goes, we know the world isn’t quite out of the woods yet, but we continue to monitor the global situation and try to make the best decisions we can when it comes to navigating this “new normal.” We are proud to say that we never experienced an outbreak in our factory and our employees have remained healthy and safe during these trying times.
11. Do your employees ever have game nights?
Oh for sure! In fact, our team in Asia has an annual board game competition in the office and our project management team in the US, Canada, and EU have many of their own game nights and regularly play online. Even though we all work remotely, when we get on calls together a lot of the “water cooler” chatter is about what games we have played lately and what we thought about them.
12. How do people find Panda Game Manufacturing?
13. I noticed that Panda is big on sustainability. In 2020, Panda created a sustainability team. What other actions can creators take that would make board game manufacturing more sustainable?
The biggest thing is to ask their manufacturer or publisher about sustainable options. Whether working with Panda or another manufacturer, the more creators ask for sustainable options, the more the whole industry will move in that direction, with more sustainable options and better pricing for them.
14. Why should a board game publisher choose to print with Panda?
You are testing our humility! First of all, we think creators should work with us because we love games and we will treat your special project with the attention and care that you do. When you work with Panda, you are working with one of the finest board game manufacturers in the world and your game will be created by dedicated production professionals, checked by our amazing quality control team, and shepherded by Project Managers that provide best-in-class customer service and can’t wait to play your game almost as much as you!
Want to know what Panda Game Manufacturing is up to? Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay up to date with everything we’re up to! Also check out their newly designed website, which features a time-limited 15-year anniversary promotion, new quote estimator, and brand-new Shopify store.