A Review of The Game Crafter
How good is the printing service aimed at board & card game creators?
The Game Crafter is a website that lets you create card and board games from your own ideas and designs, print your work individually or in bulk, and sell your games as print-on-demand via their online shop. I have been using The Game Crafter for a couple of years now and love them in most aspects, but they do have their pros and cons.
In this review of The Game Crafter we will take a look at their components, quality, pricing, support and overall user friendliness.
While The Game Crafter is perhaps most useful to create sturdy and quality prototypes of your games, I and many others use them as the sole printer of our games. They're a print-on-demand service with their own online shop (you can actually find some pretty good titles hidden in there), which means that games sold through their site are printed individually each time someone buys them. There is no need for a storage of pre-printed games. While this comes at a higher price per printed copy, it is a super convenient solution.
For this review I'm going to use my own game Trains & Cargo as a main reference to review components and quality, but I have made and bought dozens of games through The Game Crafter and will take my overall experience into account. I have learned the ins and outs of their system, their quality levels, the way they operate, and what works and what doesn't.
In this The Game Crafter review I will be looking at the following:
- Print quality (cards, boards, tokens, etc)
- Non-printable Components (pawns, dice, etc)
- Website (user friendliness)
- Customer service
1. Printable Components & Print Quality
The most popular use of The Game Crafter might very well be to print custom playing cards and card games, but The Game Crafter offers a wide range of printed components including boxes, rule booklets, stickers (for dice or pawns), laser-cut tokens, and much more. For cards and some other components, you have the option to add UV coating and linen texture. The former makes the cards feel less like paper and give them a more professional feel. The latter makes the cards glossier. I have tried all combinations: UV and linen texture, just one of them, and neither, and I've found that adding UV coating but skipping linen texture is best value for money.
- Pro tip: In my experience, adding UV coating to your cards is a no-brainer. This costs $0.10 per sheet and make the cards feel much more professional and less paper-y. The only reason not to add this would be if you're only printing a basic prototype and want to save a few bucks. Linen Texture, on the other hand, only makes the cards shinier but don't really add any quality value, in my opinion. In fact, I don't like it when the cards reflect light too much, and at $0.25 per sheet this is a pricier add-on.
Rule booklets come in a range of sizes, from the smallest which fits in a small card deck box, to larger ones for board games with large boxes. They also have game boxes of all kinds of sizes, most of which can have custom prints on both the top, bottom and sides. My main experience is with the Poker Tuck Boxes (for 36, 54, 72, 90 or 108 cards) which I feel are of average quality but still great for small to mid size card games with very few to no other components. The small poker size booklet fits neatly into these boxes.
Larger boxes are of thicker material, and of the few sizes I have tried they have been of good, sturdy quality and the print looks great!
One of my favorite printable components are the laser-cut punch-outs. You can get these in all kinds of shapes and sizes, and they allow for a lot of flexibility. I mean, seriously, anything that you can design in Photoshop or your editor of choice can be printed on these, and the parts can be used as game tokens or even flexible boards. You can mix-and-mach any number of designs on the same sheet (you pay per sheet so it's a good idea to maximize space).
All laser cut components come with a bit of black soot from the laser which is annoying and messy, but which can easily be fixed with a damp cloth. Still, a minus for this a customers of your game should not have to do this, in my opinion.
My own game Trains & Cargo, in terms of printed components, includes nearly 200 small punch-out tokens, four mid-sized boards printed on thick material, bridge-size playing cards, a mid-sized rule booklet and a mid-sized box to fit it all. My only complaint is that the cardboard tokens are starting to break and in some copies of the game the print has been way off center. These are still the cheapest way to get loads of tokens for a game though, and the flexibility is great. As for all other printed components, the quality is top-notch.
Other printable components that I haven't personally seen include custom dice and stickers for pawns and meeples.
Overall, I am very happy with the printing quality of all aspects of the range and options available at The Game Crafter. You can get the cheapest stuff for a prototype that will still look good thanks to the high quality printing, or you can go with more expensive (= thicker) material for a professional feel.
If you have any questions about printed components at The Game Crafter, feel free to message me and I'd be happy to help 🙂
PRINT QUALITY RATING: 4/5
2. Non-printable Components
The Game Crafter offers 1200+ non-printable components such as pawns and dice (and a lot of less-obvious stuff). This is great as most games don't just include cards and boards. You need tokens, dice, timers, pawns, and much more. In Trains & Cargo, I used 10 mm wooden cubes in 8 different colors, and six lovely wooden locomotive figures. The fact that The Game Crafter has things like these is great as it not only opens up a lot of possibilities and flexibility, but gives your games a much more professional and personal touch.
There are limits though. Twice I've experienced that a component I wanted to use for my game ran out, and they weren't able to restock. And more than a few times I've come across things that I would like, but which aren't available (modern-looking trucks, anyone?).
But The Game Crafter are pretty good at continuously adding new components, and at listening to customer feedback and wishes. If you need something, let them know and see if they can fix it.
I also want to add that some components, especially plastic figures, can feel a bit cheap, but for variety that's something I can live with. I'd rather have a very wide selection of components to choose from, and in that regard The Game Crafter delivers way beyond what most other printers do.
Overall, you won't be disappointed with the wide range of component available in the shop at The Game Crafter — which, by the way, can be bought individually or be added as part of your game designs — and most things that aren't available can probably be crafted with some clever use of printable and customized components.
NON-PRINTABLE COMPONENTS RATING: 4.5/5
Perhaps the most important factor to take into account is pricing, and I am very torn about this. On one hand, The Game Crafter offers great flexibility and print-on-demand solutions at a reasonable price. On the other hand, you can definitely get your game printed a lot cheaper elsewhere. The reason I and many others choose The Game Crafter over traditional printers is because we don't want to sit on a box of 500+ games that we might never be able to sell.
As you craft your game at The Game Crafter and add cards and components, the printing cost will keep on going up. If you use a lot of special pawns or components, this can greatly increase the cost (which is why in Trains & Cargo, I scrapped the idea of using 8 mm wooden cubes at $0.11 each as cargo tokens and instead went with 196 small printed cardboard chits for a total of $11.72 — a third of the cost of the cubes). Then you realize that you haven't yet added the rule booklet and box, and soon you'll have a game that will retail for $60-100! That's a lot for any board game.
You can get away with it a lot cheaper though, by choosing cheaper components, minimizing board sizes and trying to squeeze as much as possible into a smaller box. This is great if you just want a decent-quality prototype, but if you want to sell the game to customers via The Game Crafter shop (which is the lazy but convenient way to do it), the price may scare people off.
Speaking from a cost perspective, when should you use The Game Crafter?
- When you want a good-quality single-print prototype. You will have a hard time finding other printers as flexible and decently priced in this regard as The Game Crafter.
- When you want a high-quality game just for yourself and your family. If you're anything like me, it doesn't really matter if anyone else will buy the game as long as you enjoy making — and playing — it yourself.
- When you only expect to sell 1-99 copies of your game. And 99 copies is to be fair quite a lot. If you want to go full-retail or have a massive Kickstarter campaign, you might want to research other printers for mass production.
Shipping is reasonable world wide. A small card game with box and all is as little as $10 basically anywhere in the world. Heavier games are around $20-30, even more for the largest games. There is the issue of import tax though, as in most countries you will need to pay an import tax to get your game when it enters your country. Generally, the larger or heavier the box, the higher the tax. It would be a big plus if The Game Crafter had printers in other parts of the world, like Europe and Australia (currently, all games are printed in the US).
There are two more aspects of pricing I would like to talk about. The game Crafter has an, in my opinion, underrated crowdfunding platform. In it, people buy your game with a minimum $5 discount (The Game Crafter will cut their standard profit in the hopes that they will earn more money through a larger print order) and the discount increases gradually as more people buy the game during a period of one week, up to 100 copies. Then, all copies are printed and shipped simultaneously to all participants. The down side here is that you will need to bring the crowd as only relying on the power of The Game Crafter will = zero sales. Websites like Kickstarter might have more of a community to it, but then again you do have to bring the crowd to Kickstarter too.
The other aspect is that they have a bulk order shipping feature to fulfill for example Kickstarter campaigns. They make it easier for you to handle shipping to many different addresses.
Overall, The Game Crafter is on the pricier side due to it's single-print, print-on-demand setup. Heavier games quickly carry away. But this setup is precisely why they are so popular. You don't need to have a big box of unsold games in your garage. If you're in it for the fun and not for profit, The Game Crafter is reasonably priced for what you get, and if you just want a single-print quality prototype, they're even better. That said, I would like to see printers in other parts of the world than America, and I would like to see greater discounts at lower order sizes to really be able to make The Game Crafter the go-to printer for retail use.
PRICING RATING: 3.5/5
4. Website / User Friendliness
This section is my main issue with The Game Crafter. While their game editor is very flexible and quite easy to understand once you get the basic idea of how to add components, cards, boards, boxes, etc. to your game, the entire website does feel like something from the 90's (OK, 00's). It's far from a modern website. Perhaps for us designers this doesn't really matter, but for outside customers who are just there to buy a specific game, this is an issue. In fact, I have even been embarrassed to send potential customers (read: friends & family) to the sales pages of my games at The Game Crafter as they do not make it straight-forward to buy the game. The "buy" button is small, the layout out-dated and a bit confusing at first.
The recent makeover to sales pages was a great improvement as now images, videos and headlines are supported in the text section (description) on your sales page. This gives you a lot more flexibility to design a nice page. But it doesn't solve the problem that the site as a whole is a bit lame, in lack of a better word. They won't be able to solve this with gradual improvements but would have to redesign the whole website from scratch.
I find the website to be flexible and quite alright for game creators, but out-dated and poor-looking for outsiders coming to buy a game or two.
WEBSITE RATING: 3/5
5. Customer Service / Support
I have a generally positive view of the support team and the team behind The Game Crafter overall. Once, they put the wrong rule booklet in my game. This was promptly fixed by sending me the correct one, but of course I then had to wait another 1-2 weeks for my game to be ready.
I feel like they are fairly quick to respond, but I also frequently feel like I'm a part of a factory and not a family. Of course, this is exactly what I am, but because I don't feel that little extra that you can get from many other even bigger companies, I simply can't give a full 5/5. they do their job and they do it well, but I have never experienced them going above and beyond (if you can't tell, I work in customer service and take this very seriously 😛 ).
I should also add that they have a great FAQ-section with help articles to most things you need. There's even the occasional video to show how certain components work.
CUSTOMER SERVICE RATING: 4.5/5
The Game Crafter has a great core community! There's a live chat feature which seems to be constantly buzzing with activity, and frequent members go there to say hi and chat with fellow board game creators. I wish the forum was a bit more busy though, but of course you can't compare to for example Board Game Geeks.
The Game Crafter are great at rallying the community around contests, encouraging community ideas, sharing news with us and hosting activities that bring the community together. And I believe the core members are a tight bunch, and a friendly group of people. You can always find answers to your questions. The only improvement would be larger community, but I'm not sure what else The Game Crafter could do to facilitate this. I give the community, for what it is, a great score! 😀
COMMUNITY RATING: 4.5/5
The Game Crafter is probably the most flexible and versatile website around for board and card game creators. While their game editor can be a bit confusing at first, it has a lot to offer once you get the hang of it. Their many features, components and good print quality make it possible for anyone to create pretty much any table top game they can imagine. And the fact that they're print-on-demand make it a near unbeatable business model.
Among the cons, they are a bit on the pricier side. While you can certainly go with cheaper prototype-style components, if you want a quality retail-ready game with a few components other than just cards, you will be paying a fair bit for it. And while they do ship worldwide at reasonable prices, they do not have printers in for example Europe, Asia or Australia — everything is shipped from the US, and import taxes can be heavy.
If you're just a hobby game creator looking for a printer who can handle low volumes, The Game Crafter is a near-perfect choice. Their online shop makes it possible for anyone to sell their game to anyone in the world without having to pay any upfront costs or order hundreds of copies that might never get sold. If you're printing to fulfill a crowd sale order (for example via Kickstarter), The Game Crafter might be a bit too pricey and traditional printer is probably be a better choice.
If you just want to hold a physical copy of your own game creation and don't care about costs or sales, you've come to the right place! 😀
FINAL SCORE: 4/5
What is The Game Crafter?
Founded in 2009, The Game Crafter was the world's first web-to-print publishing company aimed at the tabletop gaming community. The print-on-demand service allows card and board game creators to print high quality prototypes of their games, or even full-fledged, finished products to sell in their online shop. A convenient service that, though a bit pricey, makes it possible for anyone to create board games without having to order hundreds of copies.
PRINT QUALITY: 4/5
The overall quality of printed components such as cards and boxes is very good.
NON-PRINTABLE COMPONENTS: 4.5/5
The Game Crafter has over 1200+ non-printable game pieces and components.
As a print-on-demand service, The Game Crafter is pricier than traditional printers but carry no minimum limits. The higher end components can quickly make a mid-sized game cost the same as a large game would in retail shops.
While flexible and versatile, The Game Crafter website is somewhat outdated.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: 4.5/5
With a friendly team, quick response time and good help section you won't have any problems getting the hep you need.
The Game Crafter has a solid community of game creators who are always happy to help you via the live chat feature.
FINAL SCORE: 4/5
All printed and sold at The Game Crafter...
An exciting and hilarious 2-5 player game, praised for its social aspects and card interactions. Comes in a variety of versions with different designs and rule tweaks including a Valentine's Day, a Seals and a Porn edition.
HIGHEST BIDDER AWARDS:
APPROVED by The Indie Game Report.
In recognition of a GOOD number of sales.
Some editions of Highest Bidder, including Seals of the Sea and Valentine's Day, have scored 80+ in a community art test.
A fresh and triangular take on traditional playing cards. Play a variety of games with this unique 90-card deck. Comes in a number of themes & designs with downloadable game rules to multiple games.
Collect cargo, load it onto your train and send the train off when the time is right to score points. Praised for its balanced game play and logical approach.
TRAINS & CARGO AWARDS:
STAFF PICK at The Game Crafter.
SCORED 80+ in a community art test.
Play as the Hunter or the Mammoth in this unforgiving two player game of survival. Hunt down your prey and your village will live to see another day. Fail, and it will slowly give in to starvation.
TRIBAL HUNT AWARDS:
SCORED 90+ in a community art test.