The Business of Board Games

Justin Waggle

Owner and Game Designer

August 16, 2018

The creation of Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path and Gray Wolf Games, LLC has been an amazing experience but it also feels a bit like trying to get to the end of the original Oregon Trail video game.

I’ve been updating backers on my successful Kickstarter (second time’s a charm!) but I have done very little with the website and blog because I have been working day and night trying to make the game and the game company a reality.

Designing a game is one thing. Starting a business is something else entirely.

As soon as the Kickstarter ended, I went out and got a job making websites for a marketing company. It’s actually been a great experience because I’ve learned a lot more about marketing and about how to set up online shopping carts, payment gateways, and warehouse integrations.

During the day I’ve been working on websites and in the evening I’ve been training in Kung Fu and Tai Chi, finishing all the files for Wu Wei, and setting up Gray Wolf Games, LLC. Designing a game is one thing. Starting a business is something else entirely.

Here’s my little checklist for setting up the business:

  • Register Gray Wolf Games, LLC and receive an Employer ID Number (EIN) from the IRS
  • File for a business license from the Franchise Tax Board of California
  • Register trademarks for “Gray Wolf Games” and “Wu Wei” with the US Patent and Trademark Office
  • Set up bank accounts for the business (EIN, Business License, and a permanent address required)
  • Hire a logo designer to create the company logo
  • Purchase from a domain name squatter
  • Set up web server and email
  • Create business cards and shirts and banners for conventions
  • Pay off the remainder of the manufacturing cost
  • Pay for delivery of the games via ocean freight
  • Set up warehouse and distribution services
  • Integrate fulfillment with the website
  • Pay for distribution of the individual games

These bullet points relate to file preparation and sampling:

  • Hire a game developer to help me add the solo campaign to Wu Wei
  • Hire a rule book editor to help finish up the rule book
  • Deliver final design files for all the printed materials
  • Deliver final design files for all of the wood and plastic components
  • Create a specifications sheet for all of the components
  • Receive and respond to several rounds of samples
  • Make final adjustments to all of the artwork

I like to imagine my games are the cargo of this ship…

All of this comes AFTER spending years trying to make the game work. I’m definitely making mistakes and things are taking longer than I’d like but I’ve learned a lot. I think people can tell you what works for them (like I am here), but new experiences are the true path to success. I’ve discovered that all of these hoops I’ve had to jump through are much bigger in my mind than they are in reality. That being said, the biggest stressors are definitely time and money.

Creating a board game is tough because it requires a physical product and it requires mass production.

The closer the project comes to fruition, the more time it requires. Creating a board game is tough because it requires a physical product and it requires mass production. The more games you make, the better the return on your investment. I’m making the bare minimum amount of games for my first run and because of the complexity of the game, I’ve had to really scramble to get all the money together. I don’t recommend getting a loan to finance your board game but it is something I considered. Fortunately, I was able to get more contract web development work. I’ve been working seven days a week for the last three months but I’m finally all paid up.

I’m not telling you all this to put you off making a board game. I just discovered an article where Taoist Grandmaster Share K. Lew said, “Killing an idea is no less violent than killing a man.” He was talking about preserving and transmitting nui gong and I’m talking about board games but I still feel like it applies! I woke up with the idea for Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path and I’ve been working for the last eight years to keep that idea alive. The game means a lot to me and I am really looking forward to sharing it with the world. It’s not going to appeal to everyone but I think the folks that grok it will really like it.

The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.

Stephen Mitchell described the concept of wu wei in his awesome translation of the Tao Te Ching. He wrote, “The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.” Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path is designed to keep players engaged and in the flow. It’s all about give and take between the players and the environment of the game. It is at once a model and an expression of wu wei. Designing and packaging the game, mass production, and creating a business are a part of that expression because they were required to bring the idea to fruition. If you have an idea that you want to keep alive or you have something worth expressing, put your whole heart into it and keep moving forward until that idea has a chance to blossom. This part of the journey has definitely been the long uphill climb. Some of it felt like scaling a cliff. I think we’re finally approaching the second coming of the fun part.

I’m really excited to hear about people playing the game (particularly my backers that have been waiting for the game for years). I can’t wait to chat about the concept of wu wei, board game mechanics, and martial arts. I can’t wait to have the game in my hands. It’s going to be a lot of work but I’m really looking forward to making game-play videos and translating the rule book into different languages. As long as the journey has already been for me and the backers, it is really just beginning for Wu Wei: Journey of the Changing Path and for Gray Wolf Games. I don’t remember what happens at the end of Oregon Trail. Hopefully it’s not cannibalism. I guess we’ll see!