Universal Components For Board Games
The idea behind universal components for board games is a standardized list of common board game components. For most people in the board game hobby, there is never a lack of spare board game pieces laying about. If anything, the majority of board game collectors will have duplicates of many standard board game components. Yet, new game after new game maufactures and charges for components every game already has. Games using the standard would essentially be a generic form of board game. This system would not intend to replace current board game but create a cheaper generic class.
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The concept of a standardized universal component list could allow manufacturers to produce new games without all new components. If the new game will already use a component on the standardized list, a set amount pf standard pawns for example, it could omit them from the game and simply state Univeral Pawns. The gamer buying the game can use a set of pawns they already have, eliminating the need to produce, and eventually throw away, more. These games would not be suitable for first board game purchases or gifts unless you knew the person was a board gamer. Giving a game like this as a b’day gift to a 12 year old could leave them with a game they couldnt play.
Naturally almost all games will have some unique components. There will certainly be games in which all the components are unique and none would be on the standardize list of universal components. But a large percentage of games would have the ability to use some part of the universal component list. So let’s start by creating a simple list of four fairly standard components.
Pawns(72 – 6 colors): There will debate no matter the amount of players or the amount of pawns suggested. So I am going to throw out there 72 pawns, 6 colors, 12 of each color. You could certainly argue for just 4 colors or as many as 8. And honestly, what the ideal amount of standard pawns would be is really arbitrary in many ways, so I just used a dozen. I have to believe as of this minute, the world has all the pawns it needs to play games. We really don’t need new ones in each game.
Dice(5 or 10 sets of standard polyhedral set): Again I am not sure of the ideal amount, but a standard set of polyhedral dice(d4, d6, d8, d10, d10%, d12, d20) goes a long way. Several sets should cover most occassions. Tossing in helpful dice like d16, d24, d30, d60 and having extras of populars ones(d6) would supplement the universal set. Standard polyhedral dice can actually be one of the more expensive components in a game. If a game has a polyhedral die that cost $0.10, the end cost to a buyer is $0.50. So games with lots of polyhedral dice tend to be fairly expensive.
Coins/chips(3-5 colors/types, 50-100 of each type): Coins/chips can be used as both markers and money. Players who play a lot of games with monetary economies may need to have more than the standardized amount. However one good set of chips or coins can replace almost all crappy sets of chips and coins that a gamer ends up paying for in each new game.
Gems/Cubes(12 colors, 50-100 per color): If the chips/coins are being used for money, most games may require some component to be used as a counter or marker. Cheap gems or cubes can be used for this purpose. I would guess around 8-10mm might be ideal but perhaps some ranges of sizes within the gems/cubes would allow for even more flexibilty.
A manufacturer/publisher/designer can use the Univeral Component standards to alert gamers/buyers that instead of putting 40 pawns into the game, the player can just use the univeral component set. The publisher can list on the box and in info that the game using Univesal Pawn Set. This may save $1.00 in production costs which ends up being about $5 in game cost or MSRP. However, publishers wouldn’t lose any margin. They are still charging the same 5x cost for the game.
Gamers could construct their own universal component set using games they already have. Whatever pieces you pulled out of a game to be part of the universal set you can simply put back in when you play it. In addition, I am sure there would be, or are, universal component sets that would be packaged and sold for a nominal one time cost.
Any game using any of the 4 above components could probably save anywhere from $1 -$5 in production costs, which could reduce the game price by $5 – $25. The would be no loss of margin from the production side. The game that would have cost $10 to make with pawns in it and sold for $50, now costs $8 to make and can sell for $40. Gamers would save money. The Earth would be given a small break.
Now I will tell you why I think it will NEVER be adopted by major publishers.
Publishers wouldn’t lose any margin, but they would lose the gross profit. If a game has a net margin of say 30%, a game that costs $40 nets $12. A game that costs $50, nets $15. Thus the $10 saved by using universal components and not producing them, costs the publisher $3 in profits they get by putting the pawns, dice, and counters you already have in the game.
Again this is when using equivalent net margins. But let’s take it another step.
Clearly the $50 game costs $10 to make, and the $40 game on $8 to make. But the $50 game has $40 of gross margin(cost it sells for minus cost to make), and the $40 game only $32.
The publisher can use $25 of the remaining $40 of the game for other costs or discounts and still end up with $15, or 30% net margin.
On the $40 game, the publisher only has $20 of the remaining $32 to spend and still end up with $12, or 30% net margin.
To keep the same $15 they get from the $50 game, the publisher would only be able to spend $17 of the remaining $32 of the $40 game. Either way you can see there is going to be less money to use to discount, promote, fulfill, etc… the $40 game than there will be for the $50 game. So putting in the redundent components, and charging for them, is best for a publisher.
Just like the idea of using spider graphs to give gamers more info about games via one standardized system, the universal component standardization would require cooperation and adoption by major publishers. Hopefully they could look at it as a save the Earth initiative to help reduce the manufacturer, and later disposal, of game components we already have in the billions. Unfortunately, if they look at it from a business decision, gamers should continue to expect to find the same old pawns, dice, chips and counters in every new game they buy.