Making Elder Dice Happen (Part 2) - The Manufacturing Process

We have been asked to share a more about the production process for Elder Dice, and we are happy to do so. We have already blogged about how we came up with the initial idea for Elder Dice and made the first prototypes. Here, we will talk about the manufacturing process after the project is contracted with a manufacturer.

Following the Kickstarter, we finalized all the project’s digital files. For most things, the manufacturer provides a template for the files. The closer you can get your files to conform to the manufacturer’s specifications, the easier the process will be.

A project like Elder Dice involves coordinating a number of different subcontractors. Even when contracting with an overseas manufacturer (such as WinGo in the case of Elder Dice), that manufacturer will be responsible for coordinating all the necessary subcontractors. Subcontractors often create the component parts of the project. Then, the manufacturer is responsible for final assembly. In the case of Elder Dice, the subcontracted parts include the boxes and the dice themselves.

The important thing to remember when creating a project, is that the more unique it is, the more expensive the project will be and the more potential there is for something to go wrong and delay the project. In the case of Elder Dice, even though you might think that it is “just dice”, all of the dice require a custom plastic mixture to produce the colors we want. Custom injection molds also have to be made because the faces of the dice are unique.

Another special part of Elder Dice are the grimoire book boxes that the dice will be packaged in. Specialists in box manufacturing have been commissioned to create the Elder Dice boxes. The design of the grimoire boxes is a standard design the subcontractor is already set up to produce. Creating something completely custom would require additional set up charges and further expense. Having the boxes conform to an existing specification makes them easier to produce.

Box sampling comes in two varieties - the “white” and the color sample. The “white” is a physical mock-up of the box without any of the color printing. In previous Kickstarter campaigns I have run (War of Kings, Incantris, and all of the TerraTiles campaigns), the “white” was not all that important because the boxes were standard board game boxes of certain sizes. With Elder Dice, the white becomes much more critical because the packaging for Elder Dice is an important part of the product. We want to be certain it is sized correctly and opens and closes the way we want.

In most cases, the manufacturer will create a “manufacturer’s proof” that is as close to the finished product as is reasonably possible for the publisher’s approval before the project goes into mass production. In order to create the dice for the manufacture’s proof, colored plastic was shot into a steel mold of blank polyhedral dice on sprues. You can see these blank molds in action here:

When the dice come out of that mold, they are attached to sprues like this:

The dice are removed from the sprues.

Then they are polished.

For the manufacturer’s proof, the dice are laser etched with numbers and symbols. This is a very time consuming and manual process.


An early manufacturer's proof of Elder Sign Elder Dice laser etched by hand and in a sample box.

For a publisher, the amount of information that can be gathered from a manufacturer’s proof is sometimes less that you might like. With War of Kings, all the TerraTiles line, and even Incantris, the manufacture’s proof provided a lot of information about the contents of the box, its size and all of the components. With Elder Dice, the main things we were checking were the color-printed box prototypes, and the colors of the dice. The exact placement and alignment of the symbols were not something that we could critique because they were hand engraved. The dice created by the final molds will be much more precise.

It seems to make intuitive sense that the color sampling process and the mold-making process could be done simultaneously, but that is not the case. The color sampling must be completed first. This is because the engineers responsible for creating the final injection mold for the dice need to know exactly what materials will be injected into it. The material and pigment of the dice matter with regard to the physical construction for the mold. Therefore, mold production cannot begin until the final specifications for what exactly will be injected into the mold are ready. That is why the color sampling process must be completed before the mold-making process begins.

Once the color samples and the manufacturer’s proof are approved, the mold making process begins. Steel molds will be made for the dice that are similar to the ones that that produced the blank dice above, but this time with the correct symbols and numbers. Then mass production can begin.

- Heath Robinson
Follow Me on Twitter: @EHeathRobinson