Ningbo Lijia: Factory Tour

Ningbo Lijia does the printing for a few games you might have heard of: Monopoly. Twister. Recently, they’ve been making overtures to publishers of Kickstarted games and Eurogames.

A quick aside, about the name:

Ningbo Lijia is “Lijia” for short. Ningbo’s the name of the city they’re located in. “Lijia” is their proper name. This is how placenames go in Chinese: You zoom in, from the broadest to the most specific. So saying “Ningbo Lijia” in Mandarin makes sense the same way saying “Honda of Brooklyn” would in English.

If you’ve published before, you might have Lijia parts in your game without knowing it. Several other publishers turn to Lijia to do their plastics, meeples, custom dice, and more exotic components.

Meeples.

Meeples.

Dice, shaker cups, and other plastics.

Dice, shaker cups, and other plastics.

From what I’ve seen – and short hours forced us to cut our tour short, so I can’t speak to all of Lijia’s qualities – this is Lijia’s big strength. They’ve been asked to make any number of exotic game parts before. Large plastic boards, metal tins, rubberized play mats, and stranger things.

Here's Melinda showing one of those unusual game bits: a rubberized mat. You'll likely end up talking to Melinda. She has the best English of the crew I met at Lijia.

Here’s Melinda showing one of those unusual game bits: a rubberized mat. You’ll likely end up talking to Melinda. She has the best English of the crew I met at Lijia.

Like I said, the tour was on the brief side. My hostel was hard to find, but the driver they sent to pick me up persisted and eventually found me. We met at their new corporate HQ – Lijia just moved their office workers out of the factory recently. There was a tea ceremony where the first cup was poured over a frog idol to bless our fortunes together.

Somewhere in the middle of that, I got to see their showroom of games they’ve made. It’s an extensive display.

One small corner of a large showroom.

One small corner of a large showroom.

From there, we toured the first of three workshops: The paper workshop. Here, Lijia keeps their own 5-color offset printer, the heart of their printing operations. There’s a variety of die cutting machines, one laminator, and numerous hand-work tables that follow from the work the main offset printer starts.

The heart of Lijia's print operations: A 5-color offset print stack.

The heart of Lijia’s print operations: A 5-color offset print stack.

Prints being proofed. Below, you can see one of the 5 master plates that applied one color. Getting these to all line up is a big part of getting the print right.

Prints being proofed. Below, you can see one of the 5 master plates that applied one color. Getting these to all line up is a big part of getting the print right.

 

Lijia's lamination machine.

Lijia’s lamination machine.

 

There are two whole workshops I didn’t get to see on account of short hours with Lijia: The woodworks and the plastics workshop. Boo. Most game factories don’t even have those sections, outsourcing their production needs to others. Lijia is usual for having them in-house. Unfortunately, no report on those, ’cause I never got to see them.

An Overview of Lijia’s Strengths:

  • Capacity: Lijia routinely turns out hundreds of thousands of copies of mass-market games.
  • Component manufacture in house: Pretty much all game companies do final assembly in house. Many do printing in-house, too. But doing plastics and wood in-house is unusual. This, and the long list of stranger things Lijia has sourced for game publishers might be their biggest strength.

In Working With Lijia, I would Take Extra Time On:

  • Talking with them about quality expectations, component by component. I’m a big fan of the Eurogames look. Lijia does the bulk of their business in mass market games, like Monopoly, Twister, and others. These games are more optimized for low cost. I’d take time to talk with Lijia component by component, making sure we were on the same page making a games at a quality level that’s going to look right at Essen Spieltage, rather than a game that can be priced for big box stores.


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