The Story of Ion Game Design and High Frontier 4 All

The Story of Ion Game Design and High Frontier 4 All

The Story of Ion Game Design and High Frontier 4 All

👏 Crowdfunding

Jon Manker

Co-designer of High Frontier 4 All

Ion Game Design

High Frontier is a game of uncompromising hard science, but with an emphasis on narrative experiences. This has the effect of creating unscripted stories while playing against the harsh realities of space as much as against opponents. You will not find a more detailed map of the solar system anywhere, and the physics is real enough that you feel part of real stories and missions

🇸🇪 Stockholm, Sweden

📅  2014

🏆 1 Founder

💵 N/A

The Story of Ion Game Design and the game High Frontier 4 All told by Co-designer Jon Manker!


Who are you and what game did you create?

My name is Jon Manker and I’m the Lead Game Designer at Ion Game Design. These are the games that I have worked on as a game designer or game co designer)

    • Bios: Genesis (solo/coop rules)
    • Bios: Megafauna (Second Edition) (co-designer)
    • Bios: Origins (co-designer)
    • Children’s Business
    • Crusader Kings (co-designer)
    • Expedition Zetta
    • Expedition Zetta: Andromeda
    • Greenland (solo and co-op rules)
    • Greenland: Sea Sámi
    • High Frontier 4 All (co-designer)
    • HIRÞ: The Viking Game of Royal Conflict
    • Neanderthal (solo and coop rules)
    • PAX:Transhumanity (solo rules) 

What does a typical day look like for you at work?

I try to get some design work on any of the 2-3 current projects done at the start of the day. I work best in the mornings. Usually there are many questions from the design team during the day that I take care of. I also deal with many questions from the development team (they take the game from ready design to manufactured copies). And some questions from the sales and fulfillment team. In addition to that emails and forums needs to be attended too. I try to have formalized longer playtest sessions every other week with the team and more informal playtesting during lunches.

Do you have any partners or employees?

Yes in various arrangements. There are at the moment 12 people involved in Ion Game Design on a regular basis. Not all of them full time though.

What type of games do you make?

At Ion Game Design we have two labels: 

ION:SMG – Hobby/Enthusiast segment boardgames. Heavier game systems with a clear link to reality. We do not only dress the game accordingly but tailor the mechanics based on the reality we want to portray. The focus is on making fun games, not simulations, but keeping this reality link. And through doing so foster unscripted narratives through the gameplay.

ION:LIGHT – Lighter games, aiming for 2.5 or lower in BGG complexity rating. But still with the link to reality, both in backdrop and mechanics design. And through that in unscripted narrative generation.

What experience did you have creating games early in life?

 I designed games as a child. I designed tabletop roleplaying games as a teen. I run a web company in my twenties where we included many games in our web solutions. In my thirties I worked at Södertörn university doing research on game design and starting a bachelor degree programme in game development (called “The Game Programme”). In my forties I worked at Paradox Studios (digital game company doing grand strategy games) before starting Ion Game Design. 

Game design Process

Walk us through the process of creating the game.

Our games go through a 9-step life cycle

Idea: Just a glimmer in someone’s head. Remains here until a first playable prototype is made.

Design: The game is designed from the first prototype, through per-alpha and alpha (feature complete) stages.

Development: When the game enter beta-stage (asset complete) the design team hands it over to the development and manufacturing team who makes art, layout, print testing etc and prepares the files for manufacturing. 

Kickstarter: Some time during development we introduce the game to the public via a Kickstarter project.

Manufacturing: The game is being manufactured, sometimes in various language versions depending on if we have any licence takers for it.

Fulfillment: When the game exists as physical copies, printed at the factory, the development team hands it over to the fulfillment, sales and PR-team. They make sure it is delivered to any backers, pre-order customers, distributors and stores that have ordered it. They transport all games to warehouses in different countries. The configuration of warehouses is made and modified in order to minimize shipping costs and customs fees for the end customers.

Sales: When the game have reached the warehouses they are continuously being offered to end customers through our web store and to distributors and stores through b2b sales.

Reprint: When a game is running low in our stock we decide if we will reprint it or decommission it. If we reprint we also decide weather to just make a straight reprint or if we are going to implement any changes, in which case it is a new edition.

Decommissioned: The Game is no longer supported, developed or alive. We have left this game in the care of the memories.

Step 1 can last any amount of time

Step 2 usually lasts 6-12 months

Step 3-6 usually last 6-9 months

Step 7-8 usually last 3-6 years. Our games have a comparatively long tail

Game Marketing

What are some of the most effective ways that you attract people to your game?

I have a decent amount of followers on Instagram, for a game designer (about 5000). I also post news on Facebook and nurture a network on LinkedIn, including writing occasional articles there. But for the most part the PR is handled by Ion Game Design as a company. Attending fairs is the most important b2b activity and Kickstarter is the most important b2c activity in this regard.

Tell us about your Kickstarter for High Frontier 4.

The High Frontier 4 All kickstarter was launched during the Essen Spiel 2019 and went on for 3 weeks. We have done a number of kickstarters by now and start to learn a few things that are important or works well when it comes to boardgame kickstarters. 3½ weeks seems to be the best length. You should spread the word in communities about the upcoming kickstarter a few months in advance. Make sure to reply to comments at least once per day and send updates every 3 days during the campaign and every 3 weeks after the kickstarter until fulfillment is done.

Did you do any other advertising?

We advertise on BGG and we work together with the youtube channel Heavy Cardboard in making teachings and play throughs available and spread the wort to their network. Attendance at fairs is also important as advertisement.


What are your sources of inspiration?

Since we do games based on reality many fact books and web sites serve as important sources of information for me when I design games. General inspiration and ideas comes constantly in everyday life. Since games are my primary creative outlet the creative/art ideas I get tend to be game ideas.

It is always good to learn from other’s experience. And it is both good for our games and interesting for me personally top study the subject on which a game is made.

As with other inspiration I have many small sources rather than a few large ones. I am generally inspired by people who dare to take the path that their dreams points towards, who thinks for themselves and who believe in their own importance and possibility to make a difference.

Overcoming Challenges

What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?

In Ion Game Designs business history I believe the biggest challenge was to narrow down our focus. At the start we also made app games, we offered game services to PR companies and had ambitions towards making collaborative projects with academic research. These are still possible but not the main focus anymore. They only become a potential activity if they align with the design and development of boardgames that follow our style.

How did you overcome it?

By being true to my dream and by including great collaborators in the team one by one (not to rapidly)

What did you learn from it?

That focus in area of activity and spreading of responsibility are important steps towards success.

Did you have any previous business failures?

Not a failure really but I had a web company for five years that I ultimately chose to dismantle. Mainly because the web industry lost its magic to me. But it was a learning process and it was a choice.

Final Thoughts

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs or game creators?

Make sure you have the basic money you need (this can come both extra income and reduction of costs in your life). Embrace that working with games is a passion, not something you do to get rich. If you want to earn a lot of money your should focus on working with money. Not games. With this mindset you can aim towards making the games that you have a passion for. Let this process take its time. You will have a higher chance of success. And if you succeed you will be working with your absolute passion.

If I would have done things differently, I would have focused on games earlier in life. Focused on boardgames earlier in Ion Game Designs life. But for the most part I am pleased with what I have achieved so far. The plans for the future are  ambitious, and I have the patience to let them grow steady and securely.

How are things today and what are your plans for the future?

I would say that Kickstarter brings about 50% of our income and other sales, including licensing, distribution and webshop to end customer bring in the other 50%. However we plan to increase the sales to distributors, retailers and licensing as well as post kickstarter sales from pledge managers to make Kickstarter represent about 33% of our sales.

We are planning to have a Kickstarter in April for PAX Renaissance, for 2-3 new modules for High Frontier and a still undisclosed game. We are building an organisation to in the future accomodate 2 kickstarters per year in the two labels we have (ION:SMG and ION:LIGHT)

Where can we learn more?

And also at Heavy Cardboard if you search for our games at their page:

We are actively looking for companies interested in licencing and publishing our games in languages other than English. Anybody interested in doing so can contact Pål at

We are also always accepting submissions of game ideas from external designers who think their game would be something for Ion Game Design can do so here: 

We regularly accept interns selected from the applications we get. If you have a passion for boardgames and would like to be considered for an internship at Ion, contact Besime at 

We are a growing company, and as such hire new staff when the need comes. The way into a game company is usually through participating in other activities at the company and growing into the team gradually. But you are always welcome to contact Besime at if you are interested in working with us somehow.