Organizing Your Game Design Space


One aspect of game design that doesn’t get talked about a lot is organization. It’s possible that this has heightened importance since I live in a space-starved home in Vancouver, but I think all designers need to have a certain amount of organization. When you first start out making games, you purchase (or find!) the components you need for that game. But as you start to accumulate bits and pieces, you quickly realize that you need some sort of place to keep your components.

Often designers start out by using tool boxes or craft storage boxes as they both have many compartments to help you keep your differently shaped pieces separate. This makes it quite a bit easier when you need specific pieces – you can just go to that compartment and get what you need. These boxes also have another benefit – portability. If you find that you’re often going to other places to design games, then portability is going to be important to you. I only design at my home, and I’ve found that since we’re designing more and more games, my need to keep my components accessible has increased. So let’s take a look at the various ways I keep my stuff in order!

We’ll start with card sleeves. This is probable the most used component in all of game design for me. Often after a playtest that didn’t work, we have to totally change an entire card set – and instead of de-sleeving and re-sleeving, I have found that I have just made a new deck with new sleeves. This means that I get a pile-up of old prototypes that no longer work but are still consuming my sleeves. So every once in awhile I spend an hour or so de-sleeving all my old prototypes.

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Here are all the garbage old prototype cards that no longer need sleeves! You can see our prototype of Akrotiri and Orphan Black in here!

So then where do I put the sleeves? Well, I use a regular cardboard card organizer that one would use for Magic cards. I sort everything by colour which makes it easy to get what I want. One thing I do wish – I wish I only ever bought one brand of card sleeves. You can see that in some colours that there are many different groups. That’s because even though they’re all BLACK – they’re all a different BLACK! So I couldn’t use them in the same deck.

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Next up is all my bits! I’m pretty lucky because I found this amazing piece of furniture at a store that was closing down. It’s looks beautiful and it’s amazingly functional for my needs.

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Each drawer holds some amazing goodies for a game designer. Let’s take a look at each row of drawers.

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The top left drawer is for coloured wooden discs and coloured wooden cubes. My supply of wooden cubes is ridiculously low. I’ll have to go get some more! They are very useful when you need to make your own dice for a prototype!

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The top right drawer is for bags (like dice or chit bags) and trays.

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The next row I have a small drawer just for sand timers and then a large but thin drawer for dice!

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The next row I have an empty drawer on the left due to my clean-out yesterday (so I’ve put what I always use as money in games…actual money!). The middle drawer is all my sharpies and other markers. The right drawer is all my cutting and glueing supplies.

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The left drawer is all plastic pieces like pawns, standees, gems and other plastic doodads. The middle drawer is wood! Large coloured wooden cubes, small cubes, square wooden tokens, circle wooden tokens. And the right drawer is colour sorted wooden bits. In here there are 6 separate containers – one for each colour – full of similarly shaped wooden bits that I got from Fantasy Flight. Then I stuffed a bag of wooden cubes in there as well.

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Cubes! Probably my second most used prototyping tool I use – coloured plastic cubes. I find it imperative that these cubes be sorted based on colour. It makes prototyping so much easier. Often I’ll be leaving for a game night and forget that I need X number of a specific colour – and I can quickly grab what I need. I change the size of the compartments based on how many cubes of each colour that I have.

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The small leftmost drawer is just for elastics! The middle drawer is for tools I use – like the Crop-o-dile that makes rivets so you can make dials. The right drawer is my meeple drawer – again sorted by colour.

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This is the hardest drawer to keep clean. This is my baggie drawer. Right now it’s perfect! I put baggies of the same size in a another baggie of that size – so it’s easy to grab the size you want. But it gets super messy when I put baggies back as I’m not often as diligent in putting them back in the baggie they came from!

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There are still more drawers? Yep! The one on the left is a bit of a mishmash of things. Some wooden bits and some plastic. Couldn’t find a more thematic place to fit these bits. The drawer on the right are all coloured sticks.

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OK this is the last drawer – I promise! The one on the left is all flat, round tokens. The one on the right is another mishmash of things.

So there you have it! That’s one way of keeping your bits organized. My drawers don’t always look this tidy as I just did a clean-out yesterday. It feels great to have all of these components at the ready. Makes prototyping a lot easier if I don’t have to leave my house to get a specific piece. The danger is that you start to buy components just because they’re cool and you think you’ll use them -for sure- in an upcoming game. There’s a fine balance to owning what you need and being prepared for the next game you’re going to make. I know I have a lot of things that I bought that I thought were cool – but I have never opened the package. I think I’ve settled down now though and am comfortable in how many components I have!

The third thing we have to keep organized is our prototypes. If you’re only working on one or two games at a time, then this isn’t as much of an issue. But Sen and I are often working on many games at one time – so we need a system. This is my system:

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I bought this drawer system from Ikea. The top three drawers are a bit thinner than the bottom three. Here’s how I use them:

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The top 2 drawers are full of games that are ready to be play tested right now. I could grab any of these and take out to test. Once things have been tested, then the second drawer is the on-deck drawer if the prototype needs some tweaking before being tested again. Right now I haven’t been to a test night for awhile due to summer vacations and my teaching schedule so both the top two drawers are full of games ready for testing!!

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The third drawer is for games that are broken and need some more attention. We’re not too sure how to fix these ones – but they seemed close at one point!

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The next drawer is full of prototypes of games that have been signed or are being assessed by publishers right now. I keep them here until they come out because you never know if you will be asked to test another aspect of the game.

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The bottom two drawers are for games that we have currently abandoned. Some are super old but we have some games in here that are worth re-visiting from time to time. Often a game gets dumped in here if we can’t figure out how to make the game special and different. We have dug games out of these drawers and changed them up to make a totally new game later on! Never throw away a prototype!

So how do you keep your bits and pieces organized? Let me know in the comments below!

-Jay Cormier

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2 thoughts on “Organizing Your Game Design Space

  1. This is fantastic! I love that piece of furniture. What a nice find that was. I store all my prototypes in their own Sterilite bin and make sure they are labeled. I also have a drawer of just dice and cubes. I have a second drawer of blank components like cards and chits. Thanks for the nice article about organizing your game design stuff.

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    • No problem Ed! You actually label your bins too? That’s hardcore! 🙂 I definitely went overboard on some of my purchases! Every year at the Gathering of Friends they do a Piece Drop – where some supporting publishers bring components they have lying around – and we all crowd around like vultures!! So I have a bunch of weird things from that in there too.

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