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

Step 10: Pretty up your Prototype: Stage 2 – Tools and Supplies part 2

Continuing the list of tools and supplies you’ll need to make a good looking prototype!

Cubes: If you go to a school supply store you should be able to buy a tub of 1cm multi-coloured plastic cubes.  This will cost you around $25-$30 and will be your supply of pieces for over a dozen games.  These cubes can be used as character markers, resources or money.  I also found some 2 cm wooden cubes that came in many colours at a dollar store.  Having cubes in two different sizes has helped in numerous games!

Poker Chips: Poker chips (the cheaper small ones) make for great money in a game, and they usually come in different colours too.  You could use cubes if you don’t need cubes for other things, but if we are using cubes to indicate player markers, then it would be confusing to players if cubes were also used for money – even if they were different colours.

Pawns: Pawns seem to be the hardest thing to come by.  Sure there are plenty of places online to buy them, and I really should dive in and buy a bunch in different colours, but they’re hard to find in stores.  It should be pretty obvious that pawns are needed in a lot of games.  Again you could use cubes (and sometimes we do), but if cubes are already representing something else, then pawns are needed.

Stones: Not mandatory at all, but we have found that using these pretty gem stones add some class to a prototype.  Usually we end up just using cubes, but for Rune Masters the stones seemed to make more sense for one component that we called Rune Stones (why would we use cubes for that!?).

Misc pieces: For our 5th or 6th prototype for Santorini we changed how resources were being shipped and resources had to be placed directly onto ships instead of ‘jumping’ from one island to another.  Up until then our ships were just pawns, so we had to make some ships which we did out of gluing some popsicle sticks together.  It was serendipitous that popsicle sticks are also 1cm wide as that allowed us to even create side ridges on our ships so that the 1cm resource cubes could snugly fit in the ships – very cool!

Tools we bought that we thought we needed but we don’t really:

Corner Rounder: We had a couple games where we thought the professional looking rounded edges of some of the components would take it over the top.  It did make some of the prototypes look pretty sweet, but we just didn’t end up using it that much to make it worthwhile.

Die Cutter: We had one game that we needed to make a bunch of similarly shaped tags out of plastic and cutting them by hand seemed ridiculous, so we got a die cutter.  Yeah, not so great a purchase!  It was fine for that one game, but we never used it again.

Once the game is nearing its final stages of life and is ready to be shown to a publisher, then it’s time to make an amazing prototype!  For now it’s important to understand that you will probably still make 5-20 more prototypes of each game before sending it to a Publisher, so no need to spend too much time.

So how far is too far?  Well, I met one game designer who had a party game designed.  The prototyped looked amazing as each of the cards had a printed front and back to them – and they were all professionally laminated.  I was impressed for sure.  We played the game and gave our feedback and the next time I saw him he had his game again – but this time with a whole new prototype.  All the cards were brand new – but they looked as professional as they did before.  I saw him two more times and both times he had another brand new professionally made prototype.  He must have spent a lot of money getting these prototypes made.  I asked him why he spends so much money on getting them made and his answer was that he always thought that the next prototype was going to be the last prototype.  While we all hope that will be the case for each of us, experience tells me (and hopefully that guy by now!) that there is almost always going to be one more prototype to be made!

For our first game we ever made, Top Shelf, Sen and I spent a lot of time making an amazing looking prototype!  We made the board and affixed it to cardboard so that it folded like a real board!  Then we affixed each tile to matte board and even affixed a backing to each tile so that it had the logo for the game on the back!  Then we even ‘sanded’ down the edges of the tiles so they … hmmm…not sure why we did that!  They looked cooler though!  It was too much of course and when we had to make our next prototype of that game it was much simpler.

-Jay Cormier

(and yes, I realize how silly the title of this blog post is: Step 10, Stage 2, Part 2…!)

If anyone has links to share of part/bit suppliers, please share! I’ll look through mine and post later.

But, to respond/add to this post, here are my additions to the list:

STORAGE

I would say another essential bit of gear is a good “bit box” – something to store all your cubes, dice, etc. in an organized, sorted fashion. Jay and I both use things that were probably intended for hardware (nails and screws, etc.) Mine has a handle and 4 trays that pull out, each with customizable sections. I use them to put everything in one neat cube of game design bits.

COLOURING/DRAWING TOOLS

We use Sharpies a lot. Also wood stain markers, acrylic paints, spray primer, pencil crayons, etc. Other “must have” drawing tools include a good metal rule, erasers, pencil sharpeners. Some tools we have used on the rare occasion include number and letter stencils or stamps for use on plastic or wooden bits that we can’t print on. Not everything can be loaded in Tray 1 of the laser printer!

ADHESIVES

Stick glue and spray adhesives are used a lot to make the final prototype. I use that bluetack stuff to cobble pieces together from time to time, to hold tiles to map boards more permanently, etc.

DICE

Self-explanatory – we have a plethora of polyhedra dice at our disposal. Like any good game geeks should. Jay and I don’t use a ton of dice, by nature (Jay has diceaphobia, or maybe he’s a dicist, I’m not sure), but it helps to have some methods of randomly generating numbers around!

BAGS

Helpful for storage as well as randomizing tiles or cubes and keeping them hidden from view. Great for games like “Santorini” to keep resource cubes random or for “Scene of the Crime” to keep the clue tiles hidden from view.

OTHER CUTTING TOOLS

I have a Dremel that I use to cut, grind, and rout wood blocks, mostly – I also have a coping saw for cutting small metal rods/tubes or harder woods and plastics. Both were invaluable for creating “Junkyard”.

OTHER STUFF

Some components are very dependent on the game you’re making – like magnets, push pin flags, etc, – but, like Jay said, we will often find stuff that we think is cool and just grab them in the event that they might come in handy someday! If they come in many different colours (at least the game standards like red/blue/green/yellow), it’s a pretty sure bet, I’ll purchase enough to make a set of 10 of each.

OTHER TOOLS WE HAVE BUT RARELY USE

The only other one that comes to mind is my sticker maker.

ONE MORE THING

re: How many prototypes to make…while you will be making maaaaany versions to get to your final, sometimes, you will need to make a few of the final versions, especially if you have an agent who may wish to show your game to a prospective publisher and leave a prototype with them while the agent sets up the next meeting with another publisher. Note that some agents may not show a game to a second publisheruntil the first publisher has exercised their “right of first refusal”, but it’s always good to have an extra prototype versus having to scramble to make a whole other copy at the last minute. Not that we’ve ever had to do that ourselves…

-Sen-Foong Lim