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

Step 10: Pretty up your Prototype: Stage 2 – Tools and Supplies part 1

Besides a computer, a game designer is going to need a few more tools to help make everything easier.  This post got too big so I separated it into two smaller posts (but they’re both still kind of big!).

Cue Cards: Perfect for making your first prototype.  They’re thick enough to ensure you can’t see too much through them.

card sleevesCard Sleeves: We always have a huge supply of card sleeves at the ready.  Card sleeves allow you to slide your prototype card into it and since they have an opaque backing, you cannot see through them at all. Also they make shuffling really easy!  You can buy these at a hobby or game store (wherever they sell collectible card games). It’s good to have a selection of different colours in case you make a game that has different decks of cards in it. (tip: make sure you print cards to fit inside your sleeves.  Sounds obvious – but there are a couple different sizes of card sleeves, so just make sure you know which size you have before you print your prototype!  (In case it didn’t sound obvious, this is coming from a man who learned this the hard way!)

Card Boxes: Card boxes help keep our games separate and tidy.  It’s not mandatory of course, but if you’re transporting your games all over the place (or even when shipping to a publisher), some sort of card box is handy.  They also come in different colours which helps keep different deck distinguishable even before you open the box.

Colour Laser Printer: Both Sen and I each have a colour laser printer which is pretty mandatory if you plan on designing a lot of games.  Inkjets cost too much and you’re replacing cartridges too often, but lasers give great quality for clipart based printing.

Cardstock: We always print on a thicker card stock as that gives the cards some weight and prevents the cards or even the board from being disrupted by a slight breeze. We also have a supply of multi-coloured cardstock as that helps distinguish between different decks of cards in the same game more easily.  For our game, But Wait, There’s More, the cards are business card sized, for which there are no card sleeves.  Since there isn’t much shuffling in the game, we decided to print on multi-coloured cardstock.  There are 4 different types of cards and each one has a different colour, which makes them easier to sort and easier for players to identify.

Paper Cutter: You are going to be doing a lot of printing and a lot of cutting!  Get a decent paper cutter otherwise you’ll go insane cutting cards with an X-acto knife!  I prefer the sliding paper cutter as opposed to the old fashioned long-arm cutter as the long-arm cutter can often cause paper to be mis-aligned.

X-acto knife, metal ruler and Cutting board: That said, you’re still going to need an X-acto knife, a metal ruler and a cutting board for smaller or irregular shaped pieces.  We don’t use it as often as our paper cutter, but it’s still used enough to make it mandatory.

Matte board: Matte board is great for making games that have small tiles in it.  If you print tiles on cardstock and don’t affix it to matte board then you’re going to find that the tiles will float around on your table because they have no weight.  Matte board can be purchased from any framing store and sometimes they might even give you some for free as they often have no need for the areas they cut away.  The benefits of matte board are that you can get different colours in case you need tiles with different backs, it’s got a good weight without being too thick, and it can be cut by pretty much every paper cutter out there.

One game we made early on called Scene of the Crime involved placing Scrabble sized tiles onto a board.  We printed the page or two of tiles and spray glued these onto matte board, then cut them with a paper cutter.  This made our prototype way more playable and even added to the fun factor (or at least reduced the frustration factor!).

Stay tuned for the next post as it will continue the list of tools of supplies needed to make a prototype.

-Jay Cormier

For those of you who don’t know, matte board is the stuff used in picture frames to provide a border.

My paper cutter is worse than Jay’s because it locks down before each cut – you’d think this would be a benefit, but it’s not! When you’re cutting hundreds of cards, it’s nice to go fast – we put things in the card sleeves anyway, so perfect cuts aren’t as important.

The other nice thing about card sleeves is that they come in myriad colours, so you can keep your decks separated in a multi-deck game – makes for much easier sorting come game end.

I’ll wait to see what else you’re going to post before I add more to the list…I wonder what other designers find essential?

-Sen-Foong Lim