Game Design: Starter Prototyping Tools
I recently asked myself the following question: “If I were to start over with game design, which prototyping tools would I buy to get started?” I’ve made numerous prototypes and I’ve learned what to do and what not to do. So today I present a set of prototyping tools to help get you started as a game designer.
When I got started out I didn’t want to throw a lot of money at prototypes. This was because I had no idea if the prototypes would ever actually go anywhere. I was fortunate to have a wife who used to do physical scrapbooking. So I had some tools available to me that wouldn’t have otherwise been available.
Never-the-less, there are some key tools and resources that I think every game designer can utilize to make high quality prototypes at low(ish) cost and with relative ease. For the sake of this article I will assume that you can print on photo paper (I recommend Kodak 8.5×11 – 100 sheets).
Game Prototyping Resources
First, let’s cover where to get some basic resource type things. These are my go-to retailers for these items:
- CUBES: 1,000 1cm cubes from EAI Education for $16.95
- MEEPLES: Avatar pawns from TheGameCrafter.com for $0.15 each
- DICE: Buy a set of Tenzi dice! (Or search Amazon or eBay)
- CARDS: Blank Cards – Different Sizes – from TheGameCrafter.com
Game Prototyping Tools
Things that are not mentioned above include boards, tiles, tokens, reference sheets, rulebooks, and more. I generally use the same process to make all of those except a rulebook. I don’t typically make a rulebook.
To make my prototype components feel like high quality I purchase the following materials:
- Matte board remnants from Hobby Lobby for super cheap. You can get a stack of about 25 12″x12″ matte boards for about $6.
- Kodak Photo Paper (100 sheets for ~ $15)
- Non-OEM ink for my inkjet printer via eBay. (I bought 5 full sets of ink cartridges for ~$20)
- Glue Sticks – you’ll want to keep several on hand.
I often create artwork and then print it on the photo paper. I glue it down to the matte board. Then I break out my most highly recommended tool: The Rotary Cutter!
The Rotary Cutter
This has been my most-used tool for creating game prototypes.
I have a Fiskars rotary cutter similar to the one shown in the picture. You can buy it here:
It isn’t the best cutter. You can pay a lot more money for better cutters. But it does exactly what I need it to do for my prototypes. Other cutter options include:
There are more options than those, so if you don’t like those options feel free to do more thorough searching.
I use this tool to cut out the components that have been printed and glued to the matter board. This cutter works well enough for that.
Other great tools for designers are punches. These are used to quickly create tokens and chits. When I create tokens and chits I usually prefer printing the artwork onto thicker stock paper so they are more rigid. 90lb or 100lb paper is usually a good weight.
There are a plethora of different punches out there, but for the sake of board games you’ll most likely be interested in circle and hex punches and corner rounders. Here are some options.
- Fiskars Squeeze Punches
- Fiskars Lever Punches
- Fiskars Corner Rounders
- List of Punches on Scrapbook.com
As before, go ahead and do some more searching to find the right product for you.
I am firmly in the Sharpie camp. I love them. They are bold, colorful, and extremely useful. Sharpies can be used to create prototype components rapidly, especially in the case where you own blank cards because you took my recommendation above.
By having a variety of Sharpies you become an unstoppable force of game design awesomeness!
I use them to create prototypes. I use them to mark up my prototypes. I use them to revise my prototypes. I use them to draw silly pictures for my kids.
Seriously, Sharpies are fantastic. I feel they are a must-have for any game designer, if for no other reason than to be able to practice your signature for the time when lovers of your games will ask for your autograph for their game box!
I feel like this article needs more tools in it, but those are the only tools I utilize on a regular basis. Are there prototyping tools that you use regularly? Post a comment and let everyone know which prototyping tools you prefer!
Posted on November 14, 2014, in Game Design, Prototyping and tagged board game design, board games, game design, game design process, game prototyping, prototyping, prototyping tools, punches, rotary cutter. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.
So to make your game board, do you glue printed paper onto it in segments or do you print out on large-size paper and glue the entire sheet to it? I was looking at the Game Crafters boards and wondering if you could comment on using those. Thanks!
For boards I still print on 8.5×11 sheets and then glue those segments to the matte board. I’ve found it difficult to produce board rapidly, though. I’ve seen plenty of boards made by The Game Crafter and they are always very good quality.
Agreed Game Crafter is solid quality but doesn’t always give you the sizing you need. This is particularly true if you’re board standard is a “Ticket to Ride” size board. There is a really neat article here about a BGG fan that made a Ticket to Ride board with The Game Crafter using smaller boards and piecing them together. It looks like it turned out pretty well but suffered from text on creases. Link is here.
+1 to all of this. Also, stock up on random boxes from expansions, shoe boxes or puzzle boxes from thrift stores.
If you’re going to go to a printed prototype, a way to set up your work digitally is needed. I use PhotoShop Elements, which is often available for $70. It’s not for the casual, once-in-a-blue-moon user – you need to know how to handle layers. But it is quite good in the layout of art and text.
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