Category Archives: Game Design
3D Printing for Game Prototypes
When I got started in game design I hunted all over the internet forums to find the best deals on game design components. I searched for meeples, cubes, blank cards, and more. And I ended up paying a bunch of money for those things. I wished I could afford a MakerBot or other 3D printer but I wasn’t willing to spend $1,500+ at the time.
Times have changed and huge advancements in 3D printing technology has allowed the prices to drop. This has opened the door for many designers to be able to purchase their own 3D printer for game design purposes.
Which 3D Printer?
This is probably the most common question that potential consumers have when it comes to 3D printers. There are so many printers on the market and so many ways to modify those 3D printers.
My recommendation for people getting into the 3D printing world is to start cheap and simple. Some thoughts are here:
- Stay at or below $250.
- Purchase one that is ready to use out of the box.
- Start with simple prints.
My Printer – Monoprice Select Mini
For my birthday last year I was gifted a Monoprice Select Mini 3D printer. It runs around $190. It also works right out of the box. The only adjustment required would be to level the bed. That just means that every part of the printing bed is equally distant from the nozzle when the nozzle is over that part of the bed.
This printer has been really great for me. I am currently using it to print some game design pieces for a vertical system in a game.
This printer is great for small game design components. The print volume is 12cm x 12cm x 12 cm. I have four different filaments so I can currently make components for games up to 4 players. With more filaments I could add more players.
What Filament to Use?
Most 3D printers use PLA, which is a plastic. PLA stands for Polyactic Acid. But don’t let the “acid” part scare you. This is just a common plastic material.
Other printers and some of the 3D Pens use ABS. ABS is Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene.
My printer uses the PLA. I purchase PLA on 1kg spools in whichever color I desire. I prefer the 3D Solutech brand but the Hatchbox products are also nice. Be careful when you purchase filament. They often list a +/- value of 0.05 or 0.03. Anything over these values may lead to poor print quality as it means the filament is not consistently thick.
One thing I recommend for getting started is to purchase a filament sample pack. Monoprice sells one but it is currently out of stock. I’m sure you could find an appropriate sample pack at your favorite online retailer.
What about the 3D Models?
I am an engineer so I happen to have access to 3D solid modeling software. But if you’re not an engineer and don’t have access, do not fear! There are numerous 3D modeling tools out there that are free to use. Unfortunately I cannot speak for any of then.
Ultimately, to print in 3D you will need a .STL or .gcode file. You can make your own 3D geometry and save in this format or you can visit some of the following websites with loads of 3D files readily available!
- Thingiverse – Free.
- MyMiniFactory – Free and Paid models available.
- Shapeways – Upload your model and someone will print it and mail it to you.
- YouMagine – Free.
What about Slicing Software?
3D printed models are printed one layer at a time. To be able to tell the 3D printer what to do you will need to utilize a 3D printing software that can generate a .gcode file from your .STL file. You can pay for software like Simplify3D ($149) or you can use a free one.
The software I prefer, because it is relatively easy to use and understand, is Ultimaker’s Cura software. When you install the software you tell it which printer you have. It then knows how large of a print area you have available and other settings specific to your printer.
Bits for Board Gamers
There is a great thread on BoardGameGeek about 3D printers. They share a lot of the same links that I’ve compiled on this page. On the thread you can see prints available for a lot of your favorite board games.
Now that you’ve got a great framework to get started in 3D printing, what are you waiting for? Please feel free to comment with your experiences in 3D printing for board games.
Different Approaches to Game Design
I’ve been messing around with half a dozen designs lately and I seem to be stuck on each and every one of them. The only design that is making progress is a co-design with a friend of mine. So I’ve been thinking about mixing it up to try some different approaches to designing game. Today I wanted to present four approaches that you can use as a starting point. I am going to try each of these four approaches over the next month and see if I find inspiration.
One of the most popular ways of starting out a game design is to choose a theme that you think is interesting.
This is a wide open way to design. You could choose to design about paratroopers rescuing chickens stranded on Antarctica. You could design about scuttlefish escaping sea urchins.
Going Theme First allows you to choose whatever you want the game to be about. Once you’ve chosen the theme you can then begin to consider the mechanics that might fit with the theme.
I personally like Theme First design. I like to picture myself immersed in the theme wondering what ways I can bring the theme together and make it feel like a grand experience.
This is probably the other most popular way of designing a game. The designer might come up with a really interesting way to play a game. This could be a new component, a new way of using a component, a new combination of mechanics, or other things that haven’t been done before. Or you could pick a mechanic that has been done before and add a twist.
Once you’ve figured out your main mechanic and made it playable you can try to figure out what type of theme might fit with your mechanic.
This way of designing assures the designer that their game will utilize a gameplay mechanic that they like.
Scoring Condition First
This is a lesser used way of designing games. Some abstract games are designed with the scoring condition as the driver for the design.
This is essentially a specific variant of Mechanic First design, but with the end-game in mind. Designers choose how they want the scoring to work. Then they will fill in the design with the mechanics and slap on a theme if necessary.
This is something that I’ve been wanting to do but have not found a scoring condition that I like enough to build a game around.
This is a tough one to do because most designers don’t design around a “final product” type component. But there are times when a designer may make a game from the components that they have available.
When designing component first you would often choose a component or components that you really want in your game. Then you would choose a theme or mechanic that will work with those components.
This can be pretty awesome if you have a great component in mind. If you want to go with this approach it is probably best to be innovative and use either new components that haven’t been used in games before or to utilize existing components in new ways.
There are, of course, other ways to get started with a game design but I think these four ways are a great starting point to get you thinking about your game designs. If you have other ways that you think are important, please share them in the comments section. Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving (If you are in the US) or a great weekend around the rest of the world.
How To Make A Quad-fold Board
When designing games it often becomes helpful or necessary to have a quality prototype, which often includes a quad-fold board. There are easy ways to do it, like taping a few pieces of paper together. And there are more difficult ways to make them. I usually only make them when I would rather have it fold to fit in a box. Today I want to share my method for producing a decent quad-fold board for your game design purposes.
Here are the components I use when making a quad-fold board:
- Matte board (I buy bulk scrap matte board at Hobby Lobby since it is so inexpensive)
- Photo Paper (I use Kodak Glossy Photo Paper)
- Glue Stick (Or adhesive of your choice)
- Tape (I prefer masking tape)
- Rotary Cutter (I use this one)
The methods in this article are based on the fact that I have a 12 inch rotary cutter that cannot cut through two pieces of matte board at the same time. If I could cut through two matte board pieces at a time then I would probably use a different method.
My assumption here is that you already have artwork you’ve created. If you have the artwork ready, then here are the steps I follow to make my quad fold boards…
Print the Artwork
When I work with larger sized images I usually print them from either MS Publisher or MS Powerpoint. Publisher will require you make a larger template, but that is pretty easy to do. When you print this way you will print on several sheets of paper.
Once they are printed I will cut off the white margins for all the interior edges that will join up together. You can see an example of the cut photo paper above in the image with the glue stick.
Glue the First Two Pieces
Depending on whether you want your board to fold with the artwork out (unusual) or inward (common) you will either have to do one or two of these procedures respectively.
As I mentioned earlier, you will do this once if you don’t care that your artwork folds outward. If you prefer your artwork to fold inward, then repeat this process with the other two pieces of your quad-fold board.
Before moving on I always like to check how smoothly the board folds. Here’s my example:
Completing your Board
With a set of two pieces taped together you are now set to complete your board. This step is pretty simple. With all four pieces laid out, flip them all over together. Make sure they go into the correct places when flipped. You don’t want to flip them where they are but rather flip them and swap them horizontally. Before I start I put a piece of tape in the corners that line up in the middle of the board. This helps me know that I have the pieces together the right way.
With them in the correct locations, all you need to do is apply two more pieces of tape as seen here:
Completed Quad-Fold Board!
And there you go! You now know how to make a quad-fold board for your game designs. Just keep in mind that if you would prefer the artwork to fold inward then do the “Glue the First Two Pieces” process twice. Then flip them and use only one piece of tape on one of the seams.
Here’s is my completed board for this article:
And here is the quad-fold board I made for a high quality prototype of Scoville using Joshua Cappel’s artwork:
If you are not equipped with printing capabilities or if you would prefer to not do this on your own, then feel free to utilize The Game Crafter as they can create a quality quad-fold board for you. You just upload your artwork in the correct size and pay a little money and they’ll make your board and mail it to you.
They have the following options available:
- Bi-fold Board (9 x 18 inches)
- Accordion Board (8 x 16 inches)
- Quad-fold Board (18 x 18 inches)
- Six-Fold Board (27 x 18 inches)
So how do you make your quad-fold boards? Do you use a different method? I’d love to hear if there is a better way (I’m sure there is).
Game Design Process Update
Hi. I’ve had an incredibly busy year with many things not related to board games. But I just finished some reading I had to do and now I find myself with a snippet of free time. So today I thought I would provide an update on my game design process.
But to do that I wanted to adjust my graphic a little. In the past I have used the one on the right to illustrate my steps in the game design process. I liked it for a while but I’ve felt called to make a new version. If you are interested in game design and you don’t really know how to go about things, please go read the Inspiration to Publication posts by Jay Cormier and Sen-Foong Lim (designers of many games including the excellent Belfort by Tasty Minstrel Games).
So today I present my new “Game Design Process” graphic.
My Game Design Process
I’m not sure that’s an improvement but I had fun making the graphic anyway. It conveys the information in a more pictorial way rather than those boring rectangular prisms.
Let’s cover, briefly, what each of those game design steps really means to me anyway:
The concept phase is all about brainstorming and coming up with the overall ideas for your game. This could be Theme-First or Mechanic-First. Either way, this phase is where you are taking a lot of notes and figuring out all the things you want your game to be.
Once you’ve figured out the bulk of your game concept then it’s time to build it! In this phase you will create your physical prototype. If you don’t know how to get started, check out my article, “Starter Prototyping Tools.”
With your physical prototype ready to go it’s time to get it to the table and see if it works, see whether it is any fun, and find the ways to make it better! Just lure some friends with pizza or something. I wrote about playtesting once (here) but I am going to revise that article in the future because I’m not certain I agree with it completely anymore.
FIX IT! a.k.a. Applying Feedback
This is one of the more difficult things to do in board game design. It is tough sometimes to ignore feedback from your friends. It can be equally tough to accept tough feedback from them. But the most important thing is to understand WHAT the feedback actually means. For more info check out, “Coarse vs. Fine: Editing Your Game.”
PITCH! / PUBLISH
I wanted to put a caveat in the graphic somehow to stress that this part of the process shouldn’t happen whimsically when you feel like it. Before pitching to a publisher, or before self publishing, I highly recommend blind-playtesting. This is when you send a copy of the game to people you do not know. Let them read the rules and figure out the game. They will provide some of the best feedback you can imagine. After numerous cycles of fixing, prototyping, and playtesting where the feedback you receive is mostly or all positive, then I would feel confident in pitching the game or self-publishing. When you are ready to pitch the game you’ll want to contact the publisher that’s right for you and your game. Then you can follow the method in my article, “How to (Speed) Pitch Your Game.”
That’s an overview of my game design process. I know that there are people who do things differently. It would be weird if that weren’t the case. If there are things you think are essential to the process I’d love to hear about them. Just leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.
Is Impossible Impossible?
Impossible is a new game design I have been working on. It is a race game where players are racing to recognize and build hex-based designs of impossible geometry reminiscent of the work of M.C. Escher.
You can learn of the design in my previous article: Hex-tile Prototype: Impossible.
Basically players will be grabbing hex-tiles from the pile and trying to create the 2D representation of the impossible shape. The first player to complete the image places their meeple on the highest scoring spot. The next player to finish claims the next spot. And so on.
The game continues over a pre-determined number of rounds. Each round has a different impossible shape. After all rounds are completed the total points are added to decide the winner.
Mechanically this game works. It is mechanically simple, easy to learn and understand, can be set up and taught in 3 minutes. These are all great things for a game design.
So What’s Wrong?
I am a very visual person. I can recognize visual patterns. I can visualize 2D and 3D geometry quite well.
I’m beginning to feel as though I’m the only one in the world who can play this game.
In the past two weeks I’ve solo tested this and playtested it with three other people. Small sample group for sure. But those people are very intelligent people. I’ll test this further, but my inclination is that this game may just be impossible for some percentage of people to play.
According to a paper titled, Visual Spatial Skills (2003) , out of Penn State University, spatial ability is defined thusly:
Spatial ability is the over-arching concept that generally refers to skill in representing, transforming, generating, and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information. Spatial ability consists of mental rotation, spatial perception, and spatial visualization.
In the case of Impossible this is most definitely relevant. So what percentage of the population has spatial ability in their skill set?
This is from the Wikipedia page on Visual Thinking:
Research by child development theorist Linda Kreger Silverman suggests that less than 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking, another 45% uses both visual/spatial thinking and thinking in the form of words, and 25% thinks exclusively in words. According to Kreger Silverman, of the 30% of the general population who use visual/spatial thinking, only a small percentage would use this style over and above all other forms of thinking, and can be said to be ‘true’ “picture thinkers”.
I’m starting to believe that I’m one of these so-called “picture thinkers.”
So it seems that 30% of the population strongly uses visual/spatial thinking. And a small subset of those use visual/spatial over all other forms.
Is visual/spatial required to be able to play Impossible?
My answer is, “yes.”
Marketability of Impossible
As a game designer I want to make games that are accessible to a large audience. The larger the anticipated audience is, the more likely the game is to signed by a publisher, and subsequently the more likely it is to succeed.
With 70% of the population not considered to be visual/spatial thinkers, that eliminates a huge percent of the potential audience for a game. I don’t think a publisher would be interested in a game that cannot be played by 70% of the population.
So at this point Impossible will earn a spot in my drawer of shame, where all my designs go to die when I decide to stop working on them.
I believe Impossible is a fun, quick, and interesting game that utilizes 3D geometry in 2D space. I think the artwork could make it look visually stunning. I believe it would fit at a good price point for a general audience.
Perhaps the best avenue for Impossible would be as an app for your phone or tablet. This would be quite easy to implement and then could be targeted specifically to people who would find it enjoyable. Who knows what the future holds for Impossible.