Category Archives: Prototyping
I designed Ziggurat the Thursday evening before Prototspiel-Madison in October. I prototyped it the Friday of Protospiel. It was played four times during Protospiel. And I am finally putting together the pieces to turn it into an awesome game!
So today I want to share a little bit about the game and the basics of how it plays. But first here’s a history lesson:
What is a Ziggurat?
Ziggurats are like the Sumerian equivalent of Egyptian pyramids. They are basically a huge brick structure with several levels. They served as the focal point of worship in those ancient cultures. Often it is believed that a temple was built atop the ziggurats.
And since I’d rather focus on the game rather than the history, here’s the Wikipedia link: Ziggurat
The thrust of the game revolves around building the Ziggurat. As the design currently stands you have two options on your turn:
- Purchase resources (bricks, laborers, special abilities) from the courtyard marketplace.
- Spend bricks and laborers to build the Ziggurat.
One of my design goals is to come up with games that are accessible and easy to teach. Ziggurat is like that. The simplicity of limiting what actions can be taken makes the game accessible for non-gamers.
The region of interest, in terms of adding strategy, is to design compelling and interesting decisions into those two options. For example, when purchasing from the courtyard market, would you be willing to pay a higher price for a better card? Also, when building the Ziggurat, does the location where you are building matter?
These are the sorts of things I’m trying to design into Ziggurat. Let’s take a look at the prototype.
I had previously obtained some components from The Game Crafter at a prior Protospiel event. It turns out that the components I had worked perfectly for what I wanted to achieve with Ziggurat. Here is a first look at the bare prototype:
The Ziggurat is composed of three levels. On each level there are platforms that need to be built. Players will build the platforms by spending the appropriate resource and then placing one of their player cubes onto the platform. Once the first level is completed it will be scored. Then the large square tiles for the second level will be placed on top of it. Here is a look at the Prototype with more details on the tiles and platforms.
One thing of great importance in the game are the platforms. Each platform requires 4 cubes. When any given platform is completed, each player who helped build the platform will earn some reward. The rewards available are shown on the corners of the tiles. This is a way to ramp things up in the game and loosen the tightness of the resources. It also incentivizes building, which is the whole idea of the game.
Here’s another picture of Ziggurat at the end of a Protospiel playtest:
In the bottom left of the image above you can see the courtyard market. In the current version of the game there are six cards in the market. Players may purchase up to two cards. The card at the end costs zero and the costs ramp up as 1, 1, 2, 3, 4. The image has different costs, which I have since adjusted.
The Latest Prototype…
I’m a sucker for creating decent looking artwork and graphics. I use Inkscape, which I recommend. I mocked up some cards and placed an order with TheGameCrafter.com. Here’s what they look like:
With a deck made I decided it was time to upgrade the tiles and platforms as well. So I did. Here’s the final result which shows the current state of the game:
I have some big plans for the game. I want it to be slightly less singular in terms of your goals so I’ll be adding a few other paths to victory. But I solidly enjoy the game as it is.
Feel free to ask any questions. I’m excited to hear what people think and I’m just as excited about the future of the game. This one feels like Scoville did when I designed that. I think there’s a lot of potential here. Thanks for reading!
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!
Today I wanted to report on the progress of The Grand Illusion. Normally I do that on Thursdays and I was planning on posting a game review today but I’m excited about the game so I figured I’d write about it.
I’ve begun prototyping! I have created a deck of skill cards. These cards represent the 9 types of magic in the game. The types of magic are in two separate tiers: basic and advanced. There are 6 basic types and 3 advanced types. Here is a picture showing the skill cards (thanks to The Game Crafter for blank cards – They have blank poker cards on sale right now for 1 cent each!).
Those are hand-drawn icons, people!
The next step for the prototype is to create a deck of Trick cards. These are cards that represent magic tricks. During the game you’ll need to collect the skill cards shown above and then turn them in to complete the magic tricks.
Once you perform a magic trick you will earn the rewards and audience shown on the card.
So let’s discuss audience… Audience is actually a currency in the game. It is necessary to build an audience during the game or you will not meet the requirements on your Grand Illusion card. So each time you perform a trick, if successful, you will gain audience. In the game you will collect skill cards, spend them to perform tricks, gain audience and increase your skills to be able to perform better tricks.
There will definitely be some engine building in the game. The goal of this design is to be an entry-level game with an easy rule set that is quick to teach and play. The main mechanics are set collection and engine building.
Engine building in games refers to the idea of obtaining some ability or benefit that let’s you do things a little better, then getting another one that builds on the previous ability or benefit.
In The Grand Illusion the engine is represented by the skills each magician will gain. Will you become a master of vanishing acts? Perhaps you’ll be the best at restoration magic? Ultimately you’ll have to get proficient at at least two basic types of magic and one advanced magic.
The question I’m currently struggling with is how exactly to create the engine building element. I have two options I’m considering:
In the game Splendor players turn in poker chips to grab a card from the table. Once they grab that card it usually acts as a poker chip. So for future card grabs they need one less poker chip. This would work perfectly for The Grand Illusion but I don’t want to copycat an existing game.
2) Tech Tree
A tech tree is something where you must complete “Level 1” stuff before you can work on “Level 2.” So in The Grand Illusion I could have a tech tree (pyramid) of trick cards on the table. When a player would perform a trick they would place a token of their player color on the trick to show they’ve completed it. This would also direct their play as there would be advantages and disadvantages for breadth versus depth.
I think that once I create the Trick deck I’ll try out both of these options. The Splendor-like version may work better, but I’m more drawn to the Tech Tree version since it is more original.
My goal is to prototype the skills deck this weekend and aim for the first playtest next week! Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the different engine building options.
I’ve done a couple other Inkscape tutorials about game design artwork. You can check those out:
Today I want to focus on one specific tool within Inkscape: Alignment.
If you don’t have the software, you can download it from their website: inkscape.org.
Let’s Line Things Up!
The tool I find I use the most within Inkscape is the alignment tool. I use it for every piece of artwork or graphic design that I make in Inkscape.
When you are working in Inkscape and desire to line things up, look for this icon:
Clicking that will open the Alignment options, which will look like this:
Let’s run down what those options are. Here is a new version of that image:
Instead of running through each of those things listed above I am going to provide a couple examples. At the end of this article you will find a the Inkscape file that I used for these examples. Feel free to download it and use it to get familiar with the alignment tools.
When aligning things the most important thing is understanding which object is the anchor. The anchor is the object that will not move when the command is applied. You can choose the anchor with the options from the “RELATIVE TO” box at the top, which are the following options:
- Last Selected
- First Selected
- Biggest Object
- Smallest Object
The three that I use the most are “Last Selected,” “First Selected,” and “Page.”
When selecting multiple items, if you chose the anchor last, then you should set RELATIVE TO to “Last Selected.” That way when you choose the alignment function, the anchor will appropriately stay put and the other objects will move.
Likewise, the “First Selected” option will cause the anchor to be the first object you select. Both of these options are nice because you can make sure you’ll know which object won’t be moving.
Using the “Page” option will align things with the page. The Page is represented by the black box in the middle of the canvas when opening a new document. I use this a ton when designing artwork for cards since it allows me to center things on the page. This one can come in very handy. You can align things to the center of the page by using these two alignment functions:
I’m going to use a circle and a block and show you how several of the functions work. After centering the block on the page I’ll be using the block as the anchor for the remaining alignments.
By treating the three circles as a group it allows for the whole group to be aligned without adjusting the relative locations of the objects in the group. Often I’ll just group objects myself before aligning them and then ungrouping them after the alignment. But feel free to do it however you like.
That’s Basically It
I have found that these alignment tools are very useful when making prototype artwork for my game designs. It allows you to consistently place things in the same spots. It allows you to make things line up correctly. And it allows Inkscape to help design your awesomeness!
Here is the file: BoardsAndBarleyAlignmentExample.svg
It is located in Google Drive and to get it to work you’ll have to download it. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading.