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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:

  1. Stay at or below $250.
  2. Purchase one that is ready to use out of the box.
  3. Start with simple prints.

My Printer – Monoprice Select Mini

MonopriceFor 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.

FilamentSample.PNG

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!

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.

 

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Sourcing Game Components: Dice

Just think of the potential game designs waiting in that pile!

Today is the final article in a series of four articles about where to find prototype worthy game components. Here is the list of articles from this series:

Before we get started I want to make one point clear: This article is not about standard dice or even RPG dice. You can find standard d6s and RPG dice at your favorite local game store.  If you want standard dice visit your local store or local thrift store. Or if you want really nice standard dice then check out Chessex. This article is about where to find blank dice, or special dice, or even dice that you can write on!

And my disclaimer: I have not used dice in any of my game designs. While I know where to buy dice, I cannot speak to their quality, feel, or character.

As a reminder I want to give credit to the list that inspired me to write these articles. This list is much more exhaustive than mine since I am just highlighting a few of the major suppliers. But here’s the list so you can check it out yourself:

http://spotlightongames.com/list/design/component.html

So today I present a few of the sources that I think are worth checking out…

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Indented Blank Dice

They are just waiting for your awesome design!

When it comes to using blank dice for game design, look no further than Indented Blank Dice! These are six sided dice with indented sides.

Why indented sides? The sides are indented so that when you put a sticker on the side it won’t rub off or cause irregular rolls.

These are 19mm on an edge and the indented portion measures 1/2″ x 1/2″. They will also sell you sheets of labels on which you can print your game design’s custom icons. Here is their pricing for US and International:

# Option Price
1 25 Dice – Domestic US $15.00
2 25 Dice – International $35.00
3 50 Dice – Domestic US $25.00
4 50 Dice – International $45.00
5 125 Dice – Domestic US $50.00
6 125 Dice – International $70.00
7 250 Dice – Domestic US $95.00
8 250 Dice – International $115.00
9 1000 Dice – Domestic US $300.00
10 1000 Dice – International $320.00

Those prices seem a little expensive to me, but if you’ve designed the next Kingsburg, Alien Frontiers, or Macao, then you can probably justify the cost.

Each sheet of labels that they sell will handle 36 dice. Two sheets will cost your $6.

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BlankDice.co.uk

They look similar to Indented Blank Dice, but they’re from Europe!

If you are a friend from across the pond, i.e., from Europe, then perhaps your first stop should be BlankDice.co.uk!

In addition to a nice assortment of indented six sided dice they also offer 8 sided indented dice. Here is the page for their six sided dice: BlankDice.co.uk – 6 Sided Dice

But here’s the kicker… If you were to purchase 25 of these at £0.20 each (to compare the pricing against the source above this one) you would find that it would cost roughly US$15.50 to ship to the US. That’s only $0.50 more than the above source. So if BlankDice.co.uk has a color that you desperately need, then maybe you could order from them instead.

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Print & Play Productions

672c6-print2band2bplay2bproductionsThey make the list again since they offer so much awesomeness! If you are looking to order a bunch of different components for your game prototype and you need dice as well, then consider ordering from Print & Play since you can get cards, chits, meeples, and dice all from the same source! Here are a few different dice options offered by Print & Play:

Side Note: I personally met the guy behind Print & Play productions at GenCon and I can safely say he’s an awesome guy. I would definitely feel confident when purchasing from him. And the fact that you can order basically all of the components you would need for your prototype from one source makes Print & Play pretty awesome!

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EAI Education

The EAI Education catalog is a fantastic one-stop-shop for game designers. You can order cards, dices, cubes, and more all from their online catalog at excellent prices!

If you do a search for “Dice” you’ll get 206 results. While they have way too many awesome options of standard dice, fudge dice, fraction dice, etc., here are some blank dice options that I think could be useful to game designers:

And if you need standard dice to compliment your game design, then you can believe that EAI carries what you need!

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The Game Crafter

The guys at The Game Crafter also offer black indented dice. If you choose “dice” from their parts selection you’ll get a bunch of standard dice as well as blank dice.

They offer 8 different colors at $0.40 each, though if you order more than 9 of any color the price will drop to $0.38 each. These prices are better than some of the other sources listed above for indented blank dice.

But as I mentioned when writing about TGC for the Meeples article, if you are ordering components like these you still have to wait in their production queue. Since I live in the Madison area I think I should volunteer my time to fulfill component-only orders with no customization of cards or boxes or rules. That way, if you order stocked components only, the order would skip the custom production queue and be able to be mailed to you much more quickly. This isn’t a huge complaint and it doesn’t hold me back from ordering from TGC. It’s just something I think they could do a little better.

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Amazon

The interwebs offer a bunch of sources for dice, but Amazon seems to have some good options. Here are a few that might be good for game designers:

So perhaps Amazon will be your go-to source for dice.

***

And there you have it, folks! This is the conclusion of my series on sourcing game components. You should now know where to find all of the components you need. Thanks for reading along during this series. It has prompted me to desire a large order of components from all these different sources. I’d love to simply stock up on tons of stuff so that I can have the world of game components at my finger tips in case inspiration strikes! Good luck game designers!

Prototyping Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

One topic that seems to come up a lot is how to make board game prototypes. I’m not talking about coming up with a design. I’m talking about physically creating prototype game components. Game designers are constantly trying to make their components so that they can get right to the playtesting phase of game design.

Today I want to discuss the tools I use to create my prototypes. At this point you should already have your prototype artwork created if you’re going to be printing anything. Let’s assume it’s already been printed. Now it’s time to make it awesome!

Chits…

One common component that is particularly easy to make for prototypes are chits. These are typically just printed artwork glued onto matte board. But matte board can prove to be difficult to cut.

There’s two ways that I’ll cut my chits out of the matte board.

  1. Straight edge and utility or X-acto knife (not ideal)
  2. Rotary cutter (ideal)

What we are doing here is separating the chits from one another. When creating your artwork you should line up the edges of the components so that you only need to make one cut between them.

This will help you keep your fingertips!

The straight edge and knife approach is definitely NOT my approved method and I would never recommend it. However, a lot of people use that approach so I needed to mention it. One recommendation is to use a safety straightedge like the one shown here. You only have 10 fingertips so why not spend a few extra dollars and get a straightedge like this and make sure to not lose any fingertips!

I don’t like this method for a few reasons. The first is that you need a cutting mat to go underneath so you don’t scratch your table. The second is that the blade doesn’t always stay straight as you are cutting the matte board. And that can be really annoying.

Just get this thing instead!

My preferred method is to use a rotary cutter like this Fiskars 12″ Scrapbooking version. It is super easy to use, relatively cheap (especially compared to the $40 safety straightedge), and very reliable. And since most of us don’t have printers that print on anything other than 8.5×11 paper anyway, the 12″ Fiskars tool is perfect!

So I will print my prototype artwork on photo paper, adhere it to matte board, and then cut out the individual components using the rotary cutter. Just a heads up when using matte board though: you’ll likely have to roll the cutter back and forth a few times to cut all the way through. That’s still an easier process than trying to run a blade along the straightedge.

On the topic of matte board, I recently went to Hobby Lobby and purchase two huge packs of “matboard” for $6 each. I got a pack of 12″x12″ and a pack of 11″x14″. These are so cheap that I almost felt like I was stealing. They are just the leftovers from the framing department that were cut out from the boards used to mat pictures/paintings for customers. What a great way for Hobby Lobby to reduce their waste and provide a useful product. Here’s what I got for $12:

So cheap!

So cheap!

The other key tool of my trade is a glue stick. Some people will use standard glue, some will use spray adhesive. I prefer the glue stick to standard glue since it is simple to apply evenly. This is very helpful when trying to make sure that your components are completely glued down.

Now you know a great method for producing chits. If possible, keep them as rectangles rather than circles of hexes. But since we’re on the topic of circles and hexes let’s move on to another excellent tool…

Punches…

There are times when you don’t want rectangular components. Perhaps your game is a map building game with hex tiles. Or perhaps you require special discs for your game. If that’s the case, then I strongly urge you consider purchasing a punch.

The hex punches from Fiskars work great!

One thing to keep in mind when purchasing a punch is how thick of paper/board are you wanting to punch. Often these sorts of punches are used by scrapbookers who are only punching paper. That means they may not be able to punch through matte board. Sometimes you can only find out after you’ve bought the punch. Bummer.

Here are some recommendations, keeping in mind that I don’t know specifically how thick they can punch. OR you can just do a search for “hobby punch” and find one you’d like.

These can come in really handy. I use a circle punch when creating prototype coins. I have used a hex punch to create stickers for hex tiles. And here is my little tip for punching, which I mentioned in a prototyping article a long while back, but which is worth repeating.

When punching, flip the punch over so you can visually align the part that you want cut.

So now you’ve got the tools to cut out chits and punch out little bits of awesomeness! What about cards?

Sleeves…

Many game designers come across the need for cards in their game designs. I have made cards numerous times. Early on I would buy 60lb. paper and just cut out rectangles. But there is a problem with that. The edges of the rectangles can be slightly bent from cutting, which leads to great difficulty in shuffling the cards.

Mayday sleeves are convenient and cost effective!

The way to prevent that while also protecting the cards is to purchase card sleeves. These inexpensive beauties will be a little lifesaver by removing anguish from your prototypes. Plus, you can get awesome one’s like the one shown here with a kitten running through a field!

If you want a good go-to source for sleeves then look no further than Mayday Games. Here is a series of links to the sizes you may be looking for:

Those should offer some help. They definitely help with being able to shuffle your cards. The only downside is that when stacked they can be really slippery and your stack may tumble over.

Speaking of tumbling…

Dice…

Sometimes it becomes necessary for a game designer to create their own set of dice. Sure, you could always just make a cheat-sheet conversion table, but that can be a huge burden for your playtesters who would constantly have to recheck the sheet. So one of the tools of the trade is to purchase blank, sticker-able dice.

Just think of the potential here!

Look no further than Indented Blank Dice. The best part of their site is that they have labels that you can purchase and print on rather than having to buy blank label paper and try to cut/punch out your own labels and then peel them off.

Don’t buy blank label paper. Don’t cut/punch out stickers. Don’t try to peel them.

Just buy the sticker label paper and save yourself from the frustration.

So this concludes my little article about Prototyping Tools of the Trade. Next week I will be posting a follow-up article on Sourcing Components for Prototyping. It will cover where to purchase boards, bits, and more. So stay tuned!

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