Week 4 - Printed Prototypes by Bob Jamison

After learning how to do our own graphic design, I was excited to put together a few prototypes so that we could use them for playtesting beyond our inner circle of friends.  I knew this was jumping the gun a fair bit.  We were running a lot of testing at this stage, so content was still changing every day.  

In the end, I just couldn't resist seeing our game in a box, on a board with printed cards.  My partner, Josh, was also having a birthday the following week and it would be a kickass surprise.

Game Component Price Sheet

Game Component Price Sheet

So I went looking around.  Cruising the BGG and BGDF forums, I started by putting together a sheet that listed the main components and pricing them out across a few websites.  I eventually landed on Print and Play Games, the main factors being good reviews and their proximity in Vancouver, WA.  They weren't the cheapest place, but had a good variety of components and had an option to print larger game boards.

Phew, pretty spendy at $90+ per game.  About $15 of if was for generic components we could buy in bulk since they'd be useful for other prototypes.  We could skip the $4 rule book in favor of printing that out at home.  The most expensive parts left were 100+ double-sided cards for $35, the board for $15, and card-board standees for $12.

I opted for the most expensive stock for the cards, "Black Core", since I was interested in what a final game's fit and finish might feel like, though this is overkill for a prototype.  The cheapest card stock rang in about 1/3 less per sheet.  There were bulk discounts, but these didn't really kick in until you were printing more than 50 sheets.

I started in adjusting the card layouts in InDesign to match their templates.  This turned out to be fairly easy, but only because I'd already made the investment in creating layouts using data merge.  I only had to design one new layout per card-type, with the right margins between elements and, poof, they were ready.

I submitted the order late on Sunday and was contacted by Print and Play early the next day indicating that he'd noticed a couple of issues with the order.  I'd left out some die marks that needed to be visible on the cardboard counters for them to line up their cutter and inverted some of the backs so that they'd appear upside down.  Was very happy they'd caught it and their customer service was awesome in helping me resolve it.

Finished Prototype

Finished Prototype

The printing was done the next day and I received the package 2 days after that (4.5 days end-to-end).  Everything was well packed and I had a HUGE grin on my face opening it up.

All the components turned out really well.  The cards had snap to them, the colors on everything were spot on, and no skewed cuts.  I was over the moon, seeing everything in an actual game box was a big milestone for us and I spent more than a little time just sitting and admiring it...

In retrospect though, we should have done things a little differently to save time and money:

  • We shouldn't have bothered to print out cards.  The moment we opened the box, many of the cards were already out of date.  A few days after we were using them, we made a large change to the mechanics that required updates to nearly every card.  Instead, stick to slipping a printed card front with a cheap blank card into a card protector sleeve.  These are easy to shuffle and cheap to reprint.
  • The printed game board is overkill.  You'll have the same issues with updates and you can get close to the same fit and finish by sizing the board to fit on 7.5 x 10 tiles (i.e., the printable area of your home printer), then cutting foam core boards for each tile.
  • The boxes, counters and standees are totally worth it.  The boxes lend an authenticity to the game so that playtesters take the game more seriously.  The counters and standees are important game-play elements that significantly effect playability if players can't figure out what your icons mean or have trouble identifying characters.

All-in-all, I'm happy we spent the money, maybe the same way a proud first-time parent buys an expensive stroller they end up using 4 times, but next time we'll be more pragmatic.  Next week, we'll talk more about playtesting the game and how it lead to the mechanics change I mentioned above.


See you next week,