Thursday, May 7, 2015

If you build it, they will come. Part 1: Cards.

A few days ago I talked on the blog about what to and what not to do with your prototype before sending it to a publisher. This time, I’d like to take a step back and talk a little bit about how to actually make a prototype of your game – or at least give you a few useful tips on making some of the most popular components. With this in mind, let's talk about cards.

A lot of games have cards, either as an addition to the board, tokens, cubes and meeples, or as the “main attraction”. Regardless of how important and numerous cards are in your game, you really don’t want them simply printed on a piece of paper. So, unless you are using a professional printing service that focuses on cards, you need an easy way to make them at home – and here’s how you do that. 

1. Get some CCG cards.

Most of us gamers had at one point of our lives (or still have) something to do with a collectible, trading or living card game. Such an adventure usually leaves us with a boatload of old cards, ripe for being used in a prototype of our own game. And if you’ve never played a CCG, or have gotten rid of all your old cards, don’t worry, you can usually get packs of several hundred old cards off the internet for a few bucks (or your regional equivalent).

A stack of some CCG cards (Magic) and some CCG-sized Progress cards.

2. Get some sleeves 

Some people like to glue prototype printouts on cards. While the idea is not bad, it has a few downsides. One is that usually the stickers don’t take that well to shuffling. Another is that you will only be able to reuse one cards a few times, as after sticking two or three layers, it will simply become too thick to handle comfortably. By far the best way is to get card sleeves. Even the cheapest will do: you’ll just take a card and sleeve it together with the prototype printout, to create a card that is not only easy to shuffle, but also relatively resistant to some abuse.

Penny sleeves ready for prototyping.

Also, when you want to make critical corrections, you can just toss the old printout and replace it with a new one. Finally, if you’re working on a game with different decks and you need different backs, you may think about slightly more expansive sleeves with opaque, coloured backs. These will allow you to distinguish between different card types easily, and as an added bonus, they will also make you cards slightly stiffer and more durable than penny sleeves.

Different colour sleeves for different decks in your prototype.
3. Get some good scissors or a guillotine paper cutter 

This is as simple as can be: if you’re planning on doing a lot of cutting, getting good (preferably long) scissors will make your job a lot easier. Adding a guillotine to your prototype workbench might also be a good idea, although if you’re not planning to assemble cards by the hundreds, long scissors will probably suffice.

My own scissors of choice: long and longer.

4. Use helpful software 

The internet is full of helpful software that is either free, and that allows you to quickly build and print CCG cards. A quick internet search will undoubtedly point you in the right direction. You can also quite as easily use your word processor to build a suitable table, that (after filling it with texts and symbols) can then be printed out and cut into separate cards. 

Rough prototype cards created using MS Word, CCG cards, a laser printer and a pair of scissors.

Different designers have various methods of making their prototypes. What I’ve shown you here is only what I consider most effective – and best fitting my work style. Still, some designers prefer to use business cards they write on by hand, or a professional card printing service (which is a great idea, but I’d advise it only when you know you won’t be making many changes to your cards), and what works for me may not exactly work for you.

Final Mistfall prototype - professional graphic design and printing, plus CCG cards and penny sleeves.

Next time I’ll talk a about tiles, tokens and the importance of cannibalizing other games. See you then!
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