Putting The Pieces Together: Board Game Prototypes
Tries Ben Moy
Have you been hard at work thinking about the theme and mechanics for your game, and playtesting often since our last couple posts? Good!
This installment will go over some component options when it comes to low- and high-fidelity prototypes of your game to really wow the masses.
Minimum Viable Product
If you’re familiar with recent board games, you’ll no doubt have seen some of the exquisite game pieces they have to offer; custom wooden tiles, amazingly detailed miniatures, and even coins and dice made out of metal!
As sweet as those are, when in the beginning stages of designing your game you really only need the minimum viable product, that is, the simplest form of your game that is playable.
Often times (when it isn’t your most valuable playtester), an MVP is a combination of cards or pieces you may have cut out and parts from other games in your collection. These very quickly convey the feel of your game and let you jump right into testing.
Low-Fidelity For High Feedback
These seemingly thrown-together bits — in their minimalism — mean that anything is possible, in terms of art, layout, size, etc., and welcome your playtesters to offer you their imagined version of the finished game. It works out well when they think of something you hadn’t yet!
One of a game designer’s best friends, index cards are an affordable solution for making some very legible cards for your prototype. Here at Grizzly Forged we often cut them in half then write all over them, and it isn’t unheard of to put them in protective card sleeves with a spare trading card game card for rigidity.
Grabbing some from an old copy of Monopoly or another game on the shelf would be a quick bet here, though buying some online is also a distinct possibility depending on how much you are looking to spend at the moment. We’ve forgotten our dice to a playtest before and ended up using an app or website, but that just doesn’t have as much character.
Here is where you can get really creative, since tokens in games can represent anything; we encourage you to go all over your house for some really unique placeholders! If you need currency, you can use spare coins that fell into the couch, buttons, LEGO studs, or beads. Armor? Try using pop tabs from cans of soda. Don’t be afraid to go outside the box with anything someone might overlook, it could spark something new!
Serving as reference cards, dashboards, player aids, or something else that escapes me, mats can be very useful for players to look to for turn order, potential actions, character-specific powers, and so on. If your relevant information fits on our trusty note cards, more power to you, or any sheet of paper cut to an appropriate size and glued to another sheet for that extra thickness should suffice.
Often used for player pieces, if there are no spares lying around you could try thimbles or paper clips bent up with sticky notes wrapped around them. Anything that is easy to move around and distinguish at a cursory glance will help your playtesters stay in the game. Prototype pawns can be a great conduit for influencing/informing your game, especially if you cut your own custom shapes out of cardboard!
Speaking of cardboard, you can take a utility knife and ruler to an old packaging box to come out with something quick; don’t forget to draw tracks, maps, grids, and keys as needed! Depending on the size, you can cut your board into quarters and tape some of the sides for a collapsible and portable deal to fit inside the…
Box (Or Bag)
This will ideally be big enough to hold all your components for easy carrying to and from home to a friend/playtester’s house or a public place like a lobby or café. Smaller Ziploc bags are great too for keeping all your little bits organized.
High-Fidelity For Higher Immersion
After you’ve invested a decent number of playtests with your MVP prototype, improved the gameplay with some of the solid feedback you’ve received, and have some thematic art to share, you’re ready to graduate into a high-fidelity, potentially even production-ready, copy of your game.
This will not only show others that you believe in your project but will also place them ‘into’ it as they play, enriching experience.
We like to start with low-fidelity first because it is easy to edit things on the fly, maybe even during a playtest, when the game is young. As it grows and elements solidify, the chances of making a 180º decision about gameplay is less likely and less costly to change than having to put up an expensive prototype for every phase of development.
You can machine custom shapes and designs out of various materials with a laser cutter/etcher, all you need is an idea and some set-up, that hopefully the service will provide or point you to. A quick Google search will pull up results in your area for a local cutter, if there doesn’t seem to be one around you can try Ponoko, recently referred to us!
If you really want a taste of that custom wooden feel but don’t have access to the necessary tools or materials, you might be able to make a plastic version with 3D printing. Like with the laser, file preparation will be required but hopefully a friendly face will be around to help; you could even ask Grizzly Forged Studios! Thingiverse can be a useful resource for finding quick, ready-to-print files, and Shapeways could be a place to get things made if a local printer is not available.
When you are ready to show off your more complete art and design, you can visit your closest Staples or FedEx to get some of your paper materials printed. From what I’ve heard, the cutting will not be included, but the quality might be better than the printer you have at home. Conversely, you can give MakePlayingCards a visit for a wide selection of card sizes!
Print On Demand
This is the really good stuff and why it is last on the list (where it will probably land in your process): services that will essentially manufacture a retail copy of your game. Our favorite two are TheGameCrafter and Print & Play Games, and their catalog of components can help you decide on the pieces your final game will have. Browsing through their sites will also help familiarize you with the ‘industry-standard’ dimensions and materials, which has helped us keep grounded in some of the more radical ideas we’ve had, and prepare you for requesting a quote from a manufacturer.
And there we are. I can’t say I succeeded in making this read shorter than my last, but I hope it was as interesting and informative!
Thank you for spending some time with Grizzly Forged Studios; what are some unique components you’ve used for your prototypes?
TL:DR; The first prototypes of your game may be rudimentary with ragtag components, but as it comes closer to completion services exist to get you a professionally-finished look and feel.