I Have a Board Game Idea – Now What? Part 26: 5 Tips for Easier Physical Prototyping

Despite being a huge fan of digital prototyping, eventually you are going to be need one or more physical prototypes. In fact, as I write this post I am in the middle of finishing four physical prototypes of The Hackers Guild that I will be sending out for some blind play testing. I have spent my fair share of time cutting paper and card stock, peeling and sticking labels, and updating cards and have learned 5 time saving tips that will make your prototyping easier and faster.

Tip 1: Get the right tools

Just like any other time your are making something, having the right tools for the job can make creating your prototypes a whole lot simpler, and likely cheaper in the long run. That said, you don’t need to spend a whole lot of money on your tools either. Here are some tools that I feel are must have for prototyping:

  • Paper cutter and/or rotary cutter
  • A good glue stick
  • Craft punches in different shapes and sizes
  • A good pair of scissors

I’m also really grateful for my colour printer as it saves me from having to get my stuff printed elsewhere. I haven’t done it yet, but getting yourself a can of spray adhesive is another tool that could make things simpler and quicker.

Tip 2: Card stock, penny sleeves, and full sheet labels are your friends

Along with the right tools, having the right supplies can make a lot of difference. Three things that I am constantly using are heavier card stock, penny sleeves, and full sheet labels.

Card stock

Heavier card stock is a great alternative to chip board for player mats, tiles, and game boards especially in the earlier phases of playtesting where you will be making a lot of changes. If needed, it can also be used as the “core” for your cards inside the penny sleeves.

Penny Sleeves

The simplest way I’ve found for prototyping my game cards is to print fronts and backs to the cards, then sleeve the paper with an old playing card or piece of card stock between the two to give it some thickness. Then when you are ready to print an update, you only need to print the front of the card, take out the old front from the card sleeve and replace it with the updated version. Helps protect your cards some as well.

Full sheet labels

These are a relatively new discovery for me, but they have made all the difference. They can come in handy when making/updating your own game boards and custom dice. They can also be great if you want the thickness of chipboard for your player mats and tokens, just print the updates and stick them on.

Tip 3: Placeholder art and simple graphic design is good enough

You will be changing layouts and updating/removing components frequently, especially in the earlier stages of prototyping, that it just doesn’t make sense to spend time and/or money on nice art and graphic design.

Tip 4: Stretching the money spent on components

For some components, it is simpler and quicker to just purchase them. The Game Crafter and Print and Play Games are really good sources for your basic components like cubes, dice, sand timers, meeples, and pawns, as well as some of your crazier components like wood houses, plastic airplanes and ships, and specialized meeples. They also offer blank chipboard pieces of various sizes and shapes that can be drawn on or stickered using labels. For me, I find it easier to order my printed dice stickers from Print and Play as they come pre-cut and they also have better quality labels, as well as the game box.

However, just because you may need to purchase components, doesn’t mean you can’t stretch your dollar as much as possible. One often overlooked source for components are old games from thrift stores and garage sales, especially if they aren’t playable in the state they are in. You never know what you will find.

Tip 5: Things don’t need to be perfect

I feel like this is probably the most important tip. You are going to drive yourself crazy trying to make things perfect. In fact, some testers even shy away from prototypes like look too nice. A nice prototype can also set unrealistic expectations on the games completeness. Good enough really is an option

I have to be honest. Making physical prototypes is probably one of my least favorite parts of game design, and these tips have helped make want prototyping I do a little more bearable. There are also a lot of different articles and videos on prototyping that can be of use to you. I’m interested in hearing any tips and tricks you have picked up along the way, as there is always room for improvement. Until next time, happy designing.

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