Building Your Prototype – Bits & Pieces

By Rob Stone

We have covered game boards and cards, but what is a game without “bits & pieces”? You may have amassed quite a collection of bits and pieces in your Game Designer’s Kit, but now you are at the point in the design process where you need some specific pieces that can’t be substituted with simple pawns or wooden cubes.

It could be that your game is a map of a geographical location that includes land and sea areas that need to be navigated and you need something to represent ships as well as land units. At this point in the process you are looking for prototype pieces that are similar to what you envision the final product being. There are a few reasons why you are doing this. You could want to see how big the final game board needs to be to accommodate the pieces during game play. Or maybe you are looking to see how small the pieces need to be to accommodate a specific game board size. Whatever the reason, you have decided you need some specific pieces and now you need to find them and you don’t want to buy a complete game just to harvest the pieces from it.


You are in luck. There are many companies out there that sell game parts. Sure you can purchase replacement pieces from game manufacturers, but as we discussed in a previous article, that isn’t always the cheapest way to go about it. Here are a few companies that I have used:

Minion Games
:  You can find everything from wooden meeples to wooden locomotive pieces. Prices are very reasonable and I have used their wooden ships in one of my prototypes. They even have bulk prices for things like wooden cubes if you are looking to outfit your Game Designer’s Kit with some nice wooden pieces.

Mayday Games: Similar to Minion Games, they have many of the same game pieces, but they also carry wooden token sets that can also beef up your Game Designer’s Kit. I purchased one of these token sets last year and have used it several times.

Chessex Manufacturing: A great source for custom dice. If you need prototypes made for custom dice, you can’t beat the customer service of Don and his crew at Chessex.

3D Printing

What if you can’t find the specific pieces you are looking for? Maybe there isn’t a company that manufactures llama or alpaca pieces for your  “Brave New Rancher” board game. There’s still hope, because with the advances in 3D printing, you can have custom pieces made on the cheap. Not as cheap as buying from game parts suppliers, but if you really need those pesky llamas and alpacas you can find a company that can make them for you. Better yet, as a game designer, you might consider investing in your own 3D printer. Many of these marvelous devices can be purchased for under $2,000, about what you might pay for a decent ultrabook or Macbook Pro. And you could even make pieces for other game designers to recoup some of the costs.

Looking to create your own custom pieces but you can’t afford or aren’t ready to invest in a 3D printer? Here are a couple of options that I have used personally:

Card Stock Tokens

Card stock tokens can be printed on standard 100 lb card stock. A ream of 200 sheets will set you back around $12 to $20. But you can create a lot of tokens with those 200 sheets, so look at it as a cheap investment. If you need to create card stock heroes, you can use a template to create them and with a little folding and maybe some Scotch tape you can have your customized card stock hero created specifically for your game. A simpler way to stand your heroes up is by using game card standees, which are basically small plastic clips that are flat on the bottom which allow you to insert your game card or token securely in the standee and keep them…standing. Alternately, if you have some binder clips in your desk drawer, you can instantly turn them into standees and even remove the metal wire handles once you’ve secure the card stock token to the clip.


Polymer clay, best known by the brand name Sculpey (although there are many brands) is simple to use. If you are even remotely skilled on the artistic side you can create a lot of different game parts using polymer clay. And it’s easy. You sculpt it, bake it in the oven, and bazinga! you have a hardened game piece.

Well, now that I have left you with some bits and pieces to chomp on, I am signing off. Next up: Rulebooks.


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