Building Your Prototype – Cards

by Rob Stone

You have the game board done, or maybe your game doesn’t use a game board. Regardless, this article may be of use to you if you plan to use cards  in your game.

Printing Cards

When I first started printing my own cards for my play test prototypes, my goal was to make them visually appealing and as close to what my vision for the final game was going to be. Why I thought this was important I don’t really know. But at the time I was doing it, it seemed like the appropriate way. I haven’t been doing it that way for nearly 8 years now.

Before I tell you how I do it now, let me first explain why. The purpose of your play test prototype (PTP) is to play test the game. At this stage you aren’t trying to sell your game, you are simply testing your game mechanics. Do you need full color illustrations of wizards and dragons to see if the game mechanics work? No. Does it add to the game’s visual appeal? Of course it does. But you shouldn’t be concerned with that this early in the process. If you ever have the opportunity to sit down with Reiner Knizia or Tom Jolly (for example) to play test one of their first PTP’s, I guarantee they look nothing like the version of Ra or Wiz-War you see on the shelf of your local game store. In fact, if you end up selling your game to a manufacturer, you may discover that your board game about a dwarven trucking company was too “weird” for Big Bad Game Company so they decided to change the theme to elvish shipping to appeal to a wider audience. Trust me, it happens.

Let’s get back to the cards. In the old days, I printed my cards out on 8.5 x 11 card stock or heavy paper and cut them in the standard Trading Card Game size so they would fit nicely in the protective sleeves that were available at the time. Of course now, you can find dozens of sizes of protective sleeves. But back then that’s all we had. My play test cards were functional. They worked nicely. They got the job done. But, you knew their was going to be a but. But it took a lot of time to cut those cards out. And knowing that I would be printing them out with each revision of the game, you can imagine the hours spent cutting cards instead of play testing the game. It was during one of those cutting sessions that I had a breakthrough. I said to myself: ‘This would be so much easier if the cards were already perforated so I didn’t have to spend all of this time cutting them out.” I mean, they have perforated business card stock. That’s when the light bulb appeared. For the purposes of play testing, I don’t need Trading Card sized cards, I just need cards. So from that day, nearly 8 years ago, to today, that’s what I use. You can buy them at the big office supply store in boxes of 1000 (10 to a sheet) for $30 or so. For me, I usually get 2 to 4 games or versions of a game from one box. The time I save is well worth the $30 or so.

Now, without going into too much detail, when you are deciding what information to put on these play test cards, put as much information as needed for the play tester to play the game. No more than that. You want to be able to have the text large enough for the player to read. Don’t use any illustrations or graphics at this point that aren’t functional. Symbols, Numbers, and Text only. Remember, you are testing the game’s mechanics only at this point and remember that every hour spent building your prototype is one less hour that can be devoted to design and testing.

I know in my previous article I promised Cards *and* game pieces, but we ran out of time. So next time, game pieces, I promise. In the meantime, here’s some homework. Also read this.




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