Good Day Internet!
Today we’re going to start talking about how to design a workable core for your game, which means we also need to talk about making your first prototype!
First off, what’s the core of a game? We’ve discussed the basics previously in Game Basics: Mechanics, but for time’s sake we’ll recap and get a little bit more in depth this time.
The core of your game is the essential mechanics (the ones that without you couldn’t play your game from start to finish), and the basic theme to tie the mechanics together (which should be mostly complete at this point). That’s it. There should be some consideration given to the design of cards, but no need to worry about art quite yet.
So how do we find the core of your game? Well, you could try to come up with that through developing your idea on paper (which for some works), but most likely you need to playtest your game to find this out. That means you need a playable, understandable prototype, which means you need to actually make one.
Before we do though, let's consider what we’re creating a prototype for. We’re creating a prototype to find the core of your game. Which means we’re trying to find out: What drives your action? What is the essence of the story of your game? What makes your game a game (something that can be played all the way through)? This is just the basics of your design and is not your final product. Therefore, your first prototype does not have to be all that fancy. We just need components that will allow us to play your game using the given essential mechanics and have space for the required text and some simple drawn art (at most) to convey some sort of theme. However, most of your theme is the backstory you’ve created, and in how the mechanics actually work.
With that said, in making your first prototype you want to keep it simple. So go ahead and grab (or borrow) components from other games and/or make your own components (For example, 7 Wonders is great for borrowing tokens and Axis & Allies is great for war units). Usually, the thing that will take you the longest is making or finding components for cards. If you have some sort of art skill (I personally do not) or technical skills with Photoshop or other software (I do not) then you could create simple cards there, print them off and sleeve them. Again, don’t worry too much (or at all) about the art. If you need some templates you can find them here on our drive.
You can also cut your own cards from old cereal boxes, bristol board, or just print off the blank templates we provided above and then write on them, cut them, and sleeve them. You’re not alone if you choose this path, and there are a surprising number of articles, blogs, and videos about making your own cards. Unfortunately, most of those are for high quality printed cards (including this one from BoardGameGeek).
So what if you don’t have any of those skills or would prefer to not spend an afternoon cutting and sleeving cards? Well, you could always use blank cue cards, blank business cards (or just look for one-sided ones), or if you’re lucky blank card stock. You can also purchase blank playing cards from places like The Game Crafter or MakePlayingCards.com and if you make it to a Protospiel or Spielbany event you can grab a bunch for free courtesy of The Game Crafter (that’s what we did, and we love them for it).
Whatever path you choose, just remember you only need the essential information on your cards for your prototype. For our prototype of “Pulled into Darkness” (seen above) our cards have a simple symbol and basic text to indicate what the card does. If you really like creating art though, go ahead. Just make it barebones and realize there’s almost a 100% chance it will change. But we think you should probably still do it because it will look cool and you’ll enjoy doing it.
Alright, so we’ve got our basic prototype ready, now what? Well hopefully you’ve been writing down a framework of rules or have them all memorized (although we highly recommend writing them down) so you know how the game should play. If not, get that done as soon as possible. I like to think I have a good memory, but I’m always surprised by how many rules I forget if I don't write them down (it’s also a big reason why our editor Allysha is part of our team). Once that’s done, we’re ready to playtest, and the first playtest we’re going to do is a solo playtest. Which will be next week’s topic (sorry amigos, you’ll have to wait until then).
Thanks for dropping by! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.
Board game designer and developer discussing the ins and outs of game design.