We are nearing the end of this adventure, so if you are still here, you deserve some congratulations.
At this point you have created a game. You have playtested your game multiple times, with multiple purposes (from fun to balance to usability). You have a list of materials that you need to assemble, and a list of things you must do to assemble them. All that is left in the Design Project is to complete it.
Readings / Viewings
One might wonder, why bother with assembling high-quality components for a game? The game is all about the mechanics, after all, and the game pieces are just a physical manifestation of the mechanics. Therefore, any pieces should be as good as any other. UI issues aside, why not just use the prototype you’ve been using and call that the final project… handwritten cards and all?
I have several responses to this.
First, if the pieces are a physical representation of the rules, you as the designer should give them the same care, so that the outer beauty of the game matches the inner beauty of the mechanics.
Second, you should take pride in your game. The physical pieces are as much a design statement as the rules. What the pieces say to a player is that the game designer felt that their game was high enough quality to deserve high-quality components. To use an analogy, if you are a chef and you’re making a simple peanut-butter sandwich, maybe you don’t mind eating off a flimsy paper plate; but if you’ve put together an elaborate nine-course gourmet dinner, find some better-quality plates to serve it on.
Third, if you plan to eventually commercialize and sell your game, the quality of the components is one of the first things a prospective customer will see. Many Eurogames actually print a nice picture of the game components on the back of the box as a selling point. They are in essence saying, “if you buy this game, you will get these fine components.” Even if you aren’t planning on selling the game you’re making right now, going through that process is good practice for future projects.
Lastly, keep in mind that your game represents you as a designer. If you ignore the one thing that every player is going to see, what does that say about you? Does it suggest that you don’t care about your projects enough to put in some extra effort? Does it mean you don’t take pride in your own work? Does it mean you lack confidence? If you are planning to use this game (or another one) as part of your professional design portfolio, think about how it will appear to prospective schools or employers. For the same reason that you might dress up for a job interview, dress your game up before you release it.
An Anti-Craftsmanship Aesthetic
You might press this even further. Some commercial games were made with intentionally poor production values. The first printing of Kill Doctor Lucky (and the rest of the games from the original publisher) had cards printed in one color on flimsy paper with just simple text and no art. The game didn’t even include common components like pawns or dice, and it was sold in a thin paper envelope with the rules printed right on the bag – there wasn’t even a separate printed manual. In the digital realm, Kingdom of Loathing is an online browser game that uses badly-drawn stick figures for all of the game art. It’s as if these people aren’t even trying, and yet their games see many players. Why not just do that with your own game?
I would argue that these games actually have very high production values. Each offers a consistent visual aesthetic and a strong impact that is consistent with the values of the creator and the game mechanics.
In the case of Kill Doctor Lucky, the whole point of the entire line of games, in fact James Ernest’s mission statement, was that games were getting too expensive because they included all these extraneous components. Why bother paying an extra dollar for two dice when you’ve probably got dozens of dice lying around from other games you own? And sure, the cards are flimsy… but if you accidentally ruin them, oh well, go out and buy the game again. The game cost you less than that mocha latte you had at Starbucks this morning.
With Kingdom of Loathing, the game is a parody of similar games. As a parody, the intentionally low-quality art style is a deliberate choice, standing in contrast to the focus on detailed visuals in other games. And any time that didn’t go into drawing stick figures went into the writing of the game, which is (frankly) of higher quality than many of the visually stunning games out there.
So, if you have a game where “low” production values make sense – maybe you’re making a game about living in a trailer park, or a game about magpies where the object is to build a nest out of the shiniest junk, or something – then by all means, craft your game accordingly. But even in this case (or I should say, especially in this case), make the quality and appearance of each component a deliberate design decision. You’ll find that it may take more skill to pull this off in a way that looks genuine than it would to just make a game with standard high-quality components.
For printing cards:
- Print on heavy card stock, not standard printer paper.
- If you’re not printing in color, consider at least printing on colored card stock, choosing a color that matches the rest of your game.
- Make sure the cards are readable when printed. Sometimes they don’t print out exactly as they look on a computer screen.
- Use rounded rectangles to mark your cards in a print program, and then carefully cut them out on your own with scissors. Or, if you have a corner-cutter (available at most craft/hobby stores), use that and save yourself a lot of work. Rounded corners are gentler to hold; square corners can poke you uncomfortably.
- If you want to get really fancy, get the cards laminated (this means cutting the corners of the lamination instead of the card itself). This will make the card virtually indestructible and waterproof, although it can be expensive. As a less expensive alternative, some hobby stores sell spray-on plastic coating that will give your cards a similar feel to standard plastic-coated playing cards. Take care to apply the spray evenly so that your cards don’t have lumps or irregularities.
- Print cards double-sided if you can, with a standard card back. Note that the back is a mirror image of the front, so things that print on the left side of the back of the sheet will be printing over the right side of the front. Also, be very careful about double-sided printing, as even a minor offset on one side may make the entire sheet unusable. Try to get the two sides lined up exactly.
For printing a board:
- Don’t just print on card stock alone. It feels flimsier than most game boards you’re used to. Try mounting it on flat cardboard, poster board, or foam core.
- If you have to cut cardboard or foam core to a specific size, try a test cut in a corner first. Some tools will not cut cleanly, but instead will leave the entire edge torn and jagged and ugly.
- Getting a large board printed on a single sheet of paper is expensive. Getting it printed on a vinyl banner is even more expensive. One low-cost alternative is to break up a large board on several standard sheets, then mount them on a firm backing. If you want to get fancier, instead of printing on normal paper, print on a full-sheet adhesive label. Then, you can just peel off the sheet and stick it on somewhere without having to worry about glue… but be careful when sticking it so that there are no creases.
- To make a foldable board, put two smaller boards near each other and tape them together with clear tape (such as mailing tape). Leave a little bit of space between them where there is just tape (this is where it will fold). Once you mount the actual game board on top, you might not even notice the tape.
For making custom dice:
- Print on adhesive labels, cut them to size, and stick them over the faces of existing dice.
- Leave a little room at the end of each die face (in other words, cut the adhesive labels a little smaller than the actual dimensions of the die). This will avoid having little bits of paper sticking out around the edges.
- For standard dice (white background, black recessed dots), the black dots may show through even after you put a label over them. If this is the case, put an extra layer or two of blank adhesive label over the face first, before applying the final label on the outside. This will reduce or eliminate the visual effect.
- If you really want to get fancy, there are some game manufacturers that sell blank dice with recessed sides. These are ideal, because you can put adhesive stickers on them and not worry about the stickers rubbing off through repeated use. These can be hard to find, though.
Coloring your pieces:
- If you have a lot of blank wooden pieces (such as cubes or pawns) that you want to differentiate by color, the easiest way is to fill a bowl with water and a little bit of food dye, then soak the pieces and let them dry. I suggest doing this in two stages. First, do a test on a single piece per color, to see what they’ll look like (some colors may not show up as well as others, or you may find you need to soak them for more or less time; better to find this out before you ruin your entire stock of pieces). Then, once you have something that works, repeat for all of the rest of the pieces at once.
- You can also paint wooden pieces by hand, but it is far more time-consuming and tedious and the paint is a bit more expensive.
- If you have plastic pieces, the easiest thing to do is check your supplier to see if they naturally come in different colors already. Doing this by hand is not easy. If you find you must differentiate plastic pieces by hand, consider using small adhesive bands or dots instead of trying to color the plastic itself.
- If you have metal pieces and need to color them, paint is probably your best option. The same hobby stores that sell metal miniatures will probably also sell paints and other materials for you to paint them. Note that this can get very expensive and time-consuming, but if you’re using metal parts you were probably not concerned about cost in the first place.
For printing your rules:
- The rules are the game, so don’t neglect these! Print on good-quality paper at the very least.
- Consider if it is appropriate to “theme” your rules according to your game. For example, a game about trains might have rules laid out like a train schedule. A game about running a restaurant might have rules that are inserted into a plastic-shielded restaurant menu. A game about collecting classical artwork might have some art pieces displayed in the pages of the rules.
- Make sure the font of the rules is readable. Don’t get too cute with custom fonts – doing this for headings is fine, but for the main text of the rules, remember that your players actually need to read them.
- And for the love of all that is holy, double- and triple-check your rules for spelling, grammar, and clarity of writing. You did this before, but do it again – this time it counts.
- Also check your written rules to make sure they are correct. You’ve likely made a lot of changes to the mechanics of the game over the course of the project, and the last thing you’d want is to accidentally print out an old copy of the rules before you made several key changes!
Everything is a Design Decision
If you just throw together a bunch of random components, that is a decision you made. If you hand-carved each component out of the branches of a tree in your backyard, that is also a deliberate decision. In short, everything you do for your game is a decision that you, as the designer, are responsible for.
So, make your decisions… but make them with both eyes open. Consider each component and how it fits into the overall visual and tactile aesthetic of the play experience.
Now, get out there and build the final version of your game.
I generally give my students in my classroom courses a single weekend to build everything. They do it, and they usually come to class on Monday very tired, reporting that they stayed up until 3am or later the night before just finishing everything.
What they don’t say (although they do grudgingly admit to it when pressed) is that the reason they stayed up so late was that they procrastinated. Looking at what has to be done to build your game, it probably seems like a pretty small task. Be warned that it will probably take a lot longer than you think to craft the final version.
But you can still finish it in a weekend.
You have but one goal this weekend: finish your Design Project. Create a final version, using the best-quality components you can find.
On Monday, if you have the means, post your game to the course wiki. I advise use of the wiki and not the forums, because the forums do not support images or file attachments. Here is what you should post:
- A brief introduction: who you are, title of your game, what your game is about (briefly).
- A short creator statement: why did you choose to make this game, what was your inspiration, where did you get your ideas?
- A file with the final rule set, including a list of all required components.
- If some of the components are custom-made (such as custom cards, dice or a board), include the computer files you used to print them (if any), and include printing instructions for any who wish to print their own copy of your game.
- If you have the means, take a picture of your final game components (perhaps set up as a game in progress, or perhaps just all lined up on a table together) and post the photo.
Remember, you’re almost to the end! One final push of effort and you can stand back and examine something glorious that you made yourself.