A Week in the Life: Getting Stuff Printed

The game design work of a regular guy with a full time job and a family with 3 small kids who designs games in some of his spare time

  • May 9, 2021 12:36 AM

I want to spend time most weeks talking about my design work both as an encouraging example of how someone challenged for spare time can make progress on game designs, and to offer some incidental insights into how I view the design process that could be interesting or helpful. I intend this to show how I break down my process into digestible nuggets of work that can be done between my job, family, and other responsibilities.

So here's what I worked on this week.

Since I finally got all my digital files completed, it was time to get physical prototypes in my hands. My current projects are mostly cards and there are a lot of different ways people make prototype cards. A popular method is to print a 3x3 grid of cards onto paper and then cut them out. You can print on cardstock for a sturdier feel, or maybe laminate your paper before cutting, or print on normal paper and sleeve it with another card to add heft. Printing and cutting cards has the advantage of the uniformity that comes from a digital file, and you can easily print and update single cards or several without having to change everything or take too much time. It requires having access to a printer of course, and though you can cut with scissors, I've seen people use a broad variety of cutting machines. While I have made most of these variations of printed cards in the past, I basically never do it anymore because I don't like cutting and sleeving.

I've also made prototypes before by buying blank cards and hand drawing everything I want. This gives you better card stock quality than printed paper, makes your deck more compact than sleeved cards, and it makes replacing a small number of cards a quick and easy task. But making a large deck of cards this way, or if there's a systematic change in your game that requires sweeping changes, or if the game needs to have uniformity of layout, then you'll have a more difficult time drawing each card by hand. To be fair, since it doesn't require making any digital assets, it can be the fastest way to make cards, but after making multiple decks of cards over multiple iterations I believe it loses its advantages. I hand draw cards when I'm testing the first version of a game. I don't make a full deck; I only draw enough cards to test the core systems. I do it enough times to get a good idea of a functional layout and content for cards but after that I switch to something different.

When I need cards for prototypes that are beyond the initial stage, I order them from The Game Crafter. I like the look of printed cards because the icons and layout are more consistent than when I draw them by hand. Since I don't like spending the time to cut and sleeve or hand draw cards, I appreciate the ability to pay a company to do that part for me. All I have to wait for is the shipping, but that can happen in parallel with other things I'm working on. The only downsides are that if I need something urgently, it may not be possible from a print on demand service, and this is probably the most expensive way to get prototype cards. But I believe it's a fair price and worth it.

All this is leading up to say that I uploaded all my Culmination cards to The Game Crafter along with the updates to Galaxy Alpha Team, and placed an order for them. I spent some time getting used to the interface of nanDECK's integration with The Game Crafter, and had to do some adjustments to make sure my cards didn't have content in the bleed zone. That was one long evening's worth of work, and now it's done. I think I lucked into ordering at a time when there wasn't a backlog because my cards shipped within a couple of days and are already in hand. Just in time for some playtesting this coming weekend.