Designers and Dangers 105 – Building a Prototype

Rather than worrying about whether you qualify as a boardgame designer or not, just by reading this article I ordain you as such. Welcome to Keith D Franks III’s “Designers and Dangers”: a Boardgame Design article series. Here I’ll talk about board games and the journey it takes to get them from an idea to a physical product on the shelf.

Welcome to the arts n crafts corner, where all those wacky skills you thought you’d never use in preschool finally show their worth. I’m talking cutting and pasting, scissors and glue sticks, covering components in contact and more! I’m going to break this down into a few sections based on component types based on the stuff that I use and starting with the most easiest one:

Poker Sized Cards

If you’ve played MTG you’ve experienced some poker sized cards with solid production quality and durability. Now we’re not going to get anything close to as fancy as that, but here’s a good place to start. Here’s an example of the ready to print files that I made for my game Wingfalls of Dusk (We’re assuming you’re not just going to scribble some texta onto reflex sheets here, we’re classier than that)

First thing I do in Photoshop is create the blue guidelines which is the exact size of the cards. A poker sized card is 825 x 1125px with a 75px bleed on each side. (which if you squint is marked above with a 1px wide yellow line to cut along.) I do the graphic design for each card, which is just composites of the art, and text on top in a document that is precisely 825×1125, and then export each card into the print template so that the final result looks like above. Once you’ve printed out all of the sheets of your cards, cut out each individual card and prepare them for the next step.

Stolen from my copy of Treachery of the Paper Fox. Which is in fact, paper.

Any sleeve with a solid colour back, any existing poker sized card, your game’s cut out printed cards, all into a sleeve together to make your game. Sleeves can be pretty cheap at your FLGS (and I’m a huuge sleever) and you can get MTG cards for free if you ask for the introductory learn to play decks. Bat your eyelids enough, and they’ll give you one for each colour which is 150 cards ready to feed your prototypes.


Depending on how big your would-be miniatures are, standees are an easy approximation. I normally use Poker cards for my standees but you can get away with things that are smaller.

Here’s two poker sized standee’s for my game Winning Love by Daylight, which is just the poker size card in a Binder Clip from office works. It’s super straightforward and sits up nicely on a flat surface (like the tokens I had to put underneath my wonky playmat)


Punch card tokens are pretty tricky to get close to a final product version, as you’ll need to experiment with a few different goes at it to get the right thickness, but you’ll be making each token individually.

For these punch card tokens from my game Crikita, I had a large sheet of leftover card board from deliveries I’d received, and that I’ve kept around for precisely this kind of thing. I glued the printed art onto the topside, and cut around the cardboard on it. It comes out a little rugged, but the thickness is prefect for this game. If I had added a cutline, and extended the art further than exact dimensions, it wouldn’t have those awkward white jagged bits at the edges. These are 440px in diameter.


Gameboards are a bit trickier to get the dimensions right, but most of the time the size is dictated by you, but if you’re looking for some sizes to help get you started TheGameCrafter has a list of templates to get you started.

Here’s each type with its dimensions, but you can download a template in a variety of formats to help get you the right size. For most of my prototype work with boards (only a new foray) I’ve been using A4 as a guide, knowing that I’m going to be printing it at that size, I’ve let it be my width for the document. (You can load Photoshop into A4 size as one of the default templates, under ‘international paper’)

Here’s the board and some of the character tokens from my game Murders at Tealwoods Manor, These tokens are also 440x in diameter, and knowing this i’ve designed the board so that the places where characters are placed (the rugs) are precisely that size. The board itself is just short of A4 sized itself, and this design I did myself in photoshop using some textures from royalty free artwork sites. (Also worth looking into)

The board itself is just paper glued onto the cardboard and cut around, same as the tokens, but for a playing surface that will have a lot of movement involved with it, I’d recommend covering it in clear contact paper. (The previous version was, but I’ve run out since I built this one, and will eventually cover it)

The Big Component Heist

Finally the easiest components to get for your game are ones that exist in other games, Meeples? Crack open your copy of Carcassone! Dice? Time to skeletonize your parent’s copy of Yahtzee! Here’s a picture of just all the stuff I could loot from the few boardgames I have in my collection. Recognize any?

Hope this helps inspire you to make the leap from scribbling on paper, to building a prototype that will grab the attention of your potential customers, and gets you on the track to building an exciting game!

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