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Commentary on Games Design

Game Design Secrets #3 – Rapid prototyping

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The faster you can prototype a game, the better.

The worst thing that can happen to your beautiful new creation, all shiny eyed and full of joy, is a pained visit from the grizzly arm of indolence. Manifesting itself to gently place your keen-baby-bunting game on the top shelf of your cupboard, with all the other “Didn’t give it a go, probably would be great to finish” games –shelved to rot.

The cause of the decaying stack of chits and boards on my shelf can mostly be traced back to one point. Rapid prototyping.

I promise myself to get the rules up soon – and then once they are ready, I’ll paperfy the thing, it’ll be great just you watch. Then, 2 months later, when the game is in no other state than which I left it, I have lost my urge for it. My very own hype for the game has evaporated because I didn’t give the idea a life.

Making it easy on yourself


All the necessities. Also a hole punch for tokens. Those things are awesome. When you bring your hammer of justice down onto the soft card to create money tokens, you feel like … well like a hero to be honest.

Having readily accessible material helps the rapid protyping immensely. Try and remove all barriers between the ethereal idea in your head and the paper in front of you. I would recommend any enthusiast go on ebay, amazon, whatever and get:

  1. A load of blank cards
  2. Lots of heavy gauge paper (Greyboard or any thick card equivalent)
  3. Some fancy permanent pens (I love Posca Pens)
  4. Sheets of A4 sticker paper
  5. Some blank, indented dice
  6. 1 inch (30mm) hollow hole punch

This whole game design kit will cost you somewhere between £20 and £50 ($30-$75) and will … essentially … set you up for ever! Get this stuff, have it handy and accessible. Tidy your desk a little and get a big nice space ready to go. Pick up some blank cards – and start writing.

A quick analogy; if I locked someone in a temperature controlled clay design room, with a clay spinning wheel, loads of clay, clay tools, patina paints, and a kiln for 1 week, what do you think would happen?

The quicker you can get the idea down in an alpha playtest state, the more chance you give your creation. Now this next bit is tricky, but bear with me:

Rapid Prototyping will enhance the possibility of success AND failure.

Embrace the possibility of failure. As Matt’s excellent previous post advised us all, we need to understand that “bad game” is a good thing. It enables us to move on quicker to the next one. In exactly the same manner, good rapid prototyping accelerates the game design process, both for good and bad – which is good.

Following this quickening will force you into a position where you will say “Well, this very quickly turned out to be … utter horsecrap” – embrace that. Embrace the horsecrap. Now you can have a new chance to make something that will be better! By the time that you have prototyped one game, decided it’s rubbish, and then prototyped the next game, you will be on a better footing. Embracing the possibility of failure encourages creative risk taking.

More Time =/= More quality

Working for 30 years on a project does not make a good project. Some of the best games in the world have been conceived in the time it took to have a shower.

Build the toy first

If you are worried about the time it takes to proto a big ‘ol box game, then find the toy of the game, and do that bit first. Even if you feel scared about prototyping 200 cards for your mammoth deck builder, the core of the game will be able to be formed in a matter of minutes. Start there.


To sum: have a stock of accessible materials, write it down, start at the core, discard it if it’s bad, and do it again.


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