Rapid Prototyping - My tools and process

I was over on a BGG designers' group when a new user asked:

"How do you guys do rapid prototyping

How fast can you prototype a game?"

Here's what I shared:


Here are the best two tips in the following mini-ramble

  1. Get a CardMate card cutter. It is tangible happiness.

  2. To draft your initial rules, follow this outline: Name, Very Short Description, Story, Object, Materials, Set Up, Play, Ending the Game & Winning, Variants, Origin & Credits

Long Version
For the physical part of ultra-quick early prototypes, I rely on eight things:

  • Lots of dice

  • Lots of cubes in different colors

  • Lots of stackable tokens

  • Lots of wooden discs and cheap poker chips from 1/2 to 1&1/2 inch in size.

  • Cardstock in many different colors

  • A printer that can print on cardstock

  • My CardMate business card cutter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsYRo54mKvI – This machine is one of my favorite of favoritest things. Seriously, it's super-sweet!

  • Illustrator, Photoshop, and Pages

For the structure and form – the rules – I usually (80% of the time?) follow this path:

  • I sketch out the core of what I want the experience to be.

  • I capture on paper as much as I can of what the experience I want the payers to have implies. These may be rules, or game components, or particular emotions or phases....

  • Parallel to this, I start a section of the document to capture the ideas I'm having for specific in-game effects or cards.

  • Parallel to both of those, I start a section of the document to capture "real rules" for the game.

  • If I'm still having trouble with getting the game to gel, I write a narrative about what a round of play looks like. "It's a four player game. At the start of the round, Alice plays up to three cards, then gathers resources based on the cards she played and the territory she controls. Then Bob... etc."

  • With the game mostly-formed in my head, I write the first draft of the rules. I always follow this outline: Name ("Instructions For Prototyping"), Very Short Description ("a game for one or more aspiring game designers by Jonathan Leistiko"), Story ("You're a would-be game designer & you wanna make games! (etc.)"), Object ("End the game with the most victory points by designing the best game. You do this by gathering peer points, fun points, and BGG rating points."), Materials, Set Up, Play, Ending the Game & Winning, Variants, Origin & Credits. {For many examples of this structure in their final form, check out my online library of 120+ print-and-play games at http://invisible-city.com/play }

    • You'll likely find that during this process, you'll discover rules or components that are implied in your prior notes but you haven't explicitly stated them yet. It's a lot of fun to see how writing it out brings your assumptions to light.

Depending on the game's complexity, going from initial writing to first playable prototype can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few days or weeks. As many before me have said: "Fail faster." Get your idea out in as clear a form as possible as quickly and with as little effort as you can so you can revise and fix it ASAP.

For the record, "How long did it take?" is a tricky question. Often, I'll think a lot about a game before I write a single thing, then when I start writing, it all comes together very rapidly. So how long did that take? Do I add up all the time I thought about it before writing?

I hope this was helpful and that you have lots of fun making great new games!

PS: Once all the rules and components are digitally ready, physically crafting one copy of a typical games takes about 2 hours, tops.