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Question About Prototyping Game Pieces

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cyril957
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Joined: 06/05/2009

The game that I'm making has gone through quite a bit of playtesting already, but the prototypes I've been using have just used coins (pennies, nickels, and dimes; to be precise) as the game pieces.

But I've been reading a book about getting your games published (more out of curiosity than out of planning - at least at this point), and they say that before companies publish games, they usually want to playtest a prototype. Makes sense.

In order to do that, would I need to make actual game pieces (even if they're just paper cut-outs)? The way I understand it, the prototype is function-over-form, but does just using coins cross "the line" somehow?

InvisibleJon
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Put yourself in their shoes...

cyril957 wrote:
The way I understand it, the prototype is function-over-form, but does just using coins cross "the line" somehow?
I recommend making a prototype that is nice enough without breaking yourself over it. Make sure that the game is easy to understand, quick to learn, and fun to play.

Put yourself in their shoes. Take a look at what you're sending them and think about your impression of the game and whether you'd want to risk your money publishing it. If it looks too cheap, chances are it'll color their impression of the game.

ilta
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Good advice. By the same

Good advice. By the same token, though, you don't want something that is too nice, because then those publishers who have their own artists or ideas about theme will think (probably correctly) that you will be hesitant or unwilling to make any changes they request.

I'd say that the general rule is that your game needs to look ready to show, but just short of ready to sell. Take a look at some of the free print-and-play games out there, or Cheapass's line of products (which goes for the same aesthetic).

At some point I would get rid of the coins, but only because when you ship it they will add excess weight (and because they are easily pocketable cash money). Little cardstock markers are fine; poker chips also work.

SiddGames
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Sounds like your prototype

Sounds like your prototype should be pretty easy and cheap, if it only uses three different tokens. You can pick up cheap wooden bits at a Hobby Lobby type store, or from educational supplier local or online (eaieducation.com).

InvisibleJon
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Tiddlywinks...

SiddGames wrote:
You can pick up cheap wooden bits at a Hobby Lobby type store, or from educational supplier local or online (eaieducation.com).
...and there are plastic chips and tiddly winks that you can get from virtually any hobby shop that sells dice from Koplow.

jeffinberlin
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Nice prototype means you care

ilta wrote:
you don't want something that is too nice, because then those publishers who have their own artists or ideas about theme will think (probably correctly) that you will be hesitant or unwilling to make any changes they request.

I don't really buy that line of thinking. If a publisher likes the game, they'll tell you in their contract that they have the right to change theme and do their own graphics. If you try to change that part of the contract, THEN they will suspect that you are too inflexible to work with. Having a nice-looking prototype does not send that message.

The message that it DOES send is that you care enough about your game idea to invest some time and effort in making the prototype, that you've even given thought into the theme and atmosphere of the game, how the rules could be communicated by the game pieces/symbols on the cards and board, and even what kinds of components could be used (and how much it might cost to produce). Some of the graphic ideas of my games were even used by the publisher, although I did not push for them.

I've seen very basic prototypes that get published, but I also know that nice-looking prototypes do get initial attention. If there's no game behind the fancy materials, the publisher will notice right away, but a good game might have an advantage if the prototype is attractive.

The Game Crafter
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make it purdy

I disagree that publishers are less likely to look at you if your game looks polished. In fact, the better it is, the less work it is for them, and therefore the more likely they are to give it a try. They're going to want changes, and that's pretty much non-negotiable, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to make it perfect before you seek out a publisher.

Having published 8 games professionally myself, and worked with other designers to publish their games, I highly recommend making your prototype match your production version as closely as possible. Here's why:

1) The closer it matches the production version the better playtesting feedback you can get back from your testers. Testing isn't just about mechanics after all. It's also about usability and aesthetics. You can't really test the last two unless your game looks how it will look when it gets published.

2) The more times you have to remake the graphical elements of your game, the more refined it will look by the time you get to the final version. You'll find all kinds of neat tricks. Granted, if most of your graphics are illustrations, and you're paying someone else to do that, then it will get way too costly. But the graphic design and typography elements can be endlessly manipulated to achieve better results. People will play ugly games no problem, but will they pick them up in a store? Not as likely.

3) The more you playtest with your full system including graphics, the more chances you have to spot errors, artifacts, and alignment issues.

4) When you play with the actual parts needed to play the game, you may find something a bit too clunky. For example, in one of my recent games, we started out using dice for the randomization, but it slowed down game play. So over time we switched to a deck of cards for that mechanic, and it increased the play speed by a factor of 3. And more importantly, new players caught on to how the mechanic worked faster and easier once we switched to the cards.

That's my advice. Your mileage may vary.

cyril957
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Size?

I think I understand what's being said. And I didn't even think about the "pocketable change" thing (oy vey).

Roughly akin to your dice-to-cards transition would be how my players keep track of their victory points. You need 6 or 4 to win (for a 2- or 3-player game), so during playtesting we've been keeping track with different faces of a die. In a finalised copy I think it would be better to just have a score track to move an extra game piece along. And maybe "pots" to hold game pieces which are needed for the game but not for the board (like a dungeon of captured chess pieces, but re-incarnate-able).

That having been said, how important to publishers is size and composition of a board? Right now I'm using a board printed-off and markered-in on an 8.5"x11" piece of paper. But if I add score tracks and "pots" and use bigger game pieces, then I'm gonna need to find a way to have a bigger board. Does this kind of thing matter to publishers? I would think that bigger boards would be a turn-off since they might cost more to print, but it might not be as important as it is to me as a non-publisher.

InvisibleJon
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Clarity and fun are paramount...

cyril957 wrote:
That having been said, how important to publishers is size and composition of a board? Right now I'm using a board printed-off and markered-in on an 8.5"x11" piece of paper. But if I add score tracks and "pots" and use bigger game pieces, then I'm gonna need to find a way to have a bigger board. Does this kind of thing matter to publishers? I would think that bigger boards would be a turn-off since they might cost more to print, but it might not be as important as it is to me as a non-publisher.
I'd make it all as big as it need to be to be clear, easy to play, and fun. If that means that you need to make one central board and individual player boards (for pots and trackers), then go for it. If it all fits on one piece of paper and is still easy to play and understand, then you're in good shape.

I've rarely seen a board game with one 8.5" x 11" board, so I think you're safe if you get bigger than that.

cyril957
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Yeah

Yeah, the size I'm using right now is just a print-off board for playtesting. The final prototype will definitely be bigger.

And I'd never thought of having the trackers and pots on separate sheets. This might save some room sometimes (as in two-player you wouldn't have to have three of them out, you can just put one away). It'd be kind of like the character health-bars from Epic Duels (fun game).

Anyways, do publishers care what your board is made of? Paper? Cardboard? Construction paper and cardboard? Obviously different companies will have different preferences, but is there a rule of thumb?

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