The game I'm working on has 2 to 4 players form teams comprised of a few unique characters from a collective pool of 20 that engage in a skirmish on a shared map.
While I would love nothing more than to have all 20 characters be custom injection molds with interchangable coloured bases, let's get real here -- the game would be prohibitively expensive to manufacture.
So I was debating more practical high-quality alternatives. Of course, I could always just print all of the characters onto some chipboard and use coloured plastic bases like they sell on spielmaterial.de...but I'm worried it will look a little cheap and turn people off to the thing.
I could print them out onto stickers and stick them onto inexpensive coloured wood bases...but then I'd need 80 such bases for a 4-playered game (20 characters and 4 possible teams), which seems like an inelegant approach and would take up a lot of box real-estate.
I'm not a fan of putting a flag indicating the team next to a generic character (a la the 2004 version of Civilization, for example) because it creates board-clutter and confusion.
Does anybody have a better idea? I've got a fair amount of flexibility here.
The first idea that comes to mind is to have your pieces be compose of two parts, a character part and a player/team part. What if you took the sticker-on-wood idea, but instead of having the sticker directly on colored wood, put the stickers on neutral wood blanks, and place those pieces on top of colored pieces representing the team affiliation. You could use grooved pieces (like poker chips or stacking checkers) to prevent the two pieces from sliding apart, or something like a shallow cup where the sidewall/lip is just tall enough to firmly hold the character piece. You could get away only 40 pieces (20 character and 20 team, assuming 5 bases per team) instead of needing 80 to cover all team/character combinations. Not a great improvement, but maybe this'll inspire you to an even better solution of your own.
It's better than what I've got, that's for sure. I would imagine that the "team" base is larger than the "unit" base, for easier visibility.
It would be great if I could find coloured wood bases that have a depression that a thick chipboard token "character" can just rest inside. Hmm.
Again, open to any other ideas.
Not sure there's another way to do it. Bases, hats, flags, you gotta do it in one of these ways. Of course you could just let players paint their own models a la GW and design them grey...
The charachter pieces could havea little hole in it, where you could stick a little plastic flag to show the team color.
I think cardboard works best without the stands (highly subjective; they reminds me too much of games I played as a kid, and how after a few plays they would fall apart anyway). Big and thick cardboard counters are very nice. Use wood instead of cardboard to make them feel even more luxurious (I love the feel of some big wooden counters/tiles in children's games I have been playing with my 4 yo). But even very thick cardboard is quite cheap (if you can find an inexpensive way to cut it).
In addition to being cheaper, cardboard also makes it easy to print all important unit stats on it, to avoid having to refer to some off-map tables for that.
Why not separate the pool of 20 characters into "class" types so that you can have abstract shapes that represent like 4 or 5 different classes. This might not work but it could make manufacturing easier and still give players an idea of which character is which, for instance the "assassins" could be a slender looking piece or you could separate them in to different attack types.
I guess this is heavily dependent on your theme and character pool but it's a possibility. One problem is that it might require the same number of pieces depending on if you want all players to play with all of one "class" of character....
Sorry if that's not helpful. The only way it would be is if there are few classes types.
I can think of many games where cardboard cutouts/stands are used (if at all). Most of the ones I've seen are pretty mainstream. See Walking Dead by Cryptozoic. That game is not "cheap cheap" but does have real good quality photos on the carboard themselves.
If you're worried looking cheap, use bigger cardboard with your best art there. If you're really worried, you can suggest to players alternate products (like from Reaper) to replace your cardboard bits and for your demo.
One thing here is "Can everyone pick the same unique character for their team?" If they can't, then I wouldn't worry about a team token. Most people divide game board setups mentally into "My stuff" and "Their stuff". Assuming this is a "combat" game, you should be fine. If they can, then I like the previous ideas.