This game design guest post is by Bastiaan Reinink. Read more of his thoughts on board game design at MakeThemPlay.com.

The most useful prototyping component

I’ve signed up to quite a few gyms over time. Some of them I went to very regularly and others I showed up twice and never looked back. What was the difference between them? One simple thing: Distance! When it comes to gyms, I’ve found that the amount of friction of going needs to be as small as possible. The same holds true for prototyping.

I’ve had hundreds of ideas for amazing games that never went further than a lightbulb over my head. Because usually I’d be doing something else, not having access to a computer or my other design stuff, and the idea would die a quiet death. Or even worse, I just couldn’t be bothered to actually take the time to create the components; it was just too much work to fire up the computer, create a bunch of cards (in whatever editor), print them out, cut them to size, put them in sleeves (with a playing card for strength) and only then be able to test out my idea.

All of that changed quite drastically when I found what is for me the most important component for prototyping: The blank playing card.

Why blank playing cards are so useful

I always have a few blank playing cards with me. They’re very easy to carry; you can have a few in your wallet if you want to. This means that whenever inspiration strikes, I have something to write on (I know that a booklet would work too, but I was always forgetting it…).

More importantly, I then have the means to build a very first prototype right on the spot! No need to wait to get my stuff, I can work on an idea on the train, when waking up in the middle of the night or even during a toilet brake.

Blank cards are incredibly flexible in what they can represent. Obviously they can be playing cards, but a few put together can also serve as a board or track. Alternatively, they can be shuffled to create randomness in many different ways (six cards together simulate a die!). They have two different sides, meaning that it’s also possible to use hidden information if that’s what you game asks for. And though they might be a bigger than is ideal, a card can become a token (house, wood, pawn, etc.) in a pinch.

Being able to prototype so quickly means that a lot of ideas can be discarded quickly without clogging up mental pathways: If it clearly doesn’t work, put it out of your mind (for me this about half of what I try).

Finally, it’s possible to very easily change things if needed. Something doesn’t work? Simply cross out the information and write in whatever it is you think would work better. At some point cards get a bit clogged up and you’ll need to take fresh one, but I generally get three to five iterations out of a single card.

Of course blank playing cards aren’t the end-all. At some point you’re going to have to make something a bit more fancy. But very quickly being able to go through the first few steps of prototyping makes your initial iteration cycle so much quicker. And I believe that in the end being able to produce and test many ideas will more quickly get you to an awesome game than waiting for that stroke of perfect inspiration.

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