Prototyping 101

When we started working on our first game as a company back in November of 2018, I had no idea of how much I didn’t know at that point. During the process of making H.H. Holmes Murder Castle, I ramped up my knowledge in a variety of areas as it pertains to board game creation. Seth and I are going to periodically post blueprints of the processes we learned and worked with to help you avoid some pitfalls we had along the way. Perhaps none were more important than learning how to prototype. In this blueprint I am going to provide you with some very basic tips on how to get your idea on paper.

As a kid growing up, I always enjoyed independent art projects. Being able to take the visions in my head and create a real physical product has always been fulfilling. While I admit to having next to no artistic ability, I have continued to enjoy the creative process this requires. Prototyping is nothing more than taking an idea, in this case a board game, and making it a tangible item for people to provide you feedback on.

1. Start Simple: Prototyping can be a very expensive process (My #1 lesson learned!) but doesn’t have to be to get started and test your ideas. If you are reading this, my guess is you have at least a small collection of board games around your place. It is important to remember that no one is going to make a game that ends up exactly how it started out so it is imperative to work with what you have around your house in order to give yourself working props for your game.

· Dig through your games to try and reuse and repurpose pieces of your favorite game (or a game you will never play again) that give you the essence of what you are trying to convey in your idea.

· You do not need an exact replica of what your idea is, it just needs to convey your idea in a way that helps people visualize and playtest the concept. We took pieces from more than two dozen games in our early stages that helped us test our ideas when it came to gameplay. It is a cheap and easy way to begin prototyping.

2. Upgrade Slowly: There will become a point when other game pieces may not work or have run their usefulness. As you begin to streamline your ideas with game play, you will need to do the same with your components. Some of the most frustrating parts early on were hearing from friends who could not visualize our ideas with game pieces. It’s natural to want to create the exact idea you have so that your less imaginative friends can finally see your brilliance! I found that my best prototyping partner was my local craft store. I stocked up on a variety of paper colors, thicknesses, name tag badges, markers and pens and a decent paper cutter. With roughly $50-$100 you can create a very well stocked prototyping kit to help you take your ideas to the next level of customization. Create the pieces that may require a more unique appearance so that you can give your early play testers a little more context. Remember, the hardest thing to do is to get others to see your idea in these early times. As you can see from the picture below, it does not have to be perfect, just playable!

3. Expect Setbacks: The whole purpose of a prototype is to test the ideas of your game and its mechanics. While you can have a fantastic idea when it comes to a component, do not let that be your driving force. It is important to think about why people play games, they are fun! Early on, we had a multitude of pieces that, for a variety of reasons, did not make it into the game. Knowing what I know now I would not have put as much resources (money most importantly) into some of the earlier versions of the game. Unfortunately, the only way to know if what you have is going to work is to get it in front of as many friends, family and other gamers as possible.

We tested our game close to 100 times when we thought we had a very good version of the game based on the feedback we received locally. We decided that we had reached a point where it would be beneficial to get the game professionally printed. With the professionally printed game in hand we travelled to GenCon to gain additional feedback. The feedback we received was from other independent board game developers. This ended up being the best information we received and lead us to re-tool the game. While those copies we thought were very close to a finished product, it took feedback from a variety of external sources to point out a whole host of things we had never thought of. It was a costly mistake to learn! However, like a good prototyper, they will not go to waste! I keep them for pieces to help prototype future projects.

While I just touched on a few very simple ideas when it comes to basic prototyping, I feel these are very important to keep in mind while you are creating your game. Prototyping can be a ridiculously expensive part of your game budget but it doesn’t have to start out that way. It is paramount to keep it as economical as possible for as long as you can until your idea has been thoroughly tested. If you keep these ideas in your mind while in your early stages you can escape this expensive pitfall.

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