Project Post | Creating a board game prototype

Creating a board game prototype. It was past time I shared a new project on my blog, and in this post, I wanted to share my efforts in making a board game prototype.

These are some of the processes used for creating a board game prototype for a past client – ( Conway Council ).

I would like to say that the initial brief was simple, and in truth, it was simple, on paper at least. But it was also simple to point out vague.

Nuances came up that I had never experienced in my career so far. I could tell that the people commissioning the project, were not familiar with working with board game designers, and that was fine.

I was also there to help and guide them.

From the outset, I knew I would need to roll my sleeves up to make a playable game. Like the image shows.

Board game prototype for streetwise board game

What I gleaned from the initial brief:

  • The board game needed to be educational
  • Palatable for teenagers
  • And teaches teens about the hard knocks of life ( and youth homelessness )

Conwy Council was going to use this game with charity organisations such as Shelter and other companies based in Wales.

“teach children about youth homelessness”

Core steps and processes used in making this prototype

  • Discussed the initial brief. After a basic telephone call.
  • Create the first brief ( the entirety of the project was actually several smaller projects ).
  • Created very rough rules
  • Creating the initial game mechanics based on the rules
  • Visual design, characters, rules, packaging, and general graphic design art direction
  • Created a mockup – in full colour
  • Ran first playtest
  • Refined game
  • Create a design-ready prototype for photography and further development
  • Worked as the middleman, project manager, and between client and ad prototype manufacturer
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Creating a board game prototype ( overview )

The aim of the game was to create something that teaches children and teenagers the dangers of youth homelessness. It is the ‘gamification’ of how to better manage personal finances, and work with general property pitfalls and debt. All these situations can lead to you losing your house and home.

The message of the game was stark, but we needed to establish a way to make the game both enjoyable, educational, and palatable.

For the brief, I was initially given a spreadsheet of depressing phrases that were more akin to a sad flashcard game than a board game. I used these phrases and situations as inspiration for the game mechanics. These phrases acted as a springboard.

After all, the main purpose was to create an educational game with a root meaning: try to look after yourself and not end up homeless. That, would be my hook for how you lose the game.

“I didn’t want to make the game so hard and depressing that it completely crushed the players’ souls. The game ‘could’ be beaten.”

But even with the best-laid plans, and being careful with money, things can occur. That is another core mechanic built into the rules. It was another lesson subliminally buried in the core game play.

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1 ) Crafting the basic rules

When creating a board game prototype, a viable game mechanic and rules are essential to a game that is both playable and fun.

I hate it when you buy a board game and realise that gameplay is not only flawed but utterly broken. I feel cheated.

When making the rules, I didn’t want to make the game so hard and depressing that it completely crushed the players’ souls. The game ‘could’ be beaten.

Nor did I want to make a game that could be cheated. This is why playtesting your game is important. and with strangers better still.

These rules were alpha-tested by me.

Notes were taken, the game was enhanced, and artwork was then ( Note then, after making a playable mock-up) created.

Here is more on creating a mock-up for creating a board game prototype.

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2 )The first iteration of the game

In the very early form of the game, I constructed it from bits and pieces from my studio and my partner’s office. Nothing fancy.

Creating a board game prototype the initial game pieces

Photo taken from the earliest iteration of the game.

When creating the early form of the board game prototype, here is an example of those bits and pieces.

Creating a board game prototype – Alpha Scrap Components

  • Post-it notes
  • Bits of bric-a-brac as game pieces
  • A sheet of white A3 paper
  • Note paper
  • Scraps of paper as currency

As I said, nothing fancy at all when developing the game mechanics.

It was whatever I could fashion together to make a playable game. For this project, this was all that was required, but you can buy prototype kits also.

Once I had established some very basic rules and core game mechanics. I then set about testing what some of the different cards might work and play like.

cards and tokens

When creating a board game prototype, this is a crucial stage! Before graphic design was even considered. They game needed to be half-decent to play.

Seeing what components you need earlier in the development process rather than later, will save time, money, and headaches. You can then move on to the graphic design stages and artwork. Which brings me to the next part.

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3 ) Characters & the visual design for creating a board game prototype

Once the first iteration of a playable game was created, I stress-tested the rules. I then set about creating some initial visual design for the game – the graphic design.

I sketched out some characters, titles, the general look and feel of the game, and the cover of the box of which there were several iterations. And a segment for the game board for the client to see. I will often refer to this stage as ‘Early design, design roughs, early development or first phase of development’.

There is no use in creating an entire project only to show the client at the end something they don’t like. Make life easier on yourself, and create a sample. Speaking of which, here is a sample from this projects of some of my process and journey.

Initial artwork for a board game ( design ideas )

Creating a board game prototype early idea generation

in this part, you can see me experimenting with different card designs to present to the client. The preferred cards would be funneled and developed further in later stages.

Character illustration for board game
Characters
Cover artwork

Creating a general look and feel for the cover and some of the typographic experimentation. This is in essence part of the cover and box packaging ( including the cover art )

Creating a board game prototype early board segment

An early sample of the game board! More game board design can be seen either in this post – snakes and ladders game or The London Pub Crawl.

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4 ) Graphic Design & Core Components ( Development )

Below are some of the components I designed and illustrated for the prototype. After the first stages of the visual design which was a large part of the project, the ideas that were short-listed were developed further.

These designs were readied in Adobe Illustrator before being imported into a cutter guide. These cutter guide templates and PDF’s were then sent off to a factory for a batch print. ( although I made a more basic version for further playtesting )

The same premise was similar to the cards, rules and the first designs, only polished and developed further.

Here is another post on how to import text into card artwork using Indesign.

The developed graphic components

Card design for the board game
event card designs
Creating a board game prototype developed board segment for game
Top down of board game visual
Creating a board game prototype full game board graphic
Tokens for a board game - illustration

“Then playtest it again. And then… when you have had enough. Playtest it once or twice more. “

5 ) Playtesting

When creating a whole game, I always advise my clients to play test their games, and this project was no different.

Being the one at the helm of making a fully working game, I wanted to practice what I preach. And if money would have allowed, I would have carried out more player testing on a wider audience.

For those of you wondering how to make a board game prototype ( 3rd party link ) Never ‘ever’ skip this step, playtest your game.

Then playtest it again. And then… when you have had enough. Playtest it once or twice more.

I have a post here ( the play test of a client project ) that goes into greater detail. This is another important stage when creating a board game prototype.

Creating a board game prototype board game play test photo

6 ) Take notes from the playtest, and adjust accordingly

After watching real players play the game on 3 separate occasions, I took notes on people’s play styles.

People playing board games try to break the rules. Many players I have witnessed when creating a game will try and break or circumnavigate ( cheat ) the core rules or ‘interpret’ the rules differently. There is no right or wrong here, you need to observe and shut up as a board gamer developer and see how people may realistically play your game.

Remember this when making a board game.

For this project, I had to tweak some of the rules, re-jig the board, and amend the artwork after running the latter playtests.

Although I was by and large relieved, not much needed to be amended. Mostly re-working and some graphical aspects of the board, and rewording. This comes under “development”.

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7 ) Final Stage – helping the client get a prototype made

In addition to coming up with the core design, the rules, making a playable prototype, play testing, and everything else in-between, that is involved with making this game.

I was commissioned to liaise and organise a prototype production of the game.


Basically, I helped to guide the client through the first iterations of making a viable, polished prototype. ( and the batch production ) I amended or prepared the artwork as was necessary for prototype makers.

Here are some photos of the board which I took on my bridge camera, and isolated on white in Photoshop.

Printed game board
Creating a board game prototype game board in action
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Creating a board game prototype | The Unique Challenges

This project came with a range of different and unique challenges that I’ve never encountered before.

Initially, I wasn’t given an exact brief outside of “make a game”. The initial brief that was given to me amounted to little more than a set of unfortunate key phrases listed inside an Excel spreadsheet.

This did not amount to a full brief. I had to convert these statements listed in Excel, from a long list of misery into a playable game to educate children and teenagers about youth homelessness.

Here are some details about the projects, and lessons I may have learned!

Wordy

Fundamentally this is an educational game and not a game for fun sake.

With each card, there would be a short paragraph describing an ‘event’ and whether a point is lost or gained. In addition to this, there would also be the Welsh translation.

The cards were very busy as each card needed two statements placed in them. Saying that the space became tight was an understatement. Some cards needed to have the amount of text reduced to fit.

Instead of creating 2 different languages for the game, 2 languages were usually next to or near to each other which did offer some unique challenges for the graphic design. This was carried through not only on the cards but all visual and written components of the game. I feel I managed to make it work though – just. Please observe this card again with the double language on a single face.

Unable to read Welsh

I have nothing against the Welsh language, I just don’t know how to read or write it.

With this in mind, this is potentially one of the most unusual challenges I’ve had to work with on a project. Not being able to read or write the copy whatsoever, even at a superficial level posed a significant challenge for this project.

By and large, I technically didn’t need to know how to speak, read or write in Welsh. But, when copying and pasting the Welsh language onto the cards, even by happenstance, I couldn’t flag any issues.

You may be correct in assuming as I am not the copywriter, that I don’t need to worry about it. But in the same breath, I needed my client to complete and finish this project. I needed to be paid. And generally the more eyes on a project, the more likely you are to pick things up and share your concerns. I was unable to do this here.

Waiting and relying on their team to spot or change their mind with the wording on an already very wordy game, made this very challenging to work on in the latter stages.

Not being able to read it, even at a basic level, slowed the project down at the last hurdles as I could not make edits to the text properly from my side, it was then that I thought about this type of article, how to edit card text for your game would be very helpful for my clients.

A member of their team could amend the text on their side, For me to spot these edits was near impossible and impractical in both capability, time, and budget.

I spy with my retail eye

With my past experience in both designing and creating mostly flat 2D products and games. These past products and projects have always been with retail intention at the fore.

As a designer, I was sympathetic to the product and helping a business make a sale, not all designers think like this, especially junior designers or design generalists. Not all graphic designers, think and operate in the same way. I was taught how to design for retail, build a brand, etc.

I understood that the packaging needed areas for barcodes, addresses, strap lines, age badges, warnings etc. In addition to all of this, making games appealing to the masses and shelf-ready.

This post here shows some of my past retail packaging.

For this project, the above didn’t necessarily apply, as it was for demonstration purposes mostly in an educational setting such as a school or town hall.

Retail design example

I hope that Conwy Council took care of this game and that children are enjoying it, and playing today… and perhaps better off than some of the characters I created for the project as part of the vector art.

Project Post | Creating a board game prototype, Testimonial



Jimmdesigns is the perfect partner for anyone interested in creating a board game.  Jimm supports with all aspects of creation from the initial concept, design process, development, play test sessions, through to the production of the prototype and manufacture. 
Jimm is able to break down the complex processes into easy to follow step-by-step actions for individuals who are new to the game making process. 

Jimm has essential contacts in the industry and is able to manage all stages of the process.  We highly recommend Jimm’s services, he is extremely patient and flexible with timescales and concepts” 5****

Faye Willet – Conwy Youth Service

And that concludes making ‘streetwise’

Or if you need a board game designer, please get in touch

3rd party websites ( Dragon Bone Games )

Working with beta testers for your board game – a story of Beta testing

Working with beta testers… creating board games isn’t easy! A crucial and oftentimes overlooked stage for creating a commercial board game is the beta and alpha testing.

I was commissioned to create a board game prototype to teach children about youth homelessness. My primary role was – mostly – visual design and gameplay, and illustration. And… consulting and guidance on creating a game.

When working with Beta testers, I tried to create an environment that was open and invited constructive feedback.

While I took notes, I allowed the Beta testers to play how it suited them to play. Down to opening up the initial black packaging box to reading the rules, in whichever order they chose.

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Setting up the Playtests for a board game prototype

This was my first playtest in quite a while. In the past, I have been involved in both helping to set up alpha testing and the follow-up stages of a Beta test. Beta testing on behalf of a 3rd party client was a new experience for me. And there was a lot involved.

Before preparing 2 different environments for beta testing. I had to get the testers to sign NDAs on behalf of the client.

It should also be noted that a large amount of effort was involved to find both beta testers, and finding a space to carry out the beta testing. Money also needed to be paid to the venue for lunch.

Alpha Testing vs Beta Testing

There are some key differences in the alpha and beta testing stages. With alpha testing, this is often a case of a game or game prototype being experimented with and developed internally. In my case, I was the first tester of the rules. I created the rough rules to see how the game mechanics may work and wrote these down as I went along. This is typically the very early stages of creating a working board or card game. The more alpha testing you can do before going to external beta testing, the better.

Alpha test of game
This is a photo of some of the first game components and alpha



Beta testing the game involved finding other parties to look at and play the game. These people had never read the rules or knew what the game was or anything. Once I sourced the beta testers, found spaces to play the game – this then set about into motion the gameplay.

The beta stage is the more developed stage of creating the game prototype.

Creating the gameplay | My experience of working with beta testers

I was involved in creating the initial gameplay as well as working on all the visual design for game. This was part and parcel of the commission of the game project – from top to bottom. Finding board game testers can be tricky ( external website on finding beta testers ) , but I feel that these beta testers offered tremendous value to creating the board game prototype.

Here are some initial screen grabs from the playtest. An important stage when creating a board game prototype.

The first draft low-fidelity prototype

Working with Beta testers
Working with Beta testers
Working with Beta testers board close up - making a board game

The later stages of the playtest | working with ‘other’ beta testers

I would advise when doing a playtest of your game, to try the game on people you don’t know. ( although I do know Paul here – thanks Paul, Paul is also a drummer I’ll have you know! ) The wider the pool of people… the better. Below are some visuals of the playtesters in action doing their thing!

And me… taking notes on how the game is being played.

Doing these live tests is not always easy on the ears. But they can be essential for making a better and more rounded board game.

Working with Beta testers
Working with Beta testers
Working with Beta testers

A special thank you to the playtesters for this game

This lot should be proud – although the Conwy Council may not know the names of the playtesters I would like to announce who helped make the prototype a more rounded and playable experience.

( me, I was the first tester ) Faye Willets + Family, Helen Edmonds, Jake Joung, Paul Whibley, Steve – and a Special thank you to Liz Chadwick for introducing me to some fellow playtesters!

If you would like any advice or a design service to design your board game you can read more here – freelance board game designer

Are you a playtester?

If you are a playtester for board or card games? Feel free to drop a message across with a bit about you, what you do, where you are based, age, your demographic, and the types of games you like to play. ( please note that many of my playtesters are currently based in the South East – UK )

Are you looking for playtesters?

Playtesters or beta testers can be tricky to find if you are just starting out. This article here on Dragon Bone games About finding playtesters may be helpful – ( Alpha ). Or if in the later stages of development – where to find Beta Testers. ( external website )

Notes – On Prototype

It was a fun project to work on. I would like to say I have no idea what the mass production or future edition of the game will look like but either way – I was happy to be part of the pre-first edition of the gameplay.

Are you looking to create a board game? I was involved in the visual look and feel of the game along with the vector character illustration. Feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss your game project!

Tips For design around board games

3rd Party websites – External

Jimmsdesign – Game content and design Copyright Conwy Council and its respective partners ( artwork shown for portfolio purposes only )