How to prototype a game

When to make a prototype?

If you want to make a game yourself, you can have a lot of ideas. However, an idea is worthless until you do something with it. The first step you should take as soon as possible is to put your ideas on paper. For a game this can be done very easily by making a first, very simple variant of a prototype. This doesn't even have to be playable, as long as you get the ideas in your head on paper. Think about what components your game could contain and start drawing and writing. Does this have to be beautiful? See your image above to get an impression of our first prototype of Tomb of Rasha and answer that question yourself.

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When to make a prototype?
- Different phases of a prototype
Make a prototype yourself
Custom dice
Purchase components
Online prototype

Different phases of a prototype

A prototype often undergoes many different phases. You won't be using the prototype as shown above to pitch your game to a publisher. Before you start making your prototype, think about the goal. For us the following prototype phases can be defined, each of which has a different purpose for the prototype:

  • Idea phase (play 0% - 10%):
    In the idea phase you are busy making something tangible from your idea. Your prototype is purely for yourself and does not need to be playable or shared with other people yet. The associated goals are therefore:
    • Put your idea on paper
    • First test whether the setup as you conceived it actually works
  • Test phase (play 10% - 80%):
    In the testing phase you actually have to have a playable game. It doesn't have to be fun or work yet, but you do want to be able to show the game to other people at this stage. Keep in mind that in this phase you will want to adjust your prototype very often (V0.1, v0.2… .. v0.89, v0.90 etc). At this stage you don't want your prototype to cost too much money to make. The goals that fit this phase are:
    • See if the game is fun
    • Learn which direction to take with your game
    • Testing whether specific game mechanics work properly
    • Balancing the game
    • See how people interact with your game
  • Pitch phase (game 80% - 90%):
    In this phase your game is fundamentally well put together. You can assume that you only have to perform some design or balancing tweaks, but no longer have to change the whole game. At this point you also want your prototype to be a good reflection of your game. Spending a little more for a prototype is therefore not so bad. The purpose of your prototype is:
    • Showcase your game
    • Visual marketing material
    • Convince people of the potential of your game
  • Review phase (game 90% - finish 95%):
    Your game should be completely finished now. You want to leave some room to make some adjustments if the community comes up with good ideas or needs to correct your typos. You will probably want to make this prototype in multiples. The purpose of your prototype is:
    • Show the intended final version of your game
    • Convince people to buy the game

Make a prototype yourself

You don't need much to make a first prototype of your game yourself. Grab a pen and paper and you can already run 90% of all game ideas. For the idea phase, everything you have at home is always sufficient. Even if you want to make a game with 3D elements, you can often come up with an alternative that already offers sufficient insight for a first prototype. Imagine inventing the game Jenga and want to make a prototype, get for example toothpicks as your first design. The game is probably not playable, but you will get an idea of how you would assemble a tower.

Also in the test phase you can usually get along well with materials that you have at home. With a printer at home, you have more options to give the game a slightly better look and feel. In our blog article about Print & Plays are a number of tips and tutorials for this. If you still want something extra, you can get the White Box purchase. This box contains all the essentials for making your first prototypes. It contains various game components such as meeples, dice, cubes, tokens and much more.

Do you want a slightly more extensive box? Gabe Barret of the Board Game Design Lab has the Board Game Design Starter Kit issued. This is the ideal box for anyone who wants to make a board game themselves and especially helps in the idea phase to quickly and easily make a first prototype. This box is even more complete than the White Box.

Pro tip: Gabe Barret also provides coaching talks that can really help you make your own game!

There are probably more similar boxes of all different shapes and sizes. However, also keep in mind that you can dissect the game boxes you own to collect the components you need.

Custom dice

You can of course work with a reference table for your very first prototype.

1 = red
2 = green
3 = tree
4 = river
5 = etc.

But soon you may also want to make your prototype a bit more streamlined. Do you quickly come to making custom dice? We have found three different ways to do this, all of which work, but all have their own advantages and disadvantages.

1. Print the die squares on paper and with a pritt marker stick on your die. This is the first option we tried and works quite well. The easiest way is to make your design so that you can immediately wrap the entire die. You can also cut out the individual boxes and stick them on your die, but this is a bit more work.

Advantage: Easy option.
Disadvantage: Dice keeps glue residue if you want to remove the print again.

2. Stick the die in with the template below. We were recommended this option and has the advantage that you can also send it via print and play. The user does not need anything but a printer that is already needed for the print and play itself.

Advantage: No glue required, easy for print & play.
Disadvantage: very delicate work and the dice remains messy which can also influence a fair outcome.

3. Sticker paper buy and print your die spaces on it. This turned out to be our most favorite option. You can make a lot of different dice on 1 sheet of sticker paper. Then you can cut out the individual blocks and simply stick them on.

Advantage: Most professional look, no / hardly any glue residue.
Disadvantage: You have to buy special sticker paper, for stickers you need nails.

See the result here:

Custom dice

Purchase components

Are you already a step further and do you want to make a truly professional looking prototype? Game stuff is a great website where you can purchase individual parts. On Makingplaycards you can then have a custom deck of cards printed for under 15 euros. If you purchase more copies, the price will also decrease quickly. Your local copy shop can quickly give your game some extra quality.

Online prototype

Tabletop Simulator
Tomb of Rasha in Tabletop Simulator

There are also online platforms where you can prototype your game. Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia (free) and Tabletop Playground is just a selection of the options you have for this. You can easily upload almost all game components yourself in these programs. For Tabletop Simulator, this can be beginners instruction manual get you started uploading your own components. If you have any questions about this, please leave a message and we will do our best to help you with this.

You can also preview in Tabletop Simulator for our game Tomb of Rasha.


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