Tools of the Trade

I am often never asked about what tools I use to create the prototypes for my games. I decided to write a short blog post on the topic. For some common tools (e.g. word processors) I’ll mention the one I use, but obviously you can use a equivalent.

MS Word

For someone working with word processors daily, this is often the goto tool. You can manage making cards using tables (with fixed row width and height) and you can position drawings and other objects with proper anchoring. However, this is very annoying as normal word processors are terrible at any non-standard layout. Use them for instructions.

MS Visio

This is another tool I often use professionally. Now, if I was a professional design artist (or professional game designer), I’d invest time and money in a design program. As such, Visio is good enough. I primarily use it to layout boards and player handouts. The ability to get measurements and for things to stay put is very useful.

MS Paint / IrfanView

OK. This one is probably a bit shameful, but I could never get around to learning GIMP, etc. I usually use stock photos from Google Image Search, so no need to do more than crop.

Magic Set Editor

This is a fantastic tool, if someone wants to put together a bunch of cards using a template from existing games. With time, it would also be possible to create your own templates. This is the program Dustin uses for his Judge Makes the Card. I used to use these for my designs, until I discovered the next tool.


Now this is a rel power tool. It allows the user to write layout information using a scripting language that translates input (csv files, image files) into printable output. For example I can define the size and layout of a card, then feed the script with a list in csv that lays out each card based on the information, inserting images, etc. I’ve only scratched the surface of this tool, but the examples in the gigantic manual are fascinating. But even if you’re game prototype consists of simple cards, it might be worth the effort to spend an hour learning the basics to save time on generating updated cards.

Some thoughts on printing:

  • For boards I usually settle on printing on regular paper – you’re more than likely to iterate every few games. I don’t shy away from making the prototype larger than the end design for convenience of playtesting.
  • For tiles, I find printing on thick stock is good enough.
  • For cards I usually aim for Magic size cards. This allows me to print on normal paper and sleeve the cards with Magic cards. This allows easy shuffling.
  • For situations when I need smaller cards, I will use thick stock.
  • For two-sided cards, I’ve printed on one side and printed the reverse of the cards on self-adhesive paper. My only mistake was that I got one that was pre-cut and printers don’t always play nice and align. In the future I’d rather get paper that’s one piece and cut it after printing.
  • For at least on design, I just printed on the self adhesive and stickered up old Magic commons. Saved me the hassle of sleeving.



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