Stonemaier Games Design Day 2015

Stonemaier Games Design Day 2015

Wow, what a weekend! Saturday we enjoyed what I have dubbed the most passionate day in gaming. It was a bit overwhelming actually.

Stonemaier Games graciously hosted a design day for budding game designers and game aficionados and it was EPIC.  Why? Well, even when you go to a con you are surrounded by fellow geeks – but these geeks were MY geeks.  To be in a room FILLED with people who love games like I love games is tremendous. Truly tremendous. I met so many folks who love the minutia of board games, who get excited about mechanics, who love ALL types of games. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the attendees were!

Design Day 2015

Design Day 2015


So I ran my game 21 times. 21! Twenty-one. In the first session (!) my last (knock-on-wood) balancing hurdle was solved, and by an off-handed remark.  The kind that makes you literally smack your head and exclaim, “Well, duh.”  Boom. Done.  I’ll get into the nitty gritty of how Shogunate faired at DD in my next post, but for now let’s talk about prototypes!

Shogunate on the table at Design Day 2015

Shogunate on the table at Design Day 2015


There were all manner of prototypes there. All with different themes, levels of art and craftsmanship. Collectively, DG played 6 prototypes and had a blast. A few of the games were nearly production ready and will be picked up by us as soon as they are released.  Some needed work, so we worked on them.  There was furious note taking, brainstorming, and theme rejiggering going on at nearly every session. All the hard work put into these games is a legendary feat. The level of creativity and generosity in the room was just breathtaking.


Friends are great, but where playtesting really bears fruit is with a group of generous, like-minded strangers. The thoughtfulness and intuition displayed by the playtesters was AMAZING.  These weren’t “I don’t like it” or “it’s too slow” type commenters, oh no! What designers got were in-depth conversations on what SPECIFIC changes might make the game better, whole paragraphs of non-judgmental and truly helpful suggestions and advice.

Design Day 2015

Design Day 2015


Once again, thanks to Stonemaier Games for a truly worthwhile and enjoyable weekend. In one day we shaved a month off our design time for Shogunate. More than that, the day went smoothly, everything was communicated well, and the space was perfect.  The new friends and sound advice are the best part! Thank you, thank you, thank you for making this possible.  Well done!





Save Art for Beta Testing

Being the pixel diva (graphic artist) that I am, it’s REALLY hard not to futz with art on ideas. Sometimes I’m so excited about the aesthetics of my new game idea that I get wrapped up in them and take days to get out what should be a 15 minute prototype for testing. There are a few reasons this is bad, terrible, and wrong.

The first reason: you get wrapped up in mechanics that may not work and NEED to be changed. But you put in TIME and EFFORT into design and art and now you are married to them in your own mind. This is a design trap. A pretty, crappy game is still a pretty crappy game.

The second reason: It takes too long to get the game to the real world. You need to know if this idea WORKS. A week from now you may not remember the nuances of mechanics or rules that you had safely tucked away in your brain when you started laying out cards and components. Now you have something to look at, BUT how the hell do you play?

The third reason: Cha-cha-cha-changes. If you start with art on a brand new prototype it will take even longer to make changes. If you have icons and graphics that convey concepts, the people you are testing with or running ideas by (and even yourself) will have trouble moving beyond what is already in front of them. So you’ll have to make the changes before using your components in a different way.

I am SO guilty of this. So, so guilty.

Now I have make myself NOT use the computer at all for preliminary “is this even a game” prototypes. I test the heck out of them on paper and index cards written on with markers. When I’m satisfied that it is, in fact, a playable thing I take it to the computer and make a text version of cards and components. Think big bold type: “Red Faction” or “Move Forward Two” written on the center of a white card. Then I play test the heck out of that, now that all the components are standardized.
THEN it’s time for art and a “show the public” prototype. Still, this first art prototype I show to my nearest and dearest “I know them in person” real life play testers. At this point I make a rule sheet (not to be confused with a final rule book) too. I play and play and play and THEN make all the changes we’ve collectively come up with. I play test different variants that we’ve come up with. I make more changes. These often include art suggestions!

Then it’s time for real art. What, you thought that’s what we were talking about all along? No, no honey. The “art” we’ve been talking about up to this point is ANYTHING like borders, thematic fonts, backgrounds, card backs, stand in images clipped from the web, anything that’s not necessary to see if your game is a game at all.

I always like to have SOME art on my game before I take it to any mini-cons or local game nights with strangers. I want them to at least get an introduction to the aesthetics of the game. I do skimp at this stage though. If I have 5 characters, I’ll do art for one and change the name/background/color to distinguish from the others and use the same art 5 times. This stage is never “final” art for me. I use all sorts of truly copyright-free and royalty free images.


What happened? Everyone loves it! It’s going to be bigger than Catan! Then it’s time to weigh the art cost vs. the viability of the game. That’s a whole different post!

Now is when I spend hours coming up with card backs, graphic design, and plan the illustrations for the components. I create a list of things I need that I cannot do myself and put out feelers for artists and get quotes. I am completely honest with them, this may be a project a month from now or three or never.

Art questions? Ask away!

Adrienne “Penny” E.


Making a game board – Beyond Beta Prototype

There are several reasons you might want a polished game board for your fledgling* game.  If you are seeking preview (pre-release reviews) of your game from reviewers, want nice photographs or videos, or want to give a “real” impression of the game to blind playtesters, or you simply want to SEE what you’ve created!  Whatever your reason, here is an idea to make the board itself.

*If you haven’t already playtested (a lot) with sheets of paper and handwritten bits, it is too soon to make a polished prototype.  This stage of prototyping should be for a 99% finished game.

Quad Fold Game Board

I purchased quad fold boards from an online retailer, sized 18” x 18”.  The printable surface is 17.75” x 17.75”.  These are “real” game boards. They have the pebble textured backing paper and fold in to fourths.

Quad Fold Ventures in the Void

I printed my board design on adhesive backed vinyl. In my case I had a sign shop print it at exactly 17.75” x 17.75”.  The cheapest option is to purchase letter size (8.5”w x11”h) adhesive paper from a craft store or online and print in 4 parts.

Adhering the Print to the Game Board

If you want to get all 17.75×17.75 as one piece and can’t find someone to print on adhesive vinyl, you can try to spray glue it on the board. This is messy. This is hard (and smelly) but CAN be done. Make sure to follow the directions, most cans instruct you to spray BOTH items being adhered, not just one.

The most expensive option is to check out on-demand printers.  For under $50 US (+shipping) you can get a single board made.  I opted to do it myself to save money and not have to wait in queue.

Ventures in the Void Game Board

Here is the finished prototype board for Ventures in the Void!  Have you found a better or cheaper way to make your “final” prototype board?  Let us know below!