Test Kit

One of the most important lessons I had reinforced when working at Playniac was the value of a good paper testing kit. Any game designer worth their salt will know that if it’s possible to prototype an idea with physical materials*, doing so can be a very useful way to identify early hurdles. It’s a great way to feel out the mechanics, free of the distractions which can accompany a digital build. You may even find yourself having to defend your original decision to make the game on digital platforms – some simply work better on a tabletop.

* Some games simply can’t be represented this way, which is fine!

Drawing paper game environments, substituting computations for dice rolls… I’ve used these techniques for a number of years, developing game and level design ideas with whatever I can get my hands on. Indeed, when I submitted to the Gamestorm project on Tumblr a few years ago, I put forward a level I’d made in university – constructed out of paper, lever arch folders and an empty tube of Pritt Stick:

My completion path for a 2-player maze, constructed from assorted bits of stationery before any code was committed.
My completion path for a 2-player maze, constructed from assorted bits of stationery before any code was committed.

Now that I’ve ‘gone indie’ in Sweden though, I’ve felt the need to mature my prototype kit somewhat. Because my partner and I came to the country with only what we could carry in suitcases, I had to leave a lot of my ‘bits and bobs’ behind – going spartan with only a pencil case and an A5 sketchbook. This suffices for a while, but I’ve found that few things compare to actually being able to handle playing cards and dice – especially if I want to develop tabletop ideas as well.

So it is that I’ve assembled the following shopping list of game design supplies. I thought I would share it in case anyone else is assembling a prototype kit – but there’s a hidden motive! I’m also interested to know if you feel anything is missing. Have you found a particular token or tool which really helps your process? I’d love to get some wisdom flowing in the comments section.

  • Coloured PawnsPoly dice set (d4, d6, d8, etc.)
  • Blank d6s [16mm]
  • White, square, self-adhesive labels [10mm]
  • Spot d6s [16mm]
  • Dice bag
  • Blank playing cards [57mm x 88mm]
  • Coloured sets of ball pawns
  • Coloured counters [16mm]

Let it be known that I am always open to recommendations for good pens, too – for use on paper and plastics. You can use self-adhesive labels to decorate blank dice, but drawing directly on them will always yield fairer results!