Proud Prototype Papa

To say I’m enamored of my war game Field Marshals is a bit of an understatement. I’m fairly proud of the game, even though I know she has a long way to go. Since Farmageddon, I’ve killed two bad designs, spent 8 months trying to revive what may be a lost cause, and watched dozens of ideas just flounder. But, Field Marshals really excites me. I think it can eventually be a good, accessible war game worthy of publication. Fingers crossed!

I’ve spent a few nights building a really nice prototype. Most of the time I subject my testers to playing with colored index cards until I feel confident enough to order a nicer prototype through sites like The Game Crafter. I wanted to do something special with Field Marshals and my work has paid off. The purpose of this post is twofold:

  1. Show off the game!
  2. Tell you what I used so that it may help you when building your own prototypes.

Sourcing the Wood

Craft Parts has a fantastic selection of wooden components at very reasonable prices. My game has a large number of wooden tokens, so I bought a bag of wooden disks, then stamped them with the appropriate symbols. I also wanted to build tiny fortresses, so I bought wooden blocks and little flat square tiles, which I then glued to the blocks.

To create coal, I spray painted a handful of the wooden disks with…spray paint. Although you can purchase little pawns from Craft Parts (If I’m not mistaken, it’s where Dice Hate Me Games bought their “brewples” for Viva Java), I used the extra pawns I received with Flash Point.

For my unit tokens (little colored cubes), I pillaged a classic box of Risk I have lying around. For only $20 the game provides HUNDREDS of pre-painted cubes. Quite handy!

One of the biggest inspirations for a mechanic in Field Marshals is the result of numbered wooden coins I bought from Aaron Brothers. Keep your eyes peeled any time you visit a remotely artsy store — you may find amazing components.

Stamps, Fancy Papier

There’s a really cool print/paper craft store in my neighborhood called Paper Source. Perhaps you have one near you? If not, Michael’s or any other craft store should have what you need. For my capital tokens I bought a star stamp. I found a really simple anchor stamp for my seaports, then purchased a set of letters for everything else.

The game uses a really simple card layout. Each player has a small deck of identical cards. I bought blank, colored business cards from Paper Source in packs of 25 for $2 apiece. I then printed the symbols on simple square labels and appended them to the cards. The cards look great and they shuffle better than index cards.

Labels are your friend. Go to Office Depot and buy labels in all sizes.

For my game board I purchased Illustration Board from Office Depot. I was even able to make a set of thick player reference boards using the extras after sizing the board down. Again, labels were my friend. I also bought some lamination material to apply once the board layout settles down a bit.

I purchased the little cloth bag from Paper Source.

Finally, I am never without a stack of pencils, erasers, white-out, scissors, super glue, wood glue, crayons, and card stock. These are the tools of prototyping and you should have a desk covered in this junk.

I spent many hours printing and applying labels, tracing circles, gluing wood (and ungluing my fingers), but it was ultimately well worth it. It sounds silly, but a nice prototype makes a huge difference. Instead of a game that looks like work, you suddenly have a game that looks like fun. Never underestimate the impact this can have on your testers.

Share your prototype pictures. What tips do you have?

6 thoughts on “Proud Prototype Papa

  1. The first edition of “Aches and Brains” was a worker placement debacle that looked like this:


    That was replaced by a simpler, yet more fun dice-themed game with the best parts of the previous game stripped down to their core


    and now, the game consists of 52 cards (2 being kept back for possible stretch goals), lots of dice, and some lego-esque zombie pieces with which you can interact (e.g. ripping their limbs off). It’s a deceivingly deep game, albeit in need of some polish. Hope to catch up with you at GenCon and play all of these games you’ve been working on.

  2. Thanks. I’m excited about the wood parts link, as that will save a number of my purchased board games from pilfered parts.

    When I’m working on tile or card-based games, I use nanDeck ( to pull together data from a spreadsheet and images from the public domain into either a PDF for printing or a series of image files for reference.

    I have not used the Game Crafter for prototypes yet, but I regularly print and cut out cards for use in card protectors designed for CCGs, and mount my tile print outs on cardboard from the local art supply store.

    This does remarkably well for games that do NOT involve stacking tiles. In those cases, the printed paper will start to pull away from the tiles’ bases after a few plays. Of course, at that point I’ll usually be ready to tweak a number of the tiles, and if not, I can always re-apply the glue…

    I’ve also made simple web pages to deal out hands of cards, or to play out tiles to ensure that the presentation is as clear and pleasant as possible before printing and trimming. In most cases, these haven’t been great for ‘real’ play, but have been invaluable time savers in getting to that point.

    • Game Crafter quality (on cards at least) isn’t great. The cards don’t shuffle well, they fray on edges quickly, and the printing is very inconsistent. I also get very frustrated by their shipping costs.

      • I’m sorry to hear that The Game Crafter isn’t all we might’ve hoped.

        In that case, you may do well with the card sleeves. While shuffling isn’t ideal, it’s a lot faster to cut out and insert the cards than to wait for shipping.

        Your local office supply store should have a guillotine paper cutter available; that’ll save you ages.

        One other possible issue could be color conversion: when dealing with Wizard’s Museum Construction Kit, I found out a lot about color conversion from RGB to CMYK, and how little things could make a big difference there. I don’t know how The Game Crafter handles things now, but if they take submissions in JPG format, for example, they’ll be doing automated color conversions that may or may not turn out as you’d expect.

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