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How to Make a Board Game Prototype

When I first started learning how to make a board game I was confused. My brain understood that I needed to make a prototype of my game but I wasn’t sure how to do that effectively. This is also something I see other new board game designers struggle with so I did some research.

I have spent many years making my own board game prototypes and researching how other board game designers do it as well.

After reading this article, you should know:

  • Multiple ways to create a board game prototype and
  • Several options for getting your prototype printed.

I created this post for new board game designers just starting out. A resource I wish existed 9 years ago when I started making my own prototypes.

Now let’s jump into it…

What is a Board Game Prototype and What to Expect Making One?

Board Game Prototype – I find it helpful to think of a board game prototype as a rough draft. A printed version of a playable board game that is expected to change after each session of playtesting.

Most board game prototypes don’t ever get published and that’s perfectly normal. So don’t feel bad if you end up prototyping your board game idea and then realize it’s not working how you wanted. We have all been there and done that!

If you’re having constant trouble with one game idea then feel free to start on a new idea from scratch and create another prototype. You can always come back to your original idea after taking some time off.

In fact, I actually haven’t even published a board game yet. But I do know a lot about the prototyping phase as I have been creating new board game prototypes for around a decade now. My design process has evolved greatly over the years.

I find the board game design process very entertaining and challenging. Playing my prototypes with family and friends has been a lot of fun for me over the years. It’s also a big plus that we have grown closer together through playtesting my interesting creations and brainstorming ways to make them better.

I hope you find the same joy that I have experienced making and playing my board game prototypes. And I also hope for you to have great success publishing your board game should you decide to do that as well.

Here’s a Quick Look at How to Make a Board Game Prototype

There are 3 main questions that I see asked by board game designers looking to make a new prototype.

You can click on one of the questions below to take you straight to the answers in that section of this article:

  1. What Software Should I Use to Make Cards for My Board Game?
  2. Where Can I Get Art to Use for My Board Game Prototypes?
  3. Where Can I Get My Board Game Prototype Printed?

We will first start off with the most common question I see asked in game design forums which is…

A. What Software Should I Use to Make Cards for My Board Game?

There is some great free software out there along with a couple of paid options for you to use when making your prototypes.

Here is a list of the most commonly recommended software I see board game designers suggest to the community.

Free Software for Making Cards for Your Board Game Prototype

NanDeck – This is my vote for the best free software that board game designers can use to make prototypes quickly and efficiently.

I’ve used NanDeck more than any of the card making software that is out and it’s my favorite. It’s also one of if not the most recommended free software for making cards that I see other board game designers suggest.

Here is a video of me showing you the basics of what NanDeck can do for you to help bring your game idea to life.

Want to follow along with the video above? Get your free card art templates, character images and the NanDeck code here. Or click the image below and tell us where to send it.

(Want to watch more Nandeck videos? See how to add mana cost icons to your cards and more here with videos 2-4)

Other Free Software that Board Game Designers Often Use to Make Their Prototypes

Here is some more free software that I have seen game designers recommend across many forums:

  • Paperize – This software is currently in alpha/beta as I write this. But I have seen several people that are already using it pleased with what Paperize can do.
  • Inkscape – Open source vector image software that could be used for card making. This is a great free alternative to Adobe Illustrator (the #1 paid software recommended below).
  • Gimp – This is image manipulation software that I have seen several game designers say they use for making their own cards.
  • Krita – A digital painting software you can use to create the layout of your cards and more.
  • Magic Set Editor – This looks great if you are just interested in making your own versions of cards from popular games like Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh! and more.
  • Generic Proxy Maker – There are sample cards made when you click the link. Read the description at the top of this page and then left click the “Save” button at the bottom. This software will create a pdf of card proxies for you to see how it works.

And Several Lesser Recommended but Potentially Useful Free Software for Making Your Prototype:

  • Squib – I haven’t looked into this software but it looks complicated for the average game designer like myself. If you know how to code in Ruby then this might be good for you.
  • Pixelmator – I’ve heard this is helpful to board game designers using a Mac.
  • Canva – This is one that I haven’t seen recommended much but wanted to post it here for reference. You can sign up to use Canva for free however most of the images and artwork you would get on there are paid items.
  • Google Docs (similar to Microsoft Word if you have it) – I used Microsoft Word before I figured out how to use NanDeck. While I don’t recommend using Google Docs or Microsoft Word for making your prototype, you might find it interesting to see the evolution of my game design.

The 2 lists above are simply ones I have seen other game designers say they use. I have seen recommendations by both professional and aspiring board game designers alike.

SLG’s Recommendation:

My suggestion would be for new game designers to try out NanDeck and watch the video above. Then, if NanDeck is still too confusing, try out some of the other options listed and let me know what works best for you and your games.

(Related Reading: A large list of great games to show new players)

The Best Paid Software Used for Making Cards for Board Games Recommended by Professional Game Designers

Here is 3 paid software that you can use to make both your board game prototypes and finished products.

1. Adobe InDesign – Most Recommended Paid Software by Professional Board Game Designers

I want to point out real quick that most people wanting to make a board game don’t have access to Adobe products. At least I know I haven’t had access to Adobe products such as InDesign for most of the 9 years that I have been making board game prototypes.

So if you don’t have access to Adobe InDesign, then I would recommend NanDeck in the free options above. It does almost all (if not all) the things you would want to have done in Adobe InDesigner except it’s free.

One of the biggest reasons game design professionals enjoy InDesign so much is that it integrates with other Adobe products like Photoshop. Making it easy to import their custom made art pieces from Photoshop into their card layout design made in InDesign.

Helpful Videos for Learning How to Use Adobe InDesign to Make Cards for Your Board Games

Here are 2 great videos that game designers have made to show you how to use Adobe InDesign merged with an excel spreadsheet to quickly create and update their card ideas (Note: this is the process I use with NanDeck in my video above if you want a free way to do this.)

Daniel Solis’ video is widely suggested by game designers to those looking to learn how to use Adobe InDesign for card game prototyping.

And here is another good video of a similar process made by a nice YouTuber named Anthony Hanses of ForgedByGeeks.

2. Component Studio by The Game Crafter

I have seen a few videos and tutorials on how to use Component Studio. It looks similar to what you can do in NanDeck and Adobe InDesign which is awesome. There is a monthly fee for using Component Studio but you can cancel at any time.

Component Studio seems very user friendly and easy to use. It is one of the newer software on the market and created specifically for game designers making prototypes (similar to NanDeck). This is something I would like to try out one day and make videos for my YouTube channel. But until then I will probably keep using NanDeck because I am used to it and it’s free.

Both NanDeck and Component Studio allow you to upload your cards straight to your Game Crafter account. This is awesome because it allows you to print your prototype through the Game Crafter quicker or even start selling your game immediately through The Game Crafter itself.

3. Card Creator on Steam

This is a decent looking card layout program that you can buy on Steam to start making your own cards for board games. I haven’t seen it recommended by many people but it might be something to try out if you don’t like any of the free options above and don’t have access to Adobe InDesign.

Now that you know what software to use for prototyping, let’s look at where to get artwork to use in your board game prototypes. Having nice artwork is essential for attracting playtesters to your game.

B. Where Can I Get Art to Use for My Board Game Prototypes?

There are several high quality sites that I see recommended consistently and have looked into myself. These sites typically offer free art that you can use for your board game prototypes along with paid versions.

**Important Note: Make sure to read the licensing agreements such as the EULA (End User Licensing Agreement) for each of the sites you are downloading art from. Some sites allow you to use your art on anything you want. While some sites are a bit more strict with how you may use the artwork in your games. This goes for both free and paid artwork. Usually you are allowed to use most of the artwork in your prototypes and sometimes in your published games. But it’s typically best to read the user agreements before spending a lot of time finding the correct artwork for your game only to find out you can’t legally use it how you want.

The Best and Most Popular Websites You Can Use to Get Artwork for Your Board Game Prototype

Some of the best websites for getting artwork for your prototypes are:

  • Game-Icons.net – The most frequently recommended site to get icons for your prototype. I can’t seem to ask a single question about artwork in board game design forums without being reminded of this site. It has a lot of good, simple icons for free. I have found the search function lacking in the past. But there is some good artwork here if you don’t mind taking the time to look.
  • The Noun Project – Similar to the Game-Icons site listed above. The Noun Project is full of many icons for you to use in your prototype. I think the quality isn’t as good as the Game-Icons, but there are even more free icons for you to use here.
  • Wikimedia Commons – This site has so many files it’s crazy. Think of it as Wikipedia but for media files. Anyone can upload their media files and allow others to use them under the Creative Commons license. Wikimedia Commons is another great site if you are willing to take the time to search through the large amount of files.
  • Pixabay – A great place to look for high quality placeholder art. This free art is terrific though it can be very specific. You might not find exactly what you are wanting for here. But if you do, then it will look great on your board game prototype.
  • Clker – Here is an awesome site that has a lot of free clipart. I like the search function in this site a lot better than most. It makes it easier for me to find a good fit for my prototype.
  • Flaticon – A large selection of free black and white icons with the choice of many premium icons you can buy.

Along with the sites above, there are also artists that focus on creating art for board game designers to use when prototyping.

3 Additional Places to Get Free Artwork for Your Prototypes from Artists in the Board Game Industry!

It’s awesome that artists in the board game industry have made art for designers to use in their own games.

Here are 3 of them:

  • Alisha Does Art – Alisha seems like a really cool person. She has started creating free art assets for board game designers to use. You can download her art for free and use them in your prototypes. And if you end up liking her work, then you can help support her through her Patron page. This will encourage her to create more free art assets for the community.
  • Fairway Games Card Art Templates – Here are some free card art templates that you can use when making cards for your prototypes. I find it neat that they actually use some of Alisha’s art assets in creating these templates as well.
  • Fractal Symbols – This set of free symbols are great for prototyping. They come in black and white only currently. But if you know how to edit images with software like GIMP, then you should be able to make them different colors.

And then there is artwork that we have at SLG.

Artwork from Streamlined Gaming you can use for your Board Game Prototypes

Streamlined Gaming also offers some cool art assets for you to use in your board game prototypes.

We have a package of free art for game designers to use. This free bundle contains icons, card art templates and a few images for you to use when creating your prototypes. Download this free art and use it when creating card games in the software mentioned above.

Game Designers wanting more customization for their prototypes can upgrade to our premium products as well:

You can use a mix of all of the artwork mentioned above to make an amazing looking prototype. Feel free to look around to find what works best for your board game. I look forward to seeing what you create!

C. Where Can I Get My Board Game Prototype Printed?

I didn’t realize at first that board game prototypes get printed at different companies than published board games. But after talking to board game publishers like Scott Morris, I realized that it’s industry standard to print your prototypes in low quantities from print on demand (POD) companies. And published board games are typically manufactured and printed in mass quantities.

The print on demand companies listed below are typically based out of the United States. While the mass printing companies you would get your published game printed at are based in China.

Print on demand companies generally allow you to print as few as 1 copy of your prototype. And the big manufacturers in China usually require a minimum of 500 (and sometimes more) board games to be printed at a time.

Cost of printing is a big difference when using print on demand companies. So when you go to get your prototype printed at a POD company, expect the price to be quite a bit higher than you might have hoped for.

Here are several of the best places to print your board game prototype.

The Best Websites for Printing a Board Game Prototype

1. The Game Crafter – The Most Popular Website to Get Your Board Game Prototype Printed

The Game Crafter is by far the highest recommended website for printing prototypes. I have seen both game design professionals and first time game designers suggest The Game Crafter.

One great thing I’ve noticed about The Game Crafter is that they are constantly releasing new game pieces. This is great for game designers wanting to further customize their game.

2. Print & Play by AdMagic – Another Great Site to Have Your Prototype Printed

The second most recommended website is Print & Play by AdMagic. I have seen their booth at board game conventions and their site looks like it would be very helpful for making prototypes.

While I haven’t used them for printing a prototype, they seem very top notch in quality. Their various board game pieces that you can order seem like a very good selection as well.

(Related: See some of the most commonly used pieces for prototyping your board game here)

Additional Websites that are Great for Printing Card Games (Cards Plus Box Only)

The Game Crafter and Print & Play are great for printing board games. But sometimes all you need to have printed is a deck of cards. These 3 sites are great for doing just that!

If your prototype needs board game pieces or a board, then these sites are not what you want. But if you just need to make a customized card game, then the sites above are perfect for printing your prototype.

(Related – See this list of great 2 player card games to help you brainstorm your next prototype!)

And You can Always Print Your Board Game Prototype at Home

Most of my board game prototypes I print are done at home with my own printer. I have mostly made card game prototypes so the process is fairly easy. However, I have printed several homemade boards for my prototypes as well and so can you by using this process.

Recap: Where to Print Your Board Game Prototype

Printing your prototypes at home are great when your board game is new and going through a lot of changes. It’s best to print your prototype at home until you have most of the bugs worked out of your board game. Though once you feel like your prototype is about 95% balanced, then you will want to print your prototype professionally at one of the sites above. The professional print on demand companies will print your prototype on high quality material while using high quality ink as well.

This high quality prototype will be what you want to demo at board game conventions. And if you are ever want to do a Kickstarter for your board game, then the professionally printed prototype is what you will want to send to reviewers. It will look better on camera and the reviewer will take you and your board game more seriously.

Do You Have Any Questions About How to Make a Board Game Prototype?

So that wraps up our article. By now you should know answers to 3 of the most commonly asked questions about making a board game prototype. I hope you have figured out what software to use to make cards for your game. Where to find some nice artwork to add to your cards (which will get you more playtesters). And finally where to get your prototype printed professionally once you have your board game 95% balanced.

If you have any additional questions about this topic, please let me know in the comments below so I can try to answer them for you. Good luck making your game!

(P.S. – Want to learn more about making and selling a board game? Get the answers to many questions new board game designers have here.)

Board Game Design Frequently Asked Questions Call to Action image for Streamlined Gaming. "Board Game Design FAQs" typed in the left side with "Get My Answers" typed in the bottom right with pamphlets in top right.

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