Game Design Blog 01: Making Playtest Cards

By: Kirk Buckendorf

In the first blog, I talked a bit about what inspired the current game I’m working on, loosely titled Pack Warriors, and the first idea for general game play and rules. The next step was opening a spreadsheet and making some cards. The draft you see had been¬†edited, so this screenshot won’t match the cards from the PDF I’ll show you later, but you’ll get the general idea:

(This is the incredibly boring part, I won’t blame you if you skip this and scroll down to the pretty artwork)

This is how I laid out the first set of cards. I made two teams to be used for the first 2 packs to test with, Humans and Dwarves. From this spreadsheet, I could export a Comma Separated Value (.csv) text document that In-Design would use to data-merge the text along with simple icons and background artwork into cards. The top line labels what each cell’s data is. If it has an “@” In-Design knows to look in the folder for an art file to use. Here’s what folder of PNGs looks like now:

(This is some artwork, but not the pretty stuff I promised, so if you’re bored out of your skull, keep scrolling)
(Also, I don’t know why windows shows some PNGs as black in the thumbnails. Thanks, ObamaGates…)

That folder has Artwork PNGs and the CSV text file I told you about. With these you can set up an In-Design file that will Assemble it all and allow you to format the text into pretty Fonts and styles if you want. For prototypes, you want to keep this work to a minimum because you’re going to hate everything within two minutes of playing and start over anyway (Funny comic strip incoming on this subject for next blog).

From here you fire up In-Design and use Data-Merge to bring it all together. This is 2017, so there are a million YouTube tutorials on how to do Data-Merge with Adobe’s In-Design if you want to look into it further. Here, I set up a 2.5″ x 3.5″ rectangle, and merged the background info to it. Then did the same for all the other Artwork PNGs to be layered over it. Then I used the text tool to layout all the text cells and set them to fonts and sizes I wanted.

(Holy, cow this is boring, I’m starting to doubt is this blog series is going to work…)

Above is the raw view where you see the Header names from the Spreadsheet. All the PNG rectangles¬†are layered on each other. To make it a little more pretty you can click “Preview” on the Data Merge window, and then select “Overprint Preview” from the View Menu. It will populate what you’ve built with the first card from your Spreadsheet so you can better align and adjust stuff.

Pro-Tip: Shut off the stupid Hyphenate box in the Paragraph window. Why that’s the default setting is beyond me… I LEAVE IT ON EVERY TIME.

(I think we’re losing viewers… quick, put in a Unicorn Picture to bring them back in!)

Here’s a Unicorn I drew:

(Look! a Unicorn!)

Where was I? Oh yeah, making the first cards… With the first card laid out, you click the Create Merged Document button and it will layout the cards onto the 8.5″ x 10″ page for you to print and cut out later. You can print straight from In-Design or export a PDF if needed.

(I Also always forget to put registration marks into the first prototypes to make cutting them out easier)

All in all, I probably spent about 1-2 hours writing up the first 22 cards to test with, 20 minutes making the basic art and icons for the PNGs, another 20 minutes setting up In-Design and 20 minutes Cutting out and Sleeving the cards. This doesn’t include all the time thinking about it all in my head before doing it, but I was happy with much restraint I had in keeping this first round manageable…

…because I threw that all out the window and made a massive third set that I spent way too much time on. This is a trap, because as I said already: this early in testing, all the work you put into making a prototype can be thrown out after 2 minutes of play.

Next Blog, I’ll talk about the first 3 rounds of play test sessions with the first 3 sets and how a game morphs super quickly in a short amount of time. I also have a funny story about the Unicorn you got a sneak peak of above!

See you next time!


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  1. Pingback: Game Design Blog 03: Bye, Design

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