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Handcrafter's secret weapon

We take our motto "Handcrafted with our hands" very seriously...well as serious as we can take a pithy phrase anyway.

Modern designers like to tikkety-tak and clickety-click their way to a first prototype, but at The Game Distillery we like to be hands-on, handwritten, and handcrafted. Generally handsy (but not that kind of handsy).

Over the next little while I'll showcase some of our favourite ways to prototype. Most of it involves the dollar store*. There's no reason a prototype should break the bank.

One of our favourite items to work with from the dollar store is foam board. It's almost certainly not environmentally friendly, and to be honest it's sometimes a little frustrating to work with, but when you need an inexpensive but rigid surface that you can 100% customize** for your game board or board frame or large token or modular piece, this $1, 20"x30" marvel will do the trick.

(image: three different foam boards at use. Top is a sectional "puzzle piece" frame for early edition Disastertown: FLOOD!. The second in the upper left is a glimpse of early edition Disastertown: Wildfire with hand-drawn elements. The botton is a raised-surface board showing the streets of Disastertown: Winter [tentative name])

Of course, you have to watch out for stains and be careful not to ding or wrinkle or fold it in transporting it around for testplaying. It's rigid, but only margingally durable.

One of the problems with working in foam board from the onset, however, is it's not easy to adjust once you've made it, unless you're cutting things away. But remember, every cut you make is permanent.

Converting the game board to something real and manufacturable is another problem. Consider the "puzzle piece" frame I constructed for "Disastertown: FLOOD". I tried to translate it into a digital form (involving a lot of measuring) only to find that the on spec game crafting sites don't have a large enough sheet of cardboard punchout to put each section of the frame onto. When you're handcrafting with your hands and working with a sheet of 20"x30" there aren't many limits, but taking the prototype to the next level will find many more limitations. It's only when you get to the final manufacturing stage (and assessing your budget) that you may find some of those limitations removed.


  • When working with foam board, particularly cutting, Xacto knives and a metal ruler are your friend.

  • Draw out anything in pencil first, then copy over using permanent marker for anything needing a highlight. The paper on foam board can bleed a little as it absorbs ink.

  • Of course, if you're not into the whole "handcrafting with your hands" bit, you can always print off and glue your game board to the surface. Get grade-school crafty and use a glue stick to avoid the wet look and wrinkles on your printout.

*funny how both the generic name and the collective group name for all dollar stores is "the dollar store". I would never say "involves a dollar store", nor would I deign to say "involves Dollarama or Dollar Tree" as that would presume one had such a branded dollar store in their area.

**well, maybe 95% customize. Adjusting depth on the foam board isn't very simple

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