I am lucky that I kept all of my prototypes for monorail, the first release from Games For Bryan. First off is the crudely drawn paper sketches that were far too flimsy to get through even an entire game but proved that the idea was engaging enough for me to pursue. It passed the first test, which was that making interesting little patterns with the train tracks was fun in and of itself.
I designed the second set with The Gimp, which is an open source alternative to PhotoShop. I spent a lot of time trying to make it look polished, because what I did next was walk around with a copy in a baggie in my coat pocket, sticking it under the noses of every one of my friends. Several of them thought it was a game published by someone else, so they were willing to give me candid criticism that I was able to roll back into the design. I also managed to convince my son Bryan to play some games with me, and he didn't become immediately bored. He was able to understand how to win. He also invented what may become the advanced game, which let him completely destroy my ability to win.
The third revision just came in the mail just the other today. I checked the mail box every hour or two until it was delivered. This rev had the updated station icons (each station icon is now unique in shape, color, and letter, so it should be recognizable even for color-blind players), slightly tweaked route cards, and some lovely new black card backs for the route cards to prevent other players from being able to see through your hand. It also has the first pass of a tiny reference card that fits into the deck! The problem at this point is that each revision changes less and less than the one before it, so I am swimming in route tiles, which haven't changed since the first revision. Now that I finally have the final revision, which will include a finalized reference card, a printed sheet with the full rules, and a set of Construction Cards that allow players to break the game in interesting ways, I may have to make a gigantic monorail track.
Some things I have learned in this process:
- Make a hand-drawn prototype first, even if you never end up using it. The process of making it will not only reveal flaws in your concept, but it will often inspire you creatively.
- Once you've gotten a handle on the basic game idea and hand-made at least one prototype, outsource the printing and cutting of your follow-ups to a service like The Game Crafter or Drive Thru Cards. Your time should be spent designing and playtesting, not cutting and pasting.
- Early on in the process, have multiple copies made. When I was refining the dimensions of the game, I had extra cards I could use to expand until I found the sweet spot.
- Take notes on even minor details that you want to polish or that people comment on and roll that into the next revision.
- Each monorail prototype only cost me a few dollars, but I had down time waiting for them in the mail. I used that time to run playtests or just handling the cards.
- Write directly on the prototype when you need to make edits.