How to be more efficient by automating your game design process
Creating a board game can take up more than a bit of your time. Making new iterations of your game regularly can sometimes take forever.
This is especially true for cards.
While other components, such as the main board, player boards, tokens, etc. may change from time to time, you’re usually only making changes to that one thing. Cards, on the other hand, are often very plentiful in a game.
You may have multiple decks in a game, each with different types of cards. Or you may just have one deck of cards, but there can be a lot of variation within this deck. Cards also often require a lot of balancing and tweaks. Often when you change something on one card, all the other cards (or at least many of them) are also affected.
If players are getting confused about the functionality of one of your icons, such as one the one you’ve been using to represents an attack, you may want to find a more representative icon and use this instead. Or maybe you’ve found that the balance is off and want to increase the cost of all cards by one gold. The problem that comes when you are using many programs, such as PowerPoint, Word, Canva, or others, is that you will have to replace this icon or value manually one by one on each card.
What a headache!
This goes for any change you want to make across multiple cards or a whole deck, which can cost you a lot of unnecessary time.
However, some programs can do a lot of this manual work automatically.
Nandeck is a program you can download for free, which will make automation of your cards so much easier.
Note that there is a little bit of coding work necessary here, but it is not too onerous. Most are generated once you apply everything within a visual editor. You only need to identify the card size and a few other minor things to get started (and you can easily find these few lines of code online). Once you learn the basics, you can update of value or text in one location and apply it to multiple cards or even your whole deck.
I’ve started to use this program myself and have found it invaluable. All I have to do is set up a template in Excel, input my text and references to image files and card layouts, and denote how many of each card I want. Then, I can pull this information into Nandeck and generate the cards. In the visual editor, I simply add in what I want to see and drag and drop it to the proper location.
Then, I can easily export this as a PDF for printing a physical prototype, or as individual images that I can upload to Tabletop Simulator for a digital version of my game.
If you’re interested in learning how to set up your game in Tabletop Simulator, check out my step-by-step article here.
I can even upload directly to Game Crafter and order a professional-looking deck of cards.
As their website says, “Nandeck is a software for Windows (any version) written as an aid for game inventors, to speed up the process of designing and printing deck of cards (useful during prototyping and playtesting).”
You can download it for free HERE.
I talk about the Game Crafter a lot as a great place you can go to buy components and have really nice prototypes made. But it also has another nice feature.
They’ve created a program called Component Studio. This is how they describe it:
“Stop wasting precious game design time formatting 100 images for cards or tiles that are all just variations on a theme. Component Studio will automatically format them for you and then give you a print and play PDF, raw images with full bleed, or even upload those images directly to The Game Crafter.”
Now there is a cost to this program. You’re going to have to pay $9.99 for the use of it, but you can give it a three-day free trial first to see if it’s right for you. While it is an ongoing cost, I know some designers who swear by Component Studio.
If you’re using the Game Crafter to have prototypes made, this can be an efficient solution, as your files will already be uploaded to their site, which makes it much faster and easier compared to re-uploading all of your assets in a different format. Like Nandeck, it can pull data from an Excel spreadsheet to create your game quickly.
Check out component studio HERE.
Another alternative is available right inside Steam, which also hosts Tabletop Simulator.
This one also has a cost, however, it is only a one-time cost, around $40. Once you pay the initial fee, it’s yours for life.
Card Creator allows you to create whatever card format you like, using a simple drag-and-drop interface.
Looking at the reviews, they’re quite mixed. Some people love it and find it very easy to use, while others have less positive things to say. I’ve never used it myself, but it might be worth looking into if you’re interested in ways to improve your processes.
Have a look at Card Creator HERE.
Photoshop, Indesign, and Others
There are other more professional programs on the market, of course, but these do come with a higher price tag.
They were not made specifically to create cards like Nandeck, Component Studio, and Card Creator, so they won’t have all the same features as these programs, but at the same time, they can also do a lot more.
They also often have a steeper learning curve and maybe better suited to graphic designers and other professionals, compared to amateur game designers. But if you already do a lot of graphic design or familiar these programs, they can be quite helpful.
Some of these other programs include Photoshop and InDesign. But they do have free counterparts as well, such as Inkscape and Gimp.
I have Photoshop, however, I only really use it to do minor editing of existing cards that were created by my graphic designer. But instead of paying a hefty monthly fee, I picked up an older version, which saved me a ton of money. I wrote all about this in a recent article.
Wrapping it up
You don’t have to invest in or learn any one of these programs. This is completely up to you. But if you do pick one up, once you learn it you’ll often be able to save yourself a lot of time and repetitive work.
Which program you use is really up to you.
Talk to others who use them.
Watch some videos to learn how they work.
Try one of the free ones or look for a free trial of one of the paid programs to see which one is right for you.
A lot of this comes down to comfort level. You’ll want to work with the program that best meets your needs and that you’ll use often.
Which program do you use to create your cards and other components? Why do you like it or what you find are the limitations?
I always love to learn about other designers and their processes, so please hit the comment button below and let me know.
As always, great content, sir.
In the last 23 years I have only used hands on skills learning my craft with no PC program. Well, okay, I have used Excel and Microsoft paint combined on a few art projects for prototype cards and a dungeon game.
With the other programs you have mentioned, I have heard and looked at a few of those programs when I had a PC but never had the funds to acquire and out of my price range so I never bothered with them.
So, I stuck to hand drawing, cutting index cards in half for many years and the cost was well worth it. That cost was time, patience, learning and passion. Yes, there are valuable reasons and lessons to be learned from digital technology and programs but if a person like myself cant afford it, then I stick to what I know.
I did how ever picked up a PC awhile back for manuscript writing, cover box art, prototype card design, so who knows what else will happen.
That’s great for the ones who can afford those programs and yes you have mentioned a few free ones. I’ll check them out soon or later.
I’m still up in the air by using The Game Crafter route, I have been thinking about using that site for my smaller games but not until 2022 due to personal issues.
Thank you for sending me your knowledge as we both learn from each other in the game industry.
Hey Jesse! Always good to hear from you.
I’m glad you’re finding alternate ways to continue to move forward with your games. That’s one of the biggest things – don’t let lack of resources or technology slow you down! Just find another way. 🙂
Always great to learn and share knowledge with you.