The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Where to find the parts you need to create amazing prototypes without breaking the bank

Have you ever found yourself making dinner, following along with the recipe, when you suddenly realize that you’re missing a key ingredient? You have a family to feed or maybe you’re hosting a dinner party, and there’s no time to run to the store to get what you need.

So, what do you do?

Well, you can panic or cancel dinner, but that might not work out so well. You have people relying on you.

What you most likely will do, is improvise.

You’ll use whatever you have. You’ll substitute. You’ll manage, and it will all work out.

That’s what we game designers need to do all the time. If you don’t have exactly what you require to test a prototype, you grab whatever you have handy. Of course, it helps if you have a supply of things that you use normally as well.

I’m all about keeping costs low.

At the same time, I do appreciate a really nice-looking prototype and love playing games that give you at least a feel of what they will look like when they’re published. But I always start with the basics until I know exactly where I’m going with the game and have verified that the concept works.

I talk a bit more about why table presence matters here.

But sometimes you don’t have everything you need right at that time. So, where do you go to find the components you need? There are lots of great options. Here are some that I frequently use.

Start at home

The quickest and easiest way to get started is to use what you already have. Borrow from

games you already own, especially ones you don’t play as much. You should be able to find plenty of dice, pawns, and other pieces that will get you started.

Grab whatever else you have on hand. Rice, popcorn kernels, or change can be used for counters and simple resources.

Create the things you need

If you need to make cards for your game, you can start by simply writing things on index cards or pieces of paper or card stock that you cut into the shape you desire. This works well if you’re just testing a very small number of cards that don’t require a lot of information, maybe just colours, objects, or a few words.

You can also create cards using one of many computer programs. For example, PowerPoint, Excel, or Canva, which is an excellent free online tool.

Having a good printer, especially a color inkjet, will allow you to print your cards quickly and cost-effectively rather than going elsewhere and having to pick them up and pay more than you’d like.

Card stock is a much thicker material than paper and is usually better for shuffling and playtesting. While it is more expensive, it is definitely worth it.

You can also use card sleeves, which give the cards more durability and can make them easier to shuffle. Using sleeves also allows you to separate them by different groups using coloured backings, by printing on both sides of the card, or by slipping common playing cards in behind (which will also help the cards last longer and gives them more stability).

Go shopping

While you’ll be able to find or create a lot of these components on your own, at some point you’ll want to put together a supply of other things you need from time to time, so that you’re not constantly ordering new components or having to make a special trip.

Some of the best places to find the components you need are:

  • Dollar Stores and other Discount Stores
  • Thrift Stores
  • The Game Crafter
  • Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS)
  • Craft Stores such as Michael’s
  • Online searches

Dollar Stores and other Discount Stores

This is the place to go for cheap components like dice, gems, stones, boxes, and various other parts. You won’t always find everything you need here, but what you do find is very inexpensive and often does the job.

Thrift Stores

If you have any thrift stores in your area, scope out their toys and games section. You’ll often find used games there for just a couple of bucks each. Have a look inside and see if there are any useful components. You may find pawns, dice, tokens, money, and full-size boards that you can re-use. Also, the boxes can come in handy for storing prototypes, as boxes can get expensive to have custom printed.

The Game Crafter

 If you’re looking for some great components that you might not find anywhere else, but still at a decent price, then you have to check out The Game Crafter. This site is dedicated to supporting game designers, by providing high-quality components such as cubes, meeples, tokens, boards, cards, boxes, and just about anything else you can think of.

They may be a bit pricier than some other options, but they are not overly expensive. Do keep in mind you’ll also have to pay for shipping and possibly customs fees if you’re shipping across a border, but you can always gather a list of everything you need, and possibly ask other designers in your area if they want to order with you to save on shipping and other costs by ordering in bulk. You also get discounts for large orders if you order enough supplies all at once.

Also, if you’re looking for some really great components for high-quality prototypes to pitch to publishers, you will find a lot of what you’re looking for right here.

Friendly Local Game Stores (FLGS)

If you have any local game stores, it’s definitely worth checking them out as well. You may find dice, tokens, metal currency, and other custom components. They will generally be more expensive here, but you may find items that are of higher quality that you can’t find elsewhere.

In particular, I’ve had great success finding inexpensive card sleeves (which I go through quickly) at my local store – both simple, clear penny sleeves, and those with backings, all at a really good price.

 Craft Stores, such as Michael’s

 Check out stores like Michael’s or others in your area or online. These craft stores will definitely be much more expensive than other options, but you’ll find other things as well like foam board, which is really helpful for making thick boards and mats. You may also find some unique objects you can use for first player markers, tokens, and other parts to make your game look and feel more thematic.

In addition, these stores will have great tools for cutting and rounding, as well as helpful storage solutions, which are always welcome (especially when you start amassing hundreds of components and need to keep them organized so you don’t end up pulling your hair out when you need to find something specific).

Other options

If all else fails, check out Amazon. This can be particularly helpful if you’re looking for something very specific, like a unique first player marker. You may be able to find a bunch of different components here, and depending on where they are sourced from, you may be able to get free shipping if you spend enough money in one order.

Otherwise, try some Google searches and see what comes up. You may be surprised what you can find!

What’s worked for you?

So, where you go to find the components you need to test your game? Have you found anywhere that really makes your prototype look awesome?


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