Late 2016, I put together a twitter thread of random tips, thoughts and ideas based on my experience spending a year making games. To make them accessable and readable, I’ve expanded on them and posted them here and will continue to do so until I run out of the original list.
1. Time Spent Reinventing The Wheel Does Teach You How Wheels Work.
Some mechanics just work and you don’t need to mess with that. A good example is deck building. Designing a deck builder is a ‘lot of work’ and deck building works so well you don’t need to get cute with the basic mechanism. Do try building one and see what it teaches you about the process.
2. Free And Cheap Resources Are Out There.
www.game-icons.net provided the art for ~110 cards from Middleware or the core of them. On itch.io there are a lot of options for game assets that are usable in card games provided you’re willing to dedicate the time to look through them. You can avoid a game looking ‘cliparty’ by making sure the game either has a lot of varied art styles or that the game has one single art style.
3. Player Attention Follows Patterns.
Just as a single example, the way players parse information on a card follows a pattern, from top to bottom. When people handle cards, their eyes follow an intuitive path down them. It’s literally the flow of information on the card. Learn it, use it. Basically the information players use the most wants to sit in the middle, and information that’s not as important sits out to the edges. Use this when you represent each card – just leaving a face mostly alone and changing one big detail in the centre will make it easier for players to know they can ignore that other information.
4. Lead Times For Print-On-Demand In Australia Are About A Month.
Finish November’s game in August so you have time to fix print problems. This is true for DriveThruCards, and mostly true for GameCrafter. If you want to work on multiple projects, view the order/lead time as development time for the next project.
5. Print-On-Demand Is SUPER CROWDED.
In the DriveThruCards store for us, some of our games have sold literally zero copies; any copies sold are to us, for physical distribution at conventions. That’s not to say the market isn’t reasonably active — when one of our projects gets attention, it gets a lot of attention. There are casual browsers but they’re swamped with options. This makes reviewers, like DiceTower and Shut up and Sit Down and their ilk generally disinterested in your work: the market is simply too crowded for them to open their doors to print-on-demand games.
6. A Lot Of That Print-On-Demand Crowding Is SUPER GARBAGE.
I have to compete with Bible collector cards using clipart and broken HTML ads. If you like that stuff fine, I mean, they’ve got kickstarters that made them a few grand, they’re ahead of me in the game. But the high quality stuff is rarer than the low quality stuff. Literally, there is a strong place here for someone who can do quality control/review and consideration for this marketplace. Hint hint.
7. You Don’t Know Enough About Fonts.
I’m not kidding, not at all. Go to font places. Build libraries of fonts. Get every free novel font you like. Get font maker’s contact info. AND KEEP YOUR FONT INFORMATION STRAIGHT. We almost had a disaster when we released a game with a font we weren’t commercially permitted to. Whenever I make a game now I save the games’ fonts in a directory with it just for ease of reference and version control.
8. Your Game Wants To Have Three Fonts AT BEST.
One for body text, one for title text, one for the logo. A gold standard font to look at for game cards that want to convey text nicely is Beleren. It’s the MTG font (almost). Do not use Beleren (as a matter of taste, not legality), but look at how it handles being made small OR large. This is a huge area to dive into but at the same time: There are special kinds of font nerds who want to chip in and give you advice for your card designs as if you’re writing a full document. There are good, basic principles of font management and text, but they are all flexible and mutable. Know what you’re trying to do.
9. Fonts: Your Logo Font Can Be As Fucky As You Want.
It’s basically a piece of visual art shaped like words, rather than ‘text. ‘ per se. A totally hecking weird logo is generally a bad idea but it’s not a dealbreaker if it makes you feel good about it.
10. Your Comfort With Your Work Matters.
You’re not going to get rich in the Print-on-Demand market. Making Perfect is not as good as Making Content — ‘content’ in this case as in ‘whatsoever state I am’ rather than ‘media churn. ‘ There is a Good Enough. It is better for you to get a bad version of something you want to exist than to never ever see that thing exist ever. The best thing about Print-on-demand card design is you’re very agile. Ideas that don’t work This Time can be implemented Next Time, and games that are appealing to two people are still games worth doing.