Prototyping for Testers

What is “Prototyping for testers?”

Simply put, Prototyping for Testers is a philosophy and methodology by which a designer makes a game available for testers. This means more than simply “I emailed you the PDF, bro.” This is about accessibility, simplicity, and respect. Make it easy to print, small file size, stupidly easy to understand. Respect that testers don’t want to spend $20 in ink to print a game to test so that you can publish it. Respect that a lot of printing means a lot of time cutting cards. We’ll get there, I promise!

This is something like a guide, and something like an anecdotal narrative. I’m sure I’ll change tenses often. Sorry! (not really, or I would edit it again!)

Teach me, oh wise one

Before you get ahead of yourself by, you know, thinking I know what I’m talking about , realize that I don’t. This is what I do, and how I do it. It’s perhaps not the best method, but it’s the one I like the most.

So, you have a game in that gray matter between your ears. Good for you! Now what? Well, first, it needs to be playable, both literally (you need to have physical cards/dice/etc) and figuratively (the rules have to make sense, and work). Maybe you’ve hammered out the rules and are ready to play-test. Goooooooood.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’ve come up with a game that you’ve named Castles, but are going to change it to Influence . There are going to be some castles, and people need to take control of them. Cool. Sounds interesting. How are they going to do that? And what kind of castles — physical plastic models? Cards? Some generic defined area on a game map?

I went with cards for the castles, and for the method to conquer them.


I don’t like Microsoft Access for a lot of reasons (how do you rotate text boxes? how do you create conditional images? I have no idea), but there are a lot of things that are great. For example, making a database of cards.

In this case, I’ve created a list of totally fair-use parody castle names. Look, for prototyping, it doesn’t matter.

“Center” is the original version of the Power Numbers, and the U D L are Up, Down, and Left, which are the Influence Circle numbers for the castle in that row. The rest (R for Right, and then all four corners (UL UR DL DR)) are not shown for the sake of keeping image width to a reasonable size.

Once I had a bunch of Castles made up — and you can see, at the bottom of that image, the beginning of the Player cards — it was time to make a Report.

Reports in Access are basically templates. Think of items on a restaurant menu: you have a field for Name, Description, Price, and Special Options. In this case, I have a name, deck, a center number, and the eight Influence Circle numbers. Create a text box linked to each one:

(be sure you pick from the drop-menu under Control Source)

The finished report looks like this in Design View (note that I drew a white box and Sent it to the Back):

Because the text is centered for “Center,” and because the font size of the field name linked to that box is the same size as it will be in the report, the letters are cut off. UL, L, and DL are left-justified, while UR, R, and DR are right-justified. Nom, U, and D are centered. (Why “Nom?” Well, Access doesn’t like it if you name a field “Name,” so I went with the Cookie Monster approach)

With this set up, you need to make a condition so that this report — or template — only applies to one type of card, Castles. Here’s where Deck, the only field not represented in the report, comes into play.

On the right side of the screen is a Property Sheet button — click that, and make a filter that looks like this:

Now our report should only apply to cards from the deck CASTLES. Change to Print Preview, and you’ll get this result:

Neat! We’re done!


I mean, that’s a good start. The game is black and white (well, and grey…), meaning that testers will not spend much ink on it. There aren’t card backs (yet), or the other cards. But worst of all, there’s a space between each card. This means that you have to cut each card individually. This is a giant pain in the ass, and no one wants to do it.

Here’s the fix.

First, ensure that the box around the card goes all the way to the edge! This catches me off-guard almost every time.

Second, Page Setup is your friend:

Make the Row Spacing and Column Spacing 0″ and you will be left with this

NOW we’re done. You can export as a PDF, and you’re good to go!

What next?

I repeated the same process for card backs, where the Castle card backs use a copy of the same report to keep the filtering the same, and just changed the text around. I did the same thing for the Player cards, where I also added a unique color/symbol pair to make it easy for anyone (including color-blind players) to identify who was who. Here’s a few example screenshots to make you salivate. Conclusion after that.

If you align the cards the same way in the Page Setup screen, you can print front and back and have no problem.


Cool, you’ve made a bunch of PDFs. Well, great. Now someone has to download a ton of PDFs (for Influence, it would be Castles, Castle Backs, 6 player PDFs, and the Player Backs). This didn’t even get into Setup cards!!

There’s a quick and easy way to bind a bunch of PDFs together, called PDF Binder . It’s very light-weight, and very fast. Add PDFs, hit Bind, problem solved. Now you have the whole game in one PDF. If you thought about it first, and put a BACKS PDF between each FRONTS PDF, you can print on both sides and begin cutting/etc.

Yes, I know this isn’t pretty. It doesn’t need to be. It needs to be fast and easy for testers, because that’s the whole point. You want them to test your game, and if they’re willing to test a prototype, they won’t care about art. They WILL care about cutting a thousand cards one at a time. They WILL care about spending $15 on ink.

Matt Cocuzzi is the Lead Designer of Influence , a 20-60 minute abstract strategy card game for 2-6 players currently available on Kickstarter: . Check it out!

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