Monday, May 15, 2006

Cheap custom whiteboards for rapid game prototyping

I started doodling with the Comicall prototype this weekend, but I needed a large number of custom shapes that I could draw on multiple times. I found some Post-It notes that were covered with a whiteboard-like material, but they cost $5 for a pack of four. That gets expensive rather quickly.

Instead, I found a tip online that said you can use glossing contact paper, the sort typically used for covering drawers, to make anything into a dry-erase surface. I picked up 15 feet worth of some glossy clear contact paper from the local store for $4.95.

I applied it to some blank white cards and cut them into the shapes I desired. It works like a charm. The dry erase markers come off easily, without a trace. I grabbed some multi-color pens that have the erasers built into the cap so it is remarkably easy to make small changes on the fly as you evolve your prototype.

The downside
The marks do rub off easily with very little handling. I’d use this technique in the following situations:
  • Early rapid prototyping where you are changing tokens very fluidly and can’t be bothered to be constantly cutting out new tokens every time you make a change.
  • Board design: If you have a custom board for your game, this allows you to lay out the board quickly and rapidly as well as make quick changes. Any whiteboard will do.
  • Games that allow user modification of the board: This is a pretty inexpensive way of letting users draw all over things. I bet that there are all sorts of core mechanics that have yet to be tapped that use this ‘advanced collaborative user content driven’ technology. ;-)
You can always make certain marks permanent by using a permanent marker instead of a dry erase marker.

Any other fun prototyping tricks that you've come up with? One of my favorites comes from Chris. He puts his prototype cards into baseball card holders to give them instant protection and 'heft'. Very useful.

Take care


  1. The best thing I've heard of is getting a once-a-week job at Kinko's. You get tons of equipment at your disposal, down side is you have to work at Kinko' I guess it's like repairing your car with a baseball bat.

  2. Games that allow user modification of the board: See "rail" boardgames (Eurorails, Nipponrails, Iron Dragon) for inspiration.

    Putting prototype cards into card holders: I'd add that you put a Magic card (or similar) behind each card, so that you have uniform card backs.

    Other things I've found useful when prototyping:

    If you see something that'd make a great set of game bits, grab it. You can find these in the least obvious places sometimes, like pet stores or craft stores. Chips, glass stones, play money, colored wooden cubes... great stuff.

    Always always always keep a notebook with you when playtesting. Especially in early versions, you tend to find a lot of problems, and you don't want to forget any of them.

  3. This would be a great way to play a game I invented called Stop!86.