If you asked me several years ago, how much to invest in your prototypes looks, my answer would be simple- “As many sheets of paper as you want, printed in black and white without artwork”. In fact, most designers I know would probably tell you not to focus on the looks of the game, instead just make it as mechanically stable as possible.  And sure, why spend all that extra time picking out artwork when the publisher will throw it away anyway?

This is why:

  1. So people see a wider scope of your game.

When film-makers make movies they usually record the soundtrack for the movie once all of the filming is finished, so the music can be written over the pictures. But, that doesn’t mean directors don’t have a clue what they want the music to sound like. That is why they use what’s called temp music. Those are existing pieces of music, which serve as guidelines for the tempo, atmosphere and mood the director is looking for. Artwork in board games is a near perfect analogy. You want to have your game feel as close as possible to what you imagine it being when it’s finished. Find some artwork you like and use it in your prototypes, as long as you aren’t selling them, you shouldn’t be too worried about copyrights.Here are some temp tracks from famous movies.

  1. For your playtesters!

As a new designer probabilities are you will most likely resort to friends or your local gaming group to test your game. As much as we don’t want to admit it, people do judge books by their covers. Having nice looking artwork will make your playtesters want to play your game, even if it’s just so they can see how everything looks and feels up close. You’ll trigger their curiosity and therefore test your game more, which will lead to a better game overall.

  1. Solving graphic design issues before they arise.

Whether you want to publish your game through a publisher or you want to self-publish, it’s a good idea to have solutions for how the graphic design in the game is structured. You will want everything to be legible and accessible for your players. The earlier you have answers to where everything fits in the game, the better. You’ll be doing a favor to the publisher and yourself the more you know about your game. Here is an episode of ludology about the importance of positioning elements of your game well (zones of play).

I was lucky to have a co-designer who is also a great graphic designer when I first started making games. Thanks to him our games looked great, even when the mechanics were still very rough around the edges. The looks of the prototype drew in people who were interested in testing it. They made me want to work on it more to get the gameplay to match the looks and ultimately made us more passionate about our project. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have understood the value of having a good looking product, even before it hits the shelves. So, if you’re looking to make a game, think twice before you underestimate the way it looks during the design process.

I wouldn’t recommend spending too much money on artwork or components, but there are plenty of cheap ways to make your game look good. As long as you’re not selling your game you should be able to avoid problems with copyright if you use artwork from sources like www.deviantart.com. You might even find an artist you would want to work with later on, when you want to publish your game. For icons I recommend using www.game-icons.net or our free to use downloads. We usually print our paper components on thick glossy paper and for other components we salvage games which we don’t play or with already missing components. All in all, our prototypes rarely cost us more than 10$, but we invest a lot of time in making them look good.

When making a game you’re passionate about don’t be afraid to invest time. Invest time to make it look and feel good. How do you feel about putting in the extra effort to make a good-looking prototype?