Software to auto format and print game cards?
February 17, 2008 4:45 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to prototype my own board/card game. I need a way to design a card format onto 4" x 6" and 3" x 3" spaces. Something like the software CCG maker but different sizes and not Magic specific.

I am making a prototype of the game, and I feel it would be more cost/time efficient if I could somehow utilize a digital library/database of the cards. That way I could tweak card text and values and then have it all automatically reformatted onto the card fronts and backs. Writing everything out by hand would be a pain.

I don't need the printing solutions yet, and I am not asking for production level quality, just something simple so that I can get text and rudimentary icons (circles with text in them, maybe a stick figure and other simple icons) onto a consistent layout without typing and physically cut and pasting everything from Word doc printouts onto index cards.

I thought database but I only have Open Office and its report generating function seems lacking in visual layout flexibility.

posted by DetonatedManiac to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Along the lines you've suggested above, would a database and print/mail-merge be enough?
posted by Paragon at 5:15 PM on February 17, 2008

Here is a podcast using indesign, where the author is making baseball cards.
posted by travis08 at 6:38 PM on February 17, 2008

Best answer: I've done this in the past with nothing more sophisticated than MS Word and mail-merge. I've made my own sets of Advanced Civilization cards to replace a partially-lost deck (and the originals are too small), a full set of Puerto Rico, and I've used the technique to make "power cards" for LARPs. It takes some effort to get the layout right, but once you've done it, it's easy to make new cards. For the icons, use a font if you can, customize one if need be, but mail-merge will handle pictures.

You can design them oversize, with very large print, and then do the shrinking at the printing stage - use print-to PDF with a custom page size, and shrink to fit. Or use the 2-up or 4-up printing capability. (All of this takes some time with a ruler, but once gotten right, is well worth it.)

As for making playtest cards, the easiest way to do this is get some old Magic land cards (or similar valueless CCG cards), sleeve them in Ultra-Pro soft sleeves, and tuck the proxy prints in the sleeves. You'll find a paper guillotine invaluable for this process.

Avoid producing card backs if you can. Use different games' cards for different decks, or flip the land cards over and use cards with the exact same picture to distinguish backs. If you ever actually produce the game commercially, the printers can take care of backs. Getting backs looking identical is inordinately difficult.

If you want a sturdier set of cards, you can get laminating pouches in various sizes, and trim them down; however, this offers another possible way to get backs looking non-identical.

Some general tips for card game design:
- As much as possible, the rules for the use of specific cards should be on the card itself. Players should rarely have to refer to the rulebook.
- If cards need to be sorted before/after games (ie, back into decks), make this easy in some way, with card backs if you can, or visual symbols in one place (eg a corner or borders) if you can't.
- If orientation of the card is important, or cards are to be slid around the table during play, tell the publisher (ideally, suggest they sell replacement cards) and mention in the rulebook that cards may get worn and should be sleeved.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:46 PM on February 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Mail Merge in a table seems to work just right... never knew MS Word had that. Thanks
posted by DetonatedManiac at 8:29 PM on February 17, 2008

When you do get around to trying for high-quality layout and printing you ought to check out Scribus, the open-source typesetting and desktop publishing app.
posted by XMLicious at 2:26 AM on February 18, 2008

And also, Wikipedia images, and Wikimedia Commons for public domain and GPLed images. And Open Source Web Design when you're ready to build a web site for your game. ;^)
posted by XMLicious at 2:45 AM on February 18, 2008

To get prototype decks that look and shuffle right, I've bought cases of dead CCGs cheaply from retailers or distributors, wrote or printed the game-info on stickers, and stuck the stickers on the old CCG cards. This is very quick-cheap-and-dirty, but in the early stages of playtest you'll be making a lot of changes to your cards. Plus right now you want players to be reacting to the gameplay and nothing else: nice design is a distraction.

(Once Upon a Time started off on odd bits of cardboard, migrated to the backs of old business cards, and only with the first blind-playtest set did we actually run any part of the card-set through a printer.)
posted by Hogshead at 7:54 AM on February 18, 2008

Once Upon a Time started off on odd bits of cardboard, migrated to the backs of old business cards, and only with the first blind-playtest set did we actually run any part of the card-set through a printer.

Cute game. Played it last night. Nice job. :)

About the backs of old business cards - talk to a printer. Occasionally, printers will print up business cards that for one reason or another, clients will reject. Misspelled names, typoed emails or phone numbers, etc. Sometimes clients will never be seen again. Ask if you can leave your name and number, and next time they have a box of rejected or uncollected or printer-error cards, you might be willing to pay a couple bucks for them, if they're willing to let you have them.

This is especially likely if you yourself, or your company, order cards from that printer.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:47 PM on February 21, 2008

Re aeschenkarnos's suggestion, I had a friend buy cardstock at an Office Depot, and get it chopped up right in store for a few bucks, and got thousands of blank business card sized cards out of it. They are great for note taking, keeping in your pocket, or developing games with.
posted by cschneid at 3:01 PM on February 28, 2008

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