My Prototype Experience: The Game Crafter vs

Hi Ho, published Ninja Dice designer Rocco Privetera here. Let’s talk Prototypes and getting them made.

One of my current designs, MegaJail, I’m getting ready to take to Metatopia. The last few iterations have been pretty good so I figured I’d splurge (also – since I’m not redesigning it the day before I leave as usual this time) and get printed components for the game.

Before anyone says anything:

  • Yes there is random found internet art. It’s a prototype. It’s all coming off. I just wanted stuff to give me and the players ideas.
  • Yes I am not a graphic designer. I am an improviser, musician, day-job-technologist and storyteller when I’m not taking care of a wife, 4 cats, and designing games. It’s a prototype. I do it in excel and ms-publisher. I’m about as good as you can get in publisher at this point, which is to say, not very. But honestly after 2 years of showing Reddit and BGG and elsewhere the card designs and getting feedback, they work. Folks seem to like the current design and it hasn’t changed that much in the last few re-designs.
  • If it matters I’m on design 22 of the game, with approx 3 version numbers in each design, and each one of those gets tested 2-4 times before I move to the next version. And that’s not including just regular playing it for fun (solo, others, my regular game night). So… yeah.

The basis of the game comes down to essentially 4 types of cards: News (events) – 27 of these; Bonus Cards – 18 of these; OPS cards (Cells and Facilities) – 99 of these; and Con (prisoner) cards – 90 of these. This is enough for a five player game. So 234 cards. Of these cards, the News cards have one back; the Bonus cards have 3 different backs; the Cells and Facilities have one back each; and the Con cards are all unique backs – that is, when you flip a Con card over, it’s the same Con, just an Angry version.

In prep for all this, I had publisher save the individual cards as individual jpegs at 300 dpi. Then I could easily open one, copy it, and paste it or drag it to the website.

The rest of the game are some tokens (10 of them) for tracking score and turn order; 22 colored cubes for tracking some stats for everyone and the game board. 5 player trackers (4.5×3.25) and 4 player aides (5.4×3.25). Finally, there’s a the main tracker board. Originally it was one board, but I’m trying to get the whole game into a smaller box, so I made two 4×8 boards.

Here are my experiences so far – maybe it’ll provide some insight for those of you doing this yourselves!

The Game Crafter (

The easiest thing to remember about TGC is that it’s easy to use. Anybody can do it. You can set up everything with no mess and fuss. The website is easy – you create a game, you add components to it. You upload art files to each component. if the file is the wrong size, it won’t let you upload it, which cuts down on errors (I would have botched it a lot). You can see your graphics on the components which is great.

I will say that there were times I hit a few snags. It took a few times to figure out exactly what margins they wanted. I had this experience with both sites. You can get templates, but the templates don’t have measurements, which make no sense to me. Yes I can lay the transparencies over the images in publisher, but if you simply said “1/4 safe zone to cut line, 1/4″ bleed zone” it would have been easier. Of course once I got the template over the zone, I figured out the measurements. But still.

Second annoyance was if I have a deck of cards with custom fronts and backs (my Cons) I couldn’t just push a button and say “all the cards in this deck have unique backs” so I had to do it over and over again. Ugh.

Third annoyance is I don’t get how the boxes are sized. According to TGC this box is the recommended size for this game. I feel it’s way too big. I suppose I’ll just buy a few boxes and get a feel for it.

Once I got the design in and proofed, and then went to buy it, it told me 10/27 for expected arrival. This was two weeks after the submission (10/13). That’s OK but I was a little scared – I need it by no later than 11/3. I found out later than for like double the cost you can do a rush production. Keep that in mind.

Then as I waited, I checked on the order. This is a pretty neat feature – you can see the expected ship time and how many games are in the queue ahead of you. Unfortunately I started
to panic. The ship date kept creeping up until it hit 10/31. With a few days shipping I was worried. I emailed the company and two days later got the reply to sit tight and it should get to me in time.

Suddenly the queue started thinning out and I was told it was shipped on 10/21. I got it 10/24 (today).
Here are the pics:


Wow – the game box looks great! You may be wondering about the identical top/bottom. Well I had an image for the top I already had done (for a label I pasted on a blank box) so I re-arranged it. I could have the left the bottom blank but I figured, eh, use the same one, it costs the same. Now I wish I had designed something. I really love the box.

tgc-2-mj-10-2016It’s interesting how they get the boxes to line up with the sort of “lip” inside of it. I don’t know if that jacks up the cost, but it’s nice.

When I got it, the whole thing was in a mailer box, stuffed with tight packing foam. Very nicely packaged.


tgc-3-mj-10-2016Each was shrink wrapped. The individual components were in baggies and checked of for packing. My pic is after a opened a few things first at work. This is at home.



tgc-4-mj-10-2016These were basically on cardstock. Everything is cut very well. The stock is ok. I’d prefer chipboard for these maybe, but the cost is a lot higher, and it’s not needed. I think for prototyping, this is something you can do yourself if you have the gear. The gear being a color laser, a paper cutter, a corner rounder, plenty of spray gloss, etc. Yeah I make a lot of prototypes. My cats are covered in gloss by now.

tgc-5-mj-10-2016The boards came out really well done. They are on chipboard and the label coverings are great. Everything is super well cut, no hanging off bits, etc.



tgc-6-mj-10-2016Here are the cards. I opted to get the gloss regular finish on all of these – no UV and no Linen. Basically your cheap option. The cards are very nice. I feel like the stock is a little flimsy, but only a little. If I got it in a game I’d probably not notice too much. The colors pretty much matched what I expected. I didn’t get any errors in printing.

Now I was super careful with the margins, and fully expected a world of pain with my cards, but I guess the work paid off because all the cards were on the money. Nothing drifted off too far. In general, the drift on the cards is barely noticeable. Maybe a 1mm drift back and forth.

tgc-7-mj-10-2016Nothing to worry about tho.




tgc-8-mj-10-2016You can see here the Con cards, which are double-sided. Each card has a Calm side and an ANGRY side. Again, they all matched, and everything is very nice.

The whole game shown cost me approx $45 apiece for 2 copies, plus $18 priority shipping. If this was a final game I’d need to include rules (mine are about 5 pages) and I personally think a smaller box. I could sell it theoretically on TGC for $50 which I feel is a little steep for retail. Of course I’m doing this to make a prototype not sell it, but it’s nice to know.

For a first experience I think this was about as good as it gets. I got it in 12 days (and this is right before a major game design Con so I imagine they must be busy), no errors, and everything looks like a real game, minus my art and the ever-so-slightly flimsy cards.

Remember how I said I panicked and thought I wouldn’t get it in time? Well, I’d heard PPG could games out in two days so I figured, for insurance, maybe let’s give them a try too.

PPG is a much different animal. The website works, but it’s not as flashy. It’s a little harder to navigate components. I don’t think it has a way to save games the way TGC does – but I understand you can re-order past orders.

Also, printing cards. So on TGC you get a cool editor where you edit individual cards. At PPG you have to upload cards in a sheet. For my cards which are bridge cards, that means 21 to a sheet of 18×24. They have a template which AGAIN does not have measurements on it. AGAIN I had to figure that out. Queue booze.

In any event, I got a template working, dragged all my cards in, saved it as big graphics and uploaded my order. I choose to only get cards, a blank box, and the tokens. I didn’t get the boards and aides and trackers because I can make decent ones of those in a pinch.

I ordered it late on 10/14, and I asked for the linen finish, just to see the difference. I got the game on 10/20. That’s basically 2 days to make it (monday was 10/17) and two days to ship so four days. It cost $45 for cards and tokens, so more money. Here are the pics.

pp-1-mj-10-2016All the stuff I buy from PPG comes with a few pieces of candy. It’s a nice touch. I ate all of them and I hate twizzlers.



pp-2-mj-10-2016All the cards were in one sleeve and the tokens in another.

All the cards were just as good, I thought, as the TGC cards. Same amount of micro drift now and then, very not noticeable. I got the linen finish. The cardstock felt just as slightly flimsy. Maybe it’s just me.

pp-3-mj-10-2016All in all – a good experience!


If you are going for ease of use – TGC, obviously. If you are going for price TGC also wins.

If you are going for component quality, I think they are about the same. The cards seemed about as well done in both cases. I didn’t compare boards, but I did have a quad-fold board for another game a few months made by PPG and it was just as good, I thought. I don’t know if PPG has the huge pile of parts and specific boards, but they do more custom stuff anyway. I do know though the Box was a bit hit for everyone that sees it. I think PPG can only do a full sheet label on a box, not the wraparound stuff. I might be wrong though.

If you are looking for speed and they have what you need in terms of components – PPG is the winner for certain.

I think I won’t buy Linen in the future – for the money (it’s not much) it doesn’t feel amazing and makes it harder to shuffle. I think the cards will rub off and wear more. We’ll see.

In fact here’s a postscript – I had a playtest last weekend and a tester pointed out a card change that would improve some stuff… goddammit… so I have to print new cards for about half the game. I am definitely going to use PPG for this because I have basically 9 days.

Anyway, either of these choices were great. I think if I had no time constraints I’d go with TGC in the future just because the interface is a little easier. But Andrew over at PPG does a great job fast, and I’ve already bought bazillion parts over the years, so he gets the other half of my business.

Onmitsu, a new Print and Play game!

onmitsu-logo1The game of Japanese medieval spies, intrigue, hidden messages, and not killing the messenger… you hope.
For 2-4 players, game time 30 minutes.

Onmitsu is a new Print-and-Play game I’ve just started play testing publicly. Besides the rules, the whole game is contained in one 54 card deck of cards. If you are a Print and Play aficionado, that comes to a mere 6 sheets of card stock (or sleeved paper).

Right now I’m starting to publically test it (among other games I intend to be either pitching or Kickstarting soon) so check it out. As usual, I’d love to hear feedback. You can either email me, comment on this post, or find me on under the handle Rocconteur.

Head over to the Onmitsu page and check it out!


Playtest Pictures!

Here are a few shots of Ninja Dice in a local playtest game in NYC! Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Game time for four players was about 60 minutes (including several rounds of instructions as players joined). I, of course, came in last place.



New Wooden Ninja Dice

Here’s a picture of the wooden dice sets I’ve been making. The tube is slightly smaller and the dice are smaller than the indented ones. I make sure to cover the labels in a ton of clear-coat applications (at least 6) so you’ll get a bunch of plays out of them. These are usually the ones I send out for review copies to folks as a “I can’t Print and Play but want to try anyway can I have it free” option, mostly because they are cheaper and easier to ship.

If you are a professional reviewer I’ll still send the indented dice version.


Ninja Dice review copies!

I’m assembling a bunch of copies of Ninja Dice for review purposes. If you have a blog, or a podcast or a website, or… I dunno, a tumblr? Or make a convincing argument…or you have a playtesters group.

You know – just make a decent reason for me to build you a free copy and mail it to you. Right now I’m just tickled folks want to try it.

I actually ordered some blank wood cubes to make some playtest copies with. They aren’t Indented Dice but are a lot cheaper! We’ll see how they come up.

Anyway, if you want one for a review, email me at and I’ll see if I can bang one together for you. Make sure to link where it is you do your reviews.


NInja Dice Game In Progress


Here is a game-in-progress of Ninja Dice – this is in the second round of play.

On the right are the ‘saved’ dice. At  the top are three Outer Challenge dice (a Resident, a Lock off-screen and a Guard). They’ve been beaten already – if the player escapes, he’ll get three points for them.

On the right middle is the current Inner house: two Residents, two Guards, three Locks and a Strongbox (worth two points as it’s the second round). The player has made a few attempts already: a Time Passes red Alarm die is locked as well as an additional Guard. The player has already rolled a Social and Stealth which he’s saved. He also has a Fortune pointing to a Pick – the combo of the two is worth three Picks. He’ll need one more Pick if he wants the extra points in the Strongbox!

On the left is a red Alarm die (currently Blocked), a White Blank die, and a White Wild die. Where would you put the Wild die?

Ninja Dice first version

Here’s a closeup of the dice used in Ninja Dice – the push your luck Japanese Thief Dice game!


Along the top are the six white Player Dice (representing the player’s thief-ly skills).

The next two rows are black Challenge Dice representing the house being broken in to. The top row of four of Challenge Dice are “Outer” dice (you can tell because they have a wall around the icons) and the bottom row of five are “Inner” dice.

The fourth row are red Alarm Dice representing the escalating danger as alarms are raised. There are Torches that cause momentary panic, more sword-wielding Guards, a Time Passes icon showing the night drawing to a close, a Block, and Yin/Yang faces that can cause out-of-control Alarms to be raised.

The last green die is the Interference die, used by players who are not currently taking a turn to interfere with the active player.

Twenty one dice – currently using indented dice with homemade labels.


Along with a new website redesign, I’ve released version 1 of Dorobo, the Japanese Thief push-your-luck dice game!


Right now Dorobo is a Print and Play game. I’m doing this so folks can continue to play test it, give me time to promote it, generate some buzz, and work out any possible kinks with the game that only the assembled army of internet gamers can find.

Have fun – print out the rules, dice labels, and get stickering. If you’d prefer for me to do it for you head to the Store and I’ll assemble a Print and Play quality copy with your own tube and everything.


Edited to add: This was, after a few months of design, picked up by a Publisher and changed to Ninja Dice!

Barbarian Vince Now with new Graphics!

Mr. Curtis a user over at offered to work on the graphics for me. It looks super sharp now! Sharp enough I decided to move it to its own page.

You can now find the rules, cards, and card backs (wow) on the Barbarian Vince page.

This thing looks publishable!

Anyway – print it out on card stock and enjoy!

Updated Barbarian Vince

I’m really proud about Barbarian Vince. I’ve just gone through a round of playtesting on and it really helped to improve gameplay, smooth the game out, and make it easier to grasp.

What I also love is how in a 54 card game I’ve got much stuff. Sometimes working within limitations is a very useful thing to do every now and then.

There’s all sorts of new things, besides better card layout and typo fixes. Things like a starter quest, year by year effects, rumors, better laid out encounters so there are more of them, choosing encounters, etc.

If you are considering this, its small enough to fit in your pocket, and its designed to be played with only two hands – suitable for play on a subway, train or airplane. I’d love to hear any feedback on it. You can write to me at

Enjoy! And watch out for the wolves!