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Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to Prototype

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to Prototype

Analog Game Design 102: From Idea to PrototypeLast time I wrote about analog game design I took Magnet Puzzle from spark to idea stage. Unfortunately, that’s where it’s remained. For every 10 sparks, I take one through the idea stage. For every 10 ideas, I take one through the prototype stage. Magnet Puzzle hasn’t made that leap yet.

So instead of me waiting until inspiration strikes and I figure out what makes it fun, now that magnets are out of the picture, I’m going to backtrack a bit and show you how I’m working on another game: a quick, quite random, “take that”-inducing card game prototype named “Das Amt”.

The Spark

The spark for Das Amt (BTW, Das Amt means “The Office” in German, as close as I can figure) came with the image of a player holding up a card at another player and shouting “nein, nein, nein” in a very high-pitched voice. If you’ve ever seen ‘Allo ‘Allo! or any post-WWII depiction of Hitler, then you’ll know what I mean.

Well, nein is fun but what would the game be about? The Stasi, obviously! So players are workers in a giant Stasi archive, and they have to get majorities of files, and you had to use your clerks to grab them from other players. Who then pull out the Nein-card and get to shout “nein, nein, nein”, which is the fun part. It’s a game about shouting “no” in faux-German. Hooray!

[bctt tweet=” It’s a game about shouting ‘no’ in faux-German. Hooray!” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

Spark Notes

These are my initial spark notes, what I wrote down (while biking, actually – I pulled over to the side of the road and scribbled on my pad). If you aren’t interested, just skip this part, the actual discussion is below.

  • Majority Set Collection Game
  • Components:
    • Cards in 8 colors (1 color/player)
    • 3 card types
      • Files – collect these to win
      • Nein – deny clerk + steal turn
      • Clerk – steal files
        • steal one file of that color from every other player (steal one at at time)
        • steal all files of that color from one player (steal one at a time)
      • Ratios: 4 Clerks and 2 Neins per 1 File
    • 8 File Folders (permanent files, 1/player is used)
  • Play
    • Your turn:
      • Play a file or clerk
    • Other player turn:
      • Play a nein + say “nein, nein, nein”
    • Draw a card whenever someone plays a card and you have at least one file in the same color
    • Draw a card whenever someone steals a file from you
  • Game end
    • When all cards drawn
  • Victory:
    • 2 vp if you have majority (of files) of your own color (count your permanent file)
    • 2 vp if you have majority of another player’s color
    • 1 vp if you have majority in any other color
    • Loss: If you have the most unfinished paperwork (cards in hand) you automatically lose. Example:
      • A – 5 Red, 2 Green
      • B – 2 Red, 1 Green
      • C – 2 Red, 1 Green
      • A has majority in Red (5 > 2+2) but not Green (2 = 1+1)

The Idea – and my Facepalm[note]Facepalm – the moment when you realize you’ve done something so stupid that you smack your face with the palm of your hand. And yes, I’m old enough to have needed an explanation the first time I heard the term.[/note] moment

Thinking it through I had three types of cards: Nein, File, and Clerk. I imagined that you would play files, use your clerks to steal them from others and get majorities. Whoever had the most majorities would win.

Said and done. I jumped into NanDeck, which happens to be my go-to tool for creating card games. More on that later. I made some mistakes, grabbed some art from a free-vector site, and mocked up a first set of cards.

I wanted to have a lot of colors, so that players would get majorities to fight over, and settled on eight colors. I wanted to have plenty of interaction so I settled on 8 Clerks and 4 Neins in each color. That would give me a decent amount of cards to play. Of course, I needed some files as well, but as I already had 96 cards, I didn’t think I could handle that much more. So I settled for 120 cards total.

I’m sure you see the face palm coming.

Yeah, 24 Files in 8 colors means 3 Files per color. Which makes two files a majority. Not exactly the “shoveling files around” game I had envisioned. Which my prototyping group pointed out. After I had printed everything out. Facepalm. Basic math fail.

Stupidity – 1, Me – 0. Back to the drawing board.

[bctt tweet=”#IndieDev score: Stupidity – 1, Me – 0. Back to the drawing board.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

Making cards with NanDeck

But first, a quick aside on my way of making card game prototypes.

I use NanDeck. I love NanDeck. I used to hate NanDeck because I couldn’t get my head around it. Because I’m stupid, and the learning curve isn’t all level. Fortunately, there’s a great community and a lot of tutorials around.

Analog_Game_Design_102-4NanDeck is a programmable card game engine. Basically you tell it how many cards you want, how you want the cards to look and what changes you want for each card, and then NanDeck spits out a print ready PDF, or a bunch of Jpeg images, depending on your choice[note]There are more options, but I’ve never needed them.[/note].

Basically, you’re programming using things like rectangles, image placements and custom variables. And if you run into a problem you can email Nand[note]The creator, Andrea Nini.[/note], who then implements the function you need while you watch. OK, it might take a day or two but it sure feels instantaneous.

For first draft prototypes I use simple rectangles: fill the card background with black, paint a white rectangle on top, voila, I’ve got a card border. Fill the rectangle with the colors I need, put a white space in the middle, thrown in an icon. If I need, I use an excel sheet with the different cards, icons, colors, etc. and import it into NanDeck. For Das Amt I only had three different types of cards so I coded everything in NanDeck. This took me about two hours, and then I had a print-ready PDF. With a facepalm moment.

Repairing the Idea

Fortunately, my group loves to discuss ideas. So we hashed out the fun things, the “nein, nein, nein”, the need for things to do. What came up was the fact that the game might stall out, that there would be moments where nobody had anything to do.

Analog_Game_Design_102-2So I added the need to draw cards whenever someone would play a card. If you had files in that color, then you’d draw a card. That way things would keep going – except that you wanted to have a lot of cards in hand.

This was when it struck me: files needed to be bad. This wasn’t a game about collecting majorities, this was a game about avoiding majorities. So files in front of you would be work that you hadn’t finished and you’d get demerit points for them. The person with the least points won.

So why play files at all? Because every file left in your hand at the end of the game would count double. And the clerks would be dropping work off to other players. You’d send out your minions to clear your desk and foul other’s.

This was turning into a vindictive, blame-the-other-guy game. And I liked that.

[bctt tweet=”This was turning into a vindictive, blame-the-other-guy game. And I liked that.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

Version 0.2

So now I had a new version, one where the files would be central, and I had another card: the Boss. If you played a boss, you’d force others to draw cards. If they didn’t have any files in the boss’s color, then they’d draw three cards. If they had files in the boss’s color, then they’d still draw a card due to the “draw a card if someone plays a card in a color where you have files”-rule (which turned out to be exactly as difficult to explain as it is to write.

It took me five minutes to change my NanDeck script to accommodate the new cards, then an evening cutting and sleeving the 108 cards. I was quite proud of the results.

Here are the v0.2 rules, before playtesting. They lasted exactly one playtest, but that’s a story for the next post.

  • Only 6 colors
  • Card distribution: 8 files, 5 Clerks, 4 Neins, 1 Boss
  • Boss
    • Force each other player to play a card of a color they don’t have in front of them OR discard all of the cards of the Boss’s color that you’ve got in front of you.
    • One color
  • Clerks
    • Transfer X cards (your choice) to/from another player. Other player draws X cards. If Nein-ed, transfer is canceled and YOU draw X cards.
    • Two colors (one main, draw cards in this color, one secondary, affect cards in this color)
  • Neins (Two or Three? per Color)
  • Scoring
    • Each file in play = -1 point
    • Each file in hand = -2 points
    • Most files in play (total, all colors) = Good worker = 0 points (files in hand still count?).
  • Game End
    • Immediately when the last card is drawn.


  • NanDeck – A card design tool. Takes your Excel sheet and turns it into cards. Or counters. Or anything else. I love NanDeck.
  • The NanDeck Users Guild on BGG (ask questions here and you get an answer within minutes)


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