Game Design: Design Your Own Print-Ready Cards for Table Top Games

Daniel Solis, Art Director by Day, Game Designer by Night

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
27 Videos (3h 3m)
    • Basic Considerations of Card Design

      3:52
    • Cards and Context

      2:55
    • Stuff You'll Need

      3:24
    • Cutting Card Prototypes

      8:49
    • Constants and Variables

      4:50
    • Asset Sources

      2:09
    • Setting Up a Spreadsheet

      4:17
    • Linking a Spreadsheet

      10:09
    • Variable Images

      3:31
    • Variable Ranks

      5:24
    • Duplicate Variables

      3:45
    • Organizing Assets

      2:05
    • Setting up a Template

      4:43
    • Setting Up a Spreadsheet

      3:08
    • Linking a Spreadsheet

      5:27
    • Dual-Suited Cards

      4:34
    • Starting a Template

      2:30
    • Variable Border

      6:05
    • Variable Icons

      1:49
    • Variable Text

      6:14
    • Variable Art

      1:31
    • Setting up a Spreadsheet

      10:05
    • Linking a Spreadsheet

      6:18
    • Variable Text Front and Back [Trivia Cards]

      11:10
    • Variable Art Front and Back and Prepping for DriveThruCards Print [Koi Pond]

      36:19
    • Variable Line

      8:54
    • Making a 3x3 Card Sheet (Multiple Record Layout)

      18:54

Project Description

Design your own print-ready cards for table top games

Basics of Card Prototyping

  1. Consider the Context of your Card Design

    Are these cards held in the hand?

    Are they placed out on a table?

    Do they need to be referenced by more than one player at a time?

    How many cards are held in hand at once?

    What is the average age of your audience (small cards for small hands)?

  2. Look at Real World Examples

    Study the design of other cards set in a similar context as your cards. Standard playing cards are a particularly elegant, though generic example of clear and legible card design from any distance.

  3. Stuff You'll Need for Prototyping

    Gather your basic prototyping tools you'll use as you make your card prototypes.

    Bulk Quantity of Playing Card Decks

    "Penny Sleeve" Card Protectors

    Plain Paper or Cardstock

    Self-Healing Cutting Mat

    X-Acto Blade (BE VERY CAREFUL USING THIS)

    Metal Straight Edge

    OPTIONAL: A tabletop paper cutter

  4. Cutting Card Prototypes

    ***BE VERY CAREFUL IN THIS STEP. SHARP BLADES CAN BE VERY DANGEROUS IF MISUSED.***

    After printing your card sheets, make sure they're lined up and hold them together with a pair of binder clips attached to the outside margin.

    Start cutting within the margins of your die cuts using several shallow, careful cuts, going through several sheets at once.

    Cut from the center out, so you maintain aligned sheets as long as possible.

    As the cutting progresses, the sheets will start shifting around more. Hold your metal straight edge against the paper as firmly as you can.

    Once all your cards are cut, slip them into penny sleeves with a playing card as a backing.

  5. Constants and Variables

    CONSTANTS: Consistent elements of any card in the deck, including the location of icons and other elements. This also includes any artwork or icons that appear across the whole deck.

    VARIABLES: Any elements that will change across the deck, usually some kind of suit or text.

Designing Euro Game Cards

  1. Finding Assets

    Find assets for your card prototypes on

    Flickr Creative Commons Search

    Game-Icons.net

    TheNounProject.com

  2. Setting Up a Spreadsheet

    Open a new spreadsheet in your desired program. I use Google Docs.

    Label each column at the top row with the name of your variable. In a deck of resource cards, you might label the first column "Resource."

    Freeze the top row of your spreadsheet so it is always at the top of the sheet. InDesign will always recognize the top row as the name of the variable, so it's important to keep that from shifting around.

    Each row of the spreadsheet represents one card. In InDesign, these rows are referred to as "records," but let's just call them cards for now.

    Type the name of each resource in the cells down that column.

    Save your spreadsheet as a .csv file in the same folder as you will eventually keep any support images.

  3. Linking a Spreadsheet

    Open a new InDesign document:

    No facing pages

    No primary text frame

    Width: 2.5 in

    Height 2.5 in

    Vertical Orientation

    6 Columns with Gutter: .125 in

    Margins: .125 in

    Bleed: .125 in

    Create a new text frame in your document that will house your text variable.

    In the context menu of the DataMerge panel, click "Select Data Source…"

    Find your .csv spreadsheet, select it, and click ok.

    Highlight the text you want to be variable. While it is still highlighted, select the "Resources" variable in the DataMerge panel. The text will now be replaced with a placeholder <>.

    When you check the "Preview" box in the DataMerge panel, you can see how each card would render the variable. Click the "next" arrow to view each card individually.

    To make a document with each card as its own page, click the "Create Merged Document" button on the lower right of the DataMerge panel.

  4. Creating Variable Images

    Name your image column with an "@" first, for InDesign to recognize it as a variable image. For example, "@Image"

    In the cells of that column, type the name of the file you want to bring into the card. Save your spreadsheet again and return to InDesign.

    In InDesign, update the link to your spreadsheet.

    Create a rectangle as your desired image placeholder.

    While the rectangle is selected, click on the "Image" listing in the DataMerge panel.

    In preview mode, you'll see that the image changes with each card, according to the file name you've placed in the spreadsheet.

  5. Creating Variable Ranks

    Creating variable ranks is the same as any other variable text.

    The new thing you'll learn in this lesson is that you can put two independent text variables in the same text frame. For example, "<> <>" would become "1 Sheep" or "3 Stone" depending on your particular spreadsheet.

  6. Duplicating Variables

    You can copy-paste a text frame that houses a text variable. This will cause an individual variable to appear in two or more places at once, while still remaining consistent.

    Simply copy-paste any image placeholder or text placeholder.

Designing Playing Cards

  1. Organizing Assets

    TIFF or JPEG file formats are best for detailed images that are a consistent dimension and resolution. Good for high-res art and photos.

    EPS files are vector, meaning that they retain their resolution at any scale. The drawback is that they're usually very flat graphics without much detail. Good for icons and suits.

  2. Setting Up a Template

    With a complex card design, it's handy to just start with InDesign first. Place all the assets into a one-page InDesign document (File > Place). Organize your assets and text on the card as you desire. Once it's settled, you can set up your spreadsheet with a better sense of the context for each variable.

  3. Setting Up a Spreadsheet

    Label each column at the top row with the name of your variable. In a deck of playing cards, you might label the first column "@Suit," the second column "@Image," and the third column "Rank."

    Freeze the top row of your spreadsheet so it is always at the top of the sheet. InDesign will always recognize the top row as the name of the variable, so it's important to keep that from shifting around.

    Each row of the spreadsheet represents one card. In InDesign, these rows are referred to as "records," but let's just call them cards for now.

    For an image variable, type the name of the image file. For a text variable, type the desired text.

    Save your spreadsheet as a .csv file in the same folder as you keep any of your image files.

  4. Linking a Spreadsheet

    Highlight the rank numeral you want to be variable. While it is still highlighted, select the "Rank" variable in the DataMerge panel. The text will now be replaced with a placeholder <>.

    Select the image frame (not the image contents) of your suit icon. While selected, click the "Suit" variable in the DataMerge panel. The image frame will appear empty, but will in fact be populated with the image variable.

    When you check the "Preview" box in the DataMerge panel, you can see how each card would render the variables. Click the "next" arrow to view each card individually.

  5. Making Dual-Suited Cards

    You can use multiple independent image variables in interesting ways, like making these dual-suited cards. This is a handy way of making cards with multiple uses in play.

Designing CCG and DBG Cards

  1. Making a Layer

    As shown in the previous unit, setting up an example card is a handy way of making sure you know the context of each variable. In this case, CCG cards have many more variable elements, including art, text, frames, and layers.

    This lesson introduces the use of layers to keep these elements organized and easy to handle.

    In the "Layers" panel, simply click "Make New Layer." I recommend making the following layers for most CCG cards, in the following order.

    ID - This is where you'll keep a serial number for each card. It might not be used in play, but it's handy for playtesting and record keeping during development.

    Text - All text elements, including titles, action text, and so on.

    Icons - Any iconography that is not part of a line of text.

    Border - Any border elements.

    Art - Any portraits or artwork that appears on each card.

    Background - Any background elements that can be seen behind all the other elements described above.

  2. Making a Variable Border

    If you need a border element in your card that has a small "window" through which layers below can be seen, here's a simple method of making them.

    In a new InDesign document that is set to the same specs as your cards, make a rectangle shape that takes up most of the face of the card or as much as you prefer.

    Then make a smaller rectangle shape in the location where you would want the window. Make sure the smaller rectangle is in front of the larger one.

    Then while both rectangles are selected, go to the Pathfinder panel and click the "Subtract" button. This will remove an area from the larger rectangle the same size and shape as the smaller rectangle, thus making a window.

    Duplicate this page a few times and make the frame in each page a different color.

    Export this InDesign document as an .eps. It will turn each page into a uniquely numbered .eps file. Then you can use these file names in your spreadsheet as a variable border.

  3. Making Variable Text

    This lesson covers the basics of inserting variable icons within a line of text.

    For a basic set of variable text, follow the lessons previously in this series.

    To insert an icon in text, you'll need to copy and paste it into the text frame.

    The text before and after the icon will be independent variables. Unfortunately, there is no way to embed a placeholder within a variable. If there is, I'd love to hear it!

    If your set of cards has text with and without icons, I'd recommend making them two separate text frames so the blank image placeholder doesn't create awkward spacing in a line of text that otherwise doesn't have a need for that space.

  4. Making Variable Text with In-Line Icons

    This lesson covers the basics of inserting variable icons within a line of text.

    For a basic set of variable text, follow the lessons previously in this series.

    To insert an icon in text, you'll need to copy and paste it into the text frame.

    The text before and after the icon will be independent variables. Unfortunately, there is no way to embed a placeholder within a variable. If there is, I'd love to hear it!

    If your set of cards has text with and without icons, I'd recommend making them two separate text frames so the blank image placeholder doesn't create awkward spacing in a line of text that otherwise doesn't have a need for that space.

  5. Variable Art

    Make sure your variable art is in the appropriate layer, so any elements in front or behind the art are showing as you desire. Otherwise, this is the same as any other variable image.

  6. Setting Up Your Spreadsheet

    Set up your spreadsheet as explained in previous lessons. The difference now is simply in the degree of quantity, not complexity. You have a lot more variables to deal with now than you had in previous lessons. In this example, these include..

    @border - The variable border for each card.

    Title - The title for the card. (Or optionally, "Color" and "Resource" if you want two independent variables to comprise the title.

    @Cost1 and @Cost2 - The icons required to bring this card into play.

    @Art - The variable art.

    Effect1 - The line of text in the body area of the card, but only in cases where no in-line icon is required.

    Effect 2, @Icon1, Effect3, @Icon2, Effect4 - The sequence of text and icon variables that comprise the line of text that requires two variable icons in-line with the text.

  7. Linking a Spreadsheet

    Here it is! The final step. Link your spreadsheet in DataMerge as shown in previous lessons. Select your desired text or image frames to apply the required variables. Here is where having everything organized into layers makes things much easier to manage, especially if you have several overlapping variables.

Continuing Lessons

  1. Variable Text Front and Back (Overview)

    In your variable InDesign file, add a second page, which will represent the back of your card.

    In your spreadsheet, add a variable column which will show what is on the back of the card.

    When you use this new spreadsheet as a data source in InDesign, you can simply drop in the variable(s) you wish onto page 2 instead of page 1.

    When you export this document as a merged record, you'll find that it is a long document that alternates the fronts and backs of your cards.

  2. Variable Art Front and Back

    See the previous Project Step for details. Main difference is that you'll be using the "@" symbol for the variable name, just as you would for any image variable. Not a big difference really!

  3. Correcting for Ink Coverage Limits

    Some printers, like DriveThruCards, are particular about how much ink is used on their cards. Any digital printer mixes Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black ink to make their colors. If the mix of those colors exceeds around 238%, they can't print it.

    The easiest way to check for problem spots in InDesign is to go to the Separations Preview Panel:

    Window > Output > Separations Preview

    In the "Preview" drop-down menu, select "Ink Limit" and set the percentage to 238%. This will make the whole document look grayscale and highlight any problem spots. Usually these are blacks that are too rich for the printer.

    If they're bitmap files, adjust the saturation of those areas in Photoshop until they're no longer highlighted in InDesign.

    If they're vector files, adjust the color mix of those swatches until they total less than 238%.

Additional Resources