There’s a lot of information out there about what should go into a prototype bits box. Much of it is useful. But not all of that information is right for every designer. This is what I selected for my bits box, and why I made those selections.

Identifying The Requirements

I have spent most of my life creating something. Books, games, instructional presentations, and websites are all basically the same from the high-level approach to project organization. Basically, I know how I like to design. I believe it is very important for a designer to learn about themselves early in the process of designing.

Some designers, like me, want to iterate immediately in the early stages of the process. Others want to play out situations and then repeat them, choosing to collect more data before making a change. It’s not for me to say one way is better than another. Designers will find a system that works for them and go with it. What was important for me was to marry my prototype box with my design style. It was about learning how I create, how I iterate, and then owning that.

Budgets, waste, and time were also considerations when selecting my supplies. I have a relatively small budget and I want to reuse as much as possible. Especially early in a design when an entire chunk of a game may get cut, I don’t want to use bespoke pieces that might be costly or time consuming to produce. I also don’t have unlimited time to prototype games. At most I have time for 2 game prototypes, which means I don’t need as much as someone who might work on 5 or more prototypes at one time.

For me, the requirements were:
Fast iteration
Reusable
Low cost
Flexible for multiple designs
Enough for 2 prototypes

Selecting The Right Tools

Cards

Dry erase index and poker cards and wet erase markers.

I knew my games would include cards. My first prototype included hand-cut printed cards stuffed into sleeves with X-Wing Miniatures cards for rigidity. That’s a fine solution, but it didn’t allow me to iterate my designs quickly.

I chose dry erase cards from Apostrophe Games to solve that issue. Along with these I got 8-color wet erase markers. Wet erase markers are a great choice for prototyping because they can be shuffled and not smudge completely. They do tend to smudge if you’ve got a friend with sweaty hands, but otherwise they are stable enough for normal play scenarios. During playtesting, they’re also incredibly easy to wipe off and alter a card on the spot.

I selected 2 sizes: standard poker and index card. The standard poker cards are great for everything. The index cards are great as tiles, scorecards, and player mats. I like them to represent anything that is not a typical poker-size card.

Chips

Sets of mini poker chips.

If you read my previous blog, you know how much I love Axis & Allies. In Axis & Allies, mini stackable gaming chips are used to show multiples of a specific unit type without cluttering the board with dozens of miniatures. I had the same idea for prototyping, especially because I knew I would be working within smaller spaces for my early prototypes. I also like these chips because the ridges keep the stacks tight and organized.

Cubes

Selection of acrylic gaming cubes.

I chose to purchase 2,000 acrylic centimeter cubes in ten colors. Wooden cubes are quite nice, but acrylic counting cubes are cheaper, and you can buy them in bulk.

Why would anyone need 2,000 cubes? I use these for traditional things like scoring and tracking game states, but I also use them to stand in as miniatures. They’re a cheap option to represent something that would take a lot of time and money to produce for prototyping. Combined with the variously colored mini gaming chips, they can represent all sorts of things.

Acrylic gaming cubes on stacks of mini poker chips.

Dice

Sets of RPG game dice.

I bought 2 sets of Yellow Mountain Ultimate Polyhedral dice sets. Each set is 126 dice in 18 colors. Each color set contains a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and a percentile die. I also got bundles of dice bags to keep each on the color sets easily divided.

Discs

Selection of colored gaming discs.

I bought 1,000 plastic discs in 6 colors. These are easy to use as tokens or score trackers. They’re also a bit transparent and smooth. That sets them apart from the chips and cubes, so if all 3 are present in a prototype it’s harder to confuse them for other pieces.

Selection of gaming discs and mini chips.

Meeples

Selection of meeples.

You aren’t a game designer if you do not have meeples. I’m 97% sure that’s a law. I got mine in 10 colors. I chose meeples that most closely matched a majority of the cube colors. I can easily theme a set of meeples, cubes, chips, dice, and discs for up to 6 players.

Organizing The Supplies

Shawn currently lives in Reading, Pennsylvania with his wife. He holds an Associate's Degree in Website Development from Reading Area Community College and a Bachelor's Degree in Technical Leadership from Bloomsburg University. He is currently completing a Master's Degree in Instructional Technology at Bloomsburg University.

One of the most important things I did was to organize my prototype box. I did this by getting 300 multi-size baggies. I divided all of my supplies into bags by color. I keep all of the types of supplies in larger bags so I don’t need to dig around for the bits I need.

When I’m working on a prototype I use a smaller tote to hold all the parts needed for that game. I break the bits up by player or use, so I don’t need to sort things during the limited time I have to test the game. Little things like how quickly I can get my prototype on the table will helps me get the most out of play testers, so it’s important for me to avoid neglecting organization.

I’m a fan of the plastic totes you can find at your local dollar emporium. They stack well, they’re cheap, and they come in all sorts of closet and trunk-friendly sizes. I use a larger one (24.3″ x 16.5″ x 6.2″) to hold all of my supplies, and a smaller one (14″ x 11″ x 3.25″) that fits nicely in my backpack to carry a game prototype. It’s just a bit larger than a Pandemic game box, so it’s also a good metric for whether or not my game is too big to fit into a standard-sized game box.

Wrapping It Up

Selection of various gaming bits for prototyping.

I don’t have a huge box of prototyping bits. I have a decent amount of stuff, and it gives me flexibility. It’s also not so many types of components that I am working without restrictions. I’ve tried to be smart about reigning in my designs from the start, by limiting my prototype options. I force myself to not think too big and to not feel that I need custom miniatures and too many bits. I know if left to my own devices, I’d do something ridiculously big and way too expensive to produce for a first-time designer.

What works for me might not work for you. We all get to the table in our own way. That’s one of the great things about our hobby. What’s important is to know yourself, know your process, and find a way to limit your bad behaviors from the start.