Category Archives: Resources

Favorite Physical Tools

A few days ago, I wrote about some of my favorite software tools for prototyping. Today, I’ll list some of my favorite physical tools.

Rotary Paper Trimmer: I use this to cut out cards printed with nanDECK. It’s much faster than using scissors and gives more satisfying, straighter cuts. I have a large one that makes it easy to line up a large piece of paper on the grid lines, which is also helpful. (I print on ordinary printer paper rather than cardstock, then put the slips of paper into a sleeve backed with an old CCG card, like making proxies.) Mine is a Fiskars that I got at Costco a long time ago.

As a side note, Dragon Shield and KMC sleeves are the best I have found, but they’re on the expensive side. Most of my prototype sleeves are ugly holographic Ultra Pros that I got in the bargain bin at an Origins booth.

Plastic Cubes: Whether these are player markers, resources, trackers, or something else, almost every game needs cubes for something for another. The best deal I found is at educational supply store EAI.

Glue Stick: Liquid glue is messy and warps paper. Tape doesn’t roll on well and sticks up. Glue sticks are perfect. I mostly use glue to mount printed gameboards to posterboard to give them some heft (laminate at OfficeMax for extra durability), and to mount small paper squares to craft-store chipboard squares to make counters.

Cutting Mat/Utility Knife/Metal Ruler: This trio of items is how I cut posterboard to the right size to mount printed gameboards on. The cutting mat and ruler are from a discount craft store; the utility knife, from a hardware store. I used to use an X-Acto knife; the utility knife is a much better tool for cutting cardboard.

B&W Laser Printer: I have a Brother laser printer which I love. It’s reliable, sharp, and above all, cheap to operate. I do color printing at OfficeMax/Staples/Kinko’s; it’s cheap enough that trying to maintain my own color printer doesn’t make sense..

Sharpie Permanent Markers in a variety pack: For adding small amounts of color to home-printed B&W documents, and making changes post-printing or on-the-fly. Also for playing 1000 Blank White Cards.

Swingline Laminator:This is the newest item on the list–a Christmas gift last year–but already I love it. I would not have even thought to get it for myself (lamination is hard, right?) but the device is inexpensive ($20-$25), easy to use, and the sleeves are inexpensive as well. Laminating is a surprising way to give printed-out materials a lot of durability, heft, and even gravitas.

Favorite Tools and Resources

I spent a good chunk of this morning fighting with Paint Shop Pro, where I had created an old version of the Invasion map. In honor of that frustrating experience, here is a list of some of my favorite online tools and resources.

nanDECK: This an amazing tool, specialized for laying out cards. It uses its own scripting language, but the scripting is easy and the manual and tutorials are helpful. It can import data from a CSV file, create your cards according to your script, and output a PDF at the touch of a button. A mini-IDE and CSV editor are built right in. As the author’s hobby project, there are some quirks in the behavior and writing, but don’t let that stop you: this is an easy-to-use and powerful tool.

Inkscape: This is a free vector graphics application. It’s not a perfect Illustrator replacement, but it’s powerful, novice-friendly, and I can usually make it do what I need. You often hear this mentioned in the same breath as GIMP, which sells itself as a Photoshop workalike. That’s unfair: Inkscape is a fine program, while GIMP is a morass of bugs, terrible usability, bizarre nonstandard UI choices, and missing features.

Pixlr Editor: I was only recently introduced to this raster graphics tool. It’s Web- and Flash-based, but it’s amazingly full-featured, free, and quickly my new favorite free raster graphics tool. Paint.NET is fine but not quite there (plus you have to install it, so early-21st-century) and you already know my feelings on GIMP. provides hundreds of icons useful in games, with a Creative Commons license that is attractive for prototyping. The icons available lean a bit towards fantasy and fighting. NounProject is a similar resource that contains a much broader array of icons, although they don’t share the unified graphic style of

Incompetech Graph Paper: this bizarrely named site provides very good graph paper generators including hex grids, triangle grids, and dot grids. Gridzzly is a quicker, less full-featured tool that provides the most common papers you might want to print.