JT Smith started designing games when he was in high school and wanted an easier way to prototype his game. His drive to find a better way to prototype led him to found the company Game Crafter, a company that allows you to print prototypes and even produce your game on a small scale. In addition to Game Crafter, JT has programmed a number of incredible tools for creating card prototypes, migrating your physical games to programs like Tabletop Simulator, and even running entire conventions. Thanks to JT this episode of the Think Like A Game Designer will, no doubt, make your game design life easier. 

“Artwork is different than UX.” 

UX is simply the layout of a card, without any art. JT goes through the process of using a tool he created called Component Studio to layout a game’s worth of cards after you’ve laid out the first. At Stone Blade we use a similar program and it saves us hours, if not days, of work during our design process. I highly recommend finding a program like this if you’re creating a card-based game.

“The trick is, with whatever company you’re going to print with, is to take advantage of their process.”

Here, JT goes into detail about how to make the most out of a printer, discussing print sheets and other important aspects of the production process that a designer would want to know before choosing a company to work with. We then talk about how to minimize risk, and how important companies like the Game Crafter can be when you’re creating Kickstarters. 

“Co-opt somebody else’s audience.” -and-  “Take advantage of the community you have access to.”

Building an audience is a challenge for a new designer. In this section, JT discusses how you can find your audience within other audiences out there, from Board Game Geek, to a gaming group, to social media. We talk about having a community to launch your game too, and designing games for communities you are part of. It can be key to achieving success with your first game. 

“Pitching to a publisher is going to be the least amount of work, even though it’s going to be a ton of work.”

Here we cover the tough question of choosing between self-publishing, pitching to a publisher, or Kickstarting a game. One of the main points here is that if you’re not ready to start a company and all that entrepreneurial life entails, then finding a publisher can save you a lot of time and energy. That said, pitching to a publisher comes with its own challenges. 

“If you’re getting into the contests for the prizes you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons.”Sometimes a component, or a gimmick or a small bit of story can become the inspiration for a great game. JT tells us about the new games he’s working on, and how he’s inspired to make them. He goes on to tell us about some awesome game design challenges that Game Crafter offers. If you’re considering getting into game design, I highly recommend getting in on these challenges—they will be fantastic learning opportunities.

“There’s an amazing amount of space available for every level of technology that you’re willing to learn.”

JT and I dig into the game design in the digital space, using Tabletop Simulator. Though they may take some time to learn, these programs do not require a background in coding to use and are excellent resources if you’re looking to upload your game to a digital space. Having a game on a digital platform is fantastic for playtesting because it allows you to reach out to people who don’t live locally, and swapping out changes can be faster and easier than physical prototypes.

“Audacity is a beautiful thing.”

JT talks about how he developed the Game Crafter, after learning that many other companies had tried and failed to create a tool that allowed individuals to create their own games. This leads to a conversation about risk management that dips into writing books, starting companies, and designing games.