Tips for Creating PnPs

Countdown: 124 days. I have found PnPs to be immensely useful, and I now start projects with them in mind. Here are my tips for creating them.

During the game design and publication process, I have found many cases where I need to send a prototype of a game to someone so they can play it. A print-and-play (“PnP” for short) is a version of a game that can be sent to to someone electronically that that they can print and assemble. I have found PnPs to be immensely useful (for collaborating remotely, for playtesting, and for reviewers), and I now plan out each new project from the beginning with one in mind.

A game designer recently asked about format and other tips for a PnP. I had just finished a major revision to PnP for World’s Fair 1893, and these tips were fresh on my mind:

1. Straight Lines With Guides: Line up your files so that people have to cut in straight lines and in as few cuts as possible. No circles. (Even if your artwork is circle, you can still put them on rectangular tokens.) Give guide lines out to the edge of the file to make it easier to cut with a paper trimmer.

Sheet of cards for World’s Fair 1893 with guides

2. Double-Sided Tokens: Most of the time, components for a PnP can just be printed on one side and have a blank back. With World’s Fair 1893, I found that the game is much less fiddly if the approved exhibit tokens are double-sided. These can be created easily enough by printing the artwork on one side, folding, and taping the token closed. (I used solid lines for cuts and dotted lines for folds.)

3. Borrow Components: Try to make as many components as possible components that people can borrow from other games. (We intentionally chose colors for our Lanterns: The Harvest Festival PnP so that it could work with Ticket to Ride train cards.)

Lanterns PnP worked with Ticket to Ride cards

The Lanterns PnP could be played with Ticket to Ride train cards.

4. ZIP File: I recommend creating multiple files and then packaging them all up into one ZIP file. Whether you upload it to BGG, attach it to an email, or share a link to the file publicly, testers will only have to download one file.

(I use Dropbox to host and backup all my PnP files. I store the individual files in a public folder, and then use my operating system’s “Send To Compressed Folder” feature to generate the ZIP file. Dropbox uploads them automatically, and I send testers a link directly to the ZIP file.)

Dropbox folder

Individual files in a Dropbox folder, zipped together

5. Create PDF Files: Whatever you use to create your files (Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word, etc.), remember that not everyone has access to those proprietary programs. PDF, on the other hand, is an open standard that can be viewed and printed from a wide range of applications.

6. Assembly Instructions: Include a file with the PnP that describes the components and provides instructions for how to assemble the components. I create these files in Microsoft Word but export them as PDFs. (I usually name the file _Start_Here.pdf. I put the underscore at the beginning so that it will appear first in an alphabetical list of the files.)

7. Separate Materials: I recommend putting components that could be printed on different materials in separate PDFs. The three materials I often use for printing PnP files are paper (for cards that I will put in sleeves), thicker card stock (for tiles, tokens, and boards), and sticker paper (for dice stickers).

I used three different materials to playtest this PnP.

I used three different materials to print this Full Metal Contact PnP by Christopher Chung.

Here’s a link to the final PnP for Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, if you’d like to see these tips in practice (note the Dropbox link):

Have you found PnPs useful? If so, in what cases? What other tips do you have to add for creating them?

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9 thoughts on “Tips for Creating PnPs

  1. Fantastic advice Randy, thanks for sharing! I’m actually working on putting a PnP together for my game right now, so this information was really helpful :)

  2. This is great advice, thanks! I too am working on a PnP — though there’s a long way to go. Question — for the PnP, do you think the art needs to be final quality? Or if there’s going to be a Kickstarter after, can the art be more barebones?

    Would love your input.

    • @Kelsey, Thanks for the question! I intentionally did not address that in the post because the answers vary so widely depending on your circumstance. Ask yourself what you want to get out of the PnP, and then figure out what best achieves those objectives. James Mathe has a good article with stats about how PnPs affect Kickstarter pledges, which is worth checking out:

      * http://www.jamesmathe.com/does-a-print-play-version-of-your-game-help-sales/

      I have so far always put boring abstract art in my PnPs. For the Lanterns project, my ultimate goal was to sell copies of a physical product that people would love. I had two objectives for the Lanterns PnP that worked towards that:

      1. Feedback on game mechanics: I collaborated on Lanterns with someone in another country (Christopher Chung in Canada), and I was sending him PnP prototypes to create and test. I was taking them to my test groups, and he was taking them to his test groups. Neither of us needed final quality artwork for that. I also had a group of remote testers willing to create a PnP and give feedback on the mechanics, before the artwork was done. (The game mechanics needed to be solid if people were going to love the game.)

      2. Give confidence to backers so they would back the project: People could look at the Kickstarter page to see if they would like the theme and the artwork, but it’s sometimes hard for them to tell if they will like playing the game. Creating and playing the PnP gives some people the confidence they needed to pull the trigger. (If they didn’t like the game, I’d actually prefer they not back. I don’t want anyone disappointed with the game after they get it if I can help it.)

      I did not want my PnP to be a suitable substitute for the final physical product. I did not want to sell a digital product. (Some campaigns give the full artwork PnP to backers who pledge $10 or something.) I did not use the PnP to get feedback on the artwork or the overall game experience, just the mechanics.

      Having the PnP in this state has had some other benefits.

      * Some backers made the PnP, loved the game, and kept playing it even after the campaign. When the final product arrived, it wasn’t just better quality components: it was completely fresh and new artwork.

      * Even after the retail release, some people have reported giving the PnP a try and deciding the game was not for them. I’m glad they had that opportunity before they spent money on the game.

      I hope that helps!

  3. Pingback: Tips for Creating PnPs | This blog will self-destruct every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

  4. Pingback: Watching People Use Your Rulebook | The Best Games Are Yet To Be Made

  5. Hi, Randy. Thanks for this article. I am trying to educate myself on the PnP development process, and I appreciate what you have offered here. A question I have: how do you create the PDF files in the first place? For a straight card-game for example: do you begin in Adobe Illustrator, or do you make a Word file or Excel file and then “save as” as PDF…? I’d appreciate some clarity on this. Thanks!

    • Good question! Most software has a “Save as PDF” or “Export to PDF” option. I personally use PhotoShop for most components (tokens, tiles, cards, etc.) and Microsoft Word for rulebooks.

      For other programs, you can use software like pdfforge and others that let you create PDFs from anywhere: when you install them, they act like a printer that you can select when printing.

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