Part 2: Laser cutting board games, cards, meeples, and more!
If you need to catch up with my progress, have a read of the first post in this series on laser cutting board games. I’ll be referencing some of the stuff from my first post here.
Well, I did it! I have my first prototypes of my laser cut board for Festival Season. I was super excited to finally get some chipboard on the laser bed, after many weeks of learning AutoCAD, fiddling with vectors, and designing and redesigning components.
I am really happy with some of the results, and have had to redesign other parts based on my experience so far. I had gone into the first session with the laser cutter fully prepared for it all to go completely haywire (because of some user error from myself), so all in all, it has been quite positive.
Lesson 1: Laser engraving is not viable for me
In my first post, I noted that I was planning on laser engraving the text and icons on the game board tiles. You can see an example below of how I was originally going to do each tile (x40 triangle tiles), as well as some of the detailing around the frame of the board.
I spent a few weeks designing my AutoCAD files as prep for my makerspace visit. Before I hit print, the laser software shows you how long each part of the process will take. This is divided into image/raster engrave, vector engrave, and then each of your cuts.
As I noted in the previous post, I had completely avoided any raster engraving, as this takes a substantial chunk of time. I had converted all of my text to vectors, to match the icons. When I did the time estimate, the laser cutting of the 40 triangles was going to take 4 minutes, 13 seconds. The vector engraving (of the text and icons) was going to take just shy of 50 minutes.
While this would be viable for prototyping, 50 minutes on the laser bed per copy of the game, just for the boards, is not a viable solution going forward. I didn’t want to spend any more time on desiging a product I could not realistically produce myself. Especially given that meeples, tokens, chits, cards, and other components will need to be produced as well. I’d like to be able to produce a batch of handmade copies, particularly with some ideas in the pipeline to create and sell bespoke copies for special customers. This was a place to be pragmatic.
This is a consideration for anyone using manufacturing services such as The Game Crafter, too, (which is an exceptional resource for new designers). As of the time of writing, they charged $0.0085 per linear metre of laser engraving. This is a very small cost in the grand scheme of things, but anything that will affect MSRP is worthy of examination, and I had originally planned a substantial amount of engraving. Each letter could be approximately 4-6cm of engraving, for a block font.
Lesson 2: Sticker/adhesives for prototyping
My main goal at the moment is to make a playtest-ready version of Festival Season. (Rewilding does not have a universal game board and I’m further along with the Festival Season design, explaining my heavy focus on the latter here.)
I drove straight from the makerspace to my local office supplies store and bought some A4 adhesive labels and jumped back into Illustrator at home. Using Illustrator and stickers gives me a lot more design freedom that I just could not do in AutoCAD. One of my concerns with the AutoCAD laser-engraved versions was that the venue names and icons on every second tile would be inverted for players on either side of the table, and all would side-on for those at either end of the table.
Getting back into Illustrator meant I could put the venue names facing outwards on all three sides of the triangle, which would make comprehension a lot easier throughout the game.
The mock-up versions are very basic, but I’ll put artistic effort into these when I know the game plays ok. A sticker sheet and a craft knife, and I had these in about half an hour.
Lesson 3: Pay attention to the power of the laser
This sounds really dry and boring, but it will save you wasted material and time. For the tiles, I was using 1200GSM/1.8mm grey chipboard. I had the laser set to cut 2mm chipboard, and this worked like a charm.
I then did a test with some 300GSM card for the game cards. I set the laser to “heavy paper” (or something similar), and it didn’t cut the whole way through. It didn’t cost me anything but a sheet of paper, but it can help to do a test with your material before you hit go on the main project.
Similarly, I tested some other thick white card (which I believe was about 0.9mm/600GSM). I set the laser cutter 1mm card, but again, it didn’t make it the whole way through.
The value of makerspaces is that they will usually have tech boffins who will be well-versed in how to adjust this. This is a balance of intensity and speed. You don’t want to crank up the intensity for a paper-based product, in case it sets fire (…and it will). It might be better to go the same intensity at a slower speed, for example. Woods, metals, and acrylics will all have their own special idiosyncrasies.
Lesson 4: Consider your packaging or game box
The Festival Season board will have a frame around the triangle to hold them in place, and with some extra game details on the periphery (similar to Catan). I’m intending to make the whole game board from A2-sized chipboard, so that I don’t have any wastage (both for financial and environmental reasons). I want to make full use of my materials.
Given that not many people would like a 60cmx40cm box on their shelf, it is necessary to cut the frame into pieces, to allow for a tidy pack-down.
I am still fiddling with files to get the connectors right between these pieces, and also into a consistent size that will fit into a mid-sized (ideally) or large game box. With 40 triangle tiles to contend with, along with dice, a rule books, tokens, meeples and more, it is important that how it all fits in the box feels intuitive, rather than like a jigsaw puzzle every time.
Also – if you like jigsaw puzzles…
The road ahead
Now that I’ve found my feet with the laser cutter, it means I’ll be able to rapidly iterate if there are poor gameplay elements around user experience or game balance. It also means I can test out different versions without too much cost, other than a bit of my time and a few bits of chipboard.
I’m pleased I came at the process with a bit of tech knowledge, especially in Illustrator and some graphic design. But nothing is insurmountable if you don’t know it – there are plenty of resources and an amazing community of designers at your fingertips!