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Assembling Components        
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Assembling Components

This page provides suggestions on printing, assembling, and integrating your content with an existing game. It is divided into three phases: design, production, and play. You'll get the best results by taking all three phases into account: thoughtful design, nice production standards, and an engaged gaming group.

Note: If you are looking for advice on printing components made by someone else, then you can skip down to the Production Phase since the design choices have been made for you.

Design Phase

You should start thinking about how your custom content will be printed and assembled while you are still designing it. Think ahead about how your design choices can reduce or eliminate the need to mix components. While you are at it, think about the number of components you are proposing. Custom components can be expensive to print and time consuming to assemble, so try to use components wisely and keep the number of new bits down to a manageable number. If you have a great idea that requires 50 new cards, go for it, but do spend a moment thinking things through to ensure that the design warrants the extra complication for players. Here are some other suggestions to consider when designing content:
  1. Choose component types that don't need to be mixed with official components. For example, in some games players choose a character before the game starts. Although these cards will appear side-by-side with official components, it doesn't matter if they are distinguishable.
  2. Instead of adding cards to an existing deck, create a new deck that can be used in parallel.
  3. As an alternative to the above, you can create a separate "subdeck" that is drawn from only when the player is directed to do so. Suppose the purpose of your expansion might be to add more variety to a game's monsters, some of which are human. Your rules might direct the players to create a cup of alternative monsters, and then draw a replacement from this whenever one of the original human monsters is drawn.
  4. Alternate draws between new and old content. For example, if you have 1/2 as many custom cards as official ones, draw two cards from the main deck, then 1 card from your custom deck. Sometimes it works better to roll a die before each draw and decide which deck to draw from based on the result. Consider this carefully, though: rolling before each draw becomes awkward when you need to draw cards many times throughout the game.
  5. Instead of supplementing a deck with new cards, replace an entire deck.
  6. Instead of mixing a card in with an existing deck, tie its use to another component. For example, instead of adding an item to be mixed with randomly drawn items, create a new character that starts with the item.
  7. Instead of adding something new or extending a deck, reuse an existing deck for a new purpose. For example, if you need to trigger an effect from time to time, you could reuse an existing triggering mechanism, or repurpose some existing cards that are drawn on a regular basis.
  8. Instead of using an existing card as a trigger, you can also repurpose an entire deck by adding or substituting new rules. This is easiest if the cards in the deck can be readily divided into groups.
  9. When new cards are being mixed into an existing deck, be sure that the new cards have a similar balance to the original. By providing a mix of powerful and weak (or even dangerous) cards, just knowing that a card is "new" will not be enough to determine whether you want to draw it or not.
  10. You can reduce temptation even further by making some copies of a few official cards and mixing them into your deck. This separates the fact that new tokens feel or look different from the fact that they have new content, so there is no way to take advantage of the different look and feel.

Production Phase

You can't always eliminate the need to mix components, and even if you do you still want to produce nice-looking results. These suggestions should help:
  1. One technique is to buy an expansion that includes cards of the type(s) you wish to mix. You can print just the fronts of the new cards on self-adhesive ("sticker") paper and stick trimmed card fronts onto existing cards. (Or use regular paper and a glue stick.)
  2. If you want your cards to be completely indistinguishable at the cost of increasing play time, you can write on the fronts of the replacement cards with a marker (check that it doesn't seep through to the back of the card) instead of using sticker paper. Write an index keys on each card like A1, A2, etc. Then create index pages that map each key to a new card. When you draw a marked card, look up the index entry and take the custom card (from a separate deck) instead. Keep the marked card underneath the custom card: when you discard the card, put the custom card back in the custom deck and discard the marked card to the main deck.
  3. Instead of marking the cards, you can just make the index using the original card name and cards from an expansion you are not using, but this is slower.
  4. Another option is to use an online printing service that can print custom playing cards. In many cases, they won't have cards of the right size, but you can trim them down as needed. This way your cards will still have approximately the right thickness and finish, and will be printed at high quality. There are also some companies that offer card printing paper and playing card coating that you can print and finish at home.
  5. Set up your deck on paper sized at a standard photograph size, add your cards, export the deck to images, and send it off to a photofinishing company for printing. You get a good quality print at a decent price (figure out how many cards you can fit on various print sizes to figure out what size works out to the best price per card), and it is printed on heavier than normal stock to boot. You can print both sides and glue them together, or print the fronts and glue them to real cards.
  6. Print the front and back of your cards on sticker paper. Stick one side to thin card, such as cereal packet, and then cut out the card. Carefully stick on the back side, then trim the card.
  7. Instead of using special playing card coating to coat print-at-home cards, spray them with a spray varnish. For a thicker coating, you can water down white glue and paint a very thin layer over the card, then spray the card with varnish after the glue dries. (Dried white glue tends to become tacky again if it gets wet; spraying a final layer of varnish over the glue should prevent this.) If you have problems with ink bleeding when doing this, try spraying the cards with varnish, then the glue layer, then varnish.
  8. Instead of using glue to assemble your fronts and backs, you can use book binding or packing tape. Carefully wrap it around both sides, press, and trim. (Taped cards will usually be much glossier than normal cards, though.)
  9. Once you have a set of cards, putting the deck in card sleeves will make it harder to tell the custom cards from the originals.
  10. Another way to use protective sleeves is to print your custom card on regular paper and slip it in a sleeve with an official card of the correct type as the back. This is similar to buying an expansion and sticking new fronts on, but it has the advantage of being non-permanent so you can use cards from an expansion that you aren't playing at the moment instead of buying more cards. Alternatively, you can buy sleeves with solid or patterned backs (that you can't see through), and slip cut-up playing cards in as the back instead.
  11. Game boards and other thick, tiled components are often printed on textured paper. You can simulate this with 25% cotton linen paper designed for printing certificates. Be aware, though, that this kind of paper tends to bleed when used in an inkjet printer.

Play Phase

In the end, most expansions will mix at least a few custom and official components, and no matter how hard you try, careful inspection will allow you to tell them apart. This can be true even of official components printed in different runs or by different companies. If your gaming group is an agreeable bunch that is out to have fun, and if the designer has done a good job of minimizing the usefulness of knowing whether or not the card is custom or official, it won't matter. Just ignore the little differences and concentrate on having fun with your friends.

Contributors to this page: Chris Jennings .
Page last modified on Sunday 30 of June, 2013 04:27:49 EDT by Chris Jennings.