Never Leave Home Without an Index Card

If there’s one absolutely indispensible tool in my game design arsenal, it’s index cards. Nearly every game I create starts out as a batch of index cards, scribbled on furiously. I’m even known to haunt back-to-school sales to find the best deals on index cards (penny school supply deals at Staples! thirty cent packs at Target!). Since I’m such an index card junkie, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tips for using index cards:

1) Never use a whole card.

Unless you need tons of space, cutting 3×5 (or even better, 4×6) index cards in half gives you plenty of room for scribbling down the information you’ll need. While cutting them in half can take some time, you can make it easier on yourself with this method:

  • Accept that perfection is unattainable.
  • Use a box cutter to score the center of 3-5 cards at a time.
  • Pull them apart and write!

2) Get ruled index cards.

You might feel that blank index cards are best, because it allows more room for creativity. Wrong. Lined index cards allow you to create two different decks should your game require it. Just use “lined backs” for one set and “blank backs” for the other.

3) Splurge on colored cards.

Need even more decks? Using a pack of colored index cards is the way to go. This will let you sort them out quickly, rather than reading the scribbles on each card.

4) Buy card boxes.

What got me using index cards in the first place wasn’t the cards themselves, but the boxes you can buy to hold them. After using one to hold a game I’d printed/cut myself, I realized that the box would work even better to hold two stacks of cut-in-half index card decks. This keeps my prototypes organized – I just label the “spines” of the box with the game and version number.

5) Great for odd shapes, too.

Even if you don’t need cards, index cards are a great weight for prototype tokens and hexes. They’re thick enough to have a little more heft than paper, but cheap enough that you don’t have to worry if you wind up tossing them out entirely. Plus, if you only need a handful of tokens, it’s betterĀ to punch/cut them from index cards than to waste a whole sheet of cardstock.

While I know that everyone has their favorite game design tool, in my mind, index cards are the most indispensible one. What’s yours?

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