Protospiel Game Design Contest

If you participated in the game design contest, I hope you had a good time!  As promised, here are links to each of the components in the kits.  I tried to add a little reasoning behind the choice of components as well, if you are thinking of running your own contest in the future.


The big one.  The main component of the contest.  Dice.  I’ve always enjoyed the tactility of rolling dice, and the recent resurgence in Yahtzee style “Keep and reroll” mechanics have made it even more interesting.  Custom dice let you perform all kinds of tradeoffs.  Do you keep your energy symbol, or reroll to try for more damage, at the cost of possibly whiffing?

Custom dice, however, are quite difficult to acquire.  There’s no place online to order custom dice, and the kickstarters to create them have failed.  I tried writing on blank dice with pens, but it always rubbed off after about an hour of actual play.  Painting the dice (and sealing them with sealant) works, but makes them look dirty, and is time consuming.  That’s when I discovered these magnificent beauties.  These stickers are perfectly sized to fit on the faces of dice, are very cheap (.8 cents a piece), and have reasonable sticking power.  I wrote a (not good) real time dice game, and these things handled the constant rolling like a champ.  I wanted to showcase the ease of custom dice construction, and see what kind of custom dice people came up with, so they were made the primary component of the kits.


I’ve never tried these before, but after cutting several thousand cards out of paper, I wanted to find a better alternative.  They aren’t the best cards in the world, and they are a little smaller than I would have preferred, but they were cheap enough for me to give them a shot, and absolutely perfect for this kind of contest.  Cards are essential for pretty much every kind of game.  They are the easiest way to introduce mitigatable randomness and hidden information.  Dice add randomness, of course, but cards make it much easier to see future options laid out so you can plan ahead.

Plastic Cubes

Hopefully all game designers are familiar with Learning Resources by now.  If not, I figured that I would include a good number of plastic cubes to get them acquainted.  Wooden cubes are a staple of board games, but they can be very expensive.  The Learning Resources Plastic Cube bucket has 1000 cubes for under $20:  More than you’ll ever be able to use.  These were included so players could create a more traditional resource trading/management game.  They could also function as hit points, if someone goes the combat route.

Plastic Disks

Another great product by Learning Resources.  Plastic disks are a great alternative to cubes, and serve several different purposes.

  1. Area Control.  These disks can mark an area as owned, while still allowing things to be placed on top of them.
  2. Stacking.  Cubes can stack, but generally only to 3 high before they start to get unstable.  Disks allow you to go up to 7 or 8 before losing stability.
  3. Color blending.  The fact that these are transparent allow interesting tricks with blending colors.  I did not expect this to happen during the contest, but using red and blue ink to create puzzles with hidden messages would have been amazing.


Pawns were included as a combination of piece and trap.  With only two pawns of each color, they can make a decent Head Worker, but there weren’t enough pieces to do something closer to a traditional worker placement game.  When paired with dice, however, they do call back to the awful days of Roll and Move games.  Hopefully that temptation was avoided!

Wooden Blocks

This was the most expensive part of the kit, and it was included for a couple of reasons.

  1. Tactility.  Having participated in the contest last year, I found that, in a team situation, there was a lot of down time.  It is fun to fiddle with the components while you are waiting or deciding.  As an RPG player, the primary fiddle target is dice.  Everyone who has played an RPG has seen a dice tower.  But as dice are the primary mechanic here, people should be working on them rather than stacking them, so this gives an alternative.
  2. Terrain.  If people decide to make a combat game (based on the plastic dinosaurs), this gives them a way to set up hills, objectives, or buildings.
  3. Non-traditional components.  Here’s the big one.  There aren’t quite enough pieces in each kit for a dexterity game, but there is one trick that I hope people spotted:  Stickers.  Each kit came with 96 stickers, which stick to the painted sides of the blocks.  This can turn the blocks themselves into additional components.  They could be drawn out of a bag, stacked to hide or match stickers, or traded (like a first player marker, or a special kind of resource).  These definitely have the potential to be the most interesting component of a game, if utilized correctly.

Sand Timers

Sand Timers were tossed in to enable Dexterity games.  Combined with the wooden blocks, these can set up timed balancing requirements, or perhaps tense negotiations.  They were fairly cheap and are not a common component in games, so I figured I would give the players a little extra versatility.  I expected these to be ignored.

Plastic Dinosaurs

These were primarily included as a trap.  Dinosaurs are monsters, and with dice as the primary mechanic, the natural inclination is to make a combat game.  There’s nothing wrong with a combat game, but none of the other components support combat terribly well.  The original intention was to include army men, to have both sides of a battle available, but they were left out to make this push less obvious.

For the contest itself, I tried to keep things rather simple.  I had all kinds of ideas that I didn’t use.

  1. Auctioning off components.  Let players bid either (pre-provided) currency or points for components, to try to make a better game.
  2. Subthemes.  I was always planning on having dice be the main theme, but I was also considering making people choose one of three subthemes:  Asymmetrical, Co-0perative, and Speed (thematically).  Players could choose which subtheme they wanted, and would be judged accordingly.
  3. Additional components introduced halfway.  Perhaps I have watched too much Cutthroat Kitchen recently, but I like forcing people to incorporate additional rules or components halfway through the challenge.

Ultimately, however, I only had an hour.  If it were an all day contest, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw in these kinds of curveballs, but with the time slot provided, players were already going to have a difficult enough time finishing a game.

I mentioned, above, that some components were included as “traps”.  While this is partially true, some amount of this can be healthy.  In Magic, for example, sometimes they make bad cards to help new players learn how to determine if cards are bad.  This kit had an overwhelming number of components, so if an amateur tried to incorporate everything, including the dinosaurs, they may have been overloaded. If this ends up with a failure on their part, they will learn the lesson next time that they don’t have to use everything.   In addition, naturally leading the thought process towards combat or roll and move can help stuck players decide on an angle.  While it may not be the best direction, there is a direction, to help beat writer’s block.

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