Kickstarter Lesson #83: Custom Meeples and Review Prototypes

4 March 2014 | 22 Comments

Recently we featured a guest post about prototyping by game designer Michael Iachini. If you are a game designer–particularly one preparing for a Kickstarter–I highly recommend that post.

I’ve recently gone through the review prototype process for my game, Tuscany (on Kickstarter on March 12), and I wanted to share some of the things I learned with you. I’ll start with the custom meeples, because custom meeples are awesome.

One of the new expansions introduced in Tuscany includes 5 different special worker types for each player. A different combination of these workers is available each game, and players still have a total worker maximum of 6 workers (regular, grande, and special).

When you’re running a Kickstarter, the visuals for your product are incredibly important. They’re even more important for the copies you send out to reviewers, because many reviewers use video footage and photos to show people how the game works.

So after we designed and tested what each new worker meeple does, I sent their names and descriptions to my graphic designer, Christine Bielke. She designed a few options for each meeple and sent me the outlines, as seen below.

worker meeples outlines

We also had our artist, Beth Sobel, touch up each of the meeple icon for seamless integration with each of their reference cards. You don’t need these for prototyping.

worker meeples images

Then I sent the outlines to Panda Game Manufacturing to make sure they could work. They approved the designs and sent me estimates for various options:

  • Size: The bigger they are, the more expensive. Normal meeples are 16mm, large are 20mm, and mega are 24mm.
  • Shape: If your meeples feature concavity and intricate interior grooves, they will have to be laser-cut instead of machine-cut. Laser-cut meeples are about twice as expensive. We’ll actually have to change one of the meeples on these photos (the Farmer with his walking stick), as it’s cost-prohibitive.
  • Silkscreen printing: You can either leave the meeples blank (i.e., one solid color) or have both flat sides silkscreen printed (the more colors of paint, the more expensive it is).

After that I sent the meeple outlines over to Frank at PiasaPro. Frank is a local guy in St. Louis who I know through the board game community. Frank can make pretty much anything out of wood with his laser, and he can do it fast and cost-effectively. He can also paint them different colors (1 color per meeples)–for example, Viticulture/Tuscany is a 6-player game, so there are a total of 30 special worker meeples in 6 different colors. E-mail Frank at and tell him I sent you. Here’s what we got from Frank for Tuscany (and yes, the oranges will match in the final version):

worker meeples final prototype


The other aspect of review prototyping that I recently experienced was working with Print & Play Productions. Michael writes about a lot of other great options on his guest post, but I had met Andrew at Geekway to the West last year, and I knew I wanted to work with someone like him who would reply quickly to my questions.

You can check out their website to see their full range of offerings, but I purchased the following:

  • Cards (mini and bridge): I opted for the linen-embossed cards because they feel really nice. It was easy to set up the document in inDesign, and the end product was great.
  • Game Board: In the past I’ve printed the prototype board on sticker paper and stuck it to matte board, but I’ll never do that again, because the quality of P&P’s board was incredible. The game board is such a key part of the gaming experience that you want it to look and feel great. Totally worth it.
  • Box: I splurged a little bit, because the box really isn’t all that important for a prototype, but it was nice to have something official looking. It’s a little flimsy, but it works

Like I said, being able to e-mail back and forth with Andrew to make sure everything worked was really helpful–he’s very responsive, and he’ll point out things that need to change if necessary for the printing to work. I highly recommend Print & Play.



UPDATE: There’s also a company in Poland called Meeplestudio that makes nice custom meeples (including silkscreen printed meeples). They’re called MeepleStudio.

I did make one mistake in sending the prototypes–I forgot to include influence cubes! Fortunately my reviewers have plenty of them. But it was a good reminder to go through the checklist of every game element before you send out the review prototypes.

I’m curious if anyone can speak to something that I have no experience with: Making prototypes of plastic miniatures. If you have experience with that and have enough to say that you could write a guest entry about it, contact me at I think other creators would benefit from that information.

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22 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #83: Custom Meeples and Review Prototypes

  1. Hi Jamey! This is great information. Do you know of any resources that do small run custom-shaped, screen-printed meeples? I want to create a small run (about 1000 cumulative of several different shapes/colors) for prototyping and reviewer copies. I know I can do laser cut and paint for the base meeple. It’s the screen-printing that is alluding me. I’ve considered stickers and other ideas, but I really want these meeples to be as identical as possible to the production copies. I’ve spent hours looking online and just can’t seem to find anyone who does this.

  2. You were right again Jamey, I contacted Print and Play directly and they quickly responded with an option, after a little back and forth they are currently pricing it for me. Thanks again for the tip!

  3. Have you tried Print & Play Productions? I’ve found that even if they don’t have something listed on their website, if you contact them directly they might be able to custom make it for you.

  4. Hello Jamey and Michael Dnes,
    It seems Print and Play only does square prototype tiles in wood. Does anyone have experience making non-square tiles nice enough for reviewers but not ordering minimum quantities of 1,500? So far my game has 90 tiles which I cut out of foam core, I’m hoping I can present something a little more visually and tactaly appealing, unless reviewers like blood sweat and tears…

  5. Hey, Jamey. Just discovered your site today and am blown away by the extent of helpful crowdfunding and board game creation articles you have wrote over the past few years. Thank you!

    I was wondering if anyone ever took you up on commenting on how best to prototype plastic miniatures? I’d be very interested to see how best to create ones good enough to send to third party reviewers. Let me know. Thanks!

  6. Jamey: Thank you so much for this! Even just looking at pictures, the components look to be of fantastic quality and now with your review it is confirmed. We are rapidly approaching our next con and have a Kickstarter campaign to reboot between now and then so the more time we can save, the better! We’ll be bringing along a prototype for another game (separate from Kickstarter) and we really want the quality to be presentable.

    Prior to this we were going to go with the GameCrafter. They are definitely good at what they do, but after reviewing other prototypes from fellow designers, we were a little disappointed in the quality of certain components. We’re hopeful that Print & Play can solve for that.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  7. Hey Jamey, for the prototypes of the plastic miniatures in our game, Heath actually poured the molds and cast them himself. They turned out pretty well, and it was really our first time experimenting with such a thing. There are tons of youtube videos out there for anyone interested in such a thing. Now, quantity would certainly be an issue here if you needed more than a few dozen, I think. It was quite an experience, though!

  8. Most universities with an engineering dept will have a 3d printer. That is what I am going to be using for custom plastic prototype pieces. Will let you know how it goes.

  9. This is definitely a timely post for me as I had “look into Print and Play services” that we might get the majority of our game made at for prototypes on my to-do list this week. I’ve heard about Print ‘n’ Play recently as well as Game Crafters before reading Michael Iachini’s guest post on your blog. While I agree with Michael Dnes’ comment about the pride one feels when making the pieces yourself, having gone through this process a few times now, I look forward to letting someone else do all the cutting and assembling for me.

    Thanks again for an informative post another aspect one needs to think of when getting ready to launch a campaign!

  10. Really helpful post, Jamey. I only wish you’d posted it a month ago – we’re preparing our Kickstarter right now, and building the final prototypes has been an enormous amount of work. If only I’d heard of Print & Play I suspect we’d have saved a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Certainly I’ll never again lightly think ‘Oh, I’ll just cut those ninety tiles by hand – it won’t take long’.

    Then again, doing it yourself does have some benefits. I’m not sure anything can quite match the parental pride of looking at your newly assembled box for the first time…

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