Prototyping Materials: Chipboard

So you’ve designed a board game. It’s working out pretty well, well enough that you want to make a nice copy–something you can show to people and have them focus on the game, rather than on managing terrible components. You need a material that’s strong enough to stand up to play, thin enough to stack and shuffle, and weighty enough to have a good feel.

You need chipboard.

Chipboard is my new favorite prototyping material. It’s heavier than cardstock or other papers, so it’s better for things like tiles that need to stay in one place during a game. I’ve also found it very sturdy; a copy of Lines of Questioning I built out of chipboard almost a month ago is almost good as new after many tens of games, with only a single tile “marked” by a damaged edge. At least one professionally-produced game in my collection has held up less well.

In addition, putting art on chipboard is trivially easy. Get the art printed on label stock, and then affix it to the chipboard before cutting. The label stock will adhere to the chipboard without any difficulty, and both stock and board can then be cut at the same time to give a tidy edge.

Perhaps most importantly, chipboard materials work well in play. 1/16″ thick chipboard is strong–it won’t bend by accident–but is still thin enough to stack without getting unwieldy. Furthermore, it feels great in the hand. One playtester specifically called out the satisfying heft of chipboard tiles as contributing to Lines of Questioning’s experience.

Unfortunately, the material isn’t entirely easy to work with. Chipboard is too strong to cut with scissors. You’ll want a rotary cutter, a steel ruler with a cork bottom to guide the cutter, and a self-healing mat to protect whatever table you’re cutting on. (All of those things are available at local craft stores.) Be certain to wear eye protection–safety glasses are about $2 at hardware stores–and kids should get help from their parents.

Still, the effort and minor up-front expenses are small prices to pay. Chipboard is inexpensive, durable, and well-suited to boards and tiles. If you’re looking for something nice to build a game out of, give it a look.

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