Game designer Rick Marazzani did an under-$20 raid on his local dollar store and built himself an incredible game-designer's toolkit with everything he needs to create an infinite variety of games in just as many styles; his reasoning for each piece is an especially telling glimpse of the game-designer's mindset:
* Markers and paper. Create your own setting, map, or board, limited only by imagination.
* Chess pieces. Chess pieces have a zillion uses as counters or abstract figures in games OFF of the checkerboard. I thought about tossing out the board, but it, too, can be a tool in the kit. For ideas, start with hacking chess itself. Add an RPG level-up element, or see Steve Jackson Games Knightmare Chess.
* Two decks of cards. Cards are the most “handy” (get it?) game medium, and the most malleable. You can play the fundamentals like Rummy or Go Fish, and expand on them into the countless card games and variants from around the world and your imagination. Pagat is a terrific starting point for card game rules.
* Blank notecards. There are even greater possibilities from a deck of blank cards. You can make your own custom Top Trumps deck (Top Trumps is known in the US as “What is that card game school boys play in England again?”). Or create an entire new game using a framework like Dvorak.
* Overflowing handfuls of dice is a powerful feeling. Like being an ancient deity that can roll the fate of an entire civilization! That is why there are so many dice here. They put a firm stamp on the tool box as made for games. But dice are useful beyond randomizers. All these different colored dice can be used as game markers, and the pips as indicators to the strength or health of the die unit. Like DiceWars in the real world.
* Play money and coins. Nothing abstract about this faux moolah. It feels great to have a stack of cash in hand as a meter of game success. And, more than chips or play money, plastic gold coins are the gold standard of game currency. Gold coins can spin a theme towards pirates or fantasy. They have a presence and heft beyond their plastic patina.
* Poker chips. These need not be proxies for money in a game. They make great counters, turn markers, or modifiers for other board pieces.
* Themed game counters. These should be an interesting set that is the right scale for the tabletop. Around 1-2 inches in size. There are four crazy animal pieces, and I grabbed a set of Toy Story cupcake toppers to add a licensed commercial spin to the kit. You could use Angry Birds or superheroes or some other set. These could easily be dropped into a game as player pieces, or they can be encounters along the path. These “meeple” can be used as player pieces, or as encounters on the board.
* Race Cars. There are a few auto racing board games, and they are usually superb. Sometimes overly complex, but great strategy games. These cars could be a counter in a cross country road trip game, or for racing in a Grand Prix. The game curmudgeon in me would probably glue the wheels to make them better as board markers and less like a toy.
* Red Dragon! The pièce de résistance! Instantly makes any game a fantasy game. The ultimate level boss! Go To Jail and escape by rolling a one to sneak past the guardian dragon....
The $20 Game Designer’s Tool Kit [IQ212]