How to write your rules in Word and print them on The Game Crafter

Dave Berlin Process 1 Comment

If you’re a game designer, chances are you’ve used The Game Crafter to print something for you, or at least purchased some of their game pieces to build prototypes with. I’ve been working on our new game lately, which used to be called The Council of Adventurers and now goes by a secret name I can’t tell you yet, and I’m trying to put the entire game into The Game Crafter. I’ve set up a game project, added all the unprinted pieces, learned how to make custom punchouts, and figured out Inkscape well enough to create the center board and the player boards.

The reason for all this is that honestly I’m just tired of printing cards out at home and cutting them out. We want to start using some playtesting services, recruit people to help us blind playtest the game, and eventually start sending this thing to publishers. And the thought of buying all that ink, endlessly printing sheet after sheet after sheet, and cutting everything out…no, no, it’s time to go digital. Once the whole game is in The Game Crafter website, we can just order copies and send them to people. That will be so much better.

It was going really well, despite all the learning curves with the more advanced components. But then I got to the rulebook. As a software engineer and a game designer, documentation is the absolute last thing I want to do. I don’t like reading user manuals for electronics. I don’t like writing documentation for engineering projects. And I don’t like writing rules for games. The main reason for this last one is that, especially early on, my games just change so much. I’ll run a playtest, and then throw out a bunch of stuff and try it again. Then I’ll put in a bunch of new systems. And then take other stuff out. This game I’ve been working on since May? It’s totally unrecognizable now.

You could see how writing rules would seem like a big waste of time.

At any rate, the game has started to coalesce into something approaching a stable set of rules. And I need the rules written down so we can conduct blind playtesting. But when I went to the Game Crafter’s Booklet editor, I wasn’t quite sure which of these templates to choose from:

  • Illustrator
  • InDesign
  • PNG
  • Photoshop
  • SVG
  • Scribus
  • Proofing Overlay

OK, so what have we got here? Some of these cost money, or have open source alternatives, but really Illustrator/Inkscape and Photoshop/GIMP are not great choices for free-flowing text. I’ll need this text to change a lot, to flow around pictures, to resize itself and fit the available space. In short, what I really need is a word processor.

I hadn’t used Scribus before but that seemed like the best choice. I downloaded a copy and opened up the template. First off, The Game Crafter folks have done a terrific job of getting that template set up (and with a surprising number of useful tips in the placeholder text).

The problem is that, at least for me, I found Scribus a little challenging to use. I really hate to say anything bad about open source software, because I really, really appreciate that people are doing this kind of work. But a couple of things bothered me: it’s a bit cumbersome to change the font style, like changing text to and from a header style; and it’s not intuitive how to get text to flow from one box to the next. I’m not a desktop publishing kind of guy, and I did eventually figure out how to create text boxes and link them together so the text would flow from one to the next, but it wasn’t easy.

And here’s the thing: I’m not thinking about self-publishing this game, at least not now. I don’t need a beautiful, perfectly polished rulebook. I just want to get some rules printed and shipped to other people so they can test my game and give me feedback. I want to do this the easiest way possible, where I can write text, insert images, have the text flow around the images, etc. I want to use a program I’ve been using for the past ten thousand years.

I really just want to write a Word doc.

So I started wondering, is it possible to write this thing in Word, and somehow get that into The Game Crafter? The target format is a PNG or JPG measuring 2475 x 3075 pixels. OK, fine, we can do that. We just need to convert a .docx to a .png. How hard could it be? It took me a few steps, but I got it working the other day and thought this might be useful to someone else.

Step 1: Start a new Word doc and set up your margins. The template uses a standard 8.5″ x 11″ letter size. After playing with the Scribus template for a bit, I figured out the margins were set to: .25″ top and bottom, and .375″ left and right. Get that set up first, otherwise when you transform it into an image the dimensions will be wrong and The Game Crafter won’t accept it.

Step 2: Write all your rules. Do whatever you want: fonts, styles, pictures, columns, go nuts. But remember that these booklets are saddle stitched and therefore your number of pages should be a multiple of four.

Step 3: Save as PDF(s). Newer versions of Word will let you save directly to PDF from the Save As menu, while older versions will require a plugin like PDF 995, or you can convert them online by googling “word to pdf converter”.

Step 4: Convert your PDFs to images.

And then you’re done!

Hey, hey, I’m kidding, I’m not going to skip the hardest part. Step 4. How to do that? Well, there are lots of ways, actually.

Photoshop/GIMP: let’s say you have an image editing program, and since GIMP is free, you don’t have much excuse. You can actually open a PDF in these programs (right click on your PDF, click Open With… and select GIMP). Then you tell it which pages to open, and importantly, set the resolution to 300. You’ll see it says the width in pixels is 2475 and the height is 3075 (multiply the inches by the resolution). That’s exactly what The Game Crafter expects. Now import it and then you can immediately export it as whichever format you prefer, either PNG or JPG.

gimp import process

Online converters: if you google around for a PDF to PNG converter, you will find a bunch of them. I only played with a couple, and I didn’t find one where you can specify the resolution, but there’s probably one out there and will get the job done. You don’t want to have a lower resolution image and then resize it larger, though. You’ll just make the text fuzzy.

ImageMagick: if you’re the programmer-type (and aren’t most game designers either engineers or teachers anyway?) you can use ImageMagick to convert PDFs to images. I’m putting together a little script that will do this for me, so I can automate it eventually and not have to do all the manual steps like if I use GIMP. Here’s a snippet from PHP that you could use. You just have to put the PDF files up on your web server, and then run this PHP script, and it can spit out the images for you:

$im = new Imagick();

I haven’t figured out how to get it to make an image for each page of the PDF yet, but it should be relatively simple to do that. Anyway that’s a more technical route but it might be worth investigating.

Once you have all the images, you just upload them to The Game Crafter and you’re all set! As soon as I get my rules written, I’ll order the first copy of the game from The Game Crafter. I’m excited to see how all my customized components look, especially the rulebook!

Have you ever gotten rules printed by The Game Crafter? Which option did you use to format them? How easy was the process? And would you do it again that way, or try something different?

Comments 1

  1. 1. I set the entire rules in Open Office.
    2. I opened up Illustrator and copy/pasted each page of the OO document in, sometimes column by column.
    3. Save each page as an image.

    It wasn’t terribly difficult to copy/paste and using Open Office helped immensely with line justification, spell checking, etc.

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