Game Designer's Glossary



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A4 paper
British (ISO) paper size. A0 paper is one square meter in area. To compute the fraction of a meter for A sized papers use the following formula (1 / (2^X)), where X is the number after the A. So, A1 is half the size of A0. And A4 is 1/16 the size of A0.

aqueous coating
See press coating.

Avery badges
Lots of people talk about using Avery microperforated badges for prototyping card games. First, they are the size of bridge-sized playing cards. Second, cardstock is much cheaper if you have your own rotary trimmer. The price may be under $5.00 for cardstock which is heavier than the badges, versus around $25.00 for the badges. And there are other solutions for microperforation worth looking into, particularly if you want a heavier stock. If you are producing a PDF game, though, it doesn't hurt to make your card template fit onto these badges (which should be reasonably common).

Avery labels
Avery is one of the world's leading manufacturers of print-and-adhere labels. They are too expensive, in my opinion, for most prototyping needs, but they are incredible for mailing labels. Online Labels offers pretty competitive prices in bulk.

basis weight
See pound, for more information.

bi-fold board
Used to describe a game board that folds on itself once, like a standard toy store checkers board.

binding
Binding refers to the way that the pages of a publication (generally a book or magazine) are bound together.

bleed
A design which extends to the very edge of the card. Most games use Borders, but a few use bleeds.

booster pack
A pack of between 8 and 16 cards normally wrapped in opaque mylar "foil" wrap. Most boosters contain 14 to 15 cards.

border
A colored (generally black or white) edge, often of 1/8th of an inch, surrounding a card. Most games use Borders, but a few use a bleed.

bridge-sized playing cards
Cards used in the game Bridge are 3.5" tall and 2.25" wide. High grade cards are about 300 GSM, but lower grades one may be a mere 10 point (paper) stock, and can thus be quite flimsy by comparison. High grade cards have a varnish on them, while low grade cards (like those found in some drug stores for under a dollar) are merely C1S stock.

business cards
Business cards are printed to 3.5" wide by 2" tall

C1S
"Coated one side." Some stocks are uncoated on one side and plastic or resin coated on the other. The coating generally cannot be print on by a home inkjet printer, but the uncoated side can readily be printed on by any printer. C1S Stock can be appropriate for a tuckbox or POP display where you care about the outside being nicely coated and printed, but where you don't care about the inside being printed.

C2S
Coated on both sides ("Coated 2 Sides"). You can't print on such a stock with a home inkjet printer.

caliper
Thickness (of paper), generally measured in thousandths of an inch in the United States. Industry standards may allow for a 5% to 7% variance in caliper throughout a shipment of stock.

canvas panel
See flat game board.

cardbox
See tuckbox.

card sleeves
These are also nicknamed "trading card sleeves", "card condoms", or "deck protectors". These are rectangular sleeves, sealed on three sides, leaving a top-open envelope that a card can be slid into. Yu-gi-oh has an unusually sized game card, but sleeves are made for that game. Almost all other card sleeves are design for poker-sized playing cards. Each of the two layers of plastic (generally polypropylene to be precise) that compose a card sleeve are often of 2 mil thickness. Ultra Pro is one of the leading U.S. manufacturers of card sleeves. Ultra Pro sleeves may be undesirable for some playtests as they often have opaque reflective hologram circles displaying the Ultra Pro trademark on the front of the sleeve; the trademark may hide underlying information for some game card designs.

cellowrap
A polypropylene film which, as the name implies, is wrapped around the product to be sealed up. It is not designed to shrink down on a product like shrinkwrap.

CMYK
The four letter abbreviation for the ink colors Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Many presses are "4 color" presses, and make various colors by overlaying layers of CMYK to build up a resulting color. Unlike RGB, CMYK is not a colorspace for mixing light, but is instead a color space for mixing inks. CMYK is a subtractive color space.

collation
Collation is sorting. It's making sure you have the right number of X and the right number of Y in a booster pack or tuckbox when your game ships. The "big boys" in the card industry use things like the Rollem Slipstream to get the job done. Many places in India and China do it by hand, because labor is cheaper than monstrous machines there.

color space
Whether you are using cmyk or rgb colors. When possible, you should design as much as possible in cmyk to make sure that your colors come out exactly as you want them to.

copyright
Copyright (in the context of games) is the legal means to protect any specific form of expression put into fixed form (generally printing it or publishing it electronically). It protects the form of expression but does not protect the overall mechanics of a game. Game mechanics, if they are sufficiently novel, may only be protected by a utility patent, and not by copyright alone. If you don't have a patent, people can build knock off games with different art and names for mechanics.

Technically as soon as you put something down in fixed form, it's copyrighted. However, if you don't register your copyright with the U.S. Government, you can't pursue certain legal claims against people who violate your copyrights. Registering a copyright is relatively cheap, and a lot of the best legal leverage only comes to those who register a copyright, so register anything that you've got any substantial time or money invested in. You will find a link to register your copyright in the copyright circular below.

Now you may have heard the urban myth that you can prove your copyright by mailing it to yourself. Go to the office supply store. Buy a manilla envelope with a clasp AND adhesive. Seal it with the clasp. Mail it to yourself empty. 10 years later, put something in it, but this time seal it with the adhesive and the clasp. Tah dah. It looks like you've mailed yourself something 10 years prior. Courts know this trick, as do defense attorneys.

Other methods of proof are better (testimony of people who've played your game), notarized copies, etc. The best, however, is actually registering your copyright. You really want to shell out the $30+ to register a copyright. You have very few legal rights in court until you register at any rate. Have I said register it often enough yet?

corner rounder
A corner rounder nibbles off square corners and makes them round. There are two types of corner rounders available to the hobbyist designer. The first is the craft punch. Marvy makes the best hand held corner rounder. Unfortunately, it produces a radius that's wider than a normal playing card (i.e., it chomps off more than you want, even though it makes a nice round corner). To get the 1/8th of an inch radius corner you want you'll need a desktop corner rounder, like those manufactured by Lassco.

craft punch
You remember hole punches at your office and in school? Well craft punches are hole punches for people with more imagination. Of course, the most useful shapes are square and round, but they come in lots of shapes.

customs fees
The United States may charge you an importation fee at the border. If possible when using an overseas printer, try to contract for the customs fees and the drayage fees to the nearest port to be part of the final price. If not, figure in those costs yourself.

die cutter
A machine that is design to cut card stock by punching out a predetermined shape out of the stock using a metal die. There are a variety of useful home and office die cutters. The Sizzix is too small to produce more than one or two cards at a time. The other machines listed below can produce more cards if you buy a custom die (the standard dies for games also produce only 1-2 cards at a time). A larger die cutter with a custom die will cost about $500 - $600.00 but will cut many cards at a time.

Sometimes a professional print manufacturer or finishing service which does not regularly produce playing cards will force you to spend hundreds of dollars for a metal die to die cut your cards.

A Ram Die is a die that is forced down by a hydraulic press past many cards. Ram Dies are capable of producing the most uniform cards by cutting the cards slighly over-sized and then passing them through a Ram Die.

A good alternative to a die cutter is rotary trimmer. For some people, computerized cutters like the Klic-N-Kut Element (or the larger cutters in the Klic-N-Kut line) will work better, particularly to do cutting based on designs on your computer instead of using die.

dingbat fonts
These are fonts made up of pictographs instead of letters. Fonts full of symbols, etc. Read the article entitled Fonts on the Internet for more information.

distributors
Except maybe for super big toy stores like Toys 'R' Us, almost all game stores deal with regional distributors to buy their products through. Distributors are wholesalers, effectively. You can sell your games direct to retail if you have connections. But if you don't, you'll need to speak to a fulfillment house or a distributor.

drayage
Shipping or transport.

film
For a lot of presses that aren't purely electronic you need plates that are developed based on photographic films of the cards to be printed. There is often a film charge for the front and back of each press sheet.

finishing service
A Finishing Service does not generally do printing, but they do everything else that a printer can't: laminating, cutting, folding, collating, etc.

flat game board
A flat game board is just that, one that does not fold. It's a single piece game board. Homemade boards are cheaply made by buying canvas-wrapped artists board (called canvas panels) at an art supply store. You can buy cheap brands for about $2.00 or less in the 9" x 12" size. Take some black enamel spray paint, coating the panel thoroughly and let it dry. Print out your board on a nice bright white card stock or photopaper. Let it dry. Spray the board with a matte or gloss plastic spray sealant. When it dries, adhere the board print to the canvas board with spray adhesive (3M is best). Almost instant board. Looks quite professional. Sprays make it smell for a few weeks, so do this in an open area.

FOB
FOB is an acronym meaning "free on board", meaning that the price quoted to you includes loading the product onto a ship at the designated port. It generally is a sign that full shipping and customs prices are NOT included in the price quote you got. This type of industry terminology can really bite indie designers who think they've gotten a super cheap quote from India or China.

fulfillment house
These are the "middle men" of the gaming industry. They either store your products and ship them for you, or they do that and get your products to distributors. You pay for the privilege, trust me. Some of them will take up 8% of the retail cost of the game (20% of what you get from wholesalers) for the privilege. If you are strictly a designer, and you don't have the time, connections, or desire, to market your game, they can help out. Nothing, generally, beats a good marketing campaign piloted by the original publisher, but fulfillment houses are the next best bet.

Fulfillment houses are also useful, in some cases, for prize support distribution if your game is tournament-oriented. They can store prizes and mail them out to specified individuals nationwide pretty easily. You'll have to check with these guys on a case-by-case basis to see if they'll take on that responsibility.

game counters
Here are some great instructions for making your own graphical game counters. See also Sources for Game Parts for more information.

GSM
Far more intuitive than the American pound weight system, GSM stands for "grams per square meter" (a measurement of physical density). A standard playing card stock may be 300 GSM (approximately equivalent to 14 point (paper) C2S of non-playing card stock).

holofoil
Cards that have shiny foil-like holographic materials on them. A high end process which can be carried out by laminating together two materials with different thermal properties (by hot stamping foil onto cards). Alternately metallic inks may be used to produce a shiny reflective coating that produces some of the effects of holofoils.

If you are using a press coating you may not be able to engage in hot stamping (i.e., creating a holofoil) on areas that are coated; check with your printer, but you may be required to leave "windows" to apply the foil stamp.

hot stamping
See holofoil.

ISBN
An International Standard Book Number. A 10-digit number, usually appearing under a barcode on the back or face of a printed product, that uniquely identifies the product to retailers and distributors. Generally ISBN's are reserved for books, software, and games. ISBN's are purchased in blocks of 10 or more. 10 ISBN's (enough for 10 separate products from one publisher) costs about $250.00 and takes about three weeks to acquire them. The ISBN itself is not a barcode; to get a barcode you will want to check out the Bowker bar code service, at an additional cost of $25.00 per bar code.

ISO paper sizes
See A4 paper.

microperforation
Microperforation is accomplished by punching something sharp through paper. It may be steel teeth on a wheel or it may be a shaped set of flexible steel rule rods.

Steel rule is a set of tiny steel rods that are spaced to poke tiny holes into stock. Zimmer Industries reportedly can manufacture such dies. People willing to manufacture flexible steel rule into dies are rare because flexible steel rule can break if it rounds a corner.

Elk River Systems sells stock at 125% to 200% of retail with custom microperforations. They carry 65 pound stocks, but can custom order 110 pound index stock, the latter being quite sufficient for prototyping a game. See pound (paper) for more information on paper weights.

There are also a couple of companies that manufacture Microperforated cards for game design. Plain Cards sells card blanks which are slightly narrower than poker-sized playing cards, 8 to a page. They come either as totally blank uncoated stock, or C1S stock with pre-printed backs. Punching out microperforated cards is fantastically faster than cutting them out with a rotary trimmer or a personal die cutter.

mil
See point_(paper).

MSRP
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

non-disclosure agreement
A non-disclosure agreement (or NDA) is a legal agreement to keep your mouth shut (generally to protect a trade secret). They make some gamers panic, so use them sparingly. Generally they should be used anytime you're going to spend A LOT of money bringing a game to market, and particularly any one you intend to patent because if people know about something more than a year prior to patent filing, the invention does not get patent protections if somebody goes to court and points this out. Developers will go on and on and tell you how many Indy games and even mainstream games have been designed without NDAs. If your game is smallish, listen to them. If you are gonna drop $20,000 or more bringing your game to market, ignore these complaints, and protect your interests. When you use and NDA, some gamers become scared that they might accidentally blather, and refuse to sign one. So either ditch those people and find playtesters willing to work under NDA, or ditch the NDA if you need a specific playtester. Whatever you do, don't get 3 people under NDA and then tell 40 people about it outside of an NDA, as that can invalidate your NDA. It's often OK to go on a handshake agreement with friends, but do tell them explicitly, "I'll show you this, but don't talk about this with anyone not under an NDA". If they agree, that's a verbal NDA.

number sign
A number sign (#) is the abbreviation for a pound.

offset printing
The method your printer uses to print if he uses a big ol' printing press instead of digital laser printers.

one percent rule
The one percent rule says that you are likely only going to get about one customer for every 100 people you advertise to, if and only if you advertise in a targeted fashion directly to your intended target audience. If you advertise in a less targeted fashion then you may only get 1/10th of one percent of the target audience as customers.

Pantone colors
An organization that produces the industry standard guide to colors. Pantone colors are often default colors which printers know how to mix and match exactly.

patent
Utility Patents (the kind of patents that cover games) protect methods of doing something useful (yes, playing a game is "useful" at law). That method also has to be new and non-obvious (otherwise it's unpatentable). The companion of patents, copyright law, protects a specific form of expressing an idea or method, but the method itself is protected by patent law.

Many of you have probably heard that Wizards of the Coast has a patent on Magic the Gathering. This is true. However, WotC and their parent company Hasbro claims that the patent goes a lot further than that, extending to all forms of trading card games regardless of their rules. Many companies have continued to produce without a patent license from WotC, several receiving cease and desists. Decipher effectively told WotC that their patent wasn't as broad as they think it is when they filed andd received two of their own patents for specific CCG mechanics. The folks at Ophidian games have their own patent which actually cites the WotC patent, leaving some doubt about whether the WotC patent is as broad as they claim it to be, for if it was, it would preclude any other trading card game patents from being granted.

A note about patents -- if the information you want to patent goes public more than a year prior to your filing the patent, then if anyone challenges your patent in court, it is dead on arrival. A good reason to get your playtesters under a non-disclosure agreement if you are going to spend big money producing something. Also an important note to lawyers at the world's largest CCG company -- don't ever bother sending me a cease and desist letter, since your company's then president told me about the game over the phone and then made a stock offering with a full copy of the rules and trade dress (dated), all outside of a non-disclosure, all more than a year prior to filing a patent. Does the word "void" mean anything to these lawyers? I wonder. It should to you. Patents go together with a non-disclosure agreement like macaroni and cheese.

Patents are incredibly expensive to get and maintain year after year (fees coming out your ears), but if you get one, it can give you a lock on your special something for a couple of decades.

photopaper
A microporous polymer-coated substrate. Inkjet photopaper is coated with a layer of gelatin like material that is porous and allow the ink the penetrate the gelatin and get locked into it, or in the case of better substrates, to lock the ink beneath it and onto or above the underlying stock. The best stocks can "lock in" the ink in a marginally water resistant fashion, but many stocks of this type are water resistant. Stocks of this kind have been developed with coating on both sides, but this is rare and available only in laboratories as it is not commonly desired in the marketplace. Most grades of this kind of inkjet photopaper require a spray plastic coating sealant to protect the underlying ink. Photopaper is a great, but expensive, tool for making beautiful protypes. Since you won't be able to print on the backs, you'll want to put them in card sleeves or spray them with plastic spray sealant to protect the resulting images.

Beaver paper can acquire many types of papers, including more advanced photopapers.

plastic spray sealant
Sold at hardware stores and hobby shops in cans like those which spray paint come in. Plastic Spray Sealants come in gloss and matte finish. Matte finish can make the contrast of the image on the coated substrate "pop" a bit more. Gloss sprays are pretty and reflective. For most card games where cards will be up on the table face for prolonged time, gloss finishes may be undesirable as they may result in glare unless the cards are put into card sleeves. This is great stuff for protecting the surface of a game board, game counters, or cards printed on photopaper. Lots of people recommend Krylon Crystal Clear brand.

playing card stock
A laminated stock made, normally, by sandwiching a black or blue opaque adhesive core between 2 layers of paper. Playing card stock has better memory than standard stock, giving it better spring when shuffled. The opaque core also helps prevent a card with a lightly printed back from having its face visible from the opposite side of the card in strong light (this is less of a concern with CCGs with backs with 100% coverage where the cards are often played with in opaque card sleeves). Playing card stock is sold, most often, by the ton and is a special order item. It is occasionally available in small quantities as samples, but in general most companies do not sell it in small quantities. More often than not, playing card stock comes pre-coated and can be used in some types of laser printers, but not most dye-based inkjet printers. Playing card stock is sometimes also called "black liner board" due to the black graphite glue sometimes used in the center of the cards. While some playing card stock is made in the U.S. and elsewhere, much of the higher quality stock comes from Germany or France. The plastic coat outside casino quality playing cards is a varnish. Varnish keeps the cards from getting dirty (from food, oils on your skin, etc.), and provides a smooth, slightly slippery surface to aid in shuffling and handling.

point (font)
A common font measurement used in word processing and page layout.

point (paper)
With regards to paper, a point is a measurement of caliper equal to a 1/1000th of an inch.

A point is also known as a mil. See also pound.

poker-sized playing cards
Cards used in the game Poker are 3.5" tall and 2.5" wide. This is the single most common card size used for collectible card games. Most casino grade cards are around 300 GSM or more and have a varnish on them.

polypropylene
The plastic stuff that card sleeves and ziplock bags are made out of.

POP display
A Point of Purchase Display is a box that is used to dispense booster packs or tuck boxes of a product.

postcard printer
This is just what it sounds like, a company that manufactures Postcards. To use this method, you'll need a few things. First you'll need to verify that they print on 12 or 14 point (paper) C2S stock. Next, you'll want to get 4" x 6" post cards (big enough to hold two cards). You'll probably get 1000 copies of these (some might print 500, but most have a 1000 minimum order). You'll need to take these to a finishing service to have them cut down to two 2.5" x 3.5" cards per sheet, and then you'll want to put them through a desktop corner rounder. Take care to note whether the postcard printer is coating one side or both sides.

pound
The American system of measuring paper is the Basis Weight expressed in pounds (of paper), generally referring to the weight of a ream of paper of a particular size. American paper is not all cut to the same size. Some kinds of stock ship standard from the factory at very different heights and widths than other stocks. For this reason, 100 pound bond paper is a different caliper than 100 pound index stock. 110 pound index stock is sufficient for game prototyping, but a lighter stock (say 65 pound card stock) can be used if you play with card sleeves

press coating
A press coating is a hard clear outer layer applied over a printed substrate to protect the ink from dirt, hand oil, food, and to a lesser extent, water.

press sheet
A press sheet is a large piece of stock that is sent through a printing machine. Some press sheets hold 54 cards. Some hold 110 cards. Others are in between Press sheet sizes vary from printer to printer. When I refer to a press sheet size I'm referring to the number of cards the Press Sheet can hold, not its actual dimensions.

quad-fold board
A term used to describe a game board in 4 parts that folds on itself and then folds on itself again.

ream
500 sheets of paper.

RGB
Red, Green, and Blue. Standard color scheme for most paint programs on desktop computers. These three colors of light are the components which are mixed together to represent all other colors. RGB is a colorspace for mixing light, and is thus an additive color space.

Rollem Slipstream
Rollem is a leading maker of playing card slitting and collating equipment. Slipstream is one of their biggest, best devices. Last I heard this beast runs over $200,000 per unit and takes up a fair bit of floor space. Its giant automated conveyor belt and attachments can turn printed sheets into wrapped decks in seconds. This is easier to see than to explain, so watch this movie. Without a machine like this, you'd be forced to do collation by hand.

rotary trimmer
A rotary trimmer (or rolling trimmer) is a paper cutter with a sharp wheel that cuts the paper. It is a great tool for prototyping. If you are going to cut just cards then a 12" trimmer is fine, because you'll likely only be passing through letter-sized paper. If you plan on cutting legal sized paper or preparing game boards, you'll need a longer cutting stroke of 18" or so. The best rotary trimmers that are easily available are manufactured by the Dahle company. If you are beyond prototyping and are into making small scale indy games you'll likely also want to look into a corner rounder or a die cutter.

rule of five
The rule of 5 says that if your production costs are higher than 1/5th of your retail cost you are in danger of losing money on the deal (or netting no profit).

saddle-stitched
This is the most common way to present a rulebook packaged in a CCG. Saddle-stiching is accomplished by stapling a double width page down the middle then folding the page along the staples.

shrinkwrap
A form of plastic wrap. It is often wrapped around an object, heat sealed at one or both ends, and then further heated or otherwise treated causing it to shrink. While it produces a tight fit, it can put some pressure on the wrapped contents. For this reason, game cards, in particular, are often best wrapped with a cellowrap instead.

If you want to shrinkwrap things, though, Uline is one of the best online sources for shrink wrapping products.

The least fussy solution seems to be shrink wrap pouches. You just stuff things in the pouch and then hit them with a heat gun. You can probably get setup with this stuff in the $150-$200 range pretty easily. If you use pouches, however, then your game has to conform, at some level to the size of the pouch.

Pouches are super great if you are distributing a mini-game packaged in a VHS video tape box, since they custom make pouches for that size of container.

I strongly recommend acquiring the heat gun and then later getting samples of the shrink wrap you want to use, to make sure that the shrink wrap pouches aren't too large or small.

Keep in mind that heat guns, if used at too high a heat, can damage your product, and that the shrink wrap, well, shrinks, which can cause product deformation if you aren't careful.

spray adhesive
This stuff is used for mounting the board face (printed part) to the board itself. This stuff comes in a couple of varieties, so read the label carefully. Some brands allow for repositioning, so that you can fiddle with the board face. Permanent adhesives are better, but you have to land the board face just right. Use masking tape on the edges of the underlying board itself to cover areas that you don't want ending up sticky. Spray the back of the board face. Remove the masking tape. Apply board face to board back, and voila, a board. Some people recommend 3M spray adhesive.

trademark
Trademark is the body of law that protects your brand identity. It is what allows you to set up "John Doe's Super Game Company", and protects you from having that name usurped by others while you stay in business. Filing for a trademark is middling expensive. You probably want to register your trademarks of your company and your prominent money making product lines. If you don't register them, you have limited protections from something called a "common law trademark", but there are certain legal benefits you get from registering a mark, and there are certain types of legal claims that only someone with a registered mark can make in court.

tuckbox
A box which holds a deck of cards. Also called a card box.

use tax
Some states charge use tax on things bought outside the state. Use Tax is the state's attempt to tag you for the equivalent of sales tax on things you nominally could have bought in the state. Sometimes these fees are not assessed to wholesalers, retailers, or re-salers. Check with your accountant, your state tax office, or your state department of revenue for more information.

UV coating
See press coating.

varnish
See press coating.