Print & play – worth the effort?


Being someone who doesn’t have a lot of free cash yet really wants to keep up this hobby I’ve discovered, I’ve spent time recently looking at ‘print and play’ games.

These are exactly what they seem. Usually pdf versions of games – cards and instructions, you supply your own dice and counters – that can be printed, mounted and played.

There are many websites which offer these, and Boardgamegeek has a great collection with plenty of free files to download at your leisure once you’re logged in. More and more Kickstarter games are offering these as a reward option for those who don’t have a big budget to invest but would still like to get involved. I’ve picked up a few for between $1 and $5 dollars. Some projects are even free, I guess as a way of encouraging people to play-test your game.

But is it worth the time and effort that is involved in building up a game for yourself? Why not just save up for the game and buy the full version?

How does it work?

I’ve started small, with a view to creating more complex games as I go on. My first download is Zombie in my Pocket. This is a neat little solitaire game which has some great looking artwork and a nice simple premise that doesn’t take long to play. There’s a lot of luck in the game – you explore a house to find a magic talisman to ward off zombies. Once it’s found you make your way outside to bury it in the garden and complete the game. Each turn you must turn over a location tile and an action tile, and no two games are ever the same.

I picked this because it has relatively few pieces – location cards, an instruction manual and action cards. There are other score-keeping cards available which I’m also giving a go, but you can just use a pen and paper.

So far so good. I’ve invested in some essentials – some card sleeves (small plastic sleeves which game cards slide into to protect them), some plain card and a paper trimmer to make sure my cuts are neat. I’ve also bought some dice, and I’m going to borrow game pieces (obviously you can’t print out meeples, for instance!) as and when I need them. That’s all I’m planning to spend. I figure it’s a false economy to download a game for free because you can’t afford the real version, only to spend lots of money on buying parts for it.

My homebrew version of Zombie in my Pocket has worked out nicely (see picture at the top of this post). I printed onto regular A4 paper on a halfway decent printer I have access to, glued these sheets onto plain white card, then used the trimmer to cut the cards out. Then I simply added an image to the back, and sleeved them so it’s not so obvious when you pick them up that they’re homemade, and to protect them.

There are some great examples of other homemade versions of the same game over on Boardgamegeek. There are some seriously talented people out there. But I’m happy with my version. It’s playable.

I’ve also tried a couple more games since. Zeppelin Derby from the Good Little Games website, and Dead Drop, a Kickstarter funded game which has a print and play version available over on BGG.

These were actually much simpler than Zombie in my Pocket which had pieces of differing sizes and a rule book to create. These two games are mainly standard sized cards. Again they worked out well.



Where can I find them?

Boargamegeek has plenty of lists like this one.

There are also sites like Good Little Games, that offer some really well designed games that generally print out on two or three A4 pages. Zeppelin Derby was from this site.

I’ve also backed a few Kickstarter projects that have given me a print and play version of what could be fairly major games releases. With very little cost and a bit of time invested in printing, sticking and sleeving I’ll be playing before some people have even received their physical versions of the game through the post.

Infamous party game Cards Against Humanity even has the basic set of cards free to print and play.

Would I reccomend print & play?

This depends on whether you’re not afraid to be a little creative, getting your hands dirty with glue and craft supplies.

I’ve loved it, and now have three nice little games to entertain myself and my wife with more on the go.

So far these games have been pretty small affairs but thanks to Kickstarter I’ll soon need to be printing out my own versions of large card games with dozens of cards. That could test my patience! There’s always the option of paying a still small sum and having sheets printed directly onto card at a copy shop.

Let me know if you have come across any print and play games worth a look.

By the way, I’m keeping my games in an amazing steampunk-style book with a slide-out style compartment my sister made me. But many games do have PDFs of tuckboxes to fit the games into which can be printed and made up for this job.


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