Creating Prototype Cards using Adobe InDesign and Data Merge

InDesign-4-iconI do all of my layout work in Adobe InDesign. After my first couple of prototypes for various projects, I discovered a nifty little feature that revolutionized my process. Welcome Data Merge!

Data Merge is used to compile variable data from a spreadsheet into a printable pdf.

If you’ve ever designed a large card set for a game, you may be starting to nod and grin. Yes, you can write a massive amount of cards in excel (or any spreadsheet generator) then simply link the csv to Indesign via data merge and bingo: Your game now has the 100 cards that it needs!

Here is the quickest overview on how to do it:

1.  Open a spreadsheet generator and name each column. This is important! The name will indicate to data merge what content goes where. Protip: I make sure to individually number my cards so that I can reference them easily in playtesting

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2.  Write all relevant information in the rows, Names, effects, costs, etc

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3.  Export the Spreadsheet as a CSV file.

4.  Open InDesign and create a document the size of your cards. Typically cards are 2.5 inches x 3.5 inches.

5.  Go to Window>Utilities>Data Merge and open the panel for data merge. Other versions of InDesign may have the panel in a different area, but you’re a gamer/game maker, I’m sure you can find it easily.

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6.  Click the information button in the upper right hand corner of the Data Merge panel and click Select Data Source…

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7.  Navigate to your CSV file and select it. All of the headers of each column will appear in the Data Merge Panel.

8.  Using the Text tool, create a text box for one of your card elements.

9.  With the text tool click into the text box and select one item from the data merge panel. It should appear like this <<itemfromdatamergepanel>> in the text box. All variable data will appear within double brackets like this, “<< … >>” You can add other text in the same text box as well. You may want to indicate what your variable text is. For example, your text may look like this on your data merge file: “Name: <<Card Name>>” 

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10.  Repeat steps 8 and 9 until all card elements are on the card.

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11.  Click the information button in the upper right hand corner of the Data Merge Panel and select “Export to pdf”



You’ll end up with a multi-page pdf of all the cards you designed on your spreadsheet! Awesome, right? Of course, this example is the bare bones of what you need to know to get started. You can add a ton of content on your InDesign document besides the data that is imported via Data Merge. Experiment and you’ll be an expert in no time.  I encourage you to go out there and try it and see what else the software is capable of.  Check out adobe’s site for some more advanced techniques.

Game design is an iterative process. This is my mantra. It’s like Hemmingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.” Even the most well conceived idea will, and most definitely should, see revisions before the final version is complete. Using Data Merge with InDesign will allow you to generate a ton of content and changes quickly and effectively. This will ensure that your game sees as many revisions as needed before you are ready for publishing.

Happy Gaming and Creating,