I have recently discovered a phenomenon that has opened up a whole new world of game design for me: print-and-play games. I had no idea such things existed! But there are tons of them. Heck, there is a podcast by a guy with a soothing British accent devoted solely to reviewing print-and-play games.
Nearly all of these games are free to download. The few exceptions are things like rules for miniature war games. They might charge you a few bucks for the fifty-page pdf document that explains how to play the game.
Anyway, print-and-play games are exactly what they sound like: you download the pdf, print it out, cut out and assemble the pieces, and you're ready to play! Admittedly, this is more time and effort than it takes to prepare a game off the shelf. You can't just buy it, take it home, and play it. But on the plus side, it's free. So there's that.
Another potential downside to print-and-play games, though, is the fact that they're self-produced. This is not an inherently bad thing. There are many game designers out there who have developed and produced fine games. But games published professionally have to get past a "gate keeper." A professional saw the game and was willing to spend money--a lot of money--to produce and sell the game. This same professional has probably seen dozens or hundreds of OTHER games that were rejected for various reasons.
Print-and-play games do not have to get past any gate keeper. There is no one to stand up and say, "Actually, this game isn't very good because of X, Y, and Z. You may want to work on these issues." Which is not to say that they're bad. It's just that they MIGHT be bad.
Still, being able to acquire a new game to play for the low-low price of some ink, card stock paper, and an hour or two cutting and assembling seems like a pretty darn good deal to me.
Boardgamegeek.com has an entire section devoted to print-and-play games. Some of the more popular ones include Aether Captains (a dice-based game of zeppelin combat in a steampunk world), BattleCON (although only four of the dozen or so characters are available in the free print-and-play version), Pocket Civ, Elemental Clash, TactDecks, and Zombie in My Pocket (which, in fact, became so popular that Cambridge Game Factory decided to help the designer fine-tune it for multiplayer and publish it professionally).
Having discovered this amazing new world of design space, I have begun work on two of my own print-and-play games. Neither is terribly good, but I think they're interesting and unique. I'll probably discuss them in further detail when they've been developed further. For now, I'll say that one is called Dream Shift, and involves battling nightmares in a constantly shifting dream world in order to symbolically overcome your fears, guilt, grief, and loneliness. The other game, which is similar mechanically to Dream Shift, is called Dungeon Shift. It's a fairly standard dungeon crawler for one player, wherein the player must utilize the tools and weapons he or she finds to traverse through a dungeon full of pits, traps, locked doors, and monsters great and small.
I am really excited about both games, and am considering making a whole line of print-and-play games using the shift mechanic, with various tweaks. I am also really intrigued by the whole print-and-play genre of games, and anticipate buying a rotary paper cutter of some sort in the semi-near future to facilitate fast, even cutting of various cards, tiles, and tokens.
Whee! Free games!