Starship Captains: Designer’s Diary 2: Designing the miniatures and prototype – Nathan Meunier

In the first Starship Captains diary written by Nathan Meunier, he has already discussed the thematic influences. In his second report on the development of the popular space adventure, you can read all about the design process of the prototype.

Greetings future captains! In our last article, we introduced you to Starship Captains designer Peter B. Hoffgaard, and shared some of his background and thematic influences for the game. Today, we want to show you the miniatures that are included in Starship Captains, and peel back the curtain on how our team designed and prototyped them in-house at the CGE offices!

Note: all images below are 3D printed prototype miniatures — the final miniatures are plastic molded and match the various crew color types.

Much of Starship Captains’ gameplay revolves around managing your crew and using each member as effectively as possible to navigate the galaxy, accomplish missions, take out space pirates, and upgrade your ship. In early prototypes, we started out using regular meeples, but as the design process evolved, we decided miniatures were absolutely the way to go.

The game’s deck-building inspired queue mechanic (which we’ll talk about more in a future article) utilizes double-layered ship player boards that have you sliding your crew through a grooved track. You push all but the last few of them into a larger pool that you’ll select from when taking an action each round. Using miniatures let us design a round base that slides more smoothly through the queue track.

Prototype player boards showing minis and the crew queue
Note: above image is of an unfinished player board prototype

Improving the effectiveness of your crew members is also a key element of the gameplay, as you can promote cadets (gray) and swap them for ensigns of another color (red, blue, yellow), which gives them certain unique playable actions when used in different ways. Once we established the core miniature designs, we also came up with a crew upgrade system that uses a plastic ring that slides down over the figure and rests on top of the mini’s base. This lets you upgrade ensigns into officers, which makes them twice as effective in the game.

“Using custom miniatures instead of meeples gives the game so much more character and makes the whole experience of playing the game more immersive and fun,” adds Starship Captains designer Peter B. Hoffgaard, who says he was thrilled to find out this was an option we could explore. “And we didn’t just do one or two different miniatures, but actually five different crew models, plus the Tincan android mini. They have great character that nicely mirrors the artwork of the cover and mission illustrations, and it really helps set the tone for the entire game.”

WIP 3D printed prototype miniatures

Showcasing diversity among the characters throughout Starship Captains is one of the most important aspects of the game for Peter.

“At first it was in the illustrations,” he says. “I wanted as diverse a bunch of people (and aliens) as possible—different genders, ethnicities, and body types. This is a VERY important message to send, that we as a human race can do so much more if we look beyond all these things and work together, to better ourselves. That’s why I was also so thrilled when I found out we could do multiple sculpts. I made sure we would have an equal number of male and female characters, and an alien too. I love that we are able to do this with the miniatures.”

From Pens to Pixels to Production

How cool would it be if we could just zap custom miniatures into existence out of thin air, replicator style? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works. The design process begins with a simple pen and paper before moving into 3D modeling software.

“It always starts with sketching concepts,” says Radim “Finder” Pech, the CGE artist who 3D modeled the art team’s sketches for the prototype minis. “You draw a lot of them, then a few are chosen to make more detailed sketches from, and finally from that we choose the ones that get modeled.”

Using Blender, Finder started with a low poly model, where he created a basic rough shape without details, then gradually refined and modified it based on input from the rest of the team. Having access to 3D printer technology allowed the team to print out test prototypes early-on to check how the virtual model would shape up in real life. “And at the end, you hold a real figure in your hand, and that’s a great feeling,” he says.

3D rendered design evolution for the android minis

“The whole process is a lot of fun,” he says. “In the beginning, it’s about finding the right concept, then watching how the 3D program creates the spatial model from the image, and finally, when you put the figure on the table and watch the artwork to see what it was actually made of. But the truth is that when I made my first game figure (for Galaxy Trucker) back in the day, the best part was holding it in my hand and seeing that what I had tinkered with so much had a physical result that players would play with.”

Turning initial sketches into fully realized miniature prototypes that are finalized and production ready is no simple task, however.

Overcoming Obstacles

The biggest challenge that actually affects the whole process from start to finish is the technical limitations imposed by the manufacturing technology needed to make the final physical figures, says Finder. This required the art production team to work closely with Peter, lead developer Tomáš “Uhlík“ Uhlíř (Under Falling Skies), and other colleagues at CGE to balance the creative side with what’s actually possible from a manufacturing standpoint.

In order to get the best variety of different characters while staying within the available production budget, the team found a creative approach to offering more without having to increase the cost for players.

“We went for a little trick—we’ve put several different models into one mold,” explains Uhlík. “In this case there are five different models of the crew members, and all of them come from the same mold. You just use the same mold for red, yellow, blue, and gray plastic. So for the cost of one mold in this case, we’ve got five different models.”

As an added (but fun) challenge, each individual miniature had to have the same volume in order to accomplish this, because the models are picked and sorted by weight in their own color group. Each copy of the game will come with a slightly different assortment of miniature character types in each of the main color types.

Minis lined up - prototype

The Final Stages

Producing the actual physical miniature prototypes was done in-house by CGE’s Honza Bartoš, who was printing sets of final figurines for playable prototypes of the game. A set of 15 figures took about 100 minutes to print and another 15 minutes of cleaning and hardening.

Here are some step-by-step details of what that entails:

Step 1 – “We prepare the models for the print in Prusa Slicer software, set where the figures will be placed on the print platform, and we determine how quickly, and therefore, how detailed the print will be.” he says.

Step 2 – Using a resin printer, the printing time is mainly dependent on the height of the model. We can print one or up to all 15 miniatures at the same time. The full print bed of 15 crew members takes 100 minutes.

Step 3 – We clean the printed figures. Then, using the Prusa Curing and Washing Machine (CW1S), the figures are washed in alcohol, then dried, and then cured with UV-light. After the curing, you can touch the figures with your bare hand. Uncured resin should not contact skin, therefore gloves are required during the manipulation.

Step 4 – The last step is coloring. CGE’s David Nedvídek sprays the figures with the desired color, though the spray colors are not the same as the final colors, since the choice of the colors in sprays is limited.

Here are more photos from that process:

Dipping minis
Drying minis - prototype
Drying minis 2.0 - prototype


Published on,
on May, 27th 2022.

You can find Starship Captains in our store if you click here.

Click here to read the third designer diary by Tomas Uhlir.