Friday, January 09, 2009

How To: Building a Game Board

If you're like me, playing is an important part of the hobby. And in order to play, you really need a good playing surface. I've posted pics of battles in the past, many (like the one to the right) from my own home on the game board I built. Recently the need to build a game board for Lance came up, so I figured I'd use the opportunity to write up what I did to inspire ideas for others.

There are some key guiding principles at work in the design of my own board. First, I wanted a 4'x4' playing surface, which is the standard for Warmachine and Hordes. Second, I wanted it to have a balance between form and function, providing a moderate level of battlefield setting without being inflexible. Third, it needs to be storable so that when I'm not playing, my wife isn't threatening to throw it out. As cool as the classic foam battle boards are that I often see tutorials for, they didn't meet my criteria. Hence, this project was born.

Materials: The following are the specific materials I used for my board.
  • (4) 2' x 2' wood (or MDF) panels, 3/8" thick - I was able to find pre-cut 2' x 2' panels at my local "Big Giant Hardware Store". MDF panels are nice as they usually are smooth and free of warps, but are more expensive. I used 3/8" because that provided the best rigidity to weight ratio.
  • 2 strips of heavy duty cloth - This cloth is used to create the "hinges" for the boards so it should be decently heavy duty. I got mine from my wife's scrap fabric drawer, but a local fabric shop is likely to have scraps that they will give away.
  • Felt (of an appropriate color) - For my original game board I found this great stuff that was basically static grass paper. I've never seen it since though as the model train store I got it from closed. Felt however works great and any fabric store should have a variety of colors. I recommend get more than the 4' x 4' square so you have some slack to work with.
  • 2 Part Epoxy Glue - This stuff is available at most hardware stores and comes in a double-syringe type of applicator.
  • White Glue - For this project, I used Tacky Glue which I got at a local craft store. It's a little more concentrated than the normal white glue like Elmer's.
Step 1: Lay out 2 boards next to each other. Make sure to line them up carefully. Ideally you want to make sure you get any bowing in the wood to match up. Apply some epoxy along 1" or so of the edge of both boards next to each other. Then press down a piece of fabric to the epoxy to join the boards. This will create the hinge. Do this with the other 2 boards as well. Give the epoxy a few minutes to initially set before moving on. Ideally you can give it an entire day sitting out flat before moving on so that the epoxy sets really well.

The reason for using fabric to form the hinge is that it's very low profile and doesn't require woodworking techniques to inset the hinge. A normal hinge would stick up in the middle of the table creating an uneven surface.

Optional step: Here I drew a deployment line. This line is drawn with a permanent marker 10" from the end of the board. The line just faintly shows through the felt. This 10" line is specific for Warmachine/Hordes of course, but the same practice could be applied as appropriate for other games. The reason for drawing the line on the wood under the felt is so that during the game it isn't an obvious reference point when trying to estimate distances.

Step 2: Cut and glue down the felt. I just used normal scissors, laid out the felt, and cut it to fit. Then I used the Tacky Glue to glue it down to the wood. Note that I've glued it on the same side the fabric hinge is on. This will obscure the hinge as a side effect. However the primary reason for this is that when the board is folded up, it keeps the felt safely protected between the boards instead of exposed.

Done! Let it all dry. When you are ready to play you just put the pairs of boards next to each other. An optional step would be to put a third hinge on the back so that the 2 pairs then fold up against each other as well. I have opted not to do this just to make it a little easier to move around and on the rare occasion when only 1 board is needed.

When you're done playing, you just fold both boards up and store them away. The whole thing only measure about 1.5" thick, so it slides easily out of sight behind/between/under something. And there you have it! Hopefully this inspires others and if you come up with enhancements to this idea please leave a comment.

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