Running battles in combat-centric role-playing games can be as painful as stepping on a caltrop. You’re either depending on the Gamemaster to keep the entire scene in his or her head, or you’re constantly drawing and erasing the map on a ratty piece of graph paper. I’ve seen groups use Lego minifigs, chess pieces and even jelly beans. While the DIY crowd can certainly save a buck or two and keep using confections, many gamers are seeking out more polished solutions. There are a host of battle map options, ranging in price from a few to a few hundred bucks. Over the next few weeks, I’ll look at the ways that tabletop RPGers have taken the battle map to the next level.
First up, Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards. These are the spiritual successor to a product no longer in production, called Tact-Tiles, which were solid plastic boards with a dry-erase coating on one side. Best of all, Tact-Tiles were modular and locked together to form a massive surface that could be used for large scale battles or dungeon crawls. Unfortunately, the company that made Tact-Tiles, BC Products, went out of business. Now you’re lucky if you can find Tact-Tiles on eBay, and when you do, be prepared to shell out upwards of $100 for a set.
Brian Davison, owner of Longtooth Games, saw the need for a replacement. Last spring, he released Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards to the gaming community, and there was much rejoicing. Unfortunately, before posting this review, I found out that Battle Graphs are no longer being manufactured. I wanted to get the word out on them, anyway, because they are a good product and there might be a way you can save them! Hit the jump to find out more.
Before their halt in production, Battle Graphs came four tiles to a $25 set. Unlike the solid plastic Tact-Tiles, Battle Graphs are made of a particle board material. One side is coated with a white dry erase surface. Each tile is 10″x10″ and is gridded with 10×10 squares. The grids are actually scored into the surface, which makes for a built-in ruler when drawing dungeon walls. Just be careful not to get any moisture on the scores, because it can seep under the dry erase surface and cause some nasty damage.
Because of the way the four tiles interlock, you’ll end up with a total of 19×20 squares per four tile set. The interlocking tabs and blanks will provide slightly more or less room, depending on their location.
We put Battle Graphs to the test during my weekly Dungeons & Dragons game. Typically we use a combination of D&D Dungeon Tiles, Paizo Flip-Mats, and dry erase battle mats. The modular nature of the Battle Graphs was helpful in maintaining a “fog of war” style reveal in the dungeon crawl. We did notice that some of the tiles didn’t lock together very tightly and the gap between them was larger than it needed to be, but it did mean that miniatures didn’t go flying whenever we had to shift the tiles around.
My group likes pretty pictures on our battlefield. Unless your GM is a better artist than I am–and excels in the medium of dry erase–you’re not likely to win any awards for realism. A blank battle mat does give the GM more control over the encounter, which can certainly make up for poor visual verisimilitude. Even if you do have to keep reminding the players that the oddly shaped blob is a bridge, not a gelatinous cube.
The tiles are durable and portable, which means you won’t feel guilty chucking them in your backpack on your way to your FLGS. In a half year of use and cleaning only with paper towels or dry erasers, the Battle Graph boards have no ghosting whatsoever. The white dry erase surface is high quality but the other side is unprotected. As in, not waterproof. And Mountain Dew is made of mostly water. So if someone spills their drink, the Battle Graph boards are just as vulnerable as your Player’s Handbook.
Unfortunately, Brian Davison has hit some issues with the production of the Battle Graphs. As stated on the website:
“We are currently unable to continue the manufacture of our Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards. We are continuing our efforts to find financial support to get things up and running. If you are an interested investor, I would love to talk with you.”
So if you’re interested in investing in a really cool game product, head on over to battlegraph.com and touch base with Brian. And for anyone else who wants to add a versatile piece of battle map technology to their game room, Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards gets the GeekDad Seal of Approval. Hit up eBay or wait ’til Longtooth gets back into action.
Update: Looks like Brian is back in production! I’d recommend picking up two sets, just so you can build a mega dungeon on the fly and utterly destroy amaze your players.
Wired: Great price tag (when they were for sale). Modular, durable dry erase surface lets you create awesome “fog-of-war” encounters for various tactical RPGs. Scored grids make for easy and accurate line drawing.
Tired: Unprotected bottom surface and scores are not Mtn Dew friendly. Blank white slate can be bad for art-challenged GMs.
(Full Disclosure: I received a free set of Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards.)