The tabletop games available today are light years better than what I had as a kid. If you compare beautiful games like Photosynthesis or Tzolk’in to Sorry, Clue, or any of the Milton Bradley games available in the 1980s, the board game renaissance becomes quickly evident. But still, there are a small number of my very favorite games which I love so much that I’ve felt the need to give them a little extra love. And at the junction of crafting and gaming, that point at which hobbies intersect, it becomes possible to take a game which has no inherent flaws and improve an aspect of it that you may not even have realized needed an upgrade.
How many games do you own that have unpainted plastic miniatures? If you’re like me, you own several. I’ve found that the tabletop appeal of these can be improved quite a bit by just slapping some paint on the miniatures.
It was probably twenty-five years ago when I started painting Dungeons & Dragons miniatures. I had fun with it for a while before I eventually moved on and got rid of my paints. Five years ago, I picked up a wargame called Warmachine and found a renewed interest in miniature painting. When that happened, I realized that I also owned other games that could benefit from some color. One of these was Mice & Mystics, which I’d bought to play with my daughters. I didn’t spend much time on the amateurish paint job I gave the mice, but it’s still quite an improvement. At some point, I hope to also get to the game’s monsters.
Perhaps that’s too ambitious for you. Maybe you’re claiming not to have an artistic bone in your body. (I myself have maybe one-and-a-half artistic bones, and that’s being generous.) The second painting example I’ve got might be more your speed.
The last time I’d played Robo Rally with five friends, I found that I was often mixing up the game’s monochromatic bots, even forgetting which one was my own. Solution? I painted each of their bases different colors. This allows for the same metallic look on the robots, while rendering each of them distinct. The whole task took less than fifteen minutes, and the required artistic skill was roughly equivalent to what you need to paint your dining room walls.
Lots of board games can benefit from a minor aesthetic upgrade. If you do have artistic talent, I’m willing to bet that your own results will put mine to shame.
Print and Play Game Accessories
Sites like Board Game Geek have lots of fan-created additions and homebrew mods for games, as well as printable game aids. And while 3D printed game aids are outside of the scope of this article, they’re absolutely worth looking into if you have access to a 3D printer.
My favorite print-and-play example can be seen in the wealth of Sentinels of the Multiverse game material available at Spiffworld. Sentinels is one of my favorite games, but the default tokens you’re given to track hit points can get quite fiddly, especially when you’re tracking hit points for five heroes and potentially upwards of a dozen enemies. Enter the printable oversize hero cards, which include hit point spinners.
To assemble one of these, all you need is to color print the PDF on card stock, cut it out, glue or tape it together (I’ve used both superglue and double-sided tape), and pick up a box of brads at your local craft shop. Assembling them isn’t difficult, and it makes the game experience better.
The other Sentinels game resource I’ve gotten from Spiffworld? The card boxes. You print these on card stock, just like the hero cards, and you can store each deck in a custom box rather than using the included card dividers.
Spiffworld has a number of other printable PDF resources, but these are the ones I’m using.
I can’t recall whether it was the quantity of Sentinels of the Multiverse expansion sets I owned, my use of card boxes rather than dividers, or the fact that I needed places to store the oversized hero cards that first drove me to seek alternate storage for the game, but when I saw photo memento boxes on sale at my local craft store, I got a great idea.
The boxes were made of heavy-duty cardboard, and had metal-reinforced corners, leather handles, and metal clasps. I measured the cards, measured the size of the boxes, and quickly found the right size.
I cut strips of transparent plastic for dividers, and superglued strips of balsa to the inside of the boxes to hold the dividers in place. Soon, I had a sturdy custom case for my Sentinels cards, complete with handle.
I’ve been forced to haul around the oversize hero cards in a separate box, and I’m looking to address that issue with an alternative storage solution. Since picking up the game’s Oblivaeon expansion, I’ve also got roughly eight decks of cards that will no longer fit in my case. This storage shortfall will also need to be factored into whatever solution I do come up with.
The other use I’ve found for the same type of craft store memento box is for storing my Warmachine models. When I started playing Warmachine, my focus was on gaining entry to a potentially expensive game with a minimum of cash spent. I bought lots of models on eBay, I resold portions of bulk lots to recoup costs, and I built my own storage case rather than spending as much as $100 on an official one.
When I bought a house five years ago, the previous owners left two giant bricks of open cell foam from what I imagine were once couch cushions in the garage. Having had experience with open cell foam from my bygone days LARPing, I knew its value.
I measured my box and found that I could fit three layers of foam. I cut them with a serrated knife and then glued corrugated cardboard pieces onto each as a base. In one of my two new custom Warmachine cases, I also built a small box of corrugated cardboard and duct tape in which to store the cards describing the rules for my Warmachine models.
The examples and techniques I’m sharing above are really just a start. I’m sure that there are many board games that would benefit from enhanced decoration and many more that could use custom storage. Feel free to share your own ideas and accomplishments in the comments.