By Len Zigante, Pitt Meadows, BC.
Like many folks here I collect and enjoy playing board games. Currently, my collection exceeds 600 titles – not as many as some folks but a lot compared to most. Having these many titles does not come cheap so it’s become imperative for me to find ways to keep costs down to continue enjoying my passion and madness.
Obviously hunting for bargains at yard sales, thrift shops, and online is one way of doing this. Being that yard sales and thrift shops are unpredictable, I won’t go into them further. Online, however, there are many stores that regularly have clearance and/or damaged game sales which can keep costs manageable. I personally regularly peruse Amazon.ca, Meeplemart.ca, StarlitCitadel.com and GreatBoardgames.ca on a regular basis for products not yet stocked (usually available at a significant discount) or on sale.
Online auctions, Boardgamegeek, and Craigslist (in my city at least) are also good sources for low priced games but one runs the risk of missing or broken components. Fortunately, the majority of games I’ve purchased through such sites have nearly always been in good condition. Alas, lately it seems bargains have been getting farther and fewer between with offerings being fairly close to their retail price.
So with all this in mind, I’m passing along some of my DIY alternatives that help make my passion less costly.
You may have already read the article I posted a while back about using shower curtains for game mats. While shower curtains won’t work for all games, they provide an excellent, low cost, alternative to gaming mats. I’ve also recently discovered large “wall tapestries” at Amazon and Rosegal.com which were greatly discounted and come in a variety of sizes. I personally own 14 wall tapestries or shower curtains which I obtained at considerably lower prices than game mats and use with Sails of Glory, Wings of War/Glory, X-wing, Star Trek Attack Wing, Canvas Eagles/Blue Max, and other war games.
For games that require hexagons on terrain maps, I purchased a couple of transparent shower liners on which I drew large hexes. This was a tedious and time-consuming exercise but it works. I printed a couple of 11” x 17” sheets containing the desired size hexes and taped them to a table. Then using large paper clamps I held the clear shower liner over the printouts and traced the hexes onto it with a permanent marker and ruler (being careful to avoid leaving ink smears when I moved the ruler). This produced a large sheet of hexes I place over top of my terrain curtains to give them a hexagonal grid. I should point out that permanent marker ink rubs off during play so you should consider placing the sheet ink side down onto the terrain to avoid this. You may also want to consider hanging the plastic liner to help keep creases to a minimum.
I’ve also purchased a full sized .040 Petg acrylic sheet which I had cut up into several smaller sheets calculated to be combined to fit a range of board game and table sizes. They work great for holding components and sheets in place. Although many people like to use thicker Petg sheets, those are considerably more expensive (double the price) and if the acrylic sheets are too thick, it may become difficult to judge precisely where units are placed on the map. For me, the thinner sheets work well although they don’t store well when stood on their edge (tend to want to bend). For this reason, I have a sheet of plywood pressed up against them to prevent curving. If you don’t have acrylic sheets you can also use large clamps to hold the curtains to the table.
I am a fan of several epic miniature games and have a large collection of X-wing, Sails of Glory, and Wings of Glory models. To store these, I visited my local thrift store where I purchased suitcases for each game (cardboard boxes would work also but I prefer suitcases since they come with handles and wheels to aid transport, have straps to hold Plano cases in, and zip up nicely for security and easy access.
As for my X-wing collection, most ships are second-hand models I obtained much cheaper via craigslist from fans that play tournaments. Most tournaments only allow official manufacturer’s cards to be used which can only be obtained by purchasing models. In order to obtain multiple copies of cards, tournament players must purchase multiples of ships they don’t necessarily need or want. Purchasing this way enabled me to acquire most of my fleet (minus specific cards) for roughly 1/3 to 1/2 off saving quite a bundle (tournaments aren’t of interest to me). To acquire missing cards, I go to https://xwing-miniatures.wikia.com/wiki/X-Wing_Miniatures_Wiki where I can obtain card images to reprint. Granted they are lower res so not as nice as originals but it saves me a lot of money.
Speaking of printing, I’ve reproduced many cards and chits for use with various games. Certain tools have been invaluable for this purpose and are used over-and-over again. The first is my Fiskars Paper Trimmer with a rolling blade (makes cleaner cuts). It allows me to quickly line up a printed page and clamp it down for nice straight edges and equal card widths. Another excellent tool has been my 1/8” Crop-a-Dile Corner Chomper from Memory Keepers which allows me to round the corners of the cards I’ve printed enabling them to easily slide into card sleeves/sheets and prevents corners from snagging or bending.
Paper wise, I’ve used 9 and 11.5 mil glossy photo paper purchased from Staples. This paper is a lighter weight than authentic cards but more than adequate for gaming purposes. It is expensive paper though so I usually purchased it in quantity around Christmas and Easter when they’re on sale for 1/2 price. Recently I tried Staples’ 110 lb card stock paper. It is non-glossy, thicker, and stiffer than their photo paper and produces good results. This was much cheaper than photo paper – I highly recommend it.
When it came to printing 2 sided cards, the hardest part for me was producing a template sheet where both sides of the cards will perfectly align when printing on each side of the paper. Printers typically have one margin wider than the other so it was tricky getting cards to line up. You also need to bear in mind that printing cards from left to right on one side requires you to print their backs from right to left on the opposite side. This matters with games like X-wing where there are roughly 22 different card backings. Some people glue folded or separate sheets with fronts & backs together to produce thicker cards. I found this made things more difficult to line up the cards and they didn’t trim well in the paper cutter so I don’t recommend that method.
When producing your sheets for printing, I found it to be a mistake to put a margin between each card. This creates twice the work for you when you cut out the cards. It is better to print cards directly beside each other so a single cut produces 2 individual card edges. However doing it this way requires you create a thin black line around each card in your editing program so you know where to cut.
When cutting cards I prefer to place the sheet in landscape orientation in the cutter. This provides a more accurate edge along the length of the cards which is where they are mostly handled and tends to create near identical card widths.
Game boards and player mats can also be produced from images scanned or found online. For “Sails of Glory” I printed player mats on photo paper (linen paper would have provided a more durable surface but is much more expensive). I then cut each mat to size leaving a slim margin along the outside edges.
After this, I set a gluing station up outside of the house (I use spray glue so this prevents everything from becoming sticky due to airborne glue particles). The gluing station consisted of a patio table, a stack of newspapers, and a rolling pin. I proceeded to cover the table with a sheet of newspaper and then placed a sheet of comic book card stock on top of it. I then lightly applied a layer of “3M spray-on adhesive” onto the card stock and carefully stuck another sheet of cardstock to it. I repeated this process multiple times until I achieved the desired thickness (same as the official ship mats). Between each gluing, I compressed the card stock together using the rolling pin and then laid down a fresh sheet of newspaper to prevent everything from sticking to the newspaper. Lastly, I glued the printed page onto the mat.
When it came to the internal cut-outs I used a combination of my paper cutter and an exacto blade. The cutter only works up to a certain thickness so it’s important to test that ahead of time before making your mats too thick. Also, test each cut-out with actual game components regularly to ensure proper fits.
A similar method can be used for creating game boards though in this case, I prefer to use Artist’s Loft Canvas Panels from my local craft store. These are quite sturdy and thick and come in a variety of sizes.
Finally, if you have access to a 3D printer and/or a laser cutter you can also produce many game components in wood and plastic. Alas, that is still in the works for me so I’ll end this discussion here. I hope you found some of my related experiences useful to helping you produce your own components “on the cheap”.
PS: This is the template I created for cutting two full sized PETG acrylic sheets into smaller sheets to cover a variety of game board sizes AND for combining to cover up to two 30″ x 60″ tables. (It assumes the saw blade will be 1/8″ wide. If thin PETG sheets are used, like what I have, then the measurements will need to be adjusted slightly since those cuts are done using exacto knives so there is no wastage due to blade width.