Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tutorial: Making a Gaming Board for Spaceships!

Example of a pretty NASA photo and kind of what
we are going for with these boards.
Making a new board to play your war game of choice on is usually a fun experience. It gets a bit tricky in the planning stages when you attempt a completely new style or genre though. I'm no stranger to making grassy fields, hills, ruins, etc. However, when it came time to make a board that looked like "space", some Internet research needed to be done as I had no experience in the matter. Firestorm Armada was taking off in popularity at the store, and it was time to upgrade from black fabric and make some legitimate boards to play on.

After reading a number of articles, tutorials, and examples of what had been done before, I was a little disappointed. I was really looking for an "easy button" step-by-step that was both cheap and looked good. Thankfully, nearly all the places I researched had a gem or two of information, and when combined, actually had all the parts we needed to get this project done. So far, we have made six of these boards for our FLGS, Evolution Games, and they are all a bit different and universally well received. The following is a run down of how to make one.

Project Assessment:
Monetary Cost of Project: $25-$40 USD (Mostly for the board and depending how much material you can scrounge).

Time Required: Less than an hour (Now that we are practiced, depending on the paint's dry time, we could probably knock one of these boards out in about 20 minutes or so).

Skill Level: Low (Children could do everything in this tutorial except for moving the board itself).

Risk Level: Low (You will be fine as long as you paint in a ventilated area and don't eat/drink the paint).

Cost of Failure: Negligible. If you royally screw this up, let it dry completely, and start over on Step 2.

Repeatability: Each board will be unique but the process is very repeatable and similar results are achievable across many boards if desired. Also, the cost per board goes down when done in groups!

Materials Needed:
-A flat board to be the game surface. (We used 1/2" thick composite wood in a 8'x4' size which we had the hardware store cut down to 6'x4').
-A paint roller and roller tray.
-A toothbrush and some kind of plastic cup-like thingy.
-Black paint. (We had a gallon of interior house paint made up).
-A bottle of white craft paint.
-Two colors of spray paint. (Your choice of colors).
-Some rubber gloves to keep the paint off your hands.
-A table, barrel, or pair of sawhorses to keep the board off the ground.

-Optional: A drop cloth or plastic sheeting to catch any drips. And can also act as a trash bag for quick clean up of all discarded materials.

Step 1:
Deploy your drop cloth, set up your board-holding table, and get your board on top of it.

The extra 2 feet of board we had cut off worked well as a test paint surface and as a weight to hold our plastic sheeting down. It was windy.

Step 2:
Don your gloves and use your paint roller to put the black paint down. We used two thin coats of black which did a marvelous job, as you want a smooth even surface. Also, don't forget to paint the outside edges of the board.

***Additional Note: We used the cheapest house paint we could get. While the paint itself was fine, there were chunks that had to get picked off the board periodically while painting. No big deal, remove the chunk and hit the area with the roller again.

That dangerously handsome gentleman you see here is yours truly.

Step 3:
Allow the black paint to fully dry in between coats and make sure it is fully dry before going on to Step 4. You board should be smooth with an even density of blackness across all areas.

The whole board is black but wet paint is reflective, so that's why it doesn't look like the inky blackness of deep space.

Step 4:

Our board is now dry, smooth, and solid black. Time to make it look more like space by adding some stars. Put some of the white craft paint into a cup or something (we used an old plastic blister pack from some Firestorm Armada miniatures). Dip a toothbrush into the paint to load the bristles and then flick the paint onto the board by running your index finger over the bristles.  You don't need (or want for that matter) very much paint on the brush as you will be surprised at how much of a useful mess this makes already.

I strongly encourage you to test this method on a piece of paper, the ground, or any flat surface BEFORE you try it on the board. You will see why immediately. Also, my general rule is to give the brush a few flicks away from the board after adding more paint to the bristles every time you do it, trust me. If there is a size-able cluster of paint on your brush, when it flies off and hits the table, it isn't going to look like a star, it will look like a pigeon did a dive bomb on your otherwise beautiful board.

Sun was going down and we were in the shade, that is why everything looks bluish. It's white paint, I swear.

What we are doing, is flicking white paint onto a black background. The bristles launching little specks of paint will give the illusion of stars in the sky in a totally random pattern. It is surprising how easy this is and how perfectly it ends up.

Experiment with flicking paint off of the brush BEFORE you try it on the board.

How many stars you add to your board is up to you. Have fun and do it until it "looks right". The only suggestion I have at this point is to build up the stars across the board slowly so you can stop before it becomes too much.

Wait for the stars to dry before moving on to Step 5. It doesn't take long.

Step 5:
While adding the stars was a subjective process, this next process goes from "subjective" straight to "art". There is no right or wrong way to do this. Basically, what you are going to do is dust the board with spray paint to give it that NASA photograph look. It is recommended to use two colors, either a dark and light version of the same color, or two different colors.
Put the darker color down first and the lighter down on top of it. Do many thin coats until you are happy.

When the paint is down and dry, throw in a few more flicks of the white paint on top of the colors. This will give them depth and make them look really far away.

A) Holding the spray paint farther away from the board is better than closer. Start spraying from what you would consider just a bit too far away and see how that looks.

B) Never completely change the direction your hand is moving while paint is coming out of the can. For example, if you are making an arc to the right and intend to sweep back to the left, do it in a single rightward motion, stop the paint flow completely, and then begin spraying again as you move your arm left. Otherwise, you will have weird (and ugly) "corners" to your colors.

C) Add the paint gradually. You want to see the stars underneath the paint. The color represents gas and dust, not pudding.

Here are the three boards we made that day (the pictures really don't do them justice):

See? Some of the red paint shows a line because the spray can was too close to the board during painting. You can feather it out still, but it is better to not have to at all. We had to get a bit closer than we preferred because it was very windy when we did this. The take away from this? Keep your distance and wind isn't your friend in this case.

This is a basic framework which will allow nearly anyone to easily make a space board in a small amount of time. Having a star field board REALLY makes the game look better. I see many battle reports being played on less than amazing surfaces, so I hope this tutorial inspires you to make some excellent boards.

For you artsy types, you can really go nuts with different colors of paint for the stars, nebulae, or anything else you want.

How have your adventures in space board construction gone?


  1. speaking my language here. very cool.

    1. Thank you, Brian. I'm hoping this causes more excellent gaming surfaces to come into being.

  2. So far they are holding up pretty well at the shop as well. I am hoping we can make these guys on the cheap for our future tournament and convention endeavors.

    1. Since we already have all the paint, we're just buying the boards now. Price per unit is about as low as it is going to get unless someone gets a Home Depot or Lowe's coupon.

  3. This looks really cool, I especially like the red one, I have to admit though that I just bought a mat from Deepcut studios, good quality and not too expensive and I can just roll it out wherever I want to play. This would be a great option for a home board though :P

    1. Thanks! Yeah, roll up mats are the king if convenience most of the time. We were making these for our game store, so there is plenty of room for them,
      Is the mat you got a 6'x4'?

  4. Hey! I've made two different boards a few years back and used this exact method. One extra thing I did was I gloss varnished it afterward. I love the look of them!