May 28, 2009

Gaming Setup 101: A cheap, kick-arse dry erase battle map.

Upgraded Battle Map 1, originally uploaded by -Frost-.
There are plenty of options for battle maps these days. There are the classic vinyl mats, but those are wet-erase and I find them a pain in the ass to clean. I don't like having water or soggy paper towels around my pretty game books. I know a lot of folks, such as the folks who designed the Avenger (aka the Ultimate) Game Table use plexi-glass. However, that can be a bit expensive. For example, this site has a 18 inch x 24 piece for $9.00. You have to pony up some considerable coin if you want a good-sized map. The only bonus is that you can place any kind of grid you want underneath it (e.g., a hexmap, pre-printed maps, etc.).

I created my battle map from tileboard from Home Depot. It costs about $11.00 for a 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheet. It is a heck of a deal, although toting it home might be a problem. I crammed mine into the back of my Jeep Cherokee and that was an adventure to say the least. I had to cruise down the interstate hunched over like Grandma Betty so that the tileboard could fit in the car. In hindsight, I should have just asked an employee to cut the board into a couple manageable pieces.

To grid the map, I used a dry-wall T-square and an exacto knife. I have found no other way to ensure a permanent grid. Even industrial strength marker has come off. A dry-wall T-square is marked just like a ruler, so that greatly simplifies the process of scoring the 1 inch squares. Go slow, though. Since you are cutting into the board, any mistakes you make are going to be permanent.
Upgraded Battle Map 2

May 20, 2009

Gaming Setup 101: Not-So Famous Gaming Table - Option 2

Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method

If you’re like me and have a tight budget, I suggest you check out the wonders of Craig’s List ( for your gaming table needs. (Not to mention, you might want to search for used Dungeons & Dragons goodies as well.) Craig’s List is basically one big online rummage sale. Log on, select your city (on the right side of the page), and start searching. Steer clear of the “services” section unless you’re looking for another kind of role-playing. If you don’t find any ads, place your own wanted ad. Craig’s List is entirely free, so you have nothing to lose. You’ll be pleasantly surprised. I found my chairs and both of my tables via wanted ads. Most of the folks selling these large folding tables previously used them for flea markets or garage sales, so don’t expect much in the way of looks. However, for the price, you can’t beat it.

Craig's List:
Homemade folding table with lovely faux wood paneling surface (86” x 33“) & 8 wooden folding chairs: $25.00

Homemade folding table with red Formica surface (96” x 30“): $10.00

Craig’s List Total: $35.00

As you can see, I bought two tables and eight chairs for less then the cost of one table at Sam‘s Club or Costco. Are they pretty? Hell, no! But they serve their purpose beautifully. On top of that, they are much larger than the tables I quoted above. Granted, Sam’s Club or Costco sell larger tables than the ones I quoted, but expect to pay a good bit more (for example, one comparable-sized table at Sam’s Club goes for about $70.00).

Again, these tables aren’t pretty at all. I had the odd luck of finding two people selling large, homemade tables. The faux wood paneling table is hideous and not terribly sturdy, but it works. More importantly, the wooden chairs that came with it are much better than the plastic or metal ones you can get, so those were a tremendous deal. The red Formica table isn’t pretty either, but is well-made.

I could care less that they are ugly. My battle map covers them almost completely anyway. However, if you end up with some ugly tables, and are bothered by it, just throw a table cloth or sheet over them.

I think I’ve made my point. Craig’s List can be your best friend when it comes to finding a great gaming table. Even if you want tables that look better than my beauties, you still have a good chance of finding tables and chairs for a much better price than what you’ll pay at the store. And, what the hell, right? It’s a free service, so why not try?

Once you have your tables, the next step is to get yourself a great gaming surface. I’ll discuss that in my next article

Gaming Setup 101: Not-So Famous Gaming Table - Option 1

How to Create a Not-So Famous Gaming Table

Buy yourself two, large folding tables. You don’t need a nice table for gaming but you do need a big table. Yes, boys, size matters (even in Dungeons & Dragons). Even if you have a small gaming group, you’ll likely need a large gaming surface. In addition to needing room for the battle map or game board, you’ll need room for polyhedral dice rolling, players’ books, drinks and snacks, and, of course, your broad sword. Assuming you have the space, I recommend picking up two tables. This will provide you with ample playing area. Even if you have a small group, one table probably won’t be enough to accommodate everything and everyone. Also, gaming groups have a tendency to grow, so think about the future. Buy the largest tables you can afford (and, obviously, that you can accommodate). I recommend your tables be at least 72” x 30” (6’ x 2.5’).

In addition to large tables, I recommend folding ones. Why folding? This allows you to use your gaming area for other things than, well, gaming. For example, although I game in my unfinished basement, it’s nice to be able to fold up the tables and put them against the wall so my kids can run around down there on a rainy day. Also, if you ever move, it’s much easier to fit a folding table through the door than some mammoth one-piece table.

There are two ways you can go about getting your folding tables:
Option 1: The Fancy Pants Method
Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method.

Option 1: The Fancy Pants Method

If you have the cash, you can get nice folding tables from places like Office Depot, Costco, or Sam’s Club. I’d recommend going to Sam’s Club or Costco. If you don’t have a membership, ask a friend who belongs to take you. By and large, you’ll get more for your money. For example:

These tables run from around $40.00 to $80.00. Obviously, the bigger the tables, the higher the price. Again, I recommend you get the biggest ones you can afford.

Naturally, you’ll need chairs to go with your tables. Like the tables, I suggest getting folding ones that can be stowed. The price of chairs varies a lot. For example, you can opt for the Steel Cage Match 4-Pack at Office Depot for about $30.00:

However, since you’ll be sitting for hours at a time, you’ll likely want something at least a tad more comfortable. Sam’s Club has a four pack of plastic chairs for about $80.00.

Assuming you don’t opt for the Steel Chairs of Torture, here is the price breakdown for the cheapest stuff from both Sam‘s Club and Costco:

Two folding tables (72” x 30”): $50.80 x 2: $101.60
Two 4-packs of folding chairs: $104.99 x 2: $209.98
Costco Total: $311.58

Sam’s Club
Two folding tables (72” x 30”): $39.88 x 2: $79.76
Two 4-packs of folding chairs: $81.37 x 2: $162.74
Sam’s Club Total: $242.50

Sam’s Club is about $70.00 cheaper and appears to be the winner here. However, keep in mind that the Sam’s Club prices I used were based on my location (I had to enter my ZIP code), so your results may be vary. Also, obviously, your price will be cheaper if you don’t need as many chairs.

Personally, both of these totals are a bit rich for my blood. If you’re married like me, you might have a hard time convincing your wife that such an investment is worth it. (Although, I should point out, these tables and chairs are handy for parties and that kind of thing in addition to gaming, so you might be able to work that angle).

However, if you’re like me and have a tight budget, I suggest you try Option 2: The "I May Not Want to Eat on It, but It Will Work" Method.

Gaming Setup 101: Famous Tables

One often overlooked aspect to D&D gaming is the physical area in which you play. Understandably, most folks focus on buying game materials, prepping the adventure, buying snacks, etc. However, in order to have a truly satisfying experience, you need a good place to play. This article is a first in a series about the crucial elements for a great gaming setup. My tips are for the gamer on a budget. If you’re like me, most of your money goes for bills, diapers, and other necessities (e.g., beer). More often than not, gaming supplies are the last on the list.

The Table

The table is the cornerstone of the gaming setup. If your table is crap, your game will suffer. However, having a great table can be simpler, and cheaper, than one might think.

Famous Gaming Tables

A few gaming tables have made the rounds on the web. By and large, these tables aren’t for a guy on a budget. Here are my thoughts on them.

The Avenger Table
This one is my personal favorite. It is highly utilitarian and that is the real key to a great table in my book. You can even buy instructions for $11.00 from the website. The table itself is not cheap though. The website states that the entire setup cost the creator about $2000.00 to assemble (that price is for the whole room, but I’d bet the bulk of the money went to the table). If I ever had the time and resources, I would seriously consider making such a table. The only thing I have against it is its wet erase gaming surface. Personally, I think dry erase works the best for gaming, and I think one could easily substitute a dry erase surface for the one they use. I’ll deal with options for a cheap and practical gaming surface in a subsequent article.

The Agyris Game Table
This table is probably the coolest looking table around, but I’m not a fan. It has some neat features, like a clever way to pass messages to players, but other than that, it doesn’t seem that practical to me. It’s too cool for its own good. One aspect I do like is its elevated gaming surface.

Pen, Paper, & Pixel Table
I have seen quite a few setups online that make use of an projector to display the battle map on the table, such as the Pen, Paper, & Pixell one. The main innovation here is about the gaming surface rather than the table itself, so I’ll save most of my review of this setup for that discussion. For the actual table, while I think the size is perfect, I’m don’t care for the rest. The table is designed to be low so as to be used with the surrounding futons. While it might be very comfortable while relaxing or waiting your turn, this setup requires players to lean forward all the time to roll, move miniatures, etc. That seems a bit annoying to me. It looks perfect for hanging out, drinking a beer, and BSing with friends, but not so great for playing a game.
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