Aussie Tabletop Creators

A few months back, a friend of mine and fellow board game designer Peter Sanderson interviewed a number of board game designers, including myself, about our current projects. Interviews took place at our local incubator meetup and a local board game convention, OzBunnyCon, both in Melbourne, Australia.

I show up at 4.35 play-testing Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas if you wish to jump right to it but it is fantastic to see so much boardgame game design and development happening in one city.

Also, a shoutout to Peter on his successful Kickstarter campaign Mothership: Tabletop Combat!

Foam Core Inserts – A How To

Toward the end of 2015 I received my much awaited copy of Posthuman from Mr B and Mighty Box Games. Posthuman places you as one of the last humans trying to get safely to the sanctuary while trying to fend off mutants, or give in to the inevitable and allow yourself to become mutant and bring your party down with you.

I really enjoyed my first play but it took probably half an hour to sort and set up all the cards & components. Because of this, it has sat on my shelf gathering dust ever since. A month or two ago I decided that the best way to get it on the table was to cut the setup time as much as possible by utilising properly organised inserts that could be placed straight on the table to replace the basic cardboard insert that the game came with.

After some research into solutions I found that 5mm foam core board is the most common material as it is light weight and easy to work with. I even found a few photos of other peoples inserts for Posthuman on BGG but nothing quite fitted what I was after so I took to designing my own.

Step 1 Design

As with any design, you need to know your design goals from the start. What do you want out of the end product? What are you trying to achieve? For me, I wanted all the components used during play in their own trays, I wanted all 13 decks that sit around the outside of the board on sorted trays that could be used straight from the box, and I wanted 2 dice trays integrated into the design for encounters (although this idea did come to me part way through the design process).

Next I took pen to paper (so to speak) and opened up my trusty copy of SolidWorks (a 3D modelling CAD program). Being an engineer by trade I can sometimes go over the top when designing things and this may have been one of those times….maybe….. but I believe it made my construction stage a lot easier. If you don’t have the skills, access, or desire to go to this length of design, you can always sketch away on a note pad (this design took my ~6 hours to get it how I wanted it), but I would recommend some form of layout and measurement taking to make sure everything fits how you want it.

Posthuman set upMy first design step was to set up the game, assess what I had to make, and start measuring the inside of the box to create it in CAD. Looking at everything in front of me, I needed the trays for the decks around the outside of the board, and the trays for the food tins, bullets, foraged markers, dice, player components, events, terrain tiles, and also leaving room at the top for the character sheets, board and rules.

The 13 decks sit along the top and bottom of the bi-fold board, meaning that 4 trays will be able to accommodate the cards and still fit in the box. I measured the size of the cards and spaces between each deck and CAD-ed up the trays, leaving 5mm between each deck for the foam core. It is also important to measure the height of the stacked decks, especially for this build as the components are fairly spaced out. It turned out that the height of these boxes stacked 2 high left the perfect height at the top for the player mats, board and rules so I locked this in and set about fitting the rest of the components in the other half of the box.

Looking at what I had left to fit, I went for the tiles next as they were the next largest thing to fit and potentially difficult to find space for. Looking at other foam core inserts on BGG a few methods have been employed to contain the terrain tiles. I really liked Zarniwooper‘s sideways stacked tiles, but after trying a few different it just took up too much room so ended up stacking them as they are shown on the board in 2 stacks – with a layer of foam core below they just fit with room for the board on top.

Solidworks AssemblyInitially I wanted to split up all the remaining cards into individual decks. I designed an angled rack with the cards lying on a 30-degree angle, but it was just going to take up too much room so I decided to stack all the player aid cards together & the event and character cards and store them flat. I decided to make a single tray for the dice and event/character cards with a removable divider to use as a dice tray. This left a small space between this box and the tiles so I decided to utilise it for the scavenge tokens. To make my life easier with cutting and packing I decided to replicate these trays again for the starting tiles/starting equipment/action cards/wound markers and a food tins/bullets tray. This meant that I could batch cut out pieces and that they can be stacked any way around and still fit. Last part was the player components tray – as there was one space left covering the top of the 2 trays, beside the tile stacks I made a design to fit within that space.

Everything fitted perfectly in my CAD design, with hardly a millimetre to spare which I knew might cause issues in practice, which brings me to…

Step 2 Cutting and construction.

Although these steps could be separate, I performed them simultaneously so I will write it the same way.

Tools of the TradeFirst, tools. For the construction process I used a craft cutting mat, metal ruler, x-acto knife (this is a recent addition to my kit, any standard blade will work just fine) pencil, eraser, PVA glue (wood glue, white glue, carpenter’s glue, school glue, Elmer’s glue etc)(I specifically found a bottle with a nozzle that I could handle with one hand), Vernier Calipers (these are defiantly optional, just the engineer in me coming out again) and a couple of 100mm bar clamps (also optional but useful. I got these at my local hardware store for under $10). And of course a sheet of 5mm black foam core, I used most of a 500mm x 770mm sheet (~19″ x 30″). You can get a range of colours so get what you think will look good, I am thinking of doing Above and Below in white next.

I ran into my first issue basically straight away. After purchasing my foam core and measuring its thickness, I found that it was more like 6mm foam core. Although this may not seem like a lot of difference, for a few trays this meant that I had to be verrrrry precise to make sure everything fitted. More on that later.

batch cutting the card traysI decided to do a lot of batch cutting to eliminate double handling, so I began cutting all 4 bases for the 13 decks first and put them in the box to make sure they fit. Another short-sight was that I assumed the box would be perfect dimensions all the way through (not so due to a dint gained in transport all the way to Australia. Trimming took place and once I was happy that they would fit I took to cutting the backs and extra strips for the dividers of the first 4 trays. Next were the 4 smaller trays bases and sides, again cutting everything in batches.

place glueI decided to start gluing the forage markers tray first as it is the simplest tray and would be easier than the deck trays to hold together to see how long the glue took to dry. I set up the tray in front of me with the 4 sides next to the edges they were to be glued too then smeared a thin layer of glue on a side and held it in place. After about 30 seconds it was stable enough to stand on its own and I went on with the other sides. Make sure to glue sides to sides too, not just the base. Once I had glued the whole tray, I wiped up any glue that had oozed around the inside edges with a folded piece of paper and left it to dry properly overnight. I did the same for the combined food and bullets tray.

and spreadNext I went for the dice / large card tray. I decided when designing it that I would make the divider removable so it could be used as a dice tray during encounters. This was also the first tray where those extra millimetres of the foam core meant I had to be extra precise as this tray didn’t have much room to spare (the Vernier callipers came in handy here). To make the removable divider I cut a piece of card board layer the width of the divider on both sides of the tray before gluing the tray, and made sure the divider was long enough that it would not slip out of the channel. When I glued the sides on I sat the divider in place and held the tray together with the bar clamps to make sure it was well glued and that the divider would definitely fit. I decided to leave the next dice tray / starting components tray for the minute as it was by far the most complicated and precise tray that I had to build. Instead I went on to the deck trays.

One thing I found when doing your cuts is to make sure you are cutting straight up and down, I found a few of my cuts were on an angle and it made gluing them straight difficult (although the clamps helped).

clamping the traysBefore gluing the deck trays, I sat them together in the box to see how high they would be and found that with the extra width of the foam board and my margin for error in cutting that they were going to be too high to fit the character sheets. This is important to check before gluing as it is going to be much easier to change before it is constructed. 2 of my trays were designed 5mm higher than the others so I decided to make them all the same height (something I’m glad I did as it is a lot more aesthetically pleasing when all set up and allows for parts to be placed interchangeably in the box). To get the dividers accurate I placed them next to the board and marked them appropriately. Had to be careful again to make sure there was enough room for the cards to fit in the gaps. I clamped all of the dividers of the trays for about 5 min each to make sure they had a good bond and were going to stay where I wanted them, being only glued on 2 sides. This worked well, although I should have been more careful to make sure they were straight, I have a few on a lean, but everything fitted well.

gluingI had held off doing the terrain tiles until now as I knew from my design I was going to be tight for space. I cut the base as large as I could to fit in the space that was left with a little bit of room to remove it from the box. I decided to put just a divider and the 2 long sides so the tiles would be easy to slide out. I was originally going to enclose it completely with a slot to get your finger in to remove them but I decided that would be too difficult to use. I had to be very precise when gluing the terrain tiles tray as there was only about 1mm room to spare. I glued the tray and very carefully tested it with a tile, making sure not to get glue on it. I had to readjust the sides once to get them to fit on both sides. Once I had it where I wanted it I clamped it like the others.

The player components tray lives on top of the card decks trays. This is a large, shallow tray to keep each player’s components separate. I made the tray the same as I did all the others, and had planned to put dividers in the tray to make 6 sections but after sitting my 6 bags of components in the tray I decided it would be too tight with the trays. Besides, they worked well in the bags and was easier to hand them out to people.

I left the most difficult tray to last, the starting components tray. This tray was to house all the left over components including the starting terrain tiles, the action cards, the starting items, and the mutant damage markers. It was to be the same size as the dice and character cards tray and I wanted the insert to be removable, like the other tray to be used for rolling dice.

laying out the dice traysAfter trying just about every possible order and rotation, I settled on one that I was happy with. I needed one divider straight through one direction and two coming off that at different places. I decided to go with this one mostly because I felt I needed a full length divider for strength. I did the same as for the dice / large card tray and cut channels for the divider to slot into, making sure it was fairly precise as there wasn’t a lot of space to move. Once I cut the channels I glued and wedged the 2 shorter dividers in place and let them dry overnight.

Once everything had dried I went ahead and set the game up with everything in its place… and then packed up the whole thing in about 30 seconds. The transformation was fantastic. I promptly unpacked it again to see if it was just as fast coming out as it was going in and it was pretty well on par 🙂

Box filledOnce I had completed construction I decided to make one more modification to the game. Now this took a lot of consideration as I am usually the type to try and keep my games as pristine as possible, but as Boshar noted, the stat tokens just won’t stay in the character sheets. I conveniently had a sheet of thin black card left over from another project so decided to cut and glue this to the backs. I used a super thin smearing of the same glue I used for the inserts. This worked pretty well, but if you decided to do it, make sure it is a SUPER thin layer. I rushed 2 of mine toward the end and didn’t smear it as thinly and they have a slight curl to them. Final result was fantastic, all the pieces still fit but stay neatly above the sheets, without moving around.

Looking Back

Looking back at the project, I am pretty happy how everything turned out. Trying to make trays interchangeable with each other within the box makes it easier to pack up and meant being able to cut parts in batches, a great time saver. I’m glad I spent the extra time to make 2 of the trays into dice trays, it’s a neat touch and no dice have had to be picked up off the floor since!

Before and AfterIf I were to go it again, I probably wouldn’t spend as much time on the design, making sure everything is millimeter perfect in SolidWorks, as I now know the foam core can vary in size. I would make sure to leave a bit more room in the box, an extra millimetre around each tray, and make sure to keep your blade straight when cutting to make gluing that little bit easier.

I hope you found this post interesting, if you have any questions, comments etc, please feel free to ask, I am always interested to hear feedback and happy to help 🙂


Hello World

Earlier this year, I was on my way to a mates place to play board games for the weekend. While digging through my collection I had an idea, and from that, Ark Angel Games was born.

Many months, lots of prototyping, playtesting and rule changes later and I am ready to show my game (and hopefully many more) to the world:

Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas

You are sailing the seven seas in search for buried treasure, but you are not the only one…
In Pirates: Scourge of the Seven Seas, 2-6 players captain a fleet of ships to explore the seas in search of treasure. To win you must collect treasure you find on islands before your opponents or sink their ships before they have the chance to do the same. A game of skill, luck and pirates – this swashbuckling adventure will have you immersed in this exciting world, whether you reign over the seas through your vast wealth or your feared name. You must be quick witted and decisive as you sail your ships, dig for gold, build your fleet, and battle your adversaries. So me hearties, will you captain your way to victory and become the ruler of the seven seas? Or will you be sent to Davy Jones’ Locker?

We will be making our first appearance at ConCentric in Adelade, SA from the 18th to the 20th September. Please come and say hi, more playtesters are always welcome and I am after public feedback.

If you would like to be kept up to date on this and other games progress please subscribe to our mailing list or check back here later.

Signing out,