Jun 26 2016

Showcase: No Thanks!

No Thanks! has been a favorite light game of ours for a long time.  In 2013, a group of us decided to host our own private “convention” in a cabin near Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the games that came up all the time was No Thanks! again.

Since everyone enjoyed the “CabinCon” as we were calling it, we decided to make it an annual event and we started wanting to do our own convention swag.  No Thanks! was such a hit, I decided to make a custom CabinCon set for every one.

CabinCon Logo created by Bret Bays

One of our resident artist friends and CabinCon attendee made this logo for the first Con and we’ve adopted it into all of our swag ideas.  It was a natural fit for the logo of the No Thanks! deck I started to build.


This is just an easy Illustrator file with some simple text as a texture background and the main log on front.

To complete the “cabin” feel I went for a campfire motif where the larger numbers (which are bad in the game) represented more and more wildlife appearing the in darkness as your fire dwindles.

card06 card30

The motif complete, I printed the cards through Artscow during a sale and worked on a bag to hold everything.

NT bag

We still needed tokens so to complete the overall theme, I sourced some stacked wood tokens from Game Crafter to work as the “no thanks” tokens.

NT bits

Lastly, we play pretty loosely in the game and are usually snacking/drinking while we play so I made little player screens to keep your tokens hidden during the game.  They were created again with a lot of the images I’d already used for the cards and bag.  I printed on cardstock and laminated them.

NT screens

The whole set is now complete and it is a great reminder of our annual “con” and I enjoyed working out all the motif ideas and resource research.

Jun 5 2016

Cabin Con 2016 Prep part 2

So this is the last weekend to get ready for our annual Cabin Con gaming and I’m still prepping material for some games.  I’ve been making progress on my components but I’m still pretty behind.  I’ll likely need to start scratching things off the list to make sure I can finish the most pressing projects in time.

First up are my Battle Buses from Dropzone Commander for use first in my Thunder Road Skull City variant.

battle bus

So a long ways to go on these as I only have them primed and base painted.  A have a sinking feeling that these won’t be ready in time 🙁

Next up, I wanted to include the Cabin Con goers in The Walking Dead All Out War minis game preview I’m running.  This game is from Mantic and should be out near the end of the year but they released a preview of the rules and I’m eager to try them out.  There is no way I can get 3D sculpts of us so I decided to go old school and make custom standees for each of us.


A quick picture, some photoshopping, and printing gets my test standee prepped.  Litko Game Accessories makes nice little acrylic standees that are perfect for this and so I was able to grab pics of some of the other attendees, assemble the standees, and now I have half of them ready. The other pics will be ready when I ambush the attendees upon arrival.

standees 1

In the background, you can check out the papercraft building I also completed for this game. I’ve discussed paper terrain before and this is a set of city buildings from Fat Dragon Games.

building 1

The building was really easy to make: print per the instructions, cut out the pieces, glue it together and we’re good to go.  These buildings feature my favorite aspect of paper terrain: collapsible and portable.


So I still have a long way to go.  I need to make some additional paper buildings, print another game mat, and work out the rest of the details on these games but it’s a start…

all together

Time to get back to work!

May 29 2016

CabinCon 2016 Prep

In less than two weeks, my friends and I will trek into the mountains and unofficially start off the summer game convention season with our own private little game convention, CabinCon.


CabinCon logo designed by Bret Bays

Started almost 4 years ago, CabinCon began as a way to enjoy the 24/7 open-gaming of a big convention but within the comfort of a private setting.  While we all enjoy the large and not-so-large conventions like Gen Con, BGG Con, we found that the larger conventions are so packed with interesting non-gaming alternatives that we don’t get to actually play many games.  CabinCon has now become our annual gaming only retreat. A time when we can break out the extreme games that are either too complicated or too long to try to enjoy in a typical evening.

I tend to use CabinCon to also break out some of the many games I’ve pimped over the years.  This year, I’m a little behind in prepping some pimped games so I’m going to have to burn through the remaining days to finish up in time.

I recently backed a new miniatures game from Mantic Games based on the Walking Dead comic series called The Walking Dead: All Out War.  I’ve been looking for a flexible zombie miniatures game and after seeing what Mantic was producing for their Walking Dead game, it sounded like everything I needed. Since the end of the kickstarter campaign, Mantic has released a couple of iterations of the rules and even though I don’t have any physical product, I’ve decided to run a game or two at CabinCon using proxies.

While The Walking Dead minis game has a great tabletop minis skirmish ruleset, it also features a solo (which can easily be expanded to a co-operative game) and a campaign option.  In this campaign option is also a nice custom character generator and I’m planning on creating all of us as custom characters to run in a little custom Walking Dead scenario.

Character Cards - Christian draft web

custom TWD minis game character sheet draft

I’ll be proxying quite a bit since I don’t have the actual cards and miniatures but zombie games are so popular, it’s hard not to have an extra couple or ten lying around to pillage for parts.

lnoe full shot

probably using a few of these guys…

I’ll also proxy the necessary cards but those are easy to do and after years of prototyping for game testing, creating cards is like second nature.  The bigger challenge will be making the terrain but I’m confident I can proxy up some paper terrain to give it enough atmosphere…


I’ll pull some Google Earth images to get a general game mat option.  The resolution will be horrible but it should work for the one-off game.  Alright enough writing, it’s time to get busy prototyping.

May 22 2016

Pimped Coins

One of the recent trends in game pimping is custom metal coins.  Long a staple of LARPing (Live-Action Role Playing), allowing players to help immerse themselves more fully into their game world, custom metal coins have been pushing into the board game arena both as separate game accessories and standard components offered by the publisher themselves.

Recently, I received my Kickstarter pledge for Fantasy Coins, LLC second run of gaming coins and picked up some great custom coins for a couple of games in my collection.

First up is a set of custom coins for Lords of Waterdeep.  Custom coins are available from other manufactures for Waterdeep but they tend to be pretty expensive.  Fantasy Coins’ Kickstarter made the set relatively inexpensive.

Waterdeep coins

At the top of the picture, you can see the standard cardboard coins that come with Waterdeep. The custom coins are a bit larger and definitely give you that weighted-coin feel that you are looking for in nice coins. The designs are great and it is a really great addition to the game.  Combined with the custom DnDeeples, my Waterdeep game is becoming as pimped out as my own custom creations.

Epic Coins has a different version of a coin set for Waterdeep.  I don’t have them but they look to have the same heft and detail (though a different design).  However, they are considerably more expensive.

I also picked up a set of Fantasy Coins’ “credit” coins that work well for sci-fi games like Netrunner and, specifically to me, Race for the Galaxy.  Race for the Galaxy has these cardboard chit victory point markers that, while unique to the game system, are actually awkward and a little difficult to use with new players.

rftg tokens

The Fantasy Coins credit coins give the player some heft to the victory point tokens and are large enough to easily spot how many victory points a player has.

coins credit 1

coins credit 5

coins credit 10

Publishers are noticing the appeal of custom metal coins as well and some are including them as standard options in the game. Space Cowboys‘ 2014 game, Black Fleet, came with metal coins as a standard and was one of the first games I saw that treated the concept as a standard practice.

image from Dylan Steiger on BGG

Most games that offered metal coins before offered them as part of a deluxe package or was announced with a lot of fanfare.  Black Fleet surprised customers without any announcement of the upgrade and it generated a lot of buzz when it was released.

Publishers like Cool Mini or Not (CMON) started offering the option of custom coins to a few of their games like Rum and Bones to get in on the custom coin trend.

Ironically enough, these metal coins are upgrading the already upgraded plastic coins that came with the kickstarter.  The retail copy comes with standard cardboard coins so CMON went a little overboard with the pimped coin options for their game.

Not quite in the same realm of usable coins for monetary mechanics or victory point tracking, some publishers are making custom metal coins in the style of the older “challenge coin” tradition.  I’ve seen this notably in a recent crop of Fantasy Flight Star Wars games.


These are massive coins with great detail and are quite heavy.  Since several of these games require a random way to determine which player has initiative, a coin flip is a nice pimped out way to accomplish it.  These coins were extremely rare when they came out several years ago as prize support but are getting a resurgence in a new crop of Organize Play support.

I’ll leave you with a nice link from Reddit user FlakyPieCrust that catalogs some great custom coin resources to pimp out your game with.

Reddit link

May 15 2016

Showcase: OGRE

This is one my first fully pimped project and easily one of my favorites.  For a long time I’d been interested in Steve Jackson GamesOGRE.  I like the simplicity and asymmetry but wasn’t a fan of chits and hex grids nor did the theme seem especially original after I found it 30+ years from it’s introduction.

Kwanchai Moriya is probably my favorite board game artist though he didn’t start out as such.  Originally a studio artist (and still is), Kwanchai is an avid board gamer and being an artist, started playing around with retheming out of print games.  One of his first and most popular was taking OGRE and retheming it into an alternate World War II war game.

KOGRE box art copy

Kwanchai’s art and theme really drew me into the game and I had to make a copy for myself.  There was some controversy about the legal rights to Kwanchai’s work so it is no longer available but I was able to get a hold of the files before they were ripped down.  I’m not a fan of chits in games. I recognize that they are extremely efficient but they don’t do anything to immerse me in the game. Being a game-pimper, I really can’t make a project with them so I was thinking about alternative options.

Making the game with 3D elements seemed the best way to go so first was what to do with the OGRE himself. I thought a few things like a paper standee or maybe a wooden token cut out but a friend of mine suggested maybe going full 3D and making a miniature.  I have no talent for that and no time to learn but luckily, he did.  It actually turned into a huge project for him and at times I think he regretted the suggestion but what he finally produced was absolutely amazing.

residentninja’s Kwanchai inspired robot

We had a lot of discussion on size and scale and ultimately decided to help emphasize “Robbie’s” (as we called him) size, we went with 6mm/ Z scale.  I started sourcing 6mm German WWII soldiers and vehicles and found a lot of great options.

I ended up going with CinC miniatures for the figures and the vehicles from Historical Board Gaming.

OGRE infantry

OGRE vehicles

Next we needed the houses to block terrain.  I covered how I made these in my Paper Terrain post but it was easy to make them in scale.

terrain house

terrain command

With all the pieces assembled and ready, I grabbed a couple of cheap Trivial Pursuit games from a thrift shop and remade the main board by printing out the board images in pieces and using spray adhesive to the Trivial Pursuit boards and laminating them.

I made some reference pieces, grabbed dice from Flames of War, and found a tray to put it all in and that was it.

OGRE tray

My fully rethemed and 3D version of OGRE.

This was the first entry I ever submitted to Boardgamegeek’s Pimp Your Boardgame contest.  It placed 4th against some stiff competition but I was still very happy with the results and I think of this game as the catalyst that got me pimping games.

May 8 2016

Thunder Road: Skull City preview

After working up a lot of pimped-out items for my copy of Thunder Road, I’m still finding I want to do more.  I want to add some different features and I started thinking of possibly moving it to a new setting and an urban Death Race theme seemed appropriate and interesting.

When I first picked up Thunder Road, I noticed the UK version (the one I own) is actually a great match for the 10mm Dropzone Commander‘s scale models.

DZC TR size compare

This has led to a few crossover elements like adding some of the infantry figures to the actual Thunder Road models to help improve their aesthetic.

Dropzone Commander has a great paper terrain set in their “Ruinscape” accessory and it is with that I decided to build my new theme around.

I decided to turn the whole thing into a little unofficial “expansion” called Thunder Road: Skull City.  Skull City will use all the rules I developed for my Advanced variant and expand it to use the new burned out urban terrain.  I have the extra rules cards being printed and hope to have them soon from CowCow.

rBack Skull City

First thing I had to do was make the “swappable” boards iconic to the game.  These are boards that continuously are placed one in front of the other as the cars race off the edge of the lead board.  This is the main mechanic of the game and helps create the endless road that is such an integral part of the game’s appeal.

I had a few options like scanning the terrain tiles and editing them in Photoshop similar to the boards in my advanced set but I wasn’t confident I could get the quality I wanted so I decided to actually use the actual tiles themselves and mod them.

SC ruler1

sc ruler 2

I started by laying out the tiles I wanted to use and measuring out the distances to match the original boards.  I then grabbed a metallic silver sharpie and used a straight edge to start marking the board lines to match the original.  It took awhile but with some patience and heavy use of my other boards as a guide, it started to come together pretty well.

SC layout

Afterwards, I cut the tiles to size- basically used one and half tiles per “board” and that perfectly matched the size needed for the regular boards.  I used the same process of mounting them to artboard as I used on my poster image boards.  I sprayed both the 11×14 artboard and back of each tile with 3M adhesive spray and carefully laid them on the board.  I broke out the straight edge and exacto knife and cut the final board down to size, this time without cutting the crap out of my finger.

The final boards came out well and I did a quick test set up.  I have a few items left to finish up the “expansion” but it is coming along very well.


Apr 30 2016

Pitchcar Transitions

I’m a huge fan of dexterity based games so it likely comes as no surprise that I’m really into the disc racing game, Pitchcar.  This game features finished MDF boards cut to slot car racetrack pieces that you freely assemble into a race course and flick your “race car” disc around, simulating an F1-style race.

Like a lot of high-end dexterity games, Pitchcar is pretty pricey.  I was able to find the sister game, Pitchcar Mini, on clearance and snagged it and a few expansions.  While the mini version is great, especially for little kids, I’d still hoped to find the full-size version available. A year later I was able to find the main game on sale as well and promptly picked it up.

At this point, I had both versions and it seemed a shame to only ever use half the pieces I had so I wanted to make some sort of transition piece to be able to race on both sizes.  I had a few options on how I would approach it but my decision was made for me when Boardgamegeek user flashhawk posted a Pitchcar-to-Pitchcar-mini conversion template.

With some old laminated pressboard in the garage, I printed out the template and got to work.

pitchcar cutout

First thing was I attached the printed sheet to the board with a glue stick and then Dremelled the pattern out.  This was the first time I’d used the Dremel for this kind of work and it was pretty sloppy.  By the end of the piece, I was able to get a handle on it. It will be rough but still serve its purpose.

pitchcar sanding

The Dremel leaves a lot of rough edging so over to the belt sander I go.  This also helped smooth out some of the lines and contours. After things were more or less clean, I went down to test fit.  Of course it was way off but overlapping the correct jigsaw piece and marking the adjustments with a pencil is easy enough.  Back to the sander for some adjustments and back down for another fitting.  I think I had to do this about two more times before everything was where I needed it to be.  Next time I’ll keep the pieces by the sander to limit the back-and-forth trips.

pitchcar fitting

As you can see, it’s not pretty, especially the smaller connection on the right, but it’ll do for a first pass.  The piece still isn’t complete as the thickness of the pressboard is a quarter inch and the Pitchcar tracks are less than that creating a horrible “lip” that will ruin the play experience.  Back to the belt sander again to round out those lips and get rid of the glued paper still stuck to the piece (the white bits you see in the picture).

pitchcar final fit

This completes the piece from the gameplay perspective.  I’ll still need to paint it black and seal it but I’ll wait until I finish up the other side.  I also have some ideas on some other custom options so hopefully more to come!

Apr 24 2016

Showcase: Ponte del Diavolo

I’d been working on a way to pimp out a favorite abstract game, Ponte del Diavolo, on and off for a year or two but a friend of mine was coming back into town in the summer of 2015 so I rushed to finish it up.

original game photo from geoman on boardgamegeek

My goal was to increase the board size to a 12×12 board (which could always drop back down to the regular 10×10 size), have interlocking tiles, and be portable. I found an old travel scrabble set at a thrift store and thought it would be perfect.

I used a dremel to grind down the scrabble logo on the top of the case, and the tile divides I wouldn’t need on the inner board. I then printed some art and titling to fill-in the ugly grind marks.

The Scrabble set doesn’t come with nearly enough tiles so I bought another set on eBay and sanded off the scrabble lettering from each tile. I threw half of them in a bag of minwax stain to get them all in the color I wanted. Finally, I sprayed them down with a poly spray to seal them and went looking for bridge ideas.

I found the perfect size and style bridge on Shapeways by user Freedlun.

I picked up a sample and did some tests, then ordered the rest that I needed. I didn’t want to keep the bare white so I painted them up simply and sealed them.

I didn’t want everything to just rattle around in the storage tray side so I made little custom cardstock trays to hold everything. It was all finished in time and my friend and I had a blast playing through the game again. It was a tight game and he squeaked out a win after a very poor opening.

Apr 17 2016

Printing Resources part 2

In part 1 of my review on print resources I discussed Artscow/Cowcow as a good general printing resource. This time I’m going to talk about a few alternative print options that I’ve used.

First up is Walmart Photo Center. It is really only useful for posters 20×30 or under.  I used this service once to make my Thunder Road boards:

WM poster

close up

close up

It’s one of the cheapest options out there for a 20×30 print (under $20) and quality is definitely good enough to print custom boards on.


  • Cheap poster printing


  • Options are limited to poster prints
  • Poster size limit is 20×30

A friend of mine has been talking a lot recently about Printer’s Studio and so I tried them out on some card and poster options.  Printer’s Studio offers a lot of the same options as Artscow and Cowcow but has some interesting alternative sizes that aren’t available elsewhere.

One of the main uses I see for them is they offer every board and card game card size available for complete custom printing. It is really incredible to be able to print custom cards in any size (Artscow decks are limited to Poker, Circle, or Heart shaped/sized cards). The quality of the cards (300 gsm, 310 gsm, or plastic!) can also be selected as well as the finish (smooth or linen).

Another great aspect is in some card sizes, the minimum print amount is under the standard 54 cards.  Poker sized cards, for instance, can be bought in sets of 18 cards. Card packs can be either shrink-wrapped or in a card tuck box with a clear window.  This box is a bit more useful than the designed box that comes from Artscow.

PS box

Here are some samples of the card printing.

PS good cards

These cards were special POD options for Plaid Hat GamesTail Feathers game (printed with permission from their site).  The card download from the site was set up with proper print specs and Printer’s Studio did very well printing them within the designed specs.  This yielded a very good set of cards that were cropped very well.

PS bad cards1

I tried making my own custom set for small-sized version of Rum & Bones that I’m making and the prints didn’t come out as clean.  It seems the cropping of the single image card back was inconsistent and left some slight white edging on some of the cards (notice the top of the 3rd card from the top and the left side of the 2nd card from the top).  This wouldn’t be so bad if it was the front of the card but technically the inconsistent card backs make the decks “marked.” We aren’t that competitive with games (especially not my homebrewed custom creations) so it won’t be so bad but still slightly disappointing.

It could be user error that created the inconsistency but when I set up the files, the bleed areas were good and so it should have worked out.  Like Artscow, it may take a test print to see how best to set up your cards.  If you know how to create proper print specs, that is likely the ideal set up for this company.

Printer’s Studio also has good poster options as well.

PS hoth poster

close up

close up

I needed a poster size larger than 20×30 that didn’t cost $60+ (like FedEx wanted to charge) and Printer’s Studio has options up to 24×36 for under $20.  The quality of the poster came out great and is a great alternative to Walmart for roughly the same cost (Walmart won’t charge you shipping if you do an in-store pick up so Printer’s Studio’s total will be a little more due to their shipping charge).

Similar to Artscow, Printer’s Studio does offer coupons though they are not as frequent as Artscow nor do they get prices down as low- currently Artscow has one of its typical “4 for $20” sales which get you complete 54 cards for $5 each (shipped). Still, their coupons can be great for the quality and prices you find on their site.


  • Best card printing options with every size available
  • Great poster size options
  • Competitive pricing
  • Great quantity/quality options (cards)
  • Cheap shipping


  • some inconsistency in print cropping
  • layout system not precise and takes some time to get used to

Apr 10 2016

Printing Resources part 1

After searching for a good printer that will do a cheap 24×36 poster for a game board (jury is still out on if I made the best choice), I decided to cover the current printing options I use.

First up is Artscow and Cowcow.  These two companies are very similar and may even be owned by the same parent company.  They are my number 1 printing site.  I only use them when I have a coupon for 20+% off and free shipping otherwise they are just too expensive but when those coupons come around, they create amazing deals on everything from printed cards, gaming mats, canvas boards, or gaming bags.  You can find these coupons by either checking out the “hotdeals” thread on Boardgamegeek or subscribing to Artscow’s newsletter.

I first was introduced to Artscow through their card printing services.  They really only have one option to use standard poker (bridge) sized playing cards but the option is flexible enough to have unique front and back printing for every card.  Custom card purchases come in sets of 54 cards so you will need to use that minimum or risk paying for cards you don’t need.

Using their Silverlight system can be frustrating but having used it for several years now, I like the options you have and rarely get bad results anymore.  The key is to leave yourself enough bleed edge on the cards. I typically make my image size a quarter of an inch bigger than needed all around and that usually works well.  Alternatively, you can reduce the image size in Silverlight to fit the proper printing zone and back fill a color to match your border.  This is riskier since you’re trusting that you background color (usually black or white) will match whatever color options they have since they don’t give you the CMYK or RGB codes.

artscow cards good

In this example, we had plenty of bleed and the cards are cropped pretty uniform across the set.

artscow cards bad

Here, I didn’t leave enough bleed and the printing comes almost out to the edge making for a somewhat sloppy design.  It also emphasizes the inconsistent cutting/cropping that is evident in more card printing manufactures.

I don’t have specs on what core the cards are (grey, blue, purple, etc) but the cards have a general flat/smooth finish and come in a cardstock tuck box that has a general design on it that I typically don’t keep.

artscow card box

Game mats are basically Artscow’s “bar mats” or “plate mats.”  They are a standard mousepad-like mat that has a printed “durable heat-resistant polyester fabric top, backed with a neoprene rubber non-slip backing.”  As expected, the color saturation on these mats aren’t as strong as a standard print and the resolution may be too soft for fine print but it remains a great option for personal player mats or even small game boards.

artscow mat 1

A close up reveals the “softness” of the printing resolution.

artscow mat cu

The process is the same as designing cards in that you likely want more bleed than necessary and if you are familiar with their Silverlight layout for card printing, it will work the same for all of their custom items.

Game coasters are another option for the game-pimper and they work like smaller, thinner versions of their game mats but are still the fabric top with neoprene rubber backing.  I’ve used these as gifts for friends, accents in my gaming room, or even game accessories.

artscow coaster

Canvas options come in a variety of sizes and are a good option for flexible gaming board replacements.  I’ve seen them used for large boards like 20×30 inch standard game boards or smaller square ones like my custom Duke play mat.

artscow canvas

Canvas gives you a durable surface that has a matte finish and is flexible (though I still roll mine and won’t fold them up).  The resolution is better for text print than the neoprene mat options but can still be too soft for very fine text.

Gaming bags are a high-end way to hold your gaming bits but also can be nice options to use for games that require a blind draw mechanic.  Artscow bags come in a few different sizes and offer full printing around the outside of the bag.  I’ve used them for dice, meeples, chits, and cards.

artscow bag 1

If you look at the detail, you can see that the printing quality is pretty strong for the material.

artscow bag cu


  • one-stop shopping as they carry almost anything a game-pimper would need to pimp their games
  • cheapest printing options (when using coupons)
  • can print other user’s contributions


  • printing interface takes getting used to and uses the older MS Silverlight plug-in that isn’t the easiest to get working and may no longer be supported
  • shipping and manufacturing is from China so expect 3-4 weeks or more turnaround time.