Pimp My Board Game

a pursuit of fruitless endeavors and endless refinements

Month: March 2016

Why We Pimp

One of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog was to show off my pimped games and talk about how I created them.  After a while, I started thinking about why we pimp out our games and I found the question compelling enough that I’m starting a new blog series called, simply, “Why We Pimp.” In this series, I’ll focus on a narrow aspect of board game pimping and look at it from the philosophical perspective.

Of course, the biggest question is the general “why?”  Why do it at all?  Board game publishers spend countless hours designing beautiful games and yet we still want more.  Manufacturing for board and table top games has never been higher and the trend now is actually over-producing the value in a game. Take Cool Mini or Not‘s (CMoN) fantasy sports game, Kaosball by Eric Lang.  This is a relatively simple sports game with minis on a game board but CMoN decided really ramp up the production value by creating countless teams, each with their own minis and game bits.

Kaosball looks like your standard minis board game but if we look closer at the components, some peculiar things start showing up. Take the “team” of minis that each player can field.

Boardgamegeek user bumyong’s painted Malltown Zombies team

The team looks like your standard game miniatures except that big bust character.  It actually represents the team’s manager and that’s about it.  A big sculpted piece to sit there off-board and represent the player, for lack of anything else, in a thematic way. Pretty interesting production decision but the game doesn’t stop there.

Boardgamegeek user xcrun55’s picture of the team dice

Again, we have nice production value here.  The game includes these well engraved and painted dice but only that d6 in the foreground is needed.  Or rather, the two d12s in the back aren’t used as dice but instead, they are tokens to help track information on the game board.  Not a bad idea to use a big tactile piece that is easy to see and pick up to track the game state.  CMoN pushes this concept one step further and adds one of these non-dies to each team set in the team’s color.

So we have an example of a publisher pulling out all the stops to provide the user a totally pimped out gaming experience by adding production value that serves almost no mechanical benefit (or at most, redundant benefits).  And yet… we gamers still want more.  As you can see in bumyong’s image, providing beautifully sculpted miniatures is not enough. We need to pimp it further by painting the pieces.

Boardgamegeek user Minis by DJS painted up more Kaosball components

The pieces look amazing painted up but I believe it is not the actual quality or value of the pimped components but rather the user’s want to personalize the game in his collection. The user loves all the extras provided and enjoys the thematic non-functional pieces but wants the experience to become personal.  He or she wants to join in the experience of design and creation and help claim a little piece of the game for themselves.

I don’t believe this is just that the users wanted painted pieces.  Fantasy Flight Games goes out of it’s way to produce possibly the best pre-painted minis since now defunct Rackham gave us AT-43.

Fantasy Flight’s X-wing Force Awakens Core Set

And yet…

Boardgamegeek user Simon Andrews’ amazing repaint of the T-70

Paper Terrain

I really love miniature games.  I love the spectacle, the freedom of gaming choices, the complex strategies, and the unique customizations you can achieve to bring individuality to your game components.  Pimping minis games is so ubiquitous though that I’ve seen it argued that the vast majority of effort in a minis game isn’t pimping at all.  Rather, it is more like a minimum requirement to play the game, much like punching out game tokens are in a board game.  I can see both sides of the argument but I grew up and still consider myself a board gamer first, minis gamer second so anything beyond punching tokens or bagging up components feels like work and if it is work making the game look better or play better, I consider it pimping.

This “work” aspect is my least favorite part of minis games.  I want to play the game so I can figure out what, or even if I’d like to emphasize something when I decide to pimp it out.  I’m not a fan of some of the staple hobby aspects such as modelling and painting. The other issue I have with the genre is storage.  Even if I had the room, storing all the extras that come along with miniature games like terrain, custom boards, modeling and painting tools, and the miniatures themselves can eat up way too much storage real estate.

paper terrain 1

One cheat I have to get my minis games to the table faster is my savior: Paper Terrain.  Paper terrain works for me on so many levels.  It is a cheap option to get decent-looking terrain on the table, it can be made to be collapsible and fold down to a very small space, and finally, it can be infinitely customized in my most preferred method- digital image manipulation.

I first came across paper terrain when I was pimping out my copy of Kwanchai Moriya‘s OGRE re-theme from Steve Jackson GamesKwanchai’s re-theme featured a World War II motif and used buildings to indicate the impassable terrain.  Since I was going all 3D in 6mm scale on the project, I needed 6mm scale buildings.  A lot of 6mm buildings can be found in resin but the costs quickly added up when figuring the amount of buildings I would need.  I was already having a paint quite a few 6mm models and also didn’t relish the idea of painting up a ton of buildings as well.

paper terrain 2

Paper Terrain is pretty popular with World War II games for it’s ease of use and quick production times. I found a great site from Scott Washburn on paper terrain and used his free sample building to outfit the houses I needed for OGRE. Scott has some great items up on that site and I really like the variety of his European building options.

Most of his terrain is 10/15 mm scale so I had to downscale the graphics to make it work for 6 mm.  With paper terrain, scaling is quite simple and just using some basic math to determine the appropriate scale height should help to determine what percentage to reduce the final graphic to. Upscaling can be difficult however, unless the original image had the resolution to increase as the image will quickly become distorted.

Since the images are digital, you can customize any paper terrain in a number of ways.  Photoshop can be used to enhance some of the features or add/remove detail as well as alter the color schemes, giving you more variety from the same model.  If you’re good with geometries, you can also start digitally cutting up the images to create brand new structures.

For my OGRE project, I needed some larger buildings that spanned 2 hexes as well as the central terrain piece: the Command Center.  The expanded house was easy, I simply duplicated the sides again, chopped it down to only one floor and add the second roof.  Each building is a separate piece so I can have them separated if need be.

terrain house

The Command Center was a bit more work.  I started with a few short “box” building shapes using the housing side image to keep things uniform and nondescript.  Then I created a double high, large box building to make the main body of the Command Center.  I finalized the building structure with a tall tower structure to give the building some dynamic presence on the board.

After assembling, I finished out the piece with the top of the “laser canon” mini from the original Fortress America game by Milton Bradley.  Using just one paper terrain image file, I was able to make a variety of building options for my OGRE set quickly and cheaply.

terrain command

Showcase: Thunder Road

So Mad Max: Fury Road came out in the summer of 2015 and a friend was really into the whole mythos and genre. He picked up an old Milton Bradley game, Thunder Road, first published in 1986, and showed it to me.

After playing the game, I immediately got hooked and had to get a copy.  I ended up with a UK version off eBay for not too much considering the movie was pushing the secondary market value through the roof.  My friend had commented about pimping out his copy with additional rules and paint jobs and I couldn’t resist the temptation either. I checked out Boardgamegeek and it pushed me to want to both pimp out my set as well as push the game system farther.

I set out with customizing my teams first:

I tore most of the vehicles apart for painting and incorporated Boardgamegeek user Roolz’s clear plastic rotor for the gyrocopters. I wasn’t a fan of the abstract “gunners” on some of the vehicles so I pillaged some Resistance Fighters minis (10mm) from Dropzone Commander. The War Rig is such a cool concept that I picked up a Thunder Road micro machine and used a file and drill to distress the model and paint it up. I added toothpick spikes to some of the vulnerable areas and grabbed another Dropzone Commander piece to work as the plow/fender.

I really liked BGG user Mathiasrapp’s campaign map idea so I made cards used to determine what board type would come up next. I pillaged the concept straight from his WIP post.

This created a couple of needs right away with new boards and terrain. Using BGG user Soldier’s great large map (without grid), I was able to photoshop two new boards that were similar in concept to BGG user David Miller’s Bridge board.

These boards were made just using a Walmart photo lab to print a large image with both board images on it, cutting them down, and spraying adhesive on them onto art board. Finally, I cut the art boards down to size and they were ready to rock. I was able to do water effects pretty easily but I wasn’t able to create any cliff edges that matched the art style to my satisfaction. I decided to save on creating cliff-side boards by making miniature cliff terrain out of corkboard. I glued layers together and sanded down the shapes I wanted. Lastly, I painted them up to match the color scheme of the boards and glued art from the board on top of the “mesa” to help it blend in.

You might also notice some signs and some oilslick markers in that double board image. The signs and road blocks are 10mm terrain from 4Ground‘s 10mm Sci-Fi range. The Oilslick markers were super easy: squeeze out a blob of black acrylic paint on a plastic painting surface and wait for it to completely dry. Then seal it with a high gloss sealer and they are good to go.

BGG user Soldier had a cool concept going with his advanced rules where you could customize your vehicles before the game. I loved this concept and Soldier was gracious enough to send me the source files from his WIP thread.

I was wanting to keep the rules as simple as possible and keep the standard rectangle grid layout so I modded a few of Soldier’s vehicle concepts to still work within the existing game (closer to David O Miller’s Advanced rules).

This has been, by far, one of my favorite games to pimp and if you like anything you see here I encourage you to click on the links of the other user’s customs and thumb them as my variant would not have been possible without their contributions.

Tuck boxes

One of the first things I ever did to pimp out a game was make tuck boxes for various game card decks.  Sometimes tuck boxes are necessary for a game due to poor insert design or because you’ve expanded a game too much and had to ditch the insert all together. Other times, tuck boxes are a natural pimping addition to help explore more of the theme of the game while keeping things organized.


The first tuck box I ever made was for Fantasy Flight’s Fury of Dracula (2nd edition).  This was due to a combination of convenient storage as well as an awkward game design choice where the event card deck made you draw cards from the bottom of the deck because secret information was placed on both the front and back of the cards.  Boardgamegeek user Jupklass had an innovative tuck box solution that featured a flap that folded down within the tuck box to hide the extra information on the back of the cards.

After making that tuck box, I started finding all sorts of games that I wanted to use tuck boxes for.  Boardgamegeek is a great resource to find fan-created ones but I soon wanted to make my own. There are quite a few different tuck box generators on the web but the one I’ve been using for years is an old one set up by Craig Forbes: Tuck box generator.


This generator gives you a pdf of your tuck box based on the settings you put in.  I recommend getting your deck put together and measuring it, making sure to give a mm or two for clearance.  If you’re going to sleeve your cards, you’ll want to measure for that instead.

After getting the pdf, I like to run a quick test print on stock copy paper to cut out and mock up to make sure my measurements were correct and that I’m happy with the size.  If the printout passes the mock up test, then it’s time to design your image and print a final copy for actual game use.  Even if you aren’t making a custom tuck box and instead are printing a design from the someone else, I still recommend a quick low-resolution test to make sure you don’t need to manipulate any of the measurements to fit your situation.

For most of my image manipulation and design, I use Illustrator and Photoshop but less complicated designs can get away with other program options.  My versions of Illustrator and Photoshop are old as I got them in college but it makes importing pdf files easy and maintains some options for manipulation.

Damage Deck box

So the above example is a custom tuck box I made for FFG’s Star Wars: X-wing Miniatures game.  Since I’m only making one, I didn’t care about having full black coloring and the amount of ink that might use up but that can be a consideration when designing your own.  Since I’ve played in quite a few tournaments, having a simple storage solution for the game’s damage deck is pretty handy.  As these were going in my custom Millennium Falcon carrying case, I wanted to dress up the box so that it wasn’t just some generic looking after thought.

To create the actual tuck box, I print my boxes on cardstock paper and then, depending on how much I’ll use the game, laminate the printing using self-adhesive laminate sheets that you can find in office supply stores or Amazon.  These sheets provide long-lasting protection to a box that will see serious use, like my tournament damage deck box.

After printing and laminating, I cut the box out with sharp scissors or an X-acto knife (if the box is small enough).  Fold the box together and then glue it to finalize.  I’ve used a variety of glue options from straight white glue (like Elmer’s) to super glue.  If I’m not laminating, a lot of glues may be too “wet” and cause colors to bleed/fade as the glue dries so I’ll switch to a contact cement.  Remember to have plenty of ventilation when using the more exotic glue options.

After the glue dries, you should be ready go and can start using your box to help carry and organize your cards.



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