My portable game board is a real ‘hex-scape’ in a busy working week and a busy household. I can pick it up, ponder a few turns of a solo game and then pop it safely away on a shelf with figures in situ.
In chatting by email / through the comments page of this blog to John Patriquin from “The Wargames Hermit” blog in the USA (a fellow hexboard / Peter Laing / old school game enthusiast and long established blogger), I said I would write more about how my current game board came about and what’s working well or not with it.
John uses both hex and chess boards (with cool movement arrows for the photos).
Chess boards are something that I have not yet used but it’s an approach to gaming that Wargames Miscellany blogger Bob Cordery has written extensively about on his Portable Wargames website and is now writing a book on the subject. Quite often I’ve seen wargaming described by Donald Featherstone as “Chess with a thousand pieces” (and pieces with some very variable moves, attack value and morale!)
Putting a portable games board back on the shelf and picking up the game again sometimes days later doesn’t work well without notes. A few “End of Turn” notes scribbled help greatly the next time I come back to it and help me when I want to write up a Games / Battle report, reflect on rules play testing etc.
My current portable games board is created from a hinge-damaged wooden storage box lid, as I have few carpentry skills, few tools and currently no workshop.
Like many gamers, I look at household, work or pound store scrap and think, “What could I turn that into?”
The other half of the wooden storage box is still in use, with favourite war games books and notebooks stashed under the bed.
This nomadic wargames board is usually moved if the dining table is needed or it gets too late, not having a dedicated gaming space or workshop at the moment in our busy family home, just popping the board atop my desk. Nothing has changed since childhood where the dining table was cleared as wanted when everything stopped for tea, dinner, whatever!
Finding the right box
If you have no useful wooden storage lids sitting around, you have to go box hunting. The original box was bought about a decade ago in a UK Focus Do It All / B&Q / Homebase type store.
Equally a deep sided lidded plastic box lid such as the Really Useful Box company might work, but a wooden lid has some stability and shock absorbing properties that stop figures, hexes and terrain pinging around or falling over when you move the board.
I wonder if one of those TV dinners trays with bean bag base for putting on your knees would work as well? Too tippy?
I often reread the very amusing chapter by Donld Featherstone on “Wargaming in Bed” in his 1973 Solo Wargaming book (available in reprint from John Curry). Featherstone writes amusingly (from real life or fantasises?) about a stricken gamer in hospital bribing a wife or nursing staff to pop out to the local toy shop to buy 54mm Swoppet armoured Knights toy soldiers (unlikely in a busy British hospital today). This is his aid to recovery:
“gathering bodily strength while marshalling his physical resources in manoeuvring a mere handful of figures around a lone tree perched on one of those tables that wheel over the bed.”
If you fancy a lid / board with a plastic dust cover, you might find one of the right size amongst the propagation trays from the local garden centre. The plastic garden tray itself if you use it might be too flexible and flimsy, so might need stiffening with board as a base or inset.
The same hinge break has recently happened to a slightly larger box lid, so a larger board or an extension to the original is now possible!
Improvements to my wooden portable game board
I have now found a second similar sized wooden box lid so can put the two together as I did for a recent American Civil War and World War Two Skirmish. https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/peter-laing-american-civil-war-skirmish/
Redesigning or rejoining the board edges, I have changed how the grid is set out down the side. The grid numbers / letters are used for planning staggered entry of reinforcements and random deployment of troops and terrain features.
At present one short axis / side of the rectangular board has six letters A to F, the other longer axis was 1 to 8. I have now changed this to be 6 zones on both sides, so easier to determine by d6 dice.
This makes it possible to allocate simple grid references in scenario set ups and call in indirect of random programmed fire like the Suvla bay and trench scenario / games mechanism in Stuart Asquith’s Solo Wargames book.
Grid references also allow you to map out your game board on photocopied template / paper if keeping a record of what happened.
Playing solo as I usually do, I can also sit the other side of the board, turning the board gently without dislodging figures and see what the other side sees, check line of sight etc (with or without a reversed Lionel Tarr type periscope).
At the moment I use a sheet of felt below the board on a table top, so the board slides smoothly around as needed without jolting. You could alternatively use one of those Scrabble game board turners, a plant pot wheely base or recycled old Microwave oven plastic circular runners found under the revolving glass tray (possibly sourced from your old microwave / friends / the household recycling centre / tip).
I also now more clearly mark compass points, so that you can assign entry and exit points etc. for different groups at North / South etc. rather than just left / right / top / bottom.
Squeezing hexes into a square lid creates some gaps at the edges which have to be filled somehow. I use thin strips of AstroTurf or model hedging to fill these gaps.
You could mark out squares or hexes on the wooden base if preferred. Bob Cordery at Wargaming Miscellany and blogger friends have been looking at portable hex or square boards using Chess boards etc, following up Morschauser’s grid ideas. However you would probably need to build / enhance a chess board with built up wooden edges if you wish to move the board around with figures on, pop it away and also use some non-slip figure basing.
Having two matching box lids means that I could repair the hinges and join them together to make a box that closes up for travelling. Truly portable. However the top lid hexes would fall off upside down unless stuck down to the box lid base.
I like the option of one lid or two lids that can both be stored on separate shelves without damaging or disturbing what is on each. A simple tea towel over the top of each keeps the dust off!
The Joy of Hex!
The Heroscape hex tile clusters fit in reasonably well to the women lid / game board but leave some edge gaps however you combine them. I fill the gaps with clump scraps of AstroTurf/ artificial grass, cut down from the offcut tiny trimmings from an outdoor seating area project at my workplace. These would otherwise have been tidied and thrown away.
The basic MB Games Heroscape starter sets are easily available from online auctions, and some gamers like John the “Wargames Hermit” blogger in the USA and others have painted them all uniform colours as a great basic game board.
Alternatively you could sand / grass flock or scenic them appropriately, as long as they still stack.
An interesting idea I have yet to try from Iain Dickie’s useful book Wargames on a Budget in his Wargames terrain boards section is to paint the base blue or swamp green, whatever you may want showing beneath any blank hexes to show a stream / river / coast edge. I have tried this with out dark blue paper and it does work well.
A tray lining of blue felt or blue card as this base would work equally well, with hexes then built up for each game on top. I find the flat blue water Heroscape hexes are quite fiddly, thin, brittle and break easier than the standard chunky hexes. However without being squeezed into the box lid frames, hexes shift around a bit.
Hex clusters also make great islands in the middle of a blue felt tabletop or floor sea, inspired by Pijlie’s blog but that’s for another day …
Posted by Mark Man of TIN, September 2016