My Portable Hex Games Board

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Portable hex games board with Turn notes in progress; Vintage Airfix desert warriors versus 1960s Airfix 8th Army (first version)  fight over Heroscape sand  and rock hexes.  White aquarium gravel and tufts of artificial grass set the arid scene (Board / photo: Man of TIN)
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‘Aerial’ photo of the two box lid,  recording where figures were  during a break of play in my Peter Laing WW2 skirmish game. End of Turn 2 (shown by the dice)

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.

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My current portable game board with Peter Laing redcoat figures versus assembled Laing natives – watch out for the plastic crocodile lurking in the river, in case you think of fording it!

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/

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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.

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The visual barrier of the two box lid edges can be seen here ahead of those Peter Laing Confederates  … Just carry on and pretend it isn’t here. 

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.

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Dice generated starting positions recorded on a Grid map of my box lids for a recent Peter Laing 15mm Hicksville Valley American Civil War skirmish game – see previous blog posts. 

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!

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Little tufts or clusters of artificial grass fill in the gaps between hexes and the side. A square or rectangular board also works well with railway scenery papers from PECO. Vintage Airfix figures in action. Photo: Man of TIN

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.

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Flocked hex tile and Peter Laing WW2 British infantry awaiting flock bases.

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  …

http://pijlieblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/dystopian-indoor-garden-battle.html

Posted by Mark Man of TIN, September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

6 thoughts on “My Portable Hex Games Board”

  1. Thank you for another excellent posting. hopefully you will have a battle report of your WW2 skirmish game and redcoats vs. natives. Your picture of the Airfix guards vs the Airfix indians reminds me of playing in my back yard with my Airfix Guards & Airfix marching Confederates playing the part of Braddock’s army and my Hong Kong cheapo Indians ambushing the column. I even made three strategically placed forts by pushing branches into the ground.

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    1. John
      Lovely to hear of your back garden memories and the twig forts. Sounds like a great garden / Yarden game, something to recapture on the tabletop. Many people seem to have started / cut their gaming teeth using the Airfix Guards Colour Party. We had very few of these as children, they seemed to have stopped making them as I loved the handful I had. I have now found lots more!

      WW2 Skirmish report on its way in the next week hopefully!
      Mark, Man of TIN blog

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  2. Thanks for sharing this. Your board looks lovely. What rules do you use for ww2 on your board ? Your blog and that of John are magical ! Thanks.

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  3. Hello Chris,
    thanks for your positive comments. I am just writing up this week the WW2 skirmish and its WW2 rules which are a mash up of Donald Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix to War Games and a few selective borrowings regarding weapons etc from his WW2 rules in that same wonderful book.
    It’s taken some time as I have been looking up effective firing ranges for WW2 weapons versus the 18th Century / Horse and Musket background of his Close Wars backwoods French and Indian Wars skirmishes! A bit of research just for a bit of internal logic and consistency. When it gets close up, a scrap or melee is probably the same bloody affair centuries apart but I wanted to know how machine guns etc would change things in these Close Wars situations.
    Watch this space!

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    1. Dear John, Thanks for that. I have just read Wargames for the first time in a good while, an inspirational read indeed. It also prompted me to read Wessencrafts Practical Wargames and Operation Warboard, my copy has the hand lurking over the Sherman on the cover. All good stuff, particularly the Horse and Musket rules in the Wessencraft. My first Featherstone was Battles with Model Soldiers, bought from a second hand bookshop in Ruthin back in the mists of time, I don’t think that I have ever been as entranced by a book as I was with this at the time.

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      1. John and Chris

        I like the going back to the simplicity of these early books. It is good that Charlie Wesencraft is getting renewed recognition in his lifetime, still having his rules (new and old) published and republished.

        With so much new and so much choice of rules, scales, terrain and figures, it’s funny how many people are returning to their DIY gaming roots. It can’t just be nostalgia.

        My first gaming and / or Featherstone book was War Games, and still ‘my best’. I borrowed this copy as a library book, which I eventually bought when it was ‘withdrawn’. This was the 7th edition c.1972-75. I have just bought a very very bashed 1st edition of War Games by Donald Featherstone for only £5 from Paul Meekins history and wargames online shop. This is the original 1962 version, not hugely different in many areas but which mentions the original Airfix releases -civilians, guards, German and British combat group (shown in the WW2 game photos) just like we had at home and Donald Featherstone eagerly anticipating the forthcoming release of Airfix figures like the 8th Army /Afrika Korps and Federals / Confederates that John remembers so fondly. I wanted to see when Close Wars as an appendix was added, and now know it was in the 1962 original.
        I really like and still use or buy these earliest version 1 smaller Airfix figures, just as John Patriquin does, especially as they were withdrawn and scarce by the mid 70s when I was first buying. The Airfix OO/HO Russians and Japanese are also favourite figures for (paint) conversions and simplicity, long produced and still occasionally rereleased by Airfix.
        Entranced is the right word! Your first / favourite Featherstone, Battles with Model Soldiers was around if you could get it from the library, but it was often out for months; the recent copy I bought was a revised updated 1980s hardback copy so I will track down another trashed and bashed affordable 1st Edition to see the original with its ‘period 1970 charm’.
        Many best wishes, happy vintage gaming!
        Mark, Man of TIN blog.

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