Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wargaming Table

Since my initial "effort" to produce a wargaming table, I've had much better luck.  Though the first edition was strictly for Wings of War, and more of an experiment than a true attempt, I still have to admit that I've come a long way in table design since then.  Now, several years after I painted that plywood nightmare and propped it on sawhorses, a table truly worthy of wargaming is near completion.

The initial WoW table about a year after it was painted.

When I moved to a new house in July 2009, I suddenly found myself with quite a bit of extra space out in the Florida room.  Somehow my pitiful table (pictured to the right) just didn't look right sitting all alone in the middle of the floor.  Now that I had the room, it was time to build the table I truly wanted.

My first stop was the local hardware store where I purchased a 8x4 foot sheet of 1/2" plywood for the top and a few runners to strengthen the playing surface.  I sanded the the plywood then added the braces by countersinking screws through the runner and into the top itself.  I now had a fairly stable gaming table, but it was unpainted and without legs.

The next step was to get a few coats of paint on the surface.  Fortunately, I had several gallons of paint left over from a Halloween project I started the year before that needed to be used before it dried up.  I did not realize at the time that the gray I chose looked great but was not very good at hiding scuff, spills, and dust.  Had I known, I would have chosen a darker color or a paint that was not so flat.  It's odd that I write that now because, as you will see, I made the same mistake again a year later.

Although they can barely be seen in the photo to the left, the plywood was set upon the very same sawhorses from the first table during the painting process.   While this made for a convenient work station, the use of the sawhorses would lead to a long delay in the completion of the table.  The photo on the left was taken in November of 2009.  Over a year would pass before the next step was completed.

The work hiatus was not because I was lazy or lacked the drive to finish the project.  The opposite was actually the case.  I was so excited and buzzed that I finally had a gaming table that I simply did not leave time to complete it.  I jumped right into gaming on it as soon as the paint was dry.  Although the sawhorses certainly created an eyesore when looking into the Florida room from the living room, the adhoc legs proved to be stable and capable of the job they were given.

I have to admit that I was more than happy with the arrangement.  Many games were played on that table while it was ingloriously propped on the sawhorses.  Pirates of the Spanish Main, Wings of War, War at Sea, and Lord of the Rings are just a few of the titles to see action on its storied surface.  The table even served other functions such as a very large work bench and on several occasions, a serving table during parties and holiday gatherings (properly covered of course).
A section of the table being used for PotSM.

Eventually, the fact that I never finished the table began to weigh heavily upon me and with the passing of 2010, I knew the time had come.  The resolution to finish the table was somewhat sparked by a post on another blog.  After reading the article and seeing the finished product, I had the inspiration I needed to continue.

The initial frame.
After purchasing the required materials and an afternoon of cutting my pieces to length, it was time to start building.  The frame basically took two afternoons to complete.  The main problem encountered was getting all the angles squared when the wood itself was not quite up to the task.  If funding was not an issue, I would have chosen boards of some exotic hardwood.  However, to save money and keep the entire project under $50, I went with yellow pine.  It's beautiful stuff and paints/stains well, but warping is an issue...especially in high humidity environments such as the Florida Keys.

After the initial frame was assembled, I had to go back and make a few adjustments to account for the variances of the wood.  The end product became quite stable but there were a few unsightly gaps at the corners.  I would simply have to live with the gaps however.  Since I want to be able to disassemble the table, wood filler was not an option.  Plus, the way my top effectively forms a cap over the frame, the defects would be mostly hidden.

The author with the slats installed.
To add additional stability and allow for modular game boards to be used, I decided to follow the example of the Drunken Dwarves and add slats through the center frame.  I have loads of 1/2 inch pink insulation foam that will be used for upcoming game boards so I decided to utilize the same measurement for the lip/drop.  Unlike the table that gave me the initial inspiration, an additional lip to keep dice on the table was not added.  I wanted the modular boards to sit flush with the frame itself.

As you can see from the photo above, the frame itself is rather tall.  The legs were cut to 38 1/4 inches to allow for a standing position for an average sized player (I am 5'11" and the lip comes to my waist).  While standing may not sound comfortable, I wanted a table that would allow players to move around and reach without bending over excessively.  For seating, I will be using bar stools with backs so viewing or watching will be at the appropriate level.

Now that the frame was completed, it was time to turn my attention to the table top.  As mentioned above, the paint I originally chose did not do well at hiding marks and wear.  After a year of use, the surface was more than ready for another coat.  Fortunately, or unfortunately...depending on how you look at it, I still had some of the original gray paint left over.  Rather than spend more money I decided to use it again for the base coat.  My reasoning was that since most of it would be painted over with the water effects I planned to apply, it wouldn't matter that the paint wasn't the best choice.  Well, I traded one problem for another.  Two years had not been kind to the consistency and after applying a coat, I realized it was rather clumpy.  In retrospect, I should have sanded the table and started over with a different paint but I was ready to finish the project.  I kept the coat as is and continued to the next step.

Since many of my games are based on or near the water, I decided to paint the main top in an ocean pattern.  This would allow for my Pirates of the Spanish Main, War at Sea, and Legends of the High Seas games to take place with little change to the board between sessions.  This would also allow me to use the board as is for my Port Antigua project.

To create the illusion of the high seas, I used a method I developed when I created a game board for Axis and Allies: War at Sea.  Starting with a light background (in this case a light gray similar to Games Workshop Fortress Gray) I applied blue spray paint in random horizontal strips.  This effect resembles the view one would get when flying over open water.  By varying the amount of gray showing between the blue, different sea states can be depicted.  For calm water, very little of the base color would be showing while rough seas could be created by allowing more of the gray to show.

By adding other shades of blue, an entirely different ocean can be created.  I went with royal blue to reflect deeper water but simply applying strips of aqua blue or possibly a nice shade of blue-green would yield an effect not unlike the shallows found around reefs in the Caribbean.  Whatever colors are used, it is vital to keep the passes of paint both randomly spaced and somewhat muted (I spray a bit further away than normal to allow for the paint to disperse over a wider area).

The table is now mostly finished and ready for gaming.  The last two steps I plan to do are 1) adding slats and a fitted sheet of plywood to the bottom frame to allow for storage and 2) staining the frame and legs a nice dark brown.  Hopefully I will not let another year pass before completion.  However, since I have been away from my paints and games for several days while working on the project, I do not expect to finish in the next few days.  This could mean trouble.....

I love looking at photos of other game tables and gaming rooms.  Where do you play and what do you play on?


  1. Hey there, just stumbled in your table write up. Was very helpful, and I appreciate your "warts and all" descriptions. You might want to check your link to the Drunken Dwarves blog. I think that site is under new nsfw management. Happy gaming!

    1. Thanks John. And you're right about the link. What a change! Thanks for the heads-up. The link has been removed......