Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Craft-Build A Family Game

I’m always looking for both game and craft ideas appropriate for my four year-old “Little Guy” who often needs a more active diversion from the television (even if it’s stuck on PBS Kids...). So I was momentarily excited to receive an e-mail from one of the arts and craft stores I frequent with the subject line, “Family Winter Games Night - DIY Style!”

I’ve often wondered when “big box” arts and crafts stores would start customizing website content, project ideas, and events toward kids seeking to create their own games using supplies from the aforementioned stores. I naively thought this event might be a step in that direction...and was promptly disappointed to find out it wasn’t about making family games in winter, but gathering the family to celebrate the “winter games,” otherwise known to the rest of the world as the winter olympics. (No doubt the craft store lawyers were just being careful by not using what some might argue is a proprietary, trademarked legal nightmare....) The crafts in question included making an olympic torch out of a paper tube and colored tissue paper, creating “team uniforms” with t-shirts, and painting wooden disks tied with ribbons for award medals. These were nice, creative activities on their own, but not quite what I as a gamer parent was looking for.

Like office supply stores, crafts stores serve as vast toy stores for gaming adults. Whether you play board games, miniature wargames, or even roleplaying games, craft stores offer a fantastic variety of materials for gamers: model trees, flocking, and foam for building terrain; wooden bits for creating different kinds of game pieces; cheap paints and brushes for painting miniatures; felt for simulating base battlefield terrain; wooden and cardboard boxes for game storage or in-game props; even corner rounder punches for giving print-and-play cards a more professional look (as demonstrated by Cheapass Games’ amazing James Earnest).

I’ll offer two resources for craft game ideas, both of which can send you off to the craft store for supplies and additional ideas.

The first I’ve discussed before: R.C. Bell’s Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (1969). The book remains one of several core references on historical games I keep in my office. It offers overviews of numerous board games throughout history and across cultures, including diagrams and photographs of game components, historical notes, rules (some extrapolated from sketchy sources, but still playable), and numerous variants in painstaking detail. Bell also categorizes games into various types, many of which focus on common components and themes. An all-too-brief chapter, “Making Boards and Pieces,” discusses using different materials to create game components based on the historical descriptions provided. (I’d also recommend David Partlett’s The Oxford History of Board Games [1999], which draws on Bell’s work, provides far more commentary on some games, and may be more available.)

I’d also recommend a website I recently discovered – Aunt Annie’s Crafts – specifically the website’s “Craft Project Index.” Scroll down to “Games To Make” and you’ll find instructions for making boards and pieces for several games from around the world, including instructions for playing and brief histories. Most include PDFs of game boards for use as patterns, but they might easily serve as print-and-play components. These projects come framed as family craft projects and include a host of tips for using different materials for boards, pieces, and other elements easily suited to a variety of visual tastes.

These options focus more on classic games from history, but a trip to the craft store can prove inspirational for original board games, miniature wargames, and roleplaying games. What do I look for at craft stores to satisfy my gaming needs? The woodcraft department offers a host of toys: wood and cardboard boxes for games and props, glues, craft “popsicle” sticks, and, of course, wooden pieces for games, from cubes and tiles to pawns and specialty shapes. The floral department usually stocks colored glass and real stones for playing pieces as well as foam pieces for crafting into wargaming terrain and buildings; floral tape and reindeer moss found there can help turn some wire into a tree for the gaming table. Many stores stock school diorama supplies including pre-painted plastic figures, trees (like my favorite to horde...palm trees), stone and grass flocking, and model trees; some even carry models and plastic toy soldiers from various eras with various gaming applications.

Other odds and ends I’ll check or purchase include three-foot-square sections of felt for small wargames or roleplaying game miniatures; pens, brushes, and paper (parchment paper is great for medieval roleplaying game props); tracing paper; peel-and-stick laminate sheets for protecting props, reference sheets, and home-made cards; and a host of paper crafting materials.

Some day, I suppose, craft stores might catch on and offer at least some encouragement – in the form of website content project ideas and some in-store promotions – for kids seeking to create their own games with craft-store materials. Until then I continue visiting craft stores when I can to provide a host of supplies for my numerous hobby gaming activities.

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