How We Built Our Custom Game Table

I’ll be doing a series on how we actually built our custom game table.  The idea spawned as I got frustrated with the standard size maps and how they took up so much space on the table surface, leaving players cramped and often moving their stuff out of the way to extend the dungeon.  Also, if a drink spilled, it got on other people’s stuff!  The way to solve this? Raise the map up and compartmentize the player space.  While we are at it, add a few other cool features.  So I started drawing up plans and my wicked cool gamer-chick wife helped me build some scale models.

Then we made a shopping list and just “did” it.   Here are the features our “analog” game table had:

  • Each player has a personal space
  • Small book holder between each player
  • Supports 6 players – 2 per side with 1 side for the DM
  • DM space must be big enough for laptop, books, dice, figs and notes
  • Raised map allows for overlap
  • 4’x4’ map surface – Provides 240’x240’ in game (at 1”=5’ scale)
  • Tunnel system for Player to DM and DM to Player message (removed for the digital table later)

Here are some pictures of the construction:

This is the first parts of the table. Remember, that I made a scale cardboard model, so I knew exactly how everything was needing to be cut before any assembly began.  The big piece is my map, the small pieces are the player surfaces and book shelves.

I used permanent marker to draw the 1” grid on the table. Remember, originally this was an analog table.

Here you can see the DM desk on the left.  The table legs are just 2x4s nailed together, nothing fancy, but the basic frame is about 3’x3’.

Here you can see the raised section coming together.  The holes are for the tunnel system which I later scratched.  I did have it working, but my cats tore it up all the time and we found it wasn’t used much anyways.  Each player has 2 holes, the upper hole sent a message, which was tucked nicely into a tennis ball that had a slit in the side.  Then you drop it in the hole and it would roll to the DM.  Then the DM has 6 upper holes one for each player.  The DM could write back and drop it in the correct hole and it rolled to the players lower hole.  The two lower holes on the DM side are where the DM received the messages.  The left served the left half of the table, and the right served the right half. (See DM section below).

Here is the assembled DM section.  Noticed that the scale cardboard model is sitting on top of the map surface

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This is a buddy of mine that I had sit at the table to show the size.  The desk part is at a comfortable level similar to a dining room table.  The map is raised up 1’.  It is a tad high, but I actually like it because everyone stands up and gets “into the action” when combat starts.

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Finally, two shots of the player space and book shelves.  I placed player sheets, dice, and pencil to show how it fit.

That is part one, how we built the analog table.  After a season of play, I got the itching to do some upgrades… Stay tuned for info on how I turned this from the simple analog game table, to the new (and improved) digital game table!  Oh, and the total cost of the analog game table was about $500.  Yes, this was spendy, and we could probably do it cheaper if we shopped around or used thinner laminated boards.  Also, if I had known we didn’t need the tunnels, that would have saved a bit for those components that I later just tore out.

== Part 2 ==

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11 Responses to How We Built Our Custom Game Table

  1. John says:

    HI, congratulations on the fantastic idea. I was wondering what resolution your projector is. I\’m not familiar with MapTools, is 800×600 sufficient for a workable display or do you need to go higher (like 1200×768)?1 hours ago

  2. David Simpson says:

    Reading how you did things. got a few questions (because I’m dealing with a limited area to put my table in)
    1) About what was the height of the play area? I’m trying to do a 36″ height from mirror to play area.
    2) I’m looking to tuck the shelf area under the view screen a few inches (it seems you did the same), how many inches are under the view area?

    I’m trying to keep it from occupying a 64×55 area. (1 foot shelf width bordering a 40×31 view area, figure 3″ extra space should be plenty, but possibly unnecessary?)

    In addition, I’m thinking 30″ height from the floor to the shelf space, then another 6″ elevation for the view area.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • tyrendes says:

      Hey David,

      1.) The height really depends on the projector. My projector needed a total of about 5′ to be able to get a 3′ wide image. To accomplish this, I needed to have about 2 feet from projector to floor,then 3 feet from mirror to surface. If you have a better projector (short throw), you might be able to shorten this distance. You could also try setting up the projector along the floor and hitting an angled mirror, but I didn’t play with this.

      2.) The player area and the map area is about 1′ different. I made the player area about the same height as my dining room table. This image might give a better idea:

      Good luck, and if there is any more info I can provide, let me know.

  3. Aikanaro says:

    hi Ive read all the instructions and i was asking myself if you had the cardboar model blueprints just to make it and after measuring all well doing the table. Thanks for all.

  4. David Levy says:

    can this idea be created for a chess board/game? and if so how can it get the details? thanks,

    • tyrendes says:

      It could, the table is run by a computer. So any game you can get for your computer could be run this way. As for details, I’m not sure what extra detail I could provide. My blog covers all of the build steps and basic dimensions. I’ve told others that there really isn’t “one plan” to build a table like this. Each person needs to build what works for their situation.

  5. thanos03 says:

    Awesome…AWESOME AWESOME IDEA! My game group and I are going to be thieving your idea lol!

    I had a few questions for you in regards to materials. It looks like you just bought some sheets of MDF board, is that accurate? If so, how many sheets did you need to go through?

    How many tokens for players can be moved via the IR pens? If you have say, 7 players, can it keep track of all of them, or just one?

    Thanks in advance for any information!

    • tyrendes says:

      The reason I posted this info was for others to get inspired… so please, do copy the idea, and make it better! Yes, we used MDF, 2 sheets if I recall. First I made scale cardboard templates and then moved the pieces around until they fit on 2 sheets. The IR pens simulate the mouse, and since windows only supports 1 mouse at a time, it only supports 1 IR pen at a time. Also, the Wiimote system can only track a limited number of points (1 maybe?)

      • Jebb Richard says:

        I believe the wiimote system can track 4 points at a time. This is because the wii system can have 4 separate players simultaneously playing. Great job on the table tyrendes. If your goal with this blogpost was to motivate, you’ve certainly succeeded with me. I’m very interested in building a digital D&D table for my gaming group. Maybe even taking it a step further and making it a generic gaming table, for boardgames, etc. I very interested not only in the hardware design side of this project, but also with the software development. I’m thinking of different software concepts that could be designed to get maximum use of the digital table top. Thank you for inspiring me!

  6. Mickey says:

    Shane, Very inspiring work. I have a wonder wife that has just helped create a great gaming room above the garage. this table looks great even as an ‘analog’ system. I’m really excited to try the digital version. i like how it was able to grow into that as your resources improved. Thanks again for the details and instructions.

    • tyrendes says:

      Mickey! Glad to hear this project is still inspiring others to build their own version! We play on my table every other week still! My players have gone from level 1 to level 29 in their D&D 4E campaign! They are almost at the end!

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