How to: Tabletop Game Mats

In this little tutorial I give an insight how I build tabletop game mats myself.

In recent weeks, I have tinkered with terrain from time to time. As is unfortunately often the case with us in the hobby, you are busy with this and that and sometimes it takes quite a while until you actually have something ready. Until the end of the year I wanted to finish everything currently open and so I can now present a little something.
Among other things, two self-built play mats are finished:

For Saga I wanted to have at least one reasonable possibility to play. Currently, for various reasons, no game table comes into question for me. I’ve always wanted to build a modular board, but realistically it’s not worth the effort and especially storage space at the moment, when I won’t really get to play for the foreseeable future. Still, I basically want to have the option and with my current photo set up I’m also quite limited, a mat should change that too. With reasonable underground I could make photos from completely new angles.

A mat therefore seemed like the perfect compromise: very space-saving, visually appealing enough and quick and cheap to build. Printed mats I find a great development, but purely optically they don’t really give me what I want.

Tobi from Team Würfelkrieg was kind enough to advise me and pointed me to the topic of painter’s acrylic for mat design. The process is explained clearly on the blog of the Ulmer Strategen (sorry, it’s in German, but I can help you): Basically you take the actual mat (in most examples made of linen/canvas/coarse fabric), mix a mixture of painter’s acrylic, desired color, sand and some water together and spread this mix on the mat. This will give you the pre-colored, textured covering. Still in the wet mixture on the mat, sprinkle grass litter as desired and let it dry. This is followed by dry brushing if you like, and you’re done.

The trick is that through the painter’s acrylic the covering sticks, but remains flexible. With glue or other adhesives, the covering would dry out hard, then break when the mat is rolled up and cracks would be visible or, in the worst case, whole pieces would come loose. With painter’s acrylic, that doesn’t seem to happen and many users of the technique have apparently been very happy with it for years. I wanted to try that out as well.

The mat consists of a cheap fabric from Ikea, which you can cut yourself as yard goods there. As a painter acrylic I have taken the cheapest no-name product (white!) from the nearest hardware store. A larger amount of dark brown acrylic paint I still had (it becomes inevitably lighter when mixing with the white acrylic!), sand was there, grass chaff anyway. I drew the playing field in 90×120 cm and off I went. The processing is quite a mess, so protect yourself (gloves!) and the working environment well. For this, everything was prepared very quickly.

I simply applied the mass with my hands and distributed. I assumed 24 hrs as drying time and left the mat outside on a balmy autumn day (the acrylic can stink, so better not indoors). The next day I only had to cut out the playing field, tap off excess and I was done. I think the result is really great for what it is. Quick, easy, space-saving and still convincing. Sure, a game table looks better and I would do a few things a little differently with my next mat, but overall it works well for me. The mat has cost me less than 5 euros (more of course if you have to buy grass chaff and sand).

I don’t need more play mats at the moment, but I wanted to have more surfaces for photos. Therefore, I have built a second mat for sandy surfaces according to the same principle. However, this one is much smaller and really only serves as a base for photos. This time the mixing ratio was obviously a bit different, the sand dried much coarser. It’s not the texture I intended, but it’s okay for now. This mat is made from scraps and does what it is supposed to do for now. Eventually I will make a third, completely green gas mat.

Maybe my mats have inspired you to try your own. Feel free to write me if you have any questions! In the next terrain post, I’ll introduce a forest.

Posted in Behind the Scenes.

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