Introduction: 3-D, Laser-Cut "Dungeon" Game Board
As a kid, one of my favorite games was "Dungeon," from the makers of "Dungeons & Dragons." It was a kid's "entry level" version of the more popular D&D, featuring a multi-level dungeon filled with monsters, where you could choose your character (elf, wizard, etc.) and slay monsters in the dungeon's rooms to collect their treasure. Truly a fun game that fueled the imagination of many a kid in the 70s and 80s!
Last year, I bought my kids an updated version of the game for them to enjoy. The game has been modernized, including a new game board that, while pretty, has been shrunk down such that the "monster" and "treasure" cards no longer fit inside of the rooms in the dungeon! Instead, when a monster is discovered, and/or takes your treasure, rather than leaving the monster/treasure cards in that room, you place a small number in the room, and drop the cards in a corresponding slot in a "look-up table" on one side of the game board. Kinda lame, and slows down the game unnecessarily. Surely the makers of "Dungeon" must have known that having to complicate the game was a risky sacrifice to make for shrinking the game board down to save a few cents on cardboard?!?
To correct this, I decided to enlarge the game board such that my kids could play the game by dropping cards into the dungeon rooms directly, without having to use the second-rate look-up table and place-holder numbers. As I researched options, I realized that if I'm going to go through the trouble of remaking a game board, why not really remake it, and represent the multi-level dungeon as a multi-level dungeon? That is, rather than represent the dungeon's six levels as a single "floor plan" like the original 2-D game board, why not build a six-level dungeon, with corridors, stairs, rooms, doors, and secret doors, more like a "model" of a dungeon?
As an Autodesk employee, I have access to the equipment at Pier 9 in San Francisco to help me fabricate one. The following steps are what I went through the past few months to create a 3-D, laser-cut, multi-level "Dungeon" game board... enjoy!
Step 1: The Digital Model
To create the game board, I decided to fabricate it from several laminations of laser-cut plywood, each cut from contour lines sliced through a digital model.
I photographed the game board (I don't have access to a large-format flatbed scanner), and then imported it as a JPG file into SketchUp, a simple modeling/massing tool that allows easy extrusion of 2D shapes. I scaled the background image, then traced the walls, and extruded them up to proper heights. I then cut out doorways into each room, and detailed the "secret doors" as indentations in the walls (like a closed door).
Arguably, I could have used Autodesk Formit instead of SketchUp, because the data is more easily transferrable to AutoCAD DWG format (needed for the laser cutting contours), but stuck with a tool I know better and hoped that I could find a way to export to DWG later.
Step 2: VR Walkthrough for Quality Control
With the digital model complete, and prior to slicing it into contours for laser-cutting, I decided to perform some quality control of the model by doing a real-time VR walkthrough. I imported the Sketchup (SKP) geometry to Autodesk Navisworks, exported as FBX, and imported the FBX file into Autodesk Revit. From there, I exported to LIVE, a cloud-based data-prep service to create real-time walkthroughs, and from LIVE I published to VR. Using LIVE with a HTC Vive head-mounted display, I was able to walk around in my dungeon in real time, and at full scale!
There were a handful of complications and glitches with my chosen workflow, which generated monochrome/mono-material model, but even without color I could see forms and shapes to support my quality control effort. Also, because the geometry that came from SKP was just "dumb" polygons, there was no Revit (RVT) "floor" geometry (SketchUp isn't a BIM tool, after all), and without a "floor" LIVE couldn't recognize a surface for me to navigate upon. To solve this, I had to crudely model RVT floor geometry co-planar to the original SKP geometry. Not ideal, but good enough to get me around the virtual dungeon!
Step 3: The Contour Templates
With my VR QC complete, I made a few minor revisions to the geometry, including tracing 2D linework on the floor plates to represent the playing spaces on the game board, as well as text labeling for the various chambers.
It was then time to export 2D DWG contours to feed to the laser cutter. First, I broke the single model up into nine smaller models (3x3), each representing a section/level of the dungeon. The joints between these pieces followed the edges of the walls, so each of the nine pieces is irregular, and they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Then for each piece, I manually traced 2D contours at 1/4" intervals (each plywood lamination is 1/4" thick). There were 34 "contour templates" in all. Each "contour template" defined between one and 8 wood pieces to be laser-cut, depending on whether it represented a floor plate or horizontal slice through a wall section.
For each floor plate that is more than 2 contours thick, I hollowed out the middle contours, making each a "ring" preserving the contour edge but open in the middle to save on material and weight.
Then I arrayed all the "contour templates" for each lamination, laying them all side-by-side in a single data file. Since my free version of SKP doesn't export to DWG, I contacted a friend who happily converted the geometry using SketchUp Pro. He sent me back a DWG file, complete with all 34 "contour templates," that I could open in AutoCAD for final arrangement.
Step 4: Laser-Cutting
On a visit to San Francisco, I booked a day at Pier 9 to use their Epilog Laser Cutters. Having taken the training course a couple years earlier, I took a brief refresher with one of the instructors, who helped me determine that the best workflow was to save each "contour template" separately, with red lines for engraving linework and green lines for profile cuts. We then brought each file into Adobe Illustrator, made minor modifications to lineweights, and sent each "contour template" to the laser cutter. Pieces like floor plates that had linework engraved had to be sent in two passes: once for the linework, and a second time for the profile cuts.
The Epilog machines could handle 1/4" plywood pieces 2'-0" x 3'-0", which means I could fit between 2 and 3 contour templates on a sheet. In all, I used 26 sheets of plywood with about 1/3 of it as "off-cuts" for recycling/re-use.
Laser-cutting was s-l-o-w, and it took about 12 hours of cutting (feeding plywood, modifying and sending data, watching the machine cut, and carefully removing cut pieces, some of which were pretty fragile), which made for a pretty long day on my feet! Watching a laser cutter in action is a bit like watching grass grow, but the risk of a fire is too great to leave it unattended, so it's really time you have to put in when laser-cutting plywood.
At the end of the day, I had over 500 pieces of plywood to stack and arrange, but even "dry fit" the pieces began to take shape, and the scale of the entire dungeon became apparent: at 36" x 42" it is huge!
Step 5: Shipping
To get my 500+ pieces of plywood back home from San Francisco, I had to ship them via FedEx. It took 2 people more than 2 hours to bundle and wrap all the laminations, and special thanks go to the shipping personnel at Autodesk Pier 9 for their care in packaging up 40+ pounds of crazily-shaped plywood laminations!
Step 6: Gluing the Laminations
Once the pieces arrived at home, it was time to glue them. I used "Titebond" wood glue with a foam brush (both readily available from the local home improvement store), and glued and clamped, and glued and clamped, and glued and clamped...
...until after several days, all of the floor plates and all of the wall sections were assembled into thick "chunks" of wood, built out of several laminations each.
Step 7: Painting the Rooms
Once the gluing was complete, the pieces stacked up into a handsome monochrome, mono-material model, not unlike the earlier VR model in my walkthrough. It was actually two colors, with the sides of each contour (every wall and stair) a dark "burnt" brown and the top surface of each a blonde "plywood" color. This wasn't bad, but since the original game board was so brightly color-coded to indicate each level of the dungeon, I decided to color the rooms as well before gluing the walls onto the floor plates.
To do this, I used cheap watercolor paints readily available in any craft/art store. For the first (top) dungeon level, I used a yellow wash. Second was orange, third was red (rose), fourth purple, fifth blue, and sixth green, just like the original gameboard coloring. I also tried to increase the value (darkness) of each level color, so the coloration got darker the lower you got into the dungeon (from pale yellow to dark green).
I masked each room to keep paint pigment off the door thresholds and corridors. Unfortunately, the painter's tape did a poor job of masking watercolor wash on fresh plywood, so in some spots the colors bled across the threshold. I'm not thrilled with this development, but the color bleed is minor overall, and does add to the "hand crafted" aesthetic of the model.
Step 8: Staining the Top Surface
Before gluing the walls onto the now-painted floor plates, I decided the "burnt" brown sides of the walls and the unfinished "blonde" top surfaces of the walls really didn't give the impression that the dungeon was excavated or built out of a monolithic stone masonry, so I decided to stain the top surfaces dark to complement the dark sides of the walls.
To do so, I tested a few different wood stains until I was satisfied with the look of a "briarsmoke" color. It's a warm grey/brown wash (cooler than the sides of the walls, but also paler and lighter to allow the wood grain to show through). I'm really pleased with the tone and finish that it produced, and brought a look of professionalism to the model that was lacking prior to the decision to stain the top surfaces.
I was also pleased that the "Watermark" I engraved into the top surface continued to show through the stain, preserving its one-of-a-kind branding. Rather than branded "D&D" as the original game board is, mine proudly notes it's "Daddy's Dungeon." :)
Step 9: Gluing the Walls on the Floors
Once the walls were stained, I proceeded with gluing them onto the floor plates. Again, the "Titebond" wood glue and plenty of clamps did the trick here.
Step 10: Final Game Board, Ready for Play
Once all the pieces were glued and dried, it was time for a final fit. The tight fit of the laser-cut pieces, combined with a little hand-assembled construction tolerance, meant a few pieces rubbed and squeaked as they snapped into place. I've since taken a file to a few select areas to ease the fit, and of course rubbed in a bit of stain in the places I've filed to restore a dark finish to the vertical surfaces I filed down.
Here you can see the dungeon completely assembled and ready for play. The "monster" and "treasure cards" drop in quite easily, and I expect it will enhance the game play tremendously.
My kids will be receiving their new dungeon in a few days as a Christmas present. I truly hope they like playing with it as much as I enjoyed building it!
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