Introduction: Warmachine Gaming Table for Penny Arcade

Picture of Warmachine Gaming Table for Penny Arcade

Our Background:
We are three guys in Boston interested in all kinds of games, and in this case miniature based wargames.
We are fascinated by technology and a question in our minds was "How can we innovate wargaming terrain and table design to make a more immersive and interactive gaming experience?"

Our answer to this is what we call 'Augmented Terrain'.

Meeting Penny Arcade at PAX EAST:
For PAX East in March 2011 we built a dock table for Warmachine called 'Clockwork Cove' that included smoke effects, RGB LED lighting in buildings and terrain, LED searchlight pieces, with RFID cards & scanner to trigger all of these effects using an Arduino Microcontroller in a central building. In our group we have collectively over 15 years of model making experience, so it also fit into an aesthetically pleasing Steampunk Harbor theme very well.

When Penny Arcade Mike saw the display, he asked how he can go about commissioning a project for his gaming group. 
After some discussions, the plan was to build a table, ship it out to Seattle in August, then fly out to PAX Prime with the terrain to complete the delivery. This is the story of how we built (and delivered) it.

Project Requirements:
Modular Board: 2' x 2' squares that can be reoriented and rearranged for many combinations
Modular Terrain Height: They wanted a way to change the terrain height. We came up with an approach not tried before in wargaming.
Corvis-Themed: Mike's gaming group was playing through a Privateer Press RPG set in a city called Corvis. They liked the theming and used this was the compass for art direction. Corvis is at the junction of three rivers and used to be a farming city. It is famous for a large University and has been at the center of many conflicts when different armies occupy the territory. Over time the city has fallen into great disrepair and depression, especially since the wet, unstable ground has allowed many buildings to become unstable and slowly sink into the ground. There is a vast underground network of tunnels and chambers of the old city.
Lights: We knew we wanted to include LEDs in the terrain  and buildings, in a modular way so that each feature can operate independently of the table configuration for the scenario.

Even if the undercity was not a playable part of the board it needed to have the feeling that something was lurking under the streets
We wanted to create a sense of depth. Although the playable surface can be flat, we wanted to add a 3D effect. We found images which were representative of the look and feel of Corvis. These guided many of our decisions.

Concept Generation:
We started by sketching and brainstorming. We made scale index cards with the terrain drawn on it to see how it works when they are shuffled and rearranged. After we came up with the terrain inserts idea we made a Solidworks CAD assembly. 

Dont forget that your local gaming store is still one of the best places to present and discuss ideas. Carry around a small notepad in case you ever get an inspired idea and dont feel silly about considering the 'wrong idea' because you never know when that thought process may lead to the 'right idea'.

Extra Links:
Mike was so happy with how the table turned out that he posted a feature on the Penny Arcade Homepage.
Also feel free to check out our facebook page
For information on what other members of the warmachine community thought check out our thread on Privateer Press

Step 1: Base Table Board Quarters

Picture of Base Table Board Quarters

The base design is centered around floorboards. These are pressed cardboard with some wood pattern coating

These are relatively inexpensive, extremely stiff and do not warp. They are also very light, easy to cut with a circular saw, and very thin.

MDF (medium density fiberboard) is a common material people use but is not any cheaper, extremely heavy, the dust from cutting can be cancerous to inhale, and the porous nature of the material means that if it gets wet it will cultivate mold. Simply put, the floorboards are a great balance of all of these requirements.

Tools Used:
Power Drill (preferably 2)
Circular Saw
Power Sander

Step 2: Foam Shaping and Detailing

Picture of Foam Shaping and Detailing

Box cutter, Hot wire cutter, and power sander to shape the foam. Wear a mask and be outside when you are doing this.

Basswood tiles for the cobblestones, rough out the terrain features

Step 3: Detailing 2

Picture of Detailing 2

Pipes and grey plastic pieces come for the Chemical plant kit, built by Pegasus Hobbies.

Its worth its weight in gold and comes with a ton of useful parts of all kinds of modeling projects.

Step 4: Rapid Prototyping & Molding

Picture of Rapid Prototyping & Molding

The rapid prototyped pieces were designed in Solidworks CAD and fabricated in a stereolithography machine.

Whatever you are going to cast, glue them to a flat surface so they dont move around when you pour the silicone.

Follow instructions and do this in a well-ventilated area.
You can also use legos to build a chamber rather than using a cardboard box like we did here.

Step 5: Sand

Picture of Sand

Sand from a garden center is fine. You can reuse the extra.

Just make sure that it is as dry as possible before you apply it

Step 6: Priming

Picture of Priming

Pink foam is an amazing material but it has a fatal weakness.
It will melt from the acetone found in crazy glue, spray paints, and many other solvents.


Instead we used a latex-based outdoor houspaint (primer and paint in the same mix) from home depot and a Wagner paint gun.

Its annoying to clean, but pays for itself with a clean, even coat (painting the primer on would be a huge pain in the neck), its very very fast to paint and can be used on any terrain you build

Step 7: Drybrushing

Picture of Drybrushing

Total paints from Home Depot for drybrushing: 10 colors of the 7 ounce samplers: $25 and we still have enough leftovers for the terrain pieces.

Each colored feature has two colors on top of the primer: the base color (apply more liberally over the primer) and then mix this base color with a tan/creme/light grey and apply that mix as a drybrush.

All painting for the 4 quarters took under an hour and at this point its already playable.

Important: when it comes to drybrushing, there is no such thing as too little paint on the brush. Its better to have too little paint and slowly add more to the brush as you get used to the feel. If you have too much paint it cakes on and you have to reapply the base color and start again.

Step 8: Detail Painting and Flock

Picture of Detail Painting and Flock

Adding some small tufts of grass and detail painting of the bottles and small features.
Adding metal grating for sewer covers and storm drain

Step 9: LED Lighting

Picture of LED Lighting

The white plastic Battery Cradles were built Rapid Prototyping Fused Deposition Modeling. This is extruded ABS plastic and dirt cheap material. We used 7 lighting assemblies.

Each lighting assembly used 2 x super bright blue LEDs in series with a 100 kOhm resistor soldered to the anode (long end of the LED)

Step 10: Forge

Picture of Forge

Since the forge is made primarily from pink foam, it was primed using the Wagner paint gun rather than spray paint.
Design sketches prior to building was very important. 

Step 11: Statue

Picture of Statue

The Courtyard statue is surprisingly quick and easy to build.
The key is to find the right places for component suppliers.

4" tall Wedding Cake Stand
Square Tiles
Figure for the top
Garden Sand
Black Spray Primer

By drybrushing the figures the same grey tones as the column the effect is complete. A good way of enhancing the look is to put contrasting colors on the base to emphasize the stone regions are together

Step 12: Academic Building

Picture of Academic Building

Pink foam leftovers cut to size, and glued using elmer's and liquid nails. Stonework bricks were carved out the same way as the hill sides.

Additional features were watch pieces glued onto the outside and painted the same as the stone to blend in (see statue tutorial).
Everything glued using the elmers wood glue

A soldering iron was used to carve the curves in to the front and side reliefs.

Step 13: Dice Tower - Water Tower

Picture of Dice Tower - Water Tower

Water Tower Terrain that doubles as a Dice tower

Large Cardboard Poster tube for the main feature. Holes drilled through it and acrylic rods glued in place. The holes were patched with the plastruct diamondplate.

The gantryways were built with the chemical plant kit as the foundation, then metal mesh across the top.

Balsawood and basswood framework for the foundation and a cardboard trough to spit out the dice when the roll down

Step 14: Small Obstacles

Picture of Small Obstacles

The small obstacles are built on pallets. The pallets are popsicle sticks trimmed to size and glued onto square rods of balsa wood.

These items have huge options for customizing to the board and forces battling over it.

Step 15: Hill Inserts

Picture of Hill Inserts

The hills are two layers of pink foam glued together and the top layer carved/sculpted.

The smaller inner piece fits easily in the insert cavities. All hills have stairs, grills and self-contained LED modules

Step 16: Flat Inserts

Picture of Flat Inserts

The Flat inserts has a 7.5" square pink foam to fit inside the 8" square cutout. The gap is needed to account for variability in the dimensions and straightness of the cut.

The black cardboard overhangs to hide the gap between the pieces, then the top can be textured the same way at the table quarters

Step 17: Recessed Inserts

Picture of Recessed Inserts

Step 18: Water Effects

Picture of Water Effects

The water effects were achieved with a 2 part clear casting resin.

We mixed ink and some watered down paint into different batches to achieve different color results.

Always make sure you thoroughly test the effect on something else before trying it on your table project, once its there the only way to cover it up is to completely paint over it.

Step 19: Penny Arcade Easter Eggs

Picture of Penny Arcade Easter Eggs

For this kind of project we wanted to add character and a sense of humor to the terrain and objectives, so we hid as many Penny Arcade Easter eggs as we had time for.

The posters and comics had several places they were hidden

Step 20: Trees

Picture of Trees

Tree armatures from Plastruct online
The expanding foam (single time usage btw) is dead cheap and creates a great look. Takes a bit of time to set though so make sure you can clamp the trees while they are setting.

Prime with a spray can (it doesnt melt this type of expanding foam)
The base of the tree is then flocked with static grass.

Step 21: Wooden Shipping Crate

Picture of Wooden Shipping Crate

The whole crate was built using 1/2" plywood reinforced with 1" x 3"  beams and at the corners with steel brackets. Liquid nails between all wooden pieces and along all edges inside and out.

1" x 2" wooden rods were positioned to align the quarters when they slide in.
Aluminum angle was fastened like a shelf in the front to support the upper level of quarters

We used a planer and sander to get the door to align and fit closely.

Steel hinges and locks keep it safe for when its sitting at the PAX convention hall.

Yes, this was painted in the alleyway behind my apartment building.
No excuses, gotta be ready for the shipping deadline.

A couple of custom stencils and a can of white spray paint completes the crate.

Step 22: Complete Project PAX Prime

Picture of Complete Project PAX Prime

Gallery of complete pictures.

At the end are photos with Penny Arcade Mike, as well as his gaming group.

Mike was so happy with how the table turned out that he posted a feature on the Penny Arcade homepage.
For information on what other members of the warmachine community thought check out our thread on Privateer Press.

Step 23: 4th Epilog Challenge Design Contest

By the way!!!

We are entering into the "4th Epilog Challenge" to Win a Laser cutter

Can you imaging how much more cool stuff we could build with one of those?
Buildings, Origami, Spaceships?!?!... origami buildings inside spaceships?

The sky is the limit, please vote for our project so that we can continue making awsome Terrain.




thegreatlale (author)2014-05-11


misko13 (author)2014-03-12

The most amazing gaming table I've ever seen!!

Thanks for sharing such detailed instructable :D

KozyWhiskey (author)2013-05-14

Epic. Absolutely epic.

Wildviolence (author)2013-05-01

With the foam exposed at the sides of each of the 4 tiles, I'd be concerned about accidental damage and wear over time (I'm planning my own project, and considering adding walls to each tile, meaning the foam would only be exposed on the top side). Has this been an issue, in the long run?

Fried Potatoes (author)2013-01-02

That's wicked awesome! I love the details put into the work. Good luck on future stuff.

瑩謝 (author)2013-01-02

u guys r awesome!!!!!!!
did the good job.

lollylan (author)2013-01-01

Wow. Just wow.

St3fX (author)2012-08-31

It's a real KickAss project...Men, you rulez!!! So much details, so much talent!

CrLz (author)2012-07-05

Amazing! Thanks for sharing so much technique, an awesome build!

Jetpack5 (author)2012-06-08

Love it!

ilpug (author)2012-05-02

Oh holy damn.... I love this! So many ideas now!

infob (author)2012-03-10

Lot of work.

Lot of envy!!!!! Arrrrgh!!!!!!

Cabe (author)2012-02-20

I found this whilst searching for something else, I was so engrossed in the writing and pictures I had forgotten what I was originally searching for!

An excellent write up and brilliant integration of old school tabletop gaming and modern model-making tech.

It makes me want to get back into Necromunda as I think this specific theme would also suit that dingy corner of the WH40k realm.

At-Large Gamers (author)2011-12-07

Thanks very much to everybody who voted for us in the competition!
Congratulations as well to the finalists and winners, it was a great pleasure to see our entry up here with such high-caliber projects.

mcarrell (author)2011-11-23

Disney imagineers couldn't have done better! Awesome project!

wncranger (author)2011-11-09

Great Instructable! I believe this instructable will definitely encourage folks to try their hands with electronics coupled with creative design and construction and so I consider this project to be an all around winner. I've clicked on follow and sent you a patch and gave you my vote. Thanks for sharing and being an inspiration to others!

Wow thanks for the compliment and the patch!
It was definitely a lot of fun, and even if its not wargaming, it can just as easily be a Halloween costume, Aquarium, or sweet Monopoly board. Hopefully early next year we will be able to post on some new projects and experiments. Thanks again.

Building stuff is always supposed to be fun!

sub893 (author)2011-11-02


egosselin1 (author)2011-10-09

What brand of stereolithography machine ? How much does it cost if I want one ?

Unfortunately the one we used was waaaaay too expensive for the consumer market (like buying a Bentley).

Home-based systems start around $15k, there is a lot of other stuff that comes with them. Stratasys, 3D Systems, Objet, and Z Corp are the companies to check out for high-quality systems (some are also 'office-friendly').

Makerbot is under $2k but the resolution is considerably lower.

Id say your best bet is to design it on CAD then contract it out to a vendor to build. Many have free instant quotes online:
* Redeye on demand
* American Precision Prototyping
* Zoom RP

or just search online for 'Rapid Prototyping Vendor' in your area

That's what I thought when I saw that kind of quality on the finished pieces. A little expensive for a hobby my girlfriend would say... But i'll check out the systems you suggested just in case, thanks for taking the time to answer. I said it before and I'll say it again, superb work !

newroger (author)2011-10-06

Ow estão de parabens pois o trabalho e a ideia são otimos!!!

eizra (author)2011-10-05

very very very very nice!

Jsquared24 (author)2011-09-30

Wow! I'm going to attempt to build this when I'm older with my brother! Very detailed. I would build it now, but I dont think I have the patience or mechanical skill.........yet :D 1123763874264347861872394/10

Deus Tempestas (author)2011-09-30

Epic, truly epic guys. You have way too much time on your hands. Thanks for sharing this with us. Wow

PropagandaPanda (author)2011-09-29

I have to say when I saw this on PA a while ago I was pretty amazed. My brother too. We build thing like this all the time and when we see others doing it with their own flare its great.
Two things I'd like to add, the blue LEDs would have probably been better off orange or "amber".
And the second is more of a question/statement. I'm surprised to see that you guys glued/assembled quite a few things before actually painting them (pipes, grates, barrels stuff that goes under metal mesh mostly seen in step 6). Any reason you did it that way? I'm of the idea that painting some of the extra features separate would have been easier... no?

Otherwise superb work! Since I wont have anything to show off (no pictures) for the epilog contest you'll get my vote.

Hi there,

We didnt have any other blue on the table and wanted to make the light streaks really stand out. The amber would be great against a flat black but we were concerned that it would get washed out.

The order of assembling, painting, and gluing comes from personal preference and the part geometry. With the right brushes and steady hand you can dig under the pipes and ink the seams. Its also handy to have a small bottle of paint-on primer in case the paint gun misses a spot.

The mesh and wooden planks went on last after the pipes underneath were complete.

Gotcha, makes sense.
I knew it was preference to assemble before painting, I always like to ask in case someone does something that might be cool enough for me to start doing it that way.

FrozenIce (author)2011-09-30


JasperNoltes (author)2011-09-30

Hi Guys! i dont play warhammer. but enjoy watching the game! and i love the gaming tables! good job! the link for the grass is had trouble finding it! thanks for your post! wil send it on to my brother!

At-Large Gamers (author)2011-09-29

Here is a compilation video from our previous table displaying some of the arduino rfid triggers and environmental effects


FuzzeeDee (author)2011-09-29

Having started my love affair with RPG over 30 years ago I have seen many play boards and computerized DM systems. This is by far the best thing I have EVER SEEN. You guys did absolutely incredible work, whether commercial or home made yours excels far beyond anything else I have seen. As a fellow enthusiast I have a couple of suggestions for your next effort that I think you would not only enjoy but could be the start of a very successful commercial enterprise if you were so inclined.

For your insert systems you could cement rare earth magnets into the recesses on the board and have corresponding metal tabs or washers embedded just below the surfaces of both. This would make all your inserts and surface mount bldg, player pieces, atmosphere sets, etc lock down nice and stable yet be easily moveable. In the opening documentation of this table system you mentioned using RFID tags, swipe cards and Arduino. You could add more LEDs in more colors which could detect a individuals player pieces and have the board sense which player the piece belonged to and automatically light up different LEDs denoting what player 'owned' what objectives. You could even have Arduino controls change atmosphere lighting to reflect elapsed game time or changing game conditions. At the start of a game each player could register a swipe card to which game assets could be matched and subsequently altered to reflect progress in the game. The overall management of all these RFID tags, game progress and status, etc could be done wirelessly with the Arduino communicating with an iPad, and maybe even iPhones (iPad for the GM and iPhones for individual players - Android devices could be supported as well or used instead). You could even devise 'game kits' that would contain game specific assets, inserts, game outline and even game specific apps for the tablet/smart phone options that would use the 'Master Game System'. You could even liscence the software and device drivers for the Arduino & RFID hardware to allow third parties to develop their own 'Game Kits' for your 'Master Board Gaming System' making it easy for your system to become a whole new industry standard. Just 'My 2¢' from a very enthusiastic fellow gamer. Good luck guys and best wishes for your continued success. Regards, Fuzzee Dee.

Haha, thanks man you rule!

These are some great points, we definitely need to make an instructable for the Arduino Board soon and get your thoughts on it as well.

The magnets would be great for securing buildings or more fragile structures.

You have some great points for integrating new tech, the dynamic atmospheric effects are what can really pull people into the setting of the game. Gonna have to go now and make some more sketches :)

millstreem (author)2011-09-29

this is a true master piece, loads of detail, makes me want to come to your house and take it.

Victor Moser (author)2011-09-29


At-Large Gamers (author)2011-09-29

By the way!!!

We are entering into the "4th Epilog Challenge" to Win a Laser cutter

Can you imaging how much more cool stuff we could build with one of those?
Buildings, Origami, Spaceships?!?!... origami buildings inside spaceships?

The sky is the limit, please vote for our project so that we can continue making awsome Terrain.


At-Large Gamers (author)2011-09-29

Thanks for the love everybody!
We appreciate all the positive comments!

We really enjoyed working on this project and want to make it as accessible as possible for anyone else who is interested in wargaming (or in making a cool board for monopoly or toy or something).

jkerchelich (author)2011-09-29

The amount of detail and effort you guys put in to this amazes me.

fidibiri (author)2011-09-29

You guys are freaking crazy! This is just awesome...

Tho questions: How long and how much did it take?

At-Large Gamers (author)fidibiri2011-09-29

We started on memorial day weekend and flew out of PAX in Mid August. Similarly, the previous project also took about 3 months. We try to standardize and modularize as much as possible and now have our list of preferred suppliers which helps a ton.

Gotta say though, the last 2 weeks to make the shipping and flight deadlines were reaaaaally full days lol.

egosselin (author)2011-09-29

Spectacular, i'm speechless at your talent and attention to details...

CFW (author)2011-09-29

Brilliant !!! Can't wait for the next one...

askjerry (author)2011-09-29

Now THIS is an Instructable... too many people just show off, "Look what I did"... without going into detail as to how they did the steps to build it. Your details were every bit as great as the design and building of the project. Someone who wanted to do a similar piece could follow this like a manual and achieve good results.

I salute you,
hats off,
and... two thumbs up!


askjerry (author)askjerry2011-09-29

And... might I add...

A-W-E-S-O-M-E ! ! !

vinacarv (author)2011-09-29

You have some decent skills, folks! Brutally AWESOME.

raja681 (author)2011-09-26

good job with this one and i luv the begining pix they are awesome then i saw the blue doors..... and im like TARDIS YYYEEAAAAAHHH!!!!!!

Calltaker (author)2011-09-26

Wow. Not much else can be said. Detail is phenomenal, build is fairly straightforward to anyone with a little bit of mechanical ability. This is absolutely amazing.

Admittedly, I never got the hang of table games, but still, this is absolutely freaking amazing!!!!

Kudos to the max!!

laxap (author)2011-09-26

Fantastic, I love it! So much great details! The LEDs give an amazing effect.

Greatly documented too! Five stars and fav!

ZoDo (author)2011-09-26

Raly amazing job. Wish I had one of these.

About This Instructable




Bio: We are three guys in Boston interested in all kinds of games, and in this case miniature based wargames. We are fascinated by technology and ... More »
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