Introduction: 3D Print a Game: the Beginner's Guide

So your desk is full of 3D printed novelty Yodas, Owls and T-Rex Skulls that collecting more dust then they do looks. Its time to bring some practicality and usability to your prints. It's time you started 3D printing your own table top games.

Dozens of great 3D printable games are scattered across the internet, but until now they have been tricky to find, and even harder make sense of. There is no need to waste precious plastic on a lousy game. This instructable will help you discover some hidden treasures, give you some tips for printing them, and than help you get the most out of the hobby. By the end of these instructions you will be recycling your old 3D printed paper weights to make room for your new 3D printed games.

I've included the steps I took recently to print a game. Hopefully it acts as a primer for you to get out an print.

Step 1: Discover

Photo: TARDIS Run by Joseph Larson

What better way to introduce 3D printable games than by sharing some of the best? To do so, I have broken my favorite games into 3 categories; 3D originals, traditional re-mixes and supports pieces. Let's not waste any more time and take a closer at each category.

3D Originals

These are games that are only available as 3D printable files.

Seej by Zheng3 - Build and battle with your 3D printed catapults. The options are ever expanding.

Pocket Tactics by Ill Gotten Games - From the creator of some of the first 3D printed games comes a classic strategy board game that has become the standard for 3D printable games.

TARDIS Run by Joseph Larson - How could the 3D printed board game category exist without a Doctor Who themed game?

Traditional Re-mixes

These traditional games have been brought back from sands of time in a way their original creators would have never imagined. And guess what... they they are way more exciting than 3D printed chess.

Tablut by Eric L. - A Viking precursor to chess featuring a lop-sided distribution of forces.

Gobble By Peter Kitzmiller - A spin off of the popular board game "Gobblet"

Palago Tiles by Tony Sherwood - Turn 48 identical tiles into a fun game.

Supports Pieces

There are many great games that are now seeing some great 3D prints enhance their appeal. From RPGs to war games, there is a rising number of excellent game support pieces.

Openforge by Devon Jones - Journey into endless possibilities in your next RPG game.

D&D Miniatures by Miguel Zavala - Add some life to your next game of D&D.

Wargame Scenery by Printable Scenery - While you will have to drop some money on their 3D files, you won't find anything finer to 3D print.

Step 2: Choose a Game

Photo: Breach on Thingiverse

I have a big list at the end of this instructable of 3D printable game. Breach: Starship Duels by Ill Gotten Games has been near the top for a while. A couple things that intrigue me are the space battle theme, the well crafted miniatures, and the modular playing board. It also has some extra expansion that look interesting that I might try if this game plays well.

Breach is not as common as some of the other games produced by Ill Gotten Games, but I wanted to try something new, and hopefully expand upon this framework and maybe even create some of my own ships.

It is the game I picked to print this time around, and hopefully I can point our a few tips for people who want to try printing a game.

Step 3: Printing Breach: Starship Duels

The rules for Breach come in the Thingiverse download as 2 PDF files. One file is for the game cards, the other is for the rules. A good set of rules will tell you all of the components you need to play. In the case of Breach the only things I need in addition to the 3D printed models and the playing cards were 12 six sided dice which I stole from some other games I had on hand.

I downloaded Breach: Starship Duels from Thingiverse. It comes with 6 .STL files for the ships, their bases, and the hex tiles. If you choose to print another game, be sure you have all the parts you will need to play. In some cases you will need to print multiples of a part.

Update: Thingiverse recently released a feature that lets you print files with 3D Hub, a community of 3D printers. They are also now letting you tip the designer. This feature is still in it's early stages and all of the designs on the site may not have this feature. If you choose to print with 3D Hub, you won't need to download the files. Just one click will get you started.

Step 4: Printing With 3D Hub

For this game I chose to print my game with 3D Hub. The have a huge community, and I easily found a printer in my area. A couple things I considered when printing with 3D Hub were the print quality and the color options. I Didn't feel like I need exceptional detail for this game so I went with a medium quality. You can be the judge by looking at the images if that was a wise choice of not.

When I sent in my request, I let the printer know that I wanted black tiles and different colors for the ships. It would have been awesome to print each ship printed in a different color, but I figure I can paint them later to add a little more diversity. The print ended up costing me just under $30.00. I figure I could have cut the cost by not printing the hex bases and just making those out of card stock, but I splurged. Just so you are aware, 3D Hub calculates the cost based on volume. There is also a fixed startup cost that the printer sets. I've seen it vary between $5 and $20 based on printer types.

Step 5: Printing Tips

Photo: Windswept by Ill Gotten Games

I'm going to assume you have some experience 3D printing. There is a myriad of resources available to learn the art of 3D printing. I'm going to offer a few tips unique to 3D printing board games.

1. Read the rules before printing

This is the best way to figure out if a game is worth printing. It's not uncommon for 3D printed games to have vague rules that make the game difficult to play. A quick read through will help you get a feel for the game. Many game designers in this space are open to feedback if you have questions about the rules, and often times you can clarify uncertainties with a quick email.

2. Find games with pictures of actual prints

This is not an uncommon piece of advice for people looking to print something, but even more so for 3D printable games. If you can tell a game has been printed, you can be relatively certain that someone has played it. On sights like thingiverse, you can reach out to people that have made it and ask them what they thought.

3. Watch out for beta versions

I have seen quit a few beta version of games floating around. Sometimes they are not mark very well. Keep an eye out for them, but don't let them stop you from printing them. Often times designers are looking for feedback, and you can get involved in a fun community. Recently, Adrian Croft launched a beta version of his game Windswept and is looking for play testers. Check it out and add your thoughts.

4. Paint you games (Optional)

This is totally optional, and often times you can achieve a colorful effect with a variety of filaments. I always think that a little bit of color goes a long way.

Step 6: Assembling Parts

Breach has a straight forward assembly. I simply superglued the posts to the bases and the ships to the posts. In this game, there is a small arrow that points the direction of the ship. I did make sure to point it towards the front of the ship using the playing cards as a guide.

Step 7: Playing Breach: Starship Duels

I've played the game a couple times since I printed it, and I thought it was ok. The main reason I printed this game was because I really like the idea of playing with starships on a modular board. There were some things about this game that made it a little clunky when trying to develop any kind of strategy. For instance movement is mostly based on chance and the ships abilities don't seem very well balanced.

Not to despair, I have already stared fiddling with the rules (that's the beauty of the maker game movement). I'll share some of my modification when I have them nailed down. I also want to paint the ships, but I think that is a project for another day.

Step 8: Tips for Play

Photo: HeroForge

Of course all games are different, so it would be to go over rules and tactics, however; I would like to share a couple tips to make you playing experience even better.

Customize Components

To me, one of the most compelling things about 3D printing is its ability to customize anything. When printing and playing a 3D printed game there is no longer a need to be constrained by the manufactures parts and components. Currently, the company leading the charge in game customization is HeroForge. They let you 3D print you own customized minis for RPG games.

Even with companies like HeroForge you need not constrain your creativity. Some of the most interesting game pieces I have seen are mashups of 3D files other people have already published.

Adapt the rules

Just as you shouldn't feel constrained by the game pieces you use, you shouldn't feel constrained by the rules you are using. Now, before all your games turn into Calvin Ball, I recommend you develop your rules in iterations with a group of people that are looking to have a good time.

Make your own

You are no longer restrained to play games published by other people. If you are reading this, I'm sure you have a maker spirit, so use it to make great games. As you print and play many games you will find themes and mechanics that inspire you. Build on those ideas to make some truly amazing things.

If you are really serious about creating you own games, if might be worth your time checking out a game system call Open Board Game. Open Board Game is a system that uses 3D printable hexes to create modular terrain. It is a great foundation for a world of possibilities.

Step 9: Share

The 3D printed game community is growing, and now its your turn to keep it moving forward. The most important step in this process is to share your designs. We want to see your designs on Thingiverse and here on Instructables.

I am always writing and talking about 3D printed games, and I would love to feature your games on my site Good luck and get printing.

Step 10: Additional Resources

More 3D Printed Games To Try

Tartis Run By Joseph Larson

Launchpad Moon (Laser Cut) by Windham Graves

Double Domino Havoc by Larry Fortna

Seej by Zheng3

Corners by Michael

More Games From the Acclaimed Designers at Ill Gotten Games

Pocket Tactics by Ill gotten Games

Pocket Dungeons by Ill gotten Games

Windswept by Ill gotten Games

ZoneS by Ill gotten Games

Breach by Ill gotten Games

Wayfarer (RPG) by Ill gotten Games

Words of Wisdom by Ill gotten Games

3D Printed Game Adaptations

Corners by Michael

Coin age by Joseph Larson

Squirrel Squabble by Joseph Larson

MicroPul by Holoped (Ancient)

Tablut by Eric L. (Ancient)

3D Printed Gaming Tiles

OpenForge by Devon Jones

Interlocking tile set by Larry James

3D Printing Contest

Participated in the
3D Printing Contest