Introduction: How to Make a Custom Operation Game

About: My name is Jason Poel Smith. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker, and all around Mad Genius

Operation is a game that lets you test your hand-eye coordination by removing a variety of ailment tokens from a cartoon patient without touching the metal sides of each slot. Since its release in 1965, there have been a lot of special editions created. These feature popular characters such as  Buzz Lightyear, R2D2 and Iron Man. The game's simple design makes it very versatile and easy to adapt.

In this instructable, I am going to show you how you can make your own Operation style game from scratch.

Step 1: Materials

There are a wide variety of construction methods and materials that you could use to make this game. For example, you could vacuum form the game board or 3D print the ailment tokens. But for the sake of simplicity, I am going to illustrate the process using materials that are cheap and readily available to anyone. Feel free to make changes and substitutions. As long as the basic circuit is set up the same it should still work. This is a custom design project afterall.

Printout of your character
4 sheets of cardboard (about 8.5 inches x 11 inches)
Thin sheet metal (about 8.5 inches x 11 inches)
2 feet of insulated copper wire
Heat shrink tubing
2 AAA battery holders
2 AAA batteries
3V buzzer (Radio Shack Part # 273-053)
Multipurpose glue
Double sided tape
13 small objects to serve as ailment tokens
1/16 inch thick sheet of plastic

Soldering iron and solder
Tin snips (optional)
Sharp knife
Binder clamps
Fine tipped marker/Sharpie
Dremel rotary tool with cutting and grinding attachments
Drill and bit set
Needle or push pin

Source Tips:
The cardboard is easy to cut out of a large shipping box. For the sheet metal, I used a baking sheet that I found at dollar tree for $1. This yields about 13" x 9" of metal. The sheet of plastic can be salvaged from the housing of an old electronic device.

Step 2: Select a Character

Every game of Operation needs a patient. You can choose an existing character or invent a brand new one. Cartoon characters are convenient to use because it is usually easy to find good reference pictures. I chose the cartoon robot from last year's Maker Faire because it has a really simple design.

Then you need to print out a picture of your chosen character. If you can, scale it to fit a full 8.5"x11" sheet of paper. You may wish to use a photo editing program to remove the background details. If you don't have a photo editing program, you can get the same results by cutting the character out with a pair of scissors and pasting it on top of a blank sheet of paper.

Step 3: Make or Find Ailment Tokens

In the original game, the patient had ailments such as "Butterflies in the Stomach", "Spare Ribs", and a "Wish Bone." However, each special edition used ailments that were specific to the featured character. For instance, Iron Man had a "Fried Power Core" and Buzz Lightyear had a "Cracked Communicator. So you need to think up some specific ailments for your character. 

Ailment tokens are typically stamped or molded plastic. You can cut the basic shapes out of thin plastic with scissors or a knife. The exact shape isn't critical. Just try to make to resemble something related to the ailment.

Alternatively, you can simply find small objects to use as ailment tokens. Since my character is a robot, I found it convenient to just use the actually electrical components as game pieces. This saved some construction time, but made the game play more difficult since parts of the tokens were conductive.

Step 4: Mark the Locations on the Character Where the Ailments Will Be Located

Next, decide where each ailment will be located. If an ailment has a logical place where it should be located, then place it there. For instance "Water on the Knee" should be located near the knee of the character. If an ailment doesn't have an implied location, just try to keep them spaced out. They shouldn't be too close together.

Make a stack of three sheets of cardboard and the character printout. Center all the layers and hold them together by clipping a large binder clamp on each corner. Place the tokens on top of the character printout and outline each of them with a pencil. The outline should be about 1/4 inch past the edge of token on all sides.

Step 5: Cut Slots for Each Token

Using a needle or push pin pierce through the stack at each corner of the marked outline. This marks the corners of the outlines on each layer of cardboard. You can then remove the binder clamps and separate the layers. Then using a sharp knife, carefully cut out all the slots on the printout and each cardboard layers.

Step 6: Cut Slots in the Sheet Metal

Take the character printout and place it face down centered on your piece of sheet metal. Then hold them together by clipping a binder clamp on each corner. Then using a sharpie, trace the outlines onto the plate. 

Next, you need to cut out these outlines. To do this you can use a Dremel rotary tool with cutting wheel attachment. You could also use a fine toothed saw such as a coping saw or jeweler's saw. After cutting out each slot you may wish smooth the edges with a grinding wheel attachment or a file.

Whatever method you use, try to stay inside the traced outline. This will ensure that the metal sticks out a little bit past the cardboard and the character printout. 

Step 7: Glue Together the Cardboard Layers

Glue the three cut pieces of cardboard together. Then glue a plain piece of cardboard onto the back of the stack to seal the bottom of each hole. Press the cardboard with a large book or other heavy object while the glue dries.

Step 8: Attach the Character Printout to the Plate

Place strips of double sided tape on the top side of the metal plate. Then carefully apply the character printout to the surface so that they are stuck together. Do your best to keep all the cutout slots lined up.

Step 9: Cut Slots for the Battery and the Buzzer

Place the battery pack and the buzzer side by side on one of the corners of the cardboard. Then mark and cut out a section of cardboard that is a little bigger than these parts. This will make room to mount the components and their wires.

Step 10: Mount the Plate to the Cardboard

Apply double sided tape to the top side of the cardboard. Then carefully line up and attach the metal plate and character printout.

Step 11: Drill Holes in the Plate to Attach the Wires

Lay the assembly face down. Place the battery pack and the buzzer in the cutout section of the cardboard. Using a sharpie, mark one location near the negative lead of the battery pack and a second location near the negative lead of the buzzer. Then remove the buzzer and the battery from the plate and drill a 1/16 inch hole at both of the marked locations.

Step 12: Make the Extraction Tool (Tweezers)

Take a two foot long piece of insulated wire and strip the insulation off both ends. Then take the exposed wire on one end and wrap it around the base of a pair of tweezers. You don't need to solder them together. However some tweezers have a thick protective coating to prevent corrosion. If this is the case, you may need to rough up the surface in order to make good electrical contact. After wrapping the wire, hold it in place with a piece of heat shrink tubing.

Step 13: Solder the Circuit Together

The circuit for the project is really simple. It consists of just a battery pack, a buzzer and a switch that is formed by the tweezers and the plate. Start by soldering the positive lead of the buzzer to the positive lead of t he battery pack. Then solder the negative lead of the buzzer to one of the drilled holes in the plate. Lastly take the free end of the wire attached to the tweezers and feed it through the second drilled hole in the plate and solder it to to negative lead of the battery pack. You may wish to apply heat shrink tubing or electrical tape to help keep all the wires insulated.

Step 14: Attach the Buzzer and the Battery to the Plate.

Using either glue or take secure the battery pack and the buzzer to the back of the plate.

Step 15: Finished Game Board

Insert the tokens into the slots and you are ready to test your hand-eye coordination with a custom game of Operation. If you want to make a set of cards to play with, assign each token a dollar amount. Then print the ailment name and value on each card. Then make a "specialist deck" which has the dollar amount doubled.

Step 16: Optional Ways to Improve the Game.

If you want to add lights to the game, you can wire a pair of LEDs in parallel with the buzzer. The lights and buzzer will then go off together when the tweezers touch the plate.

If you want to add sound effects to the game you can wire in a simple sound recording module. To do this, connect the negative terminal of the recording module battery to the negative terminal of the game board's battery pack. Then connect the play pin on the recording module to the plate.