Introduction: Pirate Treasure Hunt Game

About: My name is Thomas and I'm an architect, graphic designer and illustrator. I love designing and making new things, preferrably with a funny twist. Check out my website or socials to keep up with what Im working…

For my son's fifth birthday party we decided on a pirate theme and instead of letting him just hand out candy treats at school I made a Treasure Hunt game out of it. The kids each get their own unique treasure map and need to find the right spot on the island to dig for treasure!

This instructable involves a lot of cardboard, printed paper, cutting and glueing. And of course sweet sugary Pirate Treasure! Or whatever healthy treat you like ;)

So, me mateys, ARRR you ready to start crafting? Let's Go!


- (laser) color printer, preferably wide-format (B/Tabloid/A3)
- craft knife or box cutter
- cutting mat
- hot glue gun
- ruler
- thermal laminator machine with clear laminating pouches

- cardboard, preferably large flat pieces without folds
- double sided tape
- wooden skewers (optional)
- treasure!

Step 1: Preparation & Printing

The game I made has room for 12 treasures and a separate larger compartment with treats for the teachers. The island is 70cm in diameter, which is about 27.5 inches. I printed the images on A3 paper, which is the standard wide format here in Europe, but it will work on Tabloid or B size paper as well.
If you want to go bigger or not quite as big I got you covered. I attached a pdf file with just the island as a whole that you can scale up or down to any size you like using common image editing software.

NOTE: the treasure maps I provided are based on a 4x3 grid on the island (see image). If you want to 'bury' more treasures (on a larger island) you will also have to make more treasure maps yourself by printing the island twice and cutting it in however many maps you need. Also if you make the island higher/thicker you will need to adjust the edge image that will go on the outside later.

If you have decided what size you want to make the island and have prepared the print documents (either the files I provided or your own) you can start printing. I used a professional laser color printer at work because the ink doesn't stain or smear when it gets moist. But seeing this probably is a one-day thing any printer will do just fine.

The important thing here is to print the file using the 'fit' or 'shrink' option. This way your printer will not cut off a small edge of the image but will simply shrink the image to within the printer's print margins. This ensures your island pieces will fit together perfectly.

The treasure maps can be printed using the 'multiple' option to print 4 maps on a single page.

Remember to turn 'print on both sides' off ;)

Step 2: Creating the Island

Get your printed documents, a cutting mat and a knife and carefully cut out the island pieces. In my case I had six pieces. There should be a thin white margin on two sides where the printer shrunk the image. Cut off all the blank paper and check to see if the image lines up with the neighbouring pieces.

Next get your cardboard. I didn't have a large enough flat piece so I used two pieces and taped them together. If you need to do this as well, make sure you DON'T line up the edges of the cardboard with the edges of your island pieces. This makes it easier to attach the paper and makes it a bit sturdier.

TIP: to make opening the flaps easily in the next step, rotate your cardboard so that the lines go horizontally. This way you can fold the flaps upward.

I'm not a big fan of craft glue because it makes the paper wet and wrinkly so I often use double sided tape to fix paper to cardboard. Simply cut off thing pieces of tape and place them along the edges and some in the middle. Leave half of the tape sticking out beyond the edge of the paper so you can use the same tape to fix the next piece. Carefully line up the pieces by the edges and gently lower them down onto the sticky tape.

TIP: first put the paper in place BEFORE removing the thin layer of film. Once correctly aligned, lift up one corner and remove the film of one piece of tape while holding the paper in place. Then gently let the paper fold down onto the tape to fix it. Now you can fold the paper over and remove all the other film layers and then let the paper roll back over the tape, using your hand to create a smooth surface.

Once the paper pieces are fixed to the cardboard you can cut away the excess cardboard around the edges. If you want you can get your treasure maps and check if they fit the island like I did. This is not necessary though.

This is also a good time to get some more cardboard and cut another circle to form the bottom piece later.

Step 3: Cutting the Flaps

To cut the holes, which are actually flaps, I first measured the treasure to make sure it would fit inside. Allow for some extra space to get the treasure out and make a template out of some cardboard or paper. This way you can easily cut out the same size holes.

IMPORTANT: only cut 3 sides and leave 1 side to create a flap that you can open and close.

If you used tape like I did to fix the island pieces, the paper will probably come loose once you start cutting flaps. Once you cut through the paper and cardboard, fold the paper open and place some small pieces of double sided tape. Remove the film and fold the paper back down to fix it.

To make the cardboard fold open more easily, turn the island upside down and VERY CAREFULLY cut HALFWAY through the cardboard, leaving the cardboard layer that has the island on it intact.

Continue cutting all the flaps and fixing them to the cardboard underneath. Check if they all open and close without problems. Next get a teaspoon and test if you can open the flaps without pushing from the bottom. Press down below the bottom edge of the flap and then gently pry open the flap. Try not to rip the paper from the cardboard ;)

Step 4: Making the Inner Structure

If you haven't cut a second circle out of cardboard yet you can do this now. Once the structure is glued it will be a lot more difficult to trace the shape and make an exact copy to form the bottom.

To make the holes fit with the flaps the easiest way is to glue rectangular 'boxes' on the bottom side of the island. This is where you cut the flaps and you can arrange the boxes to fit around them.

The printed image that will go on the outside is about 2 inches high (50mm). Measure the thickness of your cardboard (top and bottom piece) and calculate how high the inner structure needs to be to fit the siding. In my case the top and bottom were 2mm each, so my inner structure was 46mm high, to fit the 50mm high image.

Create strips of cardboard all of the same height and start folding them into rectangles to fit around the flaps. Leave a little extra room around the cuts so you don't accidentally glue the flaps shut. I used hot glue because it dries very quickly and is super sturdy.

Once all the boxes are in place you can place the outside 'wall' around the edge of the island. Because I created a separate compartment with a large flap, the wall for this part is glued to the bottom part. Next, get your bottom piece and place it on top. Turn it around a few times to see when it fits best and glue it in place. Be careful not to drip hot glue on the flaps!

Turn the whole thing over and check if everything is fixed properly. Optionally glue the last bit of siding to the bottom to create the compartment at the front.

Step 5: Outside Edge

To finish the outside edge cut out the strips (if you haven't already) and glue or tape these to the outside of your island. Try to line up the image for a sleek look and cut off any excess paper that sticks out the top or bottom.

Step 6: Decoration

To add a little extra depth to the island I made some pop-up pirate decorations. To make the elements sturdy enough to stand up straight I laminated them using clear laminating pouches. Another way is to use wooden skewers and tape these to the back of the paper cutouts and simply stick these into the cardboard.

Cut the decoration elements carefully and place as many as possible into a single laminating pouch. Leave some extra space around the bottom to make an extra bit of laminate to stick into the island. Laminate the elements using the laminator machine and let it cool down for a bit on a flat surface.

Cut around the elements, leaving a small margin around the paper image. This means you don't have to cut all the detailed edges. Create a slightly pointed extra bit at the bottom.

Decide where you want your decoration to go on the island and carefully make a small cut for each element. Stick your elements in and push down until the bottom of the image is at 'island level'.

Because my palm tree was too big I glued it to a piece of cardboard. I used a thin skewer and pushed this into the cardboard trunk, between the layers, to make it stiff enough to stand up by itself.

Step 7: Dig for Treasure! ARRR!

And there you have it: your finished pirate island!

Get yer eye patches and cutlasses and start hunting for treasure, you scallywags! ARRR!

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