Laser Cut Board Games




There are a vast number of German Style board games on the market now a days. We have a growing collection and devote many hours to playing them with our friends. Some of these games require additional functional parts, fancy accessories or even just deluxe versions. This instructable will offer ideas about what can be done to improve your own games, tips for how to make some of these thing and just outright links to some of the projects I've made for my games.

Along side this I'm hoping to release my files for a laser cut version of the tile game Carcassonne. So if you want your own deluxe set of tiles for your existing Carcassonne game, head over to my blog to find out how you can get those.

With Lasercutters regularly found in schools, tech shops, hackspaces, online and even in coffee shops I feel these kinds of laser cutting projects are well within reach of the average maker, and I'm always more than happy to recreate any of my projects now that the files have been drawn (drawing is 90% of the effort)

Step 1: Interlocking Tiles

Tile games are ripe for recreating with deluxe versions. There are many tile games and there are so many improvements that can be made to them.

A lot of tiles are placed down next to each other, they have a tendency to slip when someone accidentally leans on the board in the wrong place. Tiles can be made to interlock with each other to prevent this from happening. A mechanical interlock can be made by changing the edge of each tile. I prefer to create a magnetic interlock by placing magnets around the edge of the tile. With the correct arrangement of north and south poles the tiles can be made to align at any angle. The magnets can be affixed under the original tiles and don't protrude around the edges of the tiles.

Settlers of catan uses Hexagonal tiles to represent the different resources on the island, 2 magnets on each side of the tile (one north and one south) allows the tiles to interlock at any angle but the orientation of each tile is not actually important so a much better configuration is to have 1 magnet on each side alternating between north and south.

Step 2: Plain Tiles

Plain doesn't have to mean boring, when you are laser cutting wood it's very easy to get 2 distinct coloured areas from a single material. The engraving operation burns the surface of the material and gives a second darker colour. It is also possible to create line accents by having a very low power cut. This produces a very dark and well defined line which can add detail to each tile or to outline a shape and make it really stand out.

My Carcassonne tile set was created by scanning each tile and then tracing the shapes of the roads and buildings. By adding a definition line to most of the features I was able to really make the towns pop out from the tile. I was also able to put all the tufts of grass onto the farm lands, if I was just using an etch operation these little details would not be possible.

Step 3: Coloured Tiles

My favourite way of creating coloured tiles is to use different woods, each wood has it's own unique colour and once the tiles are oiled or varnished they really stand apart from each other. In a game like settlers of catan this can be used to great effect by having one colour for each of the different resources. Applying wood veneers to each tile can be time consuming so it is great for one off custom work but there are easier ways to create coloured tiles.

Coloured tiles can be made easily using paints. I tend to use a very watered down acrylic paint to give good, even coverage, but by leaving the paint thin you can still see the grain of the wood underneath it. It is still possible to create a two tone effect by painting the entire tile one colour and then etching areas of the paint off to expose the wood underneath.

Coloured tiles can be slightly trickier when you require 2 colours on a single tile, something that is required for the Heredox tile game. To get round this problem I created a lasercut stencil for the tiles which allows me to paint only the specific areas in the right colours. Once the tile blank was painted I put it back into the machine and then cut the tiles out.

Step 4: Resource Trays

Settlers of catan comes with a deck of cards to represent the resources player receive during the game. This deck is shared amongst all the players and it often gets jumbled with people throwing cards back onto the pile. A custom resource holder can keep the card decks aligned during play and makes for a faster set up because they can be put away in the box separately.

Visit here for the Catan files

Agricola has a lot of resource tokens that are usually stored in bags. These are taken out and piled on the table during play and often thrown back into the same bag when packing away. A handy row of storage trays can keep everything separate and stored while the game is not being played

Agricola Storage bins

Step 5: Tokens to Go in the Resource Trays

Once you've got a set of nice resource trays you might want to improve upon the tokens that go into the tray. Some games need counters to represent things during play. Consider making these in custom colours and even personalised with peoples names if you have a regular group that play together.

Games like Carcassonne and Lords of Waterdeep use meeples to represent people on the board.

Agricola has a whole farmyard of animals represented by round tokens that could easily be made animal shaped.

Step 6: Boxes to Store Your Expanded Game In

If you've gone the whole hog and upgraded tiles, storage trays and tokens you may find that your original game no longer fits in the box. You could just buy a whole new box and add some fancy engraving to the top and some dividers on the inside or you could remake a whole new box.

There are a lot of tabbed box generators online where you can specify the size of the box you want and it will produce the files required to cut it out. I prefer this online version which gives you 3 different fixing types and a real time 3D preview of the box you're designing.

I like to add a bit of extra flourish to my boxes and I often use this flex box generator as a starting point for rounded boxes with the curvy living hinges.

Step 7: Enjoy Your Revamped Game

Hopefully some of these ideas will inspire you to improve your own versions of your loved board games. The drawing process can be time consuming but the end results are often worth it because you'll have the coolest set out of all your buddies.

Don't forget to check out my blog for more of my gaming creations, and if you would like to save yourself 200 hours of drawing effort on your own lasercut Carcassonne tile set then please support my file release attempts



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    16 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Intrigued by the lasercutting machine applied to games. I will explore it.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I love this instructable, but you should mention that your are infringing other people's rights by copying a game this way. Especially since you are selling it on the web.

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, not so much. Sorry, but copyright dosen't work that way... I mean it sort of does, but not exactly.

    Since someone has released an open source version of the tiles--you can't really claim copyright on them anymore. Example: There is a trademarked version of the combination of spoon and fork--and that is not able to be copied and sold. Someone owns that design, and that is their design. You make an exact copy of that design and suddenly you are in a world of copyright infringement.

    But, because SparkFun makes the S.H.O.V.E.L. (Semi-Horned Oblong Versatile Eating Ladle) and that IS open source, so you can download and use that one to your hearts content. Sell it, modify it, whatever. You can do it if you want to. Just so long as it is not exactly the same as the other Spoon-and-fork combo.

    So there. Problem solved. Just be sure to open source your design files and code (if there is any) at any stage of the game, and you are golden.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    This is not an appropriate place for this kind of discussion.

    You are 100% fine making your own tiles/items for personal use.
    As for me selling the files, let's just say that it puts me in that slightly scary grey area, anyone using my files for personal use is fine.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    The Carcassonne tile set I sell falls into the grey area of board game accessories, but that has nothing to do with this instructable about ways/ideas for improving your own board games. Any other issues are mentioned on my website.

    Wow, nice work! In section two what are the tiles in the fifth and sixth pictures? Is that a game or just a design toy? Whatever it is it's awesome.

    2 replies

    It's a game called Palago, 48 identical tiles.
    I quite like the fact there are 6 possible opening moves and 5 of them result in loss for the person starting :)


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I love the named pieces. I could use this once and for all to make it so my color is always red!

    Awesome ideas and the steps seem to be well thought out. Thank you for sharing.


    4 years ago

    Wow. These are fabulous. And would make an awesome gift! Great upgrade; I know my family plays Catan enough to warrant the creation of something like this!