In the Beginning
I’ve come a long way from my earliest (school) days of tabletop wargaming, which for my group of friends didn’t even involve a table. We used string and push-pins to mark out the battle zone in the middle of the carpeted lounge floors we played on. Our terrain was 50% Necromunda box set terrain and 50% books, soda cans, coasters, and random ornaments from whoever’s parents house we were at.
As time progressed, we graduated from the floor to an under-sized dining table recently purchased by one set of parents. Reduce the deployment zones and the dimension issue was easily solved. The books, coasters, and random ornaments were gradually replaced over this period to include assorted cardboard or polystyrene packaging that were easily imagined to represent hills, bunkers, pumping stations, observation towers, or shuttle landing pads.
As we left secondary school (college in these parts, high school in others) and moved out of home, most of us got jobs or went to university and the next evolution in playing surfaces arose. Sheets of customwood MDF were purchased (in our frustratingly metric country) across the group and each built their custom table for their house.
The most simple was the guy who bought a full sheet of MDF at 2400 by 1200 (that’s 94.488″ by 47.244″ – see, frustratingly metric) and stored it behind his couch. Come game time, we would just put the sheet on top of the dining table and away we went.
Another guy went with the “easy to transport in the small japanese car table” where a half sheet was cut into 4 strips of 1200 by 300, and assembled into 2 hinged pieces that when expanded and laid out on top of his collapsible dog pen, formed the pinnacle of our mobile table technology.
One of the flats (apartments) even had a pine-frame-reinforced full sheet of MDF which was attached by ropes and pulleys to their garage ceiling. We simply manned the ropes on either side of the garage and lowered it to a playable height, or raised it out of the way at the end. Cool? Very. It was however ridiculously unstable and prone to swinging if you leaned against the “table” by mistake. It certainly wasn’t without its drawbacks. Like the time we were all a little drunk on Saturday afternoon and someone tried to reach a particularly far away model. There may have been a significant seismic event which swallowed both armies and terrain in spectacular fashion. A redesign of the pulley system followed.
All of these tables were just plain wood however. Never painted or stained, these were simply surfaces upon which to game.
Fast-forward another interval until several years ago. After a long gaming dry-spell resulting from the original group all either moving on, overseas, or across the country, my gaming was picking back up and it seemed the perfect time to create my own custom table. As my gaming systems at this time were still heavily of the BattleMallet:VeryBigNumber variety, I set to designing a 6′ by 4′ table. (Or for those playing at home, 1800 by 1200.)
My needs were fairly simple. I wanted it to be collapsible for storage and transport, and I wanted it to be finished, not just plain wood. My existing, large coffee table was used as the base support structure, and I constructed a removable play-field that could be unbolted into 2 halves to fit in a car for transport. I succeeded well enough in my goals and had a great amount of highly satisfying gaming on my table. It had 2 major flaws that only became apparent with use.
As the table was essentially now an over-sized coffee table, a just-lower-than-knee-height afforded an amazing tactical and strategic perspective when viewing the field top-down. However, it was a lot more challenging to get a models-eye-view, which in certain systems (BM:VBN) can be an issue. More-over, the height also made it awkward when making large measurements for the… less nimble of my opponents.
The second issue was that of the textured surface I painted on. I made the mistake of using sand mixed into the paint to texture the table top. Visually this worked great. Practically I had made a 6′ by 4′ piece of rigid sand-paper. Leaning on the table was a natural tendency for first-timers due to its height. This was quite uncomfortable even when done with a fleshy palm, escalating into downright painful if you’re a knuckle-leaner. While it wasn’t difficult to break the habit of leaning on the table, the real kicker was knocking or dropping a painted model onto the surface. Paint chips and scratches could be mortifying and even with my average table-top level of painting skill my heart was in my mouth whenever an accident occurred.
It’s been a great run with my first custom-built table but time has come to sell it, and begin a fresh table project to create an even better one.
Early Concept Features and Design Thoughts
It is early days for this project, but to kick things off I’ll jot down my up-front thoughts.
Permanent furniture – I own my house now, and no longer need a portable table. Overall finish is important, and consideration to use as (shock horror) an “ordinary” table is needed.
Multi-system support – Playing area needs to accomodate popular playfield sizes. Research needed as I have limited knowledge of the wider gaming options available. I am also an avid RPG player, so suitability for classic pen and paper RPGs is vital.
Extra space – Gamers always need more space. Space for a death clock, casualties, reserve units, army lists, dice pools, rule books, tablets, phones, etc. Which ties in to:
Drawers and/or trays – These could be useful for any number of systems and general gaming reasons. Care needs to be taken to not over-fill a table edge with such gadgets. Will still need to reach the centre of the table.
No cup holders – You’ll see these on many bells-and-whistles custom tables online, but I have a kitchen bar right next to the gaming space. Just not needed, and borderline tacky.
Scoreboard – Traditionally I’ve used a whiteboard on the wall to track score or important game wide information. Can consider some table-side feature for score tracking. e.g. Victory Points track, turn counter, etc
More detailed ideas and rough designs are forthcoming. I’ll keep you posted.