Hey, Andy here. I want to show you my process for designing a modular token tray set for a game called Hadrian’s Wall.
This isn’t necessarily an exhaustive tutorial, but a brief walkthrough of my design process. Hopefully you can glean something and be inspired to make your own board game upgrade!
A link to download this model for free is at the end.
Developing the idea
When working on a board game accessory, a great place to generate ideas is actually playing the board game! I’ve seen upgrades and even actual game pieces that were clearly made by someone with either no idea how the game functions or no interest in playing the game.
Playing the game will help you generate a list of features you want and help you think of edge cases where your upgrade will not work or may need to be refined.
Let’s look at Hadrian’s Wall. This is an awesome (and complex!) “roll n’ write” game in which you as the player organize the building and maintenance/defense of a section of a wall designed to keep out the barbarian hordes. Each turn you are managing resources, workers, and soldiers. You are constantly trying to optimize, upgrade, build, and recruit so you can defeat the attackers when they come.
When I set this game up I had piles of tokens on the table. I had a couple token trays, but immediately went looking for some extra bowls for the other piles. There are 4 different worker types and 1 resource type. Each player also has their personal supply of workers and supplies.
Perfect. I think a central token tray with 5 outer trays can work. The central tray can serve as my personal supply. As I only play this game solo, I don’t need to worry about the personal supplies of other players.
Starting with a sketch
Draw it. Most of my models started (and ended) with a rough sketch. I either use Procreate on the iPad or a good ol’ fashioned pencil and paper.
This doesn’t have to be fancy! The purpose here is to start getting a sense of the product. Play with the shapes. This is the best time to experiment.
I’m thinking of something like this. Don't laugh at my art! The 4 token trays on the outside will magnetize to the central bowl.
In the end, I made 5 trays around the outside and not 4 like in my initial sketch.
Creating a 3D model
Now we’re going to model this in a CAD program. I use a program called Fusion 360 (https://www.autodesk.com/products/fusion-360) which costs a bit, but they also have a free version for hobby use that works great for 3D printing. There are lots of other 3D modeling programs like SketchUp, TinkerCAD, and Blender that you can look into.
I start with a base sketch, defining the diameter of the inner tray and the outer trays.
Once I have my base sketch, I’ll extrude some shapes. First, the central bowl.
I’m making sure the walls are about 4mm in thickness. The magnets I will use are 5x2mm magnets so I don’t want the walls to be too thin or the magnets will punch through the other side.
Now I’ll extrude the shape of the outer tray. I’ll start with one tray then later on use a circular pattern to make 3 or 4 more around the central bowl.
Next, I’ll cut out the inside of the outer tray, add some color, then round some of those hard corners with the radius tool.
It’s looking better!
Now I’ll add some holes for magnets. I’ll use a common 5x2mm neodymium magnet that you can find on eBay or Amazon. I’ll start by creating a new plane on the side tray, drawing a 5.1mm circle, then extruding/cutting that shape into the side tray.
I’ll repeat this for the other side, then use this same shape to cut holes into the central token bowl. This ensures that the holes are aligned between the central bowl and the outer trays.
Now I’ll use the circular pattern tool to duplicate the central bowl holes and the outer tray a few times.
Boom. More trays. More holes. I decided to use 5 trays around the outside because I think the spacing looks great. Not as efficient as 6 trays, but it’s not all about efficiency now, is it?
Let’s give that central bowl some pizzazz! With the other trays in place, we can then add some more shape to that central bowl.
When I have parts that connect magnetically, I like for them to “acknowledge” each other, as if they were meant to connect. This makes for a really great experience using the product. To achieve this here, I’ll use the same curves of the token trays to make an extrusion on the central tray.
Now I’ll extrude this and use the radius tool a couple times. Remember that 3D printers don’t really like sharp corners.
Now I’ll use that circular pattern tool again on this extrusion. I want one in between each outer tray.
I’m really liking the look of this one!
Remember that bit about how the different parts should acknowledge each other? Well, I’m going to add a cutout along the rim of the central token tray that aligns with the outer tray. It’ll give it some great character and make the parts seem even more like they belong with each other.
In order to make these parts work for token bowls, I’ll need an aggressive radius along the inside bottom edge of each one.
I also will add some more character to those central bowl extrusions. Maybe some arches to give it more of an amphitheater feel. This is for a game set in Ancient Rome after all!
At this point I’m almost finished. I’ll go through the model adding more character and a radius to each sharp corner.
Like an amphitheater, right?
I think we’re ready to print! Fusion 360 has a great 3D printing option. It’s super easy to export a model as an STL file for the printer.
Now I have these models as STL files on my computer.
Now you can’t just plug these files into your printer and expect it to go (at least not my models). Your printer needs instructions for how to print the thing, or tool paths. Defining toolpaths can be a really complicated part of computer-aided manufacturing, but thankfully there are “slicer” programs that make this very easy.
A slicer takes the STL model and turns it into GCode–basically a set of printing instructions.
I use a program called Cura.
Slice and print
Here I’ve opened the STL file in Cura.
The main settings I’m going with is a layer height of 0.3mm and an infill density of something in the 15-30% range. Hit slice and voila! I now have a GCode file for my 3D printer.
This will take about 5 hours to print. Waiting is hard!
Now that I have all the pieces printed, time to install magnets.
First, glue. Any generic brand of superglue will do. I made the mistake of just press-fitting the magnets in my earlier models. As soon as they get warm the magnets will all fall out. Glue those suckers in place.
I don’t use anything very fancy here for the installation. I have a ball-peen hammer that I stick the magnets to, then use it to push the magnets into place. If the holes were printed correctly the magnets should be a tight fit, but not super tight.
And that’s it! Only thing left to do now is to play the game!
You can download this model for free here!
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Make anything cool? I’d love to hear about that too!