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Better Boxes through Foam Core

I have made over fifty inserts for games I love, and some I don't. I think I have learned a little bit on working with it and thought I would write a little blog about the journeys I take with it. Follow me as we play Reverse Tetris and make some Boxes Better.

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Foam Core 201

Chris Whitpan
United States
Schwenksville
Pennsylvania
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Foam Core 201


Token and dice display options

When a game has a great start player marker, or you have a lot of room in an insert, it is a great opportunity to showcase the best bits of the game. In the case of Stone Age, which I used in this example, both of those happen to be true, which makes for some pretty creative opportunities.

Following the guides of building I went through in 101 & 102 you will be able to see if you have room to do a showcase such as these. Plan to leave a good area for them, and then work the rest of your build around them.

NOTE: I will use colored paper throughout the tutorial so you can see some of the cuts and levels better. Sometimes with black on black it can be difficult to differentiate the layers. I also am just making these pieces, they are not a part of an insert, but only for this tutorial.

I. THE DICE HOLDER

The Basic Plan


The idea here is to hold the dice in place, snugly, but also to allow room for fingers to pluck them out of their holder.



The dice for Stone Age are average to small in size, but I found the same depth to work for regular 10mm dice in say Space Cadets. But the way I build the containers in simple. I stack about three layers and cut through them all in one shot. As you can see from the right photo below, the height of three is just about perfect.



Measuring

This is one instance where I will use the component itself to measure the cuts. It is really important to get a snug fit. Once I draw a straight line, I line the components up and get my length and other sides. One of the nice things about the Black Matte Foam Core is the ability to erase pencil marks very easily.



The Ends

Now over time I have developed a good technique for cutting rounds, so I use them a lot. In this case I used a circle template I have and added a round corner to each end. I have also used the technique of just making the top box a little longer and that works just fine.



The Cuts

So I am going to cut the center box out first. I will not cut the circular ends out just yet. I will need this to be a template for the next layers. Then I transfer the cut onto my stacked pieces so everything will line up. As careful as I am, things can shift and move. Notice I wrote the word "Top" on each of the pieces in the top RIGHT corner, that way I can line things up when I am done the cuts.



Finish the Finger Slot and Glue

So you need to be able to grip the side of the dive if you want to remove them. You only need to do this on the very top layer as the 3/16" will be plenty to work with. If you had a square cut, you could do that now. Then all that is left is to stack them and glue them. Use a solid piece for the bottom, don't use paper as you will be putting too much stress on it.




II. THE START MARKER

The Basic Plan

The idea with this is to create a recess to hold the start marker. It should fit snug and provide a way to remove it.

Measuring.

First we need to trace the edges. Now, there is a note to be had here. Sometimes I find the back sides of my cuts look the best. If you find this is the case, as I did making this guy here, then flip over the marker so you are tracing the mirror. In this case, it is printed on both sides so it doesn't end up being an issue.



The Cuts

Now we need to cut this shape out. I use a brand new blade in my Xacto knife and take short cuts while I rotate the foam core, that way I am always in my best position. Remove the piece, saving it, and check for fit. You may have to trim here and there, and that is fine. Make sure you have a good fit, not too loose, not too tight.



Picture one is my fit. Then you will see I decided the back of my cut was better here, so I am going to flip it over.



Step two in the cuts for the tilt option I am going to show you can be tricky. Please be careful if you use this method. In the end I should have used another knife, like a filet knife, not just the blade to do this work.

What we are doing here is cutting the thickness of the board in half. The maker will sit too low in the hole we just made, so we want a little height in there. What I do is to use the piece I just cut, that way I know it fits. The other thing is I am going to cut the top off so it will leave a gap around the "head" of the marker. This will give us our leverage for the Tilt we want.



Next I am going to take the piece that fits, with the paper side up and place it in the bottom. Notice the top portion that is open to the bottom. This little space is actually enough to activate the tilt we want to be able to remove the token.



When it is done, we will glue it up, and we will see our nice, flush fit, with working tilt mechanism!



Option 2

Instead of the tilt you may want to leave room on the side. To do this I simply take my circle template and draw a half circle that a finger will fit in on one of the sides. I did this in my 7 Wonders insert for the token there.




I hope this helps you work some more advanced techniques into your foam core, and take them beyond the Tetris look most of them take on. By being selective in what you choose to display, and with a little more time, you can make something very unique and creative.



Basics Series:
Foam Core 101 The Basics, Cuts and Tools
Foam Core 102 Designing an Insert on the Fly

Advanced Series:
Foam Core 201 Token and Dice Displays
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Wed Mar 25, 2015 4:00 pm
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Foam Core 102 - Designing the Insert.

Chris Whitpan
United States
Schwenksville
Pennsylvania
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FoamCore 102


Designing the insert.

I now have about 50 inserts under my belt and my design process has not really changed much from the beginning. I find that a good design helps aid the game’s play, setup, and storage. If one can increase the speed at which we set up a game, it will be more likely to get to the table. We can even back load some of the set up work as we break down the game from the last play at times. In any event a well thought out insert can mean the difference between a bit-laden game getting played or not in many cases.

Two Schools

On one hand there are people who set out to measure and rule every cut, level and piece, then design the insert to fit. They may even use fancy programs to help in the process like Google Sketchup or even CAD programs. This is all well and good, and honestly if you are this person, chances are my style is either going to drive you nuts, or prove unnecessary, both of which are fine. The benefits of having a plan like that are great, and it is awesome to be able to share your plans with others easily, providing a great resource to the core community. (see what I did there?)

My train of thought stems from how I began this hobby. I found some photos and would reverse engineer them, and alter them to fit what I wanted out of the insert. Eventually I was designing them from scratch, and using other’s work for influence. I realized there was some creativity and even artistic influences to be had and I hope that comes through in my designs. Basically, I wing it. I create an overall plan, but that is fluid and can change to meet the needs of the box. You will see from my example project, Seven Wonders, that I changed my mind and direction a few times, and I will try to call that out.

The Basic Plan

I first start with a core plan. I pull everything out of the box and sort it on my table. I will then use the lid and the box to map out where I want things to go. In the examples below I try a few things out. I stand the Babel tiles on end, and see they are too tall. I like cards on their side, as opposed to flat since it makes filing them a lot easier. I also will out rigid dividers in there to separate the decks. I was working on finding a solution for the Babel tiles specifically, and even in this example, I wasn’t happy with how tight it was going to be.

You should note I am doing 7 Wonders with Leaders and Babel expansions. No Cities, although as you will see I try and leave room for it.



I knew the card cut out was going to stay though, so I finalized that. I also knew from other builders that three levels would be required. I have adapted a new style of just making the bottom out of firm Black paper, like they use for scrapbooking. It comes in sheets big enough and matches the Black/black foam core perfectly. I cut the piece out that will become the bottom of the card box, and made the three bottoms out of Foam Core and paper, removing the notch from each. I also built into the card box room for about 40 more cards that would be from Cities. (see image below)



The Card boxes are built next. I use the piece I cut out and remove about 1/8” from it so it will slide in and out freely. I make the sides tall enough that they will come up to the top of the box, then trim off about 1/8” off that because of the Babel base board and instruction books. I make the sides of the box and lay it out. This is when I see the opportunity to cut the deep circles to allow easy access to the cards. I have a template, I find the center and cut a half circle on each side. I then glue it up and pin the box.



A Change of Plans

At this point, I turn my sites on the bottom again. I notice that the Babel tiles are too tight against the Wonder tiles. And if I stack them in two stacks as opposed to three, they become too tall. This is a problem. I saw someone else do this and I am not getting a result I like, so time to shift gears. I try stacking the tiles flat and notice its about as tall as my card box I just made. Then it hits me that I can make a removable tray for the quarter tiles as well.



So I decide the other corner of the box will be dedicated to that and proceed to cut it out just like I did with the card box and cut the other levels as well. I then glue it up the same way, but I also add in the slanted pieces to help hold them in vertical alignment.



Now back on track I look at the bottom and size up the remaining T-shaped piece. I see the place for the Wonder boards easily, now I just plan the depth, which I do, but leave room for the two Wonders that come with Cities. I don’t think I will get cities, but why not leave room for it now? I then see the extra this space holds a lot of bits from the Babel expansion so I make some compartments for them there. I also decide the tokens need to have a try in the handle of the T-Shape so I make a short box for a few of the smaller bits. The lower level here isn’t designed to come out of the box, with the paper bottom, so having this be removable should help.



A Change of Plans Part II

So now I am looking where to put the project boards, as you can see in the photo in the series above. I hadn’t really planned a home for them since they are thin, but I think that could be a shortcoming. So I think there is enough room on the top of the Wonder boards, and I could cut them in to fit flush, but I am not happy with how it is going to hold, and look. I bailed on that plan and decided to make the middle level the level for the project pieces. In fact I like this so that everything you need will be in one space. I go ahead and cut off the handle since I want to make a small box there and lay things out. I also see an opportunity to put the score pads in since I will have about ¼” of height extra on this level. I go ahead and design that in as well.





Last Level

The first picture is how I figure out my remaining height. One of the benefits or drawbacks in working to the height of each layer is that to get the final measurement right can be tricky, but to make everything flush so bits don’t side around and jump compartments, it’s a must. I cut a scrap to the height of the remaining box and check it against the middle layer walls I made to see if I am good on room, and as it turns out I am. I don’t like walls lower than ½” as a rule, so I am happy. This picture shows the piece that covers the total height of the middle layer and the top layer. I put in two pieces to represent the floors for each and the wall height and see what remains.



The plan is coming together; I see the bits I have left out, the money, and the military tokens. I know I want to leave room for the cities tokens, so I will build a little big here. Then I notice the Cleopatra token and think the art should be showcased so I plan that.

Artistic Showcase

So let’s look at the token and how to showcase it. I would like it to be flat, visible, and held in place. The best way to do this is a recessed insert. I start by tracing the circle, and using my circle template I cut another, smaller circle to allow a finger in the side. Then, I slice the removed large circle in half, through the foam itself, so it is half the height of the Foam. I then place this back in the hole, which gives me anough height to fit the token in! Then I put another piece behind it to create the back. When I glue it up, I added another piece to help bring it up higher in the box.





So we are down to the final tray now. I think that we can comfortably fit the remaining money and military tokens, but I want to see the compartment size. I will sometimes lay scraps on top of a piece so I can see visually what I am shooting for and the rough size of the compartments. Sometimes you can run out of room very quickly. I decide to make the 4 compartments for military boxes. But the three trays for money can be weird. I use a triangle method on Suburbia so I thought it could work here. It just creates a nice shape and breaks up the blocks. I also like it for making three sections.



Pro Tip – Sweeps and Alignment

So here is a good place for two quick tips. One is alignment and why I swear by my cutting mat. I used to measure every placement, and sometimes still do on some projects, but when it comes to just simply placing a piece on center, I use the guide on the mat. By placing the X on the center of my board it allows me to quickly line up bits (like the first picture below)

The next is sweeps. When you are in and out of trays a lot sweeps can really help. Especially with cardboard chits like the military. How I Create them is with the same paper I used for the bottom and then size one up like in the middle picture and cut them all the same length. Then glue in place and you have great sweeps!



We are Done!

Now it is time to load the components and remove pins after a few hours of dry time. As you can see we now have a great way to sort and organize a very busy game with lots of little bits and chits!





I hope this helps walk you through my design process and how it can evolve over the course of the build. I work better this way, and sure I have made mistakes and had to throw out portions, but for me, it just works. In the end, it’s the method that you will use the most, and yields the best success that will dictate your style and execution.

Foam Core 103 will feature a collection of tips and build in features you can add into any of your creations to make them a little more special. Be sure to follow my Geeklistand Blog for any projects in t future!

Good luck in all your future projects!
Chris



Basics Series:
Foam Core 101 The Basics, Cuts and Tools
Foam Core 102 Designing an Insert on the Fly

Advanced Series:
Foam Core 201 Token and Dice Displays
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Fri Mar 13, 2015 7:05 pm
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Foam Core 101 - Basics and Cuts

Chris Whitpan
United States
Schwenksville
Pennsylvania
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Taken from a post I wrote for the Games on Tables Blog


Sometimes the inserts that come with a game are just not great or barely accomplish the basic task of storing the components. Some games are prime candidates for an insert, being obviously bad from the manufacturer, while others are just fine the way they are. (I’m looking at you Survive! Escape from Atlantis). When choosing the game to do you need to ask yourself a few questions…

Do I want this insert to be functional or artistic?
This is an important question. A prime example is my insert for Tsuro. It has very few actual parts, but the insert creates a wow factor and just adds to the artistic nature of the game. These inserts, although less in appearance, do end up taking a lot of time, planning and patience.


Do I want this insert to help with set up of the game?
I am a fan of baggies, but let’s face it, there are games where you just have too many bits to effectively organize a game. A perfect example of this is Le Havre. I specifically designed this insert to be functional first. It makes set up very easy and breakdown a simple matter of popping the pieces back in the box, Tetris-style. An insert like this can make getting a game that takes a lot of time to set up to the table that much easier.


Am I interested in removable boxes, or working out of the original box?

As in the example above with Le Havre, working out of the box is not the best option if the goal is to speed up set-up and break down. But working out of the box is perfectly fine for games with fewer components like Tsuro. Also if you find that there are not a lot of bits to manage, working from a box insert makes perfect sense. In the case of Ticket to Ride, I went more on the work from the box side as I have space for all the cards for the base, four expansions and Europe in there, and once you have your trains out, there really is no more bit management issues.


What is your skill level at this point?
This is a hard question to wrestle with. Your instinct is to want to go and “fix” the hardest game you have, and you have done your research, have a plan to execute, but when you start to put knife to foam core, you wind up not even close to what you want. An amateur carpenter isn’t going to try and build a dining room table on his first go, but rather he will start with end tables, and small shelves to build up required skills and muscle memory, so should you approach working with foam core. It actually has much of the same concepts as basic woodworking, and the most important one is patience. I have glued a card or to into a box because I couldn’t wait for it to dry and still struggle from time to time with waiting.

Start small with some basic builds and work your skill level up. I have had the opportunity to do my Suburbia insert 3 times, and each time it has gotten a little bit better. The Tsuro insert above is after I had built 30, yes thirty, inserts. I now get the occasional commission to build for others and really love this new avenue of the hobby, but it took time to get here.

MATERIALS
You need to decide early on what material you want to use and where you will get it. I realized early on that white, while cheaper, did not give me the look I wanted in my inserts. I decided to go black on black, but found finding it to be more expensive and a bit harder to find than the common white on white. Also there are more off brands in the white, available pretty much anywhere, even in dollar stores. This is a purely aesthetic decision, but one that you want to stick with until you change your mind. I find that the white with a very glossy coat also does not take glue as well as the rougher texture I found on the black.

The important thing is consistency of materials. Whatever you choose, choose the same brands and buy in bulk if it makes sense. After running my local Walmarts out of the Black board by Elmer’s, I just buy it on Amazon now in a case of ten. A normal insert requires about one sheet in my experience. A big one like Caverna, may take a bit more.

Consistency will also help you in terms of consistency of thickness. This is actually a very crucial piece of the puzzle when figuring dimensions. I prefer the 3/16th thick as opposed to the thicker as it buys me a little extra space. On some builds that can be huge. Also do yourself a favor and hit the local craft store and buy some scrapbook paper in the 12×12 size that matches your board. This is great if you need to save height, because using this as a base will buy you another 3/16” that could prove critical in small boxes. Firefly is a prime example of a tight build where this came in to effect.

BASIC TOOLS
The nice thing is the tools you need are very few. In fact I didn’t need to purchase anything when I started making inserts. That being said I did go through some trial and error with some tools, but found the basics one work the best for me. The main things to have are the rulers, knives, cutting surface and adhesive.


The self-healing surface is a nice thing to purchase. It should be large enough to hold the whole 20”x30” sheet and give you plenty of room. These mats are the pricey part of the project at $40-$60, but you can get by with a basic cutting surface as long as it is flat and clean. The guide lines are helpful as a visual aid in making straight cuts.

Rulers and straight edges are important. I use two for pretty much everything. One is a large framing square I have which is great for the long cuts. It is also nice and heavy which helps it stay put as I cut along it. The other ruler is nice for cross cuts and shorter cuts. I have a cork back on mine which is great for staying put when I cut. Make sure it has clear markings in the measurement you want to use. I use 16th of inch increments since I am used to them, but Millimeters also is accurate enough to work with. Precision will help.

Pencils need to be sharp and have a fine point. When you are dealing with tight tolerances, you want that additional precision. I use inexpensive mechanical pencils to accomplish this.

The knives are the key to the endeavor. You need to have two in my opinion. One to be used for long cuts, and a detail knife. The detail knife of choice is the Xacto style. I use the standard type 11 blade in a very comfortable pen-like grip. Finding the one you are comfortable with is helpful since you will be using them frequently. The one where people will have opinions on is the larger blade. I like a standard utility knife with a quick change blade. One that uses the trapezoidal blades you can pick up at home depot by the hundred rather affordably. I also like the weight of the knife itself. Having a heavy knife helps it cut easier and gives me straighter results over all. Make sure you have plenty of blades on hand because you want to change them frequently. I change them out for a fresh one each and every build, so check replacement prices.


Last thing is the gluing materials. Straight pins with big heads are easily found at a craft store, and help hold things in place while glue sets. The glue itself is critical too. I personally have had great success with standard Elmer’s school glue. The school glue is a bit thicker than the Glue-all they make so it holds in place better I think. I also have had the glue all fail on the glossy white board I mentioned earlier. In fact it’s the only failure in an insert I have made.


BASIC CUTS
Mastery of the basics, like any undertaking, is key to having good square edges. Like building a house, having square, plumb and true walls will ensure a more stable build as well as being more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Set up your cutting station at waist height. You need to have good ergonomics in order to be able to hold the knife consistently throughout the cut. I am tall, so having a high enough table is not a problem, but you need to make sure you can reach the full length of the cuts in one single pass.

Measure twice, cut once. Measure the cut in multiple places and connect the dots with your straight edge. Hold your edge in place firmly and make several, usually two or three, passes to complete the cut. Keep your arm straight over the cut and draw the knife with a consistent speed. The first cut cuts through the first layer of cardboard, the second the foam, and if needed the third will cut the last of the cardboard.

The other crucial piece of the puzzle is consistency in width of cuts. Having the widths match is key to the overall structure and functionality of the insert. If you have uneven cuts, sides won’t match, any second level will not sit flush, cards and components will find their way out of their spots and many other problems.

In order to get a good cut I use a very specific method. When I cut a piece for height, I make sure to get it right and true, measuring it once I have placed the square. I try to be hyper accurate on this first cut because it will serve as the base for the rest of the cuts. I actually have pre-cut strips I can use as templates in various widths. 7/8”, ½”, ¾” and so on, and label them (Seen in the picture above with the blue painter’s tape on it).

I then use the original to enough cuts for the entire box I am making. This way when I make the box, they are all the same height. The picture above shows me using a white strip to set my straight edge. Then it is a simple matter of executing the cut. This not only makes the process faster, it also has the benefit of making it much more consistent which is the first step to creating a great insert for your games.

SUMMATION
Starting out is usually the hardest part. The nice thing about foam core is that for a minimal investment and materials lying around, you can get started creating your own. It ends up being much less expensive than hunting down tackle boxes, and better from the standpoint that you can maximize the space inside of a box to get everything to fit. Actually a few of my inserts even feature a slot for a Plano box since it makes the most sense for the games they are in.

So start your planning because in Foam Core 102 we will discuss planning your project and figuring out dimensions for your games so you can get started making some inserts! Then it is on to the more advanced stuff like separate trays and more artful techniques.

Be sure to check out my Geeklist on Boardgamegeek and follow some links to other people’s work who inspired my original start.

Chris



Basics Series:
Foam Core 101 The Basics, Cuts and Tools
Foam Core 102 Designing an Insert on the Fly

Advanced Series:
Foam Core 201 Token and Dice Displays



MATERIALS CHECKLIST:
Xacto knife https://www.facebook.com/tiphero/videos/10154309410598761/
Utility Knife http://www.amazon.com/Stanley-Quick-Change-Utility-Stainless...
Straight edge, Square over 30” in length
Straight edge Ruler, 18”
Foam Core – White or Black 3/16” - http://www.amazon.com/Elmers-Colored-16-Inch-10-Count-951120...
Cutting Mat – Self Healing 24”x36” recommended – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CWKD4YU?psc=1&tag=vgg-article-bo...

Elmer’s School Glue (or similar)
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Tue Mar 10, 2015 6:33 am
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