When I met my wife (well, soon to be wife at that point) nearly 30 years ago, she introduced me to the cool art form known as counted cross-stitch. I'd never seen such a thing and we'd sit watching movies (from Blockbuster Video of course!) and she'd be working on different projects. Eventually I took an interest and asked her to show me how to do it. I saw it as a variation on computer graphics, where images are reduced to a pixelated format and when you're done, you have a neat piece of art to hang on the wall.
So she did and working on projects, going to craft stores, and keeping our floss box (soon to be boxes) organized was simply part of our time together. Along with working on recipient specific gifts, my tastes went toward the realistic with castles being a favorite. Sometime around 1997 I started stitching "Lichtenstein Castle" from "Medieval Castles" by Jeanette Crews Designs (1989). I got quite a way through it and then it sat unfinished. For some reason the desire returned and I picked it up again late in 2017 and I completed the castle in November!
The real Lichtenstein Castle and my 20 year completed version.
But the bug was back now and I needed a new project. However, this was no longer the 80s and 90s. Back then stores were full of tools, materials, and more importantly books and booklets of different patterns. From the kitsch to the cool, you could pretty much find anything you wanted. But not now. You can buy patterns from ebay or etsy sure... but it was actually harder to find a project I'd be interested in.
Then I remembered I'd acquired a program called "PC Stitch" (http://www.pcstitch.com/) that lets you make your own patterns from photos. So I'd make my own... but of what?
Taking inspiration from an official sized cross-stitch Monopoly board my wife and I had worked on together, I started thinking something board game related and then, of course, it hit me... Why not the single best game ever (or at least the best wargame ever)... Combat Commander: Europe!!!
Different images of the cover art
I began the process of trying to find a good clean image of the box art (there are several variations). Taking a photo would be more difficult to control the lighting on and I wanted it to be very close in color to the original. As I mentioned before, cross-stitch is essentially pixelizing the image, so I would need to first reduce the image to be the same size as the final cross-stitch. Using 14-count fabric (14 squares per inch), I wanted the final art to be 10x10, so 140x140 pixels. Not the greatest digital resolution to be sure!
I settled on my version of the box, which has the foremost leader and the squad of five soldiers, the front one with his arm raised. I used my scanner to get the main image then went to Photoshop to clean things up.
1. Scanned image (square crop) 2. Edited to remove some of the black around Europe as well the tan background (which would be the fabric color). 3. Final 140 pixel-wide version, indexed color and no text for importing to PC-Stitch 4. PC-Stitch Final Pattern
Indexing the color on the image helps keep the sections of color distinct (like the real box). The PC-Stitch conversion wanted to blend all the transitions from one color to another, creating an unmanageable floss count (floss = the thread used to create the picture). As seen in the third picture, I also had to remove the text from the image... There was just no way the real text would reduce to anything legible. Fortunately PC-Stitch had some fonts that while not perfect matches, would suffice, so I was able to add the text back to the final image. There was still some cleanup to do before I was ready to print the final pattern (like putting the whites back into the leader's eyes), but soon I was ready to stitch...
1. The first stitches. Originally teased here (What Is It? What's It Going to Be?) and actually guessed by russ! 2. The work in progress. 3. Last stitches are done!!! 4. Final project with pattern.
I started this one in December of 2017 and finished it on May 17, 2018. A much better productivity rate than my previous project! When it was completed I turned to my expert wife to help me prepare it for framing. I'd already bought a 12.5" square record album frame, but we needed to get the fabric ready for mounting beforehand.
1. First a bath in Dawn to remove finger oils and dirt. 2. Drying out before final trimming. 3. The back of the project. 4. The expert getting the mounting ready. 5. Archer, the supervisor. 6. My first plan for the mat is taken from Map 1. But it looked a little too garish against the project. 7. So I went with a more traditional mounting.
Similar to my storage for Combat Commander: Europe, I created "Force Boxes" for Great War Commander to hold each nations counters as well as a table tray for holding the game markers. I went ahead and did tuck boxes as well using the same template from CCE years ago...
As noted before, these are based on the GMT tray "well" (or compartment) size, but since they are from folded cardstock vs. molded plastic they take up much less room (in all dimensions) and they are modular (in this case only the game marker one is), so you can use 1-4 together to make a single tray. The nation boxes are a custom 2x3 (6 "well") unit I made for just this sort of thing. I use a plastiband on each to insure the lid stays closed, but in all a pretty decent solution that fits well in the box too!
But these modular trays aren't just for wargaming of course... So to solve the storage concerns with Firefly Adventures: Brigands and Browncoats, I created a full modular tray (4 sections) to hold the game counters and tokens without having to bag and rebag to fit inside the buildings.
One problem. The chits are 55 in number and a deck of cards is only 54. I removed one of the AI-Only cards (>= 3) to accommodate this shortage. If that bugs you then you can just use the chits, but I was removing the AI only chits anyway (at least before Academy weighed in that they should be used for two-sided games).
With the Kickstarter for Too Many Bones: Undertow well funded and well into the stretch goal pool, it was time to become serious about storage space for my existing Too Many Bones and expansions.
As you may have seen, I've already solved the space issue with each Gearloc's dice set (Too Many Bones. Too Little Space.) -- now for sale on the BGG Marketplace! (shameless plug). But I also wanted to find a way to not only store the TMB materials, but fit the Undertow components as well. To that end I decided to (gasp!) chunk the trays designed by Chip Theory Games and create my own insert to hold it all (hopefully!)
Cutting the base and the walls for the insert.
First step in any insert is of course the base or floor. You CAN just do walls and use the box bottom itself, but that results in a flimsy construction. Sure you lose 5mm of height in the box, but the stability it worth the price. The box is square at 358mm, so I cut the floor from a single piece of foam core (black looks better than white). Another tip is to always measure in millimeters. It's easier to be more accurate and you don't have to worry about fractions of inches. This left about 81mm of clearance to the top of the box bottom, so I cut four strips at 81x358mm and assembled the walls (two of which would need to be trimmed another 10mm or so where they butt up to the two other walls). I secure these with white glue and dressmaker's pins (SHARP!). Some like to remove them when the glue sets, but I always leave them in. They are cheap enough to buy and they act like rebar to help the structural integrity.
Dry fit into the box just to check.
After a dry fit in the box, it was time to start divvying up the space. Largest need of course would be the area to hold the battle mat, Gearloc mats, reference sheets, and rulebook. I laid these down in the new box and marked when walls should go to define that space. With the foam core eating up 5mm each wall, I had to get as close as I could to leave space in the other areas.
As I would no longer be using the trays to hold Gearloc dice, I repurposed two of those to hold the other dice in the game. I put the Attack and Defense dice in one and the rest in the other. Since the lids for those double as dice holders as well, I could still put Gearloc dice in the lids during gameplay. However, the remaining areas were not going to be large enough to hold those, so they would need to sit atop the stack of mats and reference cards in the main section.
My dice boxes easily fit into the area to the right of the main section. In fact, I can easily fit 14(!) of them in that section. With Undertow bringing the count to 10, there is still room for either four more or other materials.
The four section solution.
I subdivided the back section into a small compartment to hold cards and a longer section for all the chips. Unfortunately that idea did not pan out. After creating a bottom layer for extra chips, the plan was a removable top layer to hold six stacks of chips. That layer would double as an on-table chip tray. But after getting the first layer completely built and installed (without glue at least), it became evident a second layer of chips would not fit heightwise!
Goodbye Mr. Chips!
So another solution would need to be found. So I slept on it. And then I brought a knife to a foam fight!
I determined how much space I would need for a single layer of chips to span the whole box (eight stacks) and the cut down the back section to accommodate it. This left me a 30mm bottom layer (just perfect to still hold all the cards). Now I just had to construct the chip holders (again).
Pardon our mess. Deconstruction in progress.
I'd originally planned to make two four-stack chip trays from foamcore that would nestle into the open slot. However, I decided that it might work better to use 2mm chipboard and give me a little more space. Also these might prove a little more sturdy if folded vs. pinned and glued since the chips are so weighty. So I designed and cut a template (purple below) and traced to chipboard which I cut by hand. I scored the fold lines and started to assemble. After the first was complete I realized that they would work better as four two-stack holders as the weight distributed better. Also the chipboard doesn't fold "neatly" even when scored, so the non-scored side frays just a bit. For the chip areas it was on the backside, so no biggie but for the wall between the two trays it got a bit ugly. So I cut the template in two and made two separate trays and surgically separated the first one. For each I made a sturdy cardstock divider to separate the two rows as well.
From template to cutouts to final chip holders.
The end result was four trays that sit in the back section and hold about 25 chips in each, giving a total capacity of 200 chips. These can be lifted out and used on the table as needed.
So now to bring it all together. I added a "lifter" into the bottom of the main section to help, well, lift the items out of the depths and make them easier to grab. This was simply a piece of vinyl-leather material I glued down to the bottom (just on about the last three inches or so). The mats, etc. sit on top of this and then by pulling on the lifter, it raises them up slightly.
As I mentioned the Gearloc dice boxes fit into the right section, the cards in the back and the four chip trays on top of that.
But there was one thing left. The base game comes with clear cover to sit across the bottom tray. This sports the CTG name and has a finger hole for easy lifting. I decided to take that cover and trim it down so it would fit atop the books etc. in my main section. Now it can provide an extra layer of protection for the mats with the clear dice trays sitting on top of them.
Does it all fit?
TMB + Three expansions with room for more!
In all I'm pretty happy with how it all turned out. The chipboard might have been able to be a little thinner, but it would not have given me an extra row of chips, so it is what it is. I have some extra space in the chip trays, but may still have to get creative when Undertow is released. The Tyrant, Gearloc, and Lane chips could easily be stored in separate bags under the chips or in the Gearloc section. This would leave room for the new baddie chips to come. There should be plenty of room for the three new mats, though I suppose I won't be able to fit 14 there should the need arise. But for now with the known coming content, I think this offers a workable solution to keep everything in a single box. I hate tossing the nice trays from CTG, but that's how the bone breaks, I suppose.
BONUS! The foam from the base game that contained the dice trays can be reused to cut stoppers for the chip trays (to keep them from sliding around).
Due to popular demand, I am making the color coordinated dice boxes (Too Many Bones. Too Little Space.) available for sale here via the BGG marketplace. This way BGG will get a much deserved 3% commission.
The boxes will be shipped UNASSEMBLED. You will need to glue them together (very easy). Also since the labels use images from the game, I cannot include them, but you can print and apply those from the files section of Too Many Bones.
Paypal only, shipping at the cost of the buyer.
Follow the links below to the marketplace item of your choice.
I plan to make the character boxes for Too Many Bones: Undertow when all the colors are announced (and the label images on BGG when the game is released). If you order all seven of the boxes from this set, I will sell you the three Undertow character boxes for $10 (plus shipping) when they are ready.
First off let me be clear, the packaging of Too Many Bones is pretty darn good. Chip Theory Games has produced a perfect blend of function and storage that should be the role model to all game publishers (well, maybe not Academy Games, Inc., they do a great job too).
Each Gearloc (the characters in the game), comes with a tray to hold their 21 dice. The clear plastic trays not only store the dice in the box, but they go straight to the table to keep the dice organized before players add them to the character mat for in-game use. The lids for the trays double as additional table trays as well. It's a very ingenious design.
There are currently seven characters available with three more coming in the Too Many Bones: Undertow "standalone" expansion. Even with doubling up characters two to a tray (and removing the initiative dice to a separate container), five of those trays will be hard to combine into the main game box (along with all the other chips, mats, and player cards).
So to reduce the amount of storage required in the box (and make room for expansion content), I created these "Gearloc Dice Boxes" to hold each character separate. Each box is designed to easily hold a character's 21 dice in three rows of seven and includes a snug lid. They take up less than half the space of current trays and are suitable to go straight from the box to the table. I still plan to keep the provided dice storage trays for on-table use, but with more content on the way, making more room in the box can never hurt.
I chose to cut mine on color coordinated cardstock (with black divider inserts), but also made labels with each character's name, image, and a matching color ring in case you want to use basic white. The files are available here:
Each box template prints on a single sheet of cardstock. Cut the solid lines, score the dotted lines. You get three divider sections from a single sheet, so a little paper savings there. I use the same techniques I've used for creating other boxes, so this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dfy3gl1GGzk) will help if you cannot figure out the basic assembly.
Make no bones about it, these boxes are superior to the TMB ones in only one way -- they take less space. The included ones are excellent and if you have no issues with storing the game, then by all means, you should keep on as is. However, if you're looking for a way to fit more in less space, I hope you like this solution.
But how? The artwork in the books is sketchy at best (see what I did there?) and of course copyrighted material. Since the game was 22 years old I didn't know if I'd be able to secure proper permission to use those and quite frankly, I wasn't optimistic at how they'd actually turn out.
So I turned to my other skill as a photographer and decided I'd photograph the actual miniatures from the game and then use tricks for colorizing old photographs to digitally paint the miniatures.
First I set up a green screen of sorts with a green piece of cardstock, poking a hold in the center and then threading one of the game's flight posts through the hole. Using a 70mm fixed length macro lens (photo nerd!) I set the camera on a tripod and focused on each ship from a top-down perspective. The lighting remained the same for each ship as did the focus distance, so the scale of larger ships to smaller ships would also remain the same. I took two shots of each ship (just in case) as well as a set of torpedoes and missiles.
Ship photograph, lifted from green-screen background and converted to greyscale.
Next off to Photoshop (with a quick stop in Lightroom for cropping and a little processing). Since I had green-screened each ship, it was a simple matter to remove the ship from its background and only have the ship image. Next I added a greyscale filter to remove all hint of color and only keep the tones and highlights and shadows. This would allow me to add color without it being tainted by color cast from the lighting.
The first step of adding the main ship color was easy. CTRL-click on the isolated ship layer to select just the ship. Then I added a solid color layer to the image with the color choice I wanted. Since the ship shape was already selected, the layer mask already restricts the color to that area. Finally changing the blend mode from "Normal" to "Overlay" and voila (or "walla" to those who mishear things), the shades of grey becomes shades of the chosen color and all the ship detail comes through.
Adding the main ship color.
Repeating this process for the other targeted areas of the ship is just as easy. Select an area, add a new color layer (though on these successive layers I set to "Color" blend mode vs. "Overlay") and you're now painting. The opacity of each layer remains 100% as the blend mode takes care of rendering the combinations of color. One thing I did different was on the canopy of each ship. For that when I selected the area, I did use that selection on the layer mask of the main ship color to black out (or hide) the body color from the canopy. Whereas the other areas of the ship might be "really" be decals or paint over the base color, the canopy would not have been painted over.
The cool thing is that the lighting from the photo still allows the texture and detail and highlights to come through on the "painted" model.
When all my layers were complete and I liked the scheme of the ship, I then flattened all the visible layers into a single new layer (CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-E). I have a plugin called Topaz Simplify (http://www.topazlabs.com/simplify) and it features an oil painting setting that produces a nice smooth look to images... simplifying their colors as the name suggests. I applied this to the merged image to create a painterly effect. However, it's a little drastic on its own and some of the details get lost in doing so. So the next step is to set the oil painting layer to a 50% opacity. This blends that layer into the photographic layers below to create a visual combination of art and detail that looks quite nice (IMO).
The "painted" photograph (left), the "Oil Painting" filter alone (center) and the final merged version (right).
Finally CTRL-ALT-SHIFT-E again to permanently combine everything into a single layer and the digital miniature painting is complete.
My final paint jobs...
When I'd completed all the ships, I combined those final 12 ship layers into a single Photoshop file to make sure they were all centered and stacked and then exported each image (with a transparent background) to its own PNG (portable network graphics) file and referenced each ship image in the data file spreadsheet used to construct the counters.
Another cool thing about this technique is that you can change the color if you want or make different paint schemes. Simply by changing the color of the solid color layer you can make the ship blue or purple or red, etc...
While this worked great for top-down wargame counters, the same process could be used to "paint" boardgame miniatures from the front and produce standees instead of using the in-game miniatures. Perhaps instead of painting all those stormtroopers in Star Wars: Imperial Assault!!!