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Subject: Making of a custom plexiglass board rss

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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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This Christmas, one of the presents I got was a copy of Ascending Empires (thank you Secret Santa!). It was a game I really wanted and it was near the top of my list, so I was very excited when I received it. However, after opening it I soon discovered I had the same issue that many were complaining about: The board pieces didn't fit well leading to many bumps along the joints.

I contacted ZMan's customer service and they responded quickly telling me they would send replacement boards. Ok, this was a good solution, however I couldn't stop thinking that in order for someone to really enjoy this game, it should be played on a completely flat surface - not a "puzzle" board. Looking at the game's gallery here on BGG, I saw that many people had already done something like that and with good results. I decided to try and do the same, so I started looking at my options: The board would have to be made either out of wood or plexiglass. In any case, I would need to find a place where they would cut the holes needed. (of course there was always the option of "sticking" the hole-punchouts on the board and puting the wooden circles there during play but that wasn't the best solution).

After asking in the Greek Guild forums about it, I found out that another guild member worked at a place where they cut plexiglass. I asked him about it and he told me that he could help as long as I gave him the exact requirements (dimensions etc). That was great news!

The first thing I had to do was measure the whole board and write down the exact locations of all the holes. This took some time (since there are 28 holes in it) and in order to save some time I only counted half the board, deciding that I would "reverse" it for the other half. Since the board is actually symmetric that wouldn't be a problem. (Actually there are some differences but they are really small - like 1mm. In fact some of them may be due to the way the board was cut).

Next step: Inkscape. For those who don't know it, Inkscape is a free vector-based drawing tool. I've been using it for a couple of years now and it has been really useful for prototypes and quick mock-ups. It was exactly what I needed in this case as well, so I transferred the whole board there. (And the whole "reversal" thing of the holes worked perfectly in just a couple of clicks). I made a PDF out of it and sent it to my friend who told me that he would also be needing the exact coordinates of the holes' center. (If anyone is interested I could upload that list here on BGG to save you from the trouble of counting everything again)



Since the cost to produce these boards wasn't too high, I asked my friend to make 2 of them. You see, plexiglass has the advantage of being transparent and so it can be put over the initial board pieces. However, seeing images of custom boards here on the site, tempted me to do the same. So, with 2 boards I could paint one of them and have my own custom board while using the other one for the original board.

When I met my friend a few days later and he gave me the boards he told me that he had used different thickness for each of them. One was 2.5mm and the other 5mm. When I went home and applied them on the board, they fit perfectly (well.. almost, but due to an error on my part - I'll come to that later). The game could now be played without any problems and with a perfectly flat surface. However, the 5mm board, when combined with the original board made the holes too deep, and the wooden disks barely stuck out. It was obvious that it wouldn't be able to be used this way and the game could only be played on that surface if just the plexiglass board was used (without the original puzzle pieces beneath it). Since I already wanted to paint one of the two boards, it was apparent that that was the one that I needed to work on.

I now had to work out the details and see what exactly I needed to do. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert painter or anything. I have a black primer at home and some GW colours and I've painted a few miniatures before but my experience is quite limited. I didn't want that to stop me from going forward though. I would try to make it and if I were to fail at least I would have learned from my mistakes.

The most important part was that all the painting would need to be done on the back side. The "top" of the board would have to remain unpainted and perfectly flat. This meant that the procedure would have to be reversed. For example the "stars" would need to be painted first with the planet rings next and the black space last.

In order to make the stars I used a very simple tool: A toothbrush! I mixed white paint with some water, I dipped the toothbrush and I moved my thumb across the hairs' edges. The splatter that was created looked very much like a sky full of stars and it was probably the highlight of the whole project. For those who want to try it, I would suggest doing a few tests first with plain water on another surface, to see exactly how the splatter is formed and the correct angle by which you should hold the toothbrush/move your thumb.



The next step now would have to bee the planets' rings. However that was a tricky part. If I were to use a surface with a round hole (the size of the ring) in order to spray these first, I wouldn't be able to perfectly align it with each planet hole. So I did the opposite. I cut out paper circles the size of the ring, and I glued on their centre the punch out "holes" from the original board. This way I would be able to use them and cover the space where the rings are, and avoid getting black paint there. The solution worked, howerver I got a little lazy and I only made 4 of those circles thinking that I would move them around after spraying every part. In retrospect, this cost me both in paint and time and it made some of the last rings a little bit "hazy" since the paper circles had gotten wet from paint and a little bit curved.



With the holes covered I sprayed over the surface with a GW black primer I had. Not very cost-efficient for such a large surface but it was the only one I had. For the rings, I used another primer that I had gotten on a sale, this one silver. A purple one would definitely be better (and more similar to the original board) but once again, that was the one I had.



You can see the end result in the following pictures. Even though it was my first attempt I am quite proud of the result! If I were to do it again I would do a few things differently but more or less, my approach would not differ much.



My only problem at the moment is that I haven't played the game yet! A few days after I finished the project, my wife gave birth to our daughter and since then I haven't played any of my boardgames. Hopefully I'll manage to give it a try some time in the next months.

If you have any comments or any advice on how to do things better let me know.

As for the "error" I mentioned at some point, it had to do with the coordinates of two of the planets. I had made a mistake when creating the file and the centers for 2 the planets were off by 2 cm each. However it is not such a big issue and it hardly affects the gameplay so I don't let it bother me.



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Nice job!
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