Saturday, 23 February 2019

Converting a tabletop game to a boardgame

This post runs off last weeks post (see Resource Section below), in which I AAR’d an ACW game using 12mm figures on Hexon terrain. Actually starting with a hex based scenario meant that  moving the whole thing to a physical boardgame is fairly straight forward, though not without some practical hurdles, not least time and effort.

This post briefly outlines the process, costs and some things to embrace or avoid etc, plus there are a few photo’s of the replay action.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

It was my turn to host a game on Friday, but my back ache has flared up, continuing its ongoing revenge on an injury prone and care-free youth! So I needed to put something on the table that was easy to manage and didn’t involve any leaning forward or significant set-up / take down effort.

My thoughts went to board gaming, perhaps something with big hexes and low counter density. However, I had enjoyed the ACW 1862 McDowell battle figures game so much last week and had really wanted to put that up, so instead, I decided to try and convert McDowell from a figures and hex terrain game, to a hex and chit format, I mean how hard could it be! Especially with just two days to go.

Well really the difficulties start and end with me no longer having either a Mac or a PC type computer. These have always been pretty essential to the heavy lifting of graphics that boardgame design needs. These days, my trusty tools are the iPad for most things and a Chromebook connected up to a monitor for internet consumption. Neither would be a first choice for putting a game together.

However, there are work-arounds, convoluted, but do-able, so here we go!

Firstly, the rules. Not a problem. The Two Flags - One Nation rules are purposely written for hex games using figures, so they already exist and without changes, they can pretty much manage a hexed board conversion. Plus the scenario was already hex based.

Next the map, again not really a problem as it turns out, as I had already prepared a functional map for this battle to illustrate the scenario PDF and last week's blog post. This had been drawn up on the iPad with the Pro-Create app, though it was only roughed out and intended as an insert for the A4 sized scenario document and to use in the internet post. I had only ever seen it at postcard size, so was wary of the image breaking down if over stretched. However it turned out to be a respectable 5.5 MB image, so hope returned.

As a first stage to this project, I went to a high street copier service and got the map done to A3 size (cost £3.30) on 90 gram paper. I was immediately disappointed, the bigger format and not sitting on a back-lit screen, left it looking a bit wishy-washy. The background texture that was used was not even picked up, so all of the open spaces showed up just as white empty hexes.

I decided to go to a local print works. They said they could go bigger (i.e. to A2 or what is referred to in boardgame circles as a half mapper) by either tiling two A3 sheets together (£3 per sheet) which I could then tape together or going with a single A2 half poster (£10). Based on the above experience from the copy shop earlier that day, I asked the chap if along the way he could boost the contrast and the colour saturation.

Anyway, he printed it out on lovely heavy coated paper at A2 without having to adjust contrast or colour saturation at all and the result was absolutely fine. All of the background texture was there and the map looked better (richer in tone). This is no doubt going to be in part due to better printing kit, but in particular, better paper. Paper quality is everything! Did I say paper is everything! I mean absolutely everything.

The counters were the hard work as they had to be done from scratch. The absence of a ‘proper’ computer meant that this was all going to need several different apps and stages of process.

I decided to go for silhouettes as they are easier to manage,  but even this required a lot of tedious and detailed work to firstly ‘paint’ the figure and then the background. Over several processes, I had to move the image repeatedly between Pro-Create, Phonto and iPhoto apps. In the end I had enough individual images to start to assemble two counter sheets in Phonto and then paste these into the Pages word processor.  A single Mac / PC program could have done all of this easily and the copy / pasting function would have made it a doddle, but we are where we are!

At this stage I decided to print the counters out on a home printer, simply because I wanted to use a large self adhesive label to make it easier to mount the counter sheet to card. The downside to this is that the image is softer, cruder and duller in colour because the label has a poorer surface than high quality treated paper, but the self adhesive aspect is massively easier than messing around with glues to get them mounted (avoid glossy photo paper, it is too reflective when playing under lights). Had I used full colour counters, I would almost certainly have gone to high quality paper instead and suffered the gluing thing.

I used card from the back of a writing pad to mount the counters. Remember, the thicker the card, the harder it is to cut the counters and if very thick, a craft knife and cutting ruler may be preferable instead of scissors, which brings its own hazards and is worth avoiding.

The only information presented on the counters, shows weapon type (smoothbore or rifled), whether the unit is considered ‘small’ (under 400 infantry) by the scenario and the coloured bar that shows which brigade the unit belongs to. I could have put the regimental identifier on, but decided to absent the counter of that detail, something I might regret at a future point, but it is certainly not essential from a game mechanics perspective in this battle. Prettier counters would probably deserve to have that information added.

To do the full boardgame job properly, I could have made up casualty markers and disorder markers, however I really didn’t want counter stacking and the constant shuffling to see how many hits a unit had, so instead, I decided to rely on the 7mm micro dice for hits and the red plastic tiddlywinks for disorder, just like I had done in the table-top game. This turned out to be a good decision as the information was instantly visible.

With the bigger map, there is room within each hex cell to accommodate this, especially as the board was only 10 hexes wide, so the hexes are something like 50mm wide and of course, on a map, there is the added bonus that I wasn’t knocking trees over every two minutes as units shuffled through them or my sleeves caught them :-)

Anyway, of course, none of this is important unless everything played out easily on the night. We found the transition to a board to work very well. I put the map under plexi on my large pinboard and there was plenty of room on the table for charts, rules, markers etc and the large hexes and low counter density made for a very manageable game. We were done in around 3 hours.

One of the things I did forget when doing the counters, was to show whether units were in line or march formation, thus a yellow tiddlywink was pressed into service at the last minute to show Infantry in march order and artillery limbered and cavalry dismounted, it worked fine.

I have no idea how much the counter sheet cost to print out at home with those inefficient tri-coloured cartridge things, probably a million pounds, but if we call the self adhesive label and inks something like £2, plus the £10 for the A2 map (plus £2 at the coffee shop for coffee because the map wasn’t ready for me :-) ), then a final bill of say around £12 for a comfortable evenings gaming and some future repeat play, is certainly acceptable in boardgame terms and brings a reminder, if one is needed, of just how the power of print really has devolved down to the common man in our digital age .... we can do it!

The whole thing has opened my mind to the possibility of maybe doing a few battles and making myself something that the boardgame industry would call a quad, a set of four battles on a theme that can use the same rules. If I set out deliberately to do that that, then I would take greater care with both maps, counters and the scenario presentation and make something that was nice to own and set-up.

If this exercise leads to something like that, then it will most certainly have been worth the effort and is a great way to get the rules you want to the gaming table in an accessible format. The idea of bringing one’s own battles to a print solution, might in particular be of interest to gamers who have some mobility restrictions, in getting the sense of a bigger game in a small space that can sit right in front of you.

Here are a few highlights from our game, which we really enjoyed as it brought several moments of nice touches and nuances that kept things interesting and a bit unpredictable.

Above - the Union infantry opened the assault against Sitlington Hill, supported by artillery. The Random Events table had an immediate impact on play, ‘Delay all reinforcement by one turn’. This was dire news for the Confederate player, who was already playing to a tight timetable for victory and who saw Connor’s arrival instantly slow from Turn 1 to Turn 2.

With the assault underway, the pressure from the Union artillery forced the Confederates to pull back and seek protection from the rear slopes of the hill.

Above - the Confederates continued to come under increasing pressure. The arrival of Connor, who took a position up on the right, only just about served to stabilise the line, but even so, that looked to be short-lived as McClean (Union), who had crossed the bridge and advanced up the turnpike, was threatening Connor’s flank.  

Fortunately, the lead regiment of the delayed Taliaferro arrived just in time to further strengthen the Confederate right flank and cause McLean to become cautious about attacking.

Another ‘Oh No’ moment occurred, as the Random Event on a roll of double 1, caused the game to be shortened by one turn, the pressure was piling on for the Confederates and it was becoming  doubtful as to whether they could reach the main objective of the river.

The red counters show disordered units. Over on the Confederate left, one of Scott’s regiments can be seen to have accumulated 6 heavy casualties. They were forced onto the defence and Scott was having difficulty just keeping them in close proximity to the enemy.

Above - Taliaferro moved towards McClean’s position, who wisely pulled back onto Hull Hill, a position supported by artillery that prevented the Confederates making a dash for the river crossing.

Taliaferro dutifully assaulted the hill, but his right hand regiment suffered grievously as it took 4 heavy casualties on the way in (being a large unit, it simply absorbed the first hit, leaving 3 hits showing on the unit). They recoiled and to make matters worse, Taliaferro was fatally shot, immediately putting each of his regiments into disordered status.

The Confederate right wing had become a mess and could achieve little in the time remaining, other than to keep Sitlington Hill secured and distract the Union. The yellow chit on the artillery shows that it is limbered up. It is a bit exposed there!

The last Confederate reinforcement, Campbell, arrived on the turnpike and his regiments set off in march column forging towards the left, hoping to quickly strike down the left flank against a weak enemy and make the river.

Milroy’s Brigade (Union) who had been defending that sector had lost a regiment, causing the brigade to take a cohesion test. Failures amongst the regiments resulted in each regiment pulling back and each taking an additional heavy casualty and then another regiment was lost and a second cohesion test did not favour Milroy, putting the remnants of his brigade at breaking point. This looked to be where the battle would be decided.

Everything seemed to rest on the success of an aggressive advance by Campbell. He had marched as close as he dare to the enemy in the vulnerable march column formation. He ordered everything to shake out into line, but they all failed their capability test, so while they did go into line, they were not allowed to move in the same turn, so effectively they lost a turn of movement - the river was not getting any closer!

Then in the final turn, yet another ‘Oh No’ moment, the Random Event Table again delivered double 1’s, causing the game to end a turn earlier (so that is twice now in this game) and of course since this was the last turn, the game ended immediately. The Union could scarcely believe their luck, but their resolute fight during play had kept the Confederates away from the river.

The Union got their 2 VP’s for having held Sitlington’s Hill for the 2 required turns, plus a further 1 VP for stopping the Confederates from crossing the river. The Confederates just got 1 VP for the re-capture of the hill, so at 3 points to 1, a well earned victory was claimed for the Union.

It was good to see that over two games, both sides have each won once, so the scenario balance seems to be sitting in the right place.

A Random Event had allowed Jackson to release an artillery battery (Cartwright), which was sent up the turnpike to support Taliaferro, but which in fact was quickly chased off by accurate fire! Indeed the Random Event Table became an influential element in this playing, more-so than usual, with two game turns being cancelled. This simply put too much pressure on the Confederate time-table and that together with the delay of reinforcements and the effectiveness of the Union fire, particularly artillery, was enough to throw the Confederate advance into turmoil.

Overall this was a good game / scenario that we will return to.

Resource Section.
Last weeks post showing the game with miniatures. LINK

My sister webspace COMMANDERS, which is a bit more snippet based than here. LINK.


  1. Your map and counters turned out splendidly! Impressive results, really. While did you choose to convert to board game for your Friday night match rather than replaying the action with your miniatures and Hexon?

    1. Thanks Jonathan, the hexon would have taken up most of the dining table and involved a lot of stretching. My back is having a bad episode at the momet and 3 hours of that would have been a killer, The boardgame sat in a significantly smaller area and was much more manageble ..... hopefully, fingers - crossed, normal services can resume shortly :-)

    2. A reasonable solution. Best wishes on your back recovery.

    3. Ta, there are two fave wargame shows in the next few weeks that I would love to do, but I know they will be missed ...... BooHoo!

  2. Very impressive Norm and I admire your effort in getting this all sorted by computer. I have neither the skill nor the interest to be honest! If I need anything like this I take the easy route and ask our graphics chaps at work to sort it out.

  3. Thanks Steve, I almost gave up twice and previous experience warns me away from such things, which can become a massive time sink ...... but, the fact that we can do it at all is pretty amazing compared to 20 years ago when the power of print was very much in the hands of others,

  4. Very interesting to read how you went about creating your boardgame. Were you tempted to put the river on the line between hexes based upon your discussion in a recent post?

  5. Thanks Peter, no. not really, I was just grateful that the map had already been done and I didn't have to do any extra work :-)
    but mainly of course, I wanted to replicate the game that my hexon would have given me as closely as possible.

    I have seen a couple of hexon users make their own rivers that sit on the hexsides, so it always remains open for future exploration.

  6. Hi Norm, that really is a very clever piece of work, the board and counters look quite professional. It's amazing what the local print shop can do these days. I spent my working life in the printing trade and when I was an apprentice we still had to do wood carved blocks and lead compositing, setting the individual letters as part of the learning process! I'm intrigued by the printing of the maps.

    1. Thanks Lee, as a youngster, one of our neighbours had a bit of a printing press going in his shed. It was one of those things with an ink plate and you make up the printy bit using various metal letter and blocks - he used to do things like flyers and weddings invitation cards etc and he invited me across and took me under his wing for a while to show me the ropes ..... anyway, then I discovered girls and he fired me off as being unreliable and only half interested! Still, I was grateful for the insight and experience that I got from that and in those days, that was an important publishing platform.

  7. Nice work and smart move on preserving your back and still getting a game! It is amazing what you can print now independently!
    Best Iain

  8. Thanks Iain, we enjoyed the game a ton, so it was just the job. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some talented people who are upgrading old favourite boardgames in their collection and giving them a new presentation for their own enjoyment.

  9. Great read as usual Norm. Hope you get well soon!

  10. Thanks Mike, enjoyed your 6mm painted command stand today.

  11. This really shows some dedication to game night! Nothing shall stand in the way, bad backs and all!

    Nice job converting over to a boardgame. Very resourceful and well thought out.
    Hope you’re back heals soon. 😀

  12. Thanks Stew, by the end of it all, I was rather pleased with the outcome.

  13. Great AAR. I've downloaded a number of print 'n' play boardgames over the years but never really had the time or patience to do anything with them, but you have shown that the results are definitely worth it.


    1. Hi, thanks for following. There are some real gems in the print'n play world, but it is a few years since I went to a professional outfit and the prices seem to be pretty much the same or even cheaper, but the quality has certainly improved, my map came on the heaviest coated paper that I have had from them and that was standard, without asking for anything special.

      I think now more than ever, digging out old favourites and having the maps enlarged or even re-doing graphics for one's own use is both desirable and now viable - I was thinking about some of those GDW 120 Series titles :-)


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