Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DIY Customizable Game Board

The kids and I have been exploring board games lately.  Our favorite commercial games are "Hiss" (technically a card game, I guess) and "Hoot, Owl, Hoot," which I like to describe as a cooperative, less-annoying Candyland. Then one day I made my very own game on some butcher paper to help drill the letters we were working on.  Of course, we're also working on learning colors, shapes, and numbers... I started to imagine an infinite number of board games to help drill these subjects.  Then I had a epiphany: make a re-usable, customizable board game system using contact paper and dry erase markers!

Here's how I went about it


  • Butcher Paper (I used this roll from Ikea)
  • Clear contact paper
  • Sharpie or other marking pen for permanent lines
  • Dry erase markers in various colors
  • Scissors
  • (For a double-sided board): tape and/or glue of your choice

1. Cut a piece of butcher paper to your desired size. My paper was 18 inches wide, and I cut it about 24 inches long.

Hint: Check the width of your contact paper vs. your butcher paper and consider trimming your butcher paper to width if necessary. (Mine was about the same.)

2. Using a Sharpie or other dark marker, draw a path and divide it into squares.  If desired, add "Start" and "Finish" and/or directional arrows.  If you intend to use small toys for markers, make sure you make your cells large enough.

Look, you could be really scientific here.  You could get out a ruler and protractor and draft perfect curves and evenly sized cells. You could get fancy and print one out on multiple sheets of paper and tape them together.  Or you could do what I did and just eye-ball it.  Remember:
A good homemade toy is one that they play with.  
A Great homemade toy is one that they play with 
longer than it took you to make it! 

3. Optional: I decided to make a double-sided board with long and short paths.  My paper isn't very thick, so I cut a second piece and taped it back-to-back with double-sided tape.

4. "Laminate" your board. Cut one (or two, if you're making a double-sided board) pieces of contact paper a few centimeters longer than your game board and carefully apply.  Or, just slap it on and straighten out as necessary. Did you know that you can actually peel off and re-position contact paper if you work fast? Well, you do now! (If you haven't figured this out already, I am very much a measure-once, cut-twice kind of girl!)

And, you're done! Now all you've got to do is figure out what game to play!

Update: I've described four separate games to play with this board here

Tips for building your own games: 

* If your kids are as young as mine (3 and 4), resist the temptation to cram too many concepts into one game.  At this point, they're still having a little trouble following the path in the right direction! We need to spend a little more time on simple counting games before getting too fancy with colors, shapes, etc.
* On the other hand, if they're older, let them get involved in the game design.  Perhaps they'd like to create a short cut? Help decide whether or not playing pieces can share a square? What happens when they collide?
* Consider building a spinner from an old CD or DVD and its case
* Keep losing the dice on the floor? Roll them inside a plastic bubble

Additional play notes: 

Contact paper is not as "erasable" as either a dry-erase board, glass, or slick plastic. The dark purple marker I used was especially hard to get off, and rubbing alcohol was not much help. Test colors before you use them, and then take a deep breath and accept that it's not going to be perfect. 
Similarly, try and be patient with the little ones who Will drag their sleeves or fingers across your squares, rubbing them off as they go! 

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