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  • Writer's pictureMichael Ireland

Build Your Own Magnetic Board Game

Last November I did a post espousing the brilliance of the classic Avalon Hill wargame Tactics II. In that post I briefly talked about my magnetic build of the game. You see, Tactics II, like many wargames, can take quite a while to finish. With three cats and no free space to leave the game laid out for days on end, I simply hang my new magnetic version on the wall between plays. Tactics II now serves as both a game, and an ever changing piece of art for my wall that I can stare at and plot my next move. This month we’ll look at the materials and process of building a magnetic board game so that you too can create an interactive piece of wall art.

Playing Tactics II

These instructions will follow how I put Tactics II together, but the materials and build process will be similar for any sort of game. The idea here is that whatever game you create can be played vertically or be moved and the playing pieces will remain in place. I will also provide examples of the materials I used, but any similar product can produce the same results. Let’s get started!

What you’ll need:

  • Metal sheet or magnetic whiteboard.

  • Chipboard, backing board, or thin cardboard.

  • Magnetic sheet. May be self-adhesive or printable.

  • Printable stickers, vinyl sheets, or standard printer paper and a laminator.

  • Poster / Picture frame (optional).

  • Picture frame hooks and cord.

  • Computer and Printer (If you're not adapting existing game parts).

Useful Tools:

  • Rotary Cutter and cutting mat, paper trimmer, or heavy-duty scissors.

  • Ruler or straightedge.

  • Screwdriver or hand drill.

  • Tin Snips / Metal Cutter.

Sticker paper, Magnetic Sheet, and Chip board

First and foremost a magnetic surface will be necessary for mounting the game board. The dimensions of your game will be an important factor here because depending on the backing you may need to cut the material to size. I used a thin piece of steel sheet metal that was just a few inches larger than my game board. I simply centered the playing area on the sheet and left the extra as it fit the frame I’d chosen exactly. Sheet metal can prove difficult to cut but a pair of tin snips can make quick work of thinner metal like that used in a whiteboard. Choose the lightest most magnetic material that’s sized closet to your game design.

Tin Snips

Next, you’ll need to decide how your game board will attach to the backing. Thinner is better because the magnets for the game pieces will be fairly weak in order to reduce their tendency to push and pull each other on the board. For this reason, I would avoid using a standard board game board unless you plan to have very strong magnets. I simply scaled my game board image on the computer to print on multiple standard printer pages. I then laminated, cut to size, and used a healthy amount of double-sided carpet tape to tile them onto my sheet metal. Alternatively, you can use printable sticker sheets to simply print and stick your board design on. However, great care must be taken to avoid bubbles or rolls when applying. Any gap or bubble will be glaringly obvious and may prevent game pieces from sticking properly!

Rotary Cutter and mat

With the basics of the game board put together it’s time to move on to the playing pieces. As I stated earlier, the magnetic sheets I used are not very powerful. However, if you’re using heavier or larger pieces you may want to use more powerful individual magnets rather than the sheets I mounted mine on. Keep in mind that more powerful magnets may cause pieces to repeal or attract one another, so piece spacing and magnet placement become much more critical. My playing pieces consisted of three layers. I first printed the design to a standard printer size sticker sheet. I then adhered that to my chipboard which I then stuck to my adhesive magnetic sheet. Once all three layers were combined, I used a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler to separate the individual pieces. The chipboard combined with the magnetic sheet created a study piece with just the right amount of thickness while still being easy to cut. Because I used stickers and self-adhesive magnetic sheets, I didn’t have any issues with inconsistent adhesion caused by poor glue distribution.

Storage box stuck to board.

Obviously, there are some game components that can’t be stuck to your board such as dice or instructions. For piece and dice storage I used some small plastic containers with hinged lids. I stuck a large patch of magnetic sheet to the back so that they could be stored on the board while it was hung but removed for play. For the instructions I used a very basic plastic file holder that I simply tucked into the back of the frame before hanging.

Plastic File Holder

The last consideration is how you actually want to hang your game. If the game is simplistic and easy to access, like tic-tac-toe in a children’s play space for instance, you may wish to mount the game so that it may be played directly on the wall and not easily removed. For that type of build you could screw the board directly into the wall or weight permitting, you can use something like double sided mounting foam. I put Tactics II in a large black frame and used the included frame hooks and wire to hang it from a screw and drywall anchor.

There’re many different ways to approach this project depending on your materials and goals. The loose directions here merely represent what was most successful for me. In truth, I started over a few times until I landed on the right build. What game do you think would lend itself to this format? If you've tried this project, we'd love to see what you've created!

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