Living the Dream: Building A Gaming Table for the School Club (Pt. 1)

So if you didn’t know, I’m a high school teacher.  I run a modest Warhammer 40,000 club at an all boys high school, and have a fluctuating roster between 5-8 student players annually, not to mention my two colleagues who also play (Tyranids / Custodes, and Orks / AdMech respectively).  Needless to say, it’s a pretty sweet gig, being able to be involved with the hobby on “company time” as a sanctioned school organization.  The inevitable time limitations since marriage, having kids, coaching obligations has meant I can’t stay after school much anymore, but daily 45 minute meetings at lunches usually lets us get through a turn or two of a decent sized game each day, keeping games up on a board for a week or more in our department office (or unused classroom space).

A typical lunchtime game.  The Guardsmen held on to this one!

I’ve supplied 90% of the terrain personally, mostly in the form of the city buildings, landing pad, bastions, etc while also teaming up with fellow art instructor (and Ork maniac) to build a custom board from scraps and old science fair project boards.  We hammered out the 6’x4′ blackened “river” board in a few days with scraps, and it’s been our go-to for most games.  It’s served us well and has a long, storied history of many bloody games.  We also have three mousepad style game mats from various manufacturers (which are fantastic, by the way) but those see less use as we typically only have one game up at a time unless we have a whole day blocked out for whatever reason.  What we didn’t have, however, was a purpose-built high quality board to play on.  And by God, we would have one!

Shadow War: Armageddon hasn’t caught on too well at school… yet!

So the art department rolled its sleeves up — myself and the Ork colleague, both with Masters degrees / MFA’s / technical skill and decades of experience.  With a (relatively) unlimited budget and an entire wing of the school’s art studio at our fingertips, we began our nefarious work.  Despite having the ability to spend money on pre-made terrain to use on a board, we decided the 100% bespoke route was the way to go.  Any schmuck can glue some plastic kits to a piece of wood; we wanted something unique.  Not to mention the inordinate amount of terrain I already donated to the club which could easily be placed on the board itself at our discretion, varying game setups each time.

A student’s Cadians.  They’re a scary force to face!

All told, we had a snowy board, the ubiquitous green grass field, a charred blackened wasteland with dried riverbed.. what could we add to this list?  What major iconic setting could we bring into the fold to add some diversity to games and still have a really strong “40k” vibe?

A forge world!

With one colleague recently starting an Adeptus Mechanicus army, it fit right in.  My Warhound and accompanying Knight household would fit the bill as well.  Additionally, our upcoming “global campaign” we’re trying to kick off will feature a specific forge world, among other planets, so it just made sense to get this one done.  It’ll be the exact same size as the blackened board in the first picture, 6×4′, to easily straddle our two office desks to stay in the art department office which allows us to keep games up for a few days (sometimes weeks!) at a time.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I began sketching out plans, bouncing ideas off my colleagues, and generally getting entirely too excited to begin.  We tried our best to keep cost down, so these results could be duplicated on any budget.  Building a sweet board is the goal, but if we can show our kids that it doesn’t just mean dumping money into it I’d call it a solid victory and a lesson learned.  The three of us teachers grew up using shoe-boxes and soup cans like all the other old guard in the 90’s, we need to instill those basic values of perceived worth into the youth of today!  At the time of writing this, we’ve probably sunk $40 into the project.  Most of that is from buying the wood to frame it and the foam insulation panels.  The sand was free (our Tyranid colleague’s sole contribution, which literally had centipedes in it, so props to him for the strong Nid theme in his donation!), and the rest was requisitioned from the art studio.

Promethium relays submerged in the planet surface, exposed from past battles!

We knew we wanted two major plateaus on the corners.  One would have a huge sunken-relief Adeptus Mechanicus cog/skull carved into the surface, with each plateau also having a series of earthen ramps / gradients to access the upper levels.  Carving the skull would be the most technically challenging aspect.  It doesn’t have to appear mechanically perfect and precise, as a hand-carved appearance would only heighten the fact that it’s carved from the stone, but any sort of three-dimensional sculpting of spherical objects isn’t as easy as it appears.

The cog and skull will be a centerpiece of the board if we can only get it right…

We also wanted to integrate pipes and metal into the board as well, so I decided to sink plastic model train pipes I’ve had for ages into the surface of the board, with some damage carved into them for dramatic effect.  The inclusion of these pipes, if only submerged just below the surface, does wonders for implying the “real” world this is portraying.  It indicates there’s more to the board than just the surface.  Adding exposed pipes lets the mind extrapolate that information to assume there’s more beneath the table — adding a few open shafts or maintenance tunnels will further sell the effect.   We also had some copper leaf we intend to pay down on the big flat planes of the table, peeking through the sand texture of the board.  It’ll truly look like an Adeptus Mechanicus forge world when we’re done with it!

Gold and copper leaf will adorn the large flat planes of the surface, barely peeking out of the sand texture we’ll apply on top.

Here you can see some more progress.  Carving the plateaus on the corners with a hot foam cutter, an invaluable tool for natural looking cliff faces, proved to be very satisfying.  You can make one at home with a battery and some metal wire if you’re very careful, but otherwise can buy a pre-made one off Amazon for like $20 (recommended for beginners).  Be sure the metal wire has enough space to accommodate whatever you want to cut.  Most varieties sold in craft stores won’t serve this purpose as they’re too small.

That’s the current state of the project!  We’re hoping to have it built by the end of the month, but we’ll see how the timing goes as we get more busy with our workloads at school.

But, let me ask you this.  What color are you envisioning the board?  A deep martian red, right?  That was our initial thought, and still is a contender, but we’ve had a new idea that may prove interesting.  A bleached-out planet, sulfuric yellows, tinted with hints of desaturated greys and greens.  Almost pure white but hints of those underlying colors.  We’re split 50:50 on these two color options.  Let me know what you think in the comments!


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