Thursday, June 4, 2015

Portable Period Games


This is a Teetotum which is a top which has various markings on each of the possible sides.  
A girl holding up a four-sided teetotum on Pieter Brueghel'sChildren's Games (1560)
I created my teetotum by harvesting a bit of wood from an old wheel barrow handle.  The wood is very hard and very heavy.  I used a table saw to cut the shape square and then rounded the edges a bit on a belt sander.  I used a drill press to drill a quarter inch hole in the center and then inserted a sharpened dowel. The top spins well enough but I may make more with various other possible sides.  I simply used a "V" gouge to cut grooves I, II, III, IIII on the sides and then painted the grooves with goache paint.


Checkers / Draughts

Draughts or Checkers have been around for along time.  This particular Draught board is rather huge.
I came across this picture and fell in love with really big board games.  (I know these are chess boards but inspiration is inspiration).


I made it from a bunch of scrap wool which a friend gifted to me.  I have made a LOT of quilts in the past so the idea of making a quilt seemed easier than making a board of wood.  This board can serve as a lap blanket, table cloth or game board.  The squares are three inches square.  I machine quilted the board and then backed it with a heavy cotton canvas.

You may also notice that I made the board 12X12.  American checkers is typically 8X8.  I have a wooden board 8X8 so as long as I was making a new one, I figured I'd make an older European version.  As it turns out the 12X12 is more fun to play.  I have always found checkers to be a bit boring.  The 12X12 option seems to change the game play as there is a lot more room for maneuvering before confrontation.


Game Pieces

The draught/checker/backgammon pieces were cut from a 2 inch dowel and rounded on a belt sander.
As I am making a couple games that uses this sized game pieces I wanted to paint them in three different colors and leave one plain.  Here is how they were painted.  

I squeezed a bit of goache paint into a plastic bag and then added water.  I added my wooden disks and then simply did a little shake-and-bake type prep.  I sloshed them around for a while and then took them out and spread them out to dry.  The red took three coats to get a coverage.  The blue and green seemed to take a lot better with only two coats.

A couple days to dry and I have my stacks of game pieces.

Quoits (Ring Toss)

Well, the game of Quoits was new to me.  Honestly I was looking to add to my bag of games and keep the kids busy at events.  I did a lot of internet searches and came across the game of quoits.  I understand that it is simply a ring toss game and is played much the way modern horse shoes were made.  I figured this game would work well as most people have played horse shoes, bean bags or jarts.  Scoring can be done much in the same way so people can walk up and play rather quickly.

I created my rings by taking 6 equal lengths of 1/2 inch rope and then weaving them into a simple circle.  I let the ends overlap by about 1 inch after which I locked the ring closed by tightly wraping then ends in a colored string.  This served both to hold the rings together in a standard size as well as indicate the rings belonging to each player.  The finished rings are about 8~9 inches across.  The rope is stiff enough to hold shape reasonably well, but yet soft enough to cause some variability when thrown.  I have yet to play a game with them but have tossed them in the yard just for fun.  Seems like an quick game to build and easy to play. 

Backgammon / Tabula

A really big Tabula board.  That's What I wanted.  When I saw this image I knew my board had to take up a table top.

 Medieval illustration of tabula players from the 13th century Carmina Burana.  

I don't have many pictures of the construction process for this as I was busy building and forgot until the end.  The construction is basically frame and panel construction.  The panel is quarter inch plywood board and the frame is made from clear pine 1X2.  I created the frame using lap joints on the corners and then cut a groove for the panel using the table saw.

Here is the frame cut and dry fitted.  Note that the pieces on the board are 2 inches wide.  Yes, this is a BIG game board.


Once happy with the fit of the panels I drilled the holes for the pegs.  I used quarter inch dowel rods to peg the frame together.  I glued frames up and then drove in the dowel.  I used a flush cut saw to cut the dowel to length and then wiped off the glue leakage.  Unfortunately I was at a friends shop and didn't have my clamps with me.  I ended up placing them on the ground with some weights on the corners while drying.  Here is the frame, glued, pegged and somewhat dry.

I've purchased some milk paint to finish the board but that will have to be another post later when I get around to painting the board.


I have a number of friends that like to play gambling games and often come to events with their own bags of tokens and pewter coins.  There is even one event run locally which is almost all gambling.  This game boards was created for people who like to gamble.

The game of Glückhaus is a basic put and take gambling game.  I have seen a number of period reproductions of the board which look something similar to the following.

 If you are familiar with the game you may see a couple basic flaws with this layout.  As the rules go, if you role a number which does not have a coin on it, you place a coin there.  If you role a number which has a coin there, you get to take the coin.  The exceptions are the numbers 2, 4, 7 and 12.  A 7, which is the most likely number to get when rolling 2 dice, always costs the roller a coin.  A 4 pays the house or does nothing.  A 2 claims all the coins except those on the 7.  A 12 claims everything on the board.  So, you see, the 7 is very likely to develop a goodly stack of coins on it.  These layouts also include a space for the 2 and for the 12.  Neither the 2 nor the 12 need a space as they never collect coins.

So, I redesigned the board a bit.  I made the space for the 7 a lot larger and placed the numbers in sequence around the seven.  Some period layouts have numbers scattered around.  I find that my layout makes it easier for new players to catch on quickly.  While there is a crown (for the 12) and a space for the 2 the area allotted to them are much smaller and not in the way of the game play.

I stared by sketching an idea on some paper.

Once satisifed with the overall look I drew the design out on some garment leather.  I harvested this leather from the back panel of a coat purchased at Salvation Army.  (If you've read my other posts you know I love leather coats from thrift stores for all my leather projects).  I found that I could not trace onto the leather so I simply free handed the drawing again with some chalk.

I then used a modern wood burner with a pointed tip to lightly draw onto the leather.  I practiced a bit on some scraps but found that burning leather is a lot easier than burning wood.  The image shows up and draws almost as easily as using a pencil.

Here is the completed board which is about 14 inches square.  It folds up nicely and yet has a look which I hope will appeal to the gamblers in my circle.



Fox and Geese

Here is another game inspired by the wood burner.  I had so much fun playing with the wood burner I looked for other period game boards which would work well using a similar construction.  I came across the game of "Fox and Geese".  

The layout of the game is simple.

I took that same basic layout and sketched it out with some chalk onto another piece of leather.  This leather is from the same coat as the board above.  No measurements were taken as I didn't really want a perfectly square drawing that looked machine made.  I free handed the outline with a chalk pencil.

Until I started with the wood burner I had planned on making straight lines.  It then came to me that a more organic look might suit this game.  The fox is trying to run around the yard eating geese so why not make the lines out of vines.  I started free handing some vine work.

As the basic vine lines were completed I then went back in and added some additional details to improve the look of the vines.  You can easily tell that they lines weren't draw using a ruler and I really enjoy that look.  The loose organic flow suits me I think.

Now for the game tokens.  Initially I thought about wooden tokens or small glass squashed marbles like those sold at hobby stores.  I then remembered my collection of rocks.  I went to the Dunes last summer with the family.  While the kids played in the water (which was freezing) I combed the beach for this collection.  I was looking for rocks which were flat-ish and could be used for gaming.   

I planned on getting a rock tumbler and polishing them.  I never got around to it.  Now that I see them on the board I really like the natural look.  I'll keep a couple options in the bag for the "fox".  Another period looking game which packs small and is easy to play.