Until the advent of video games, it was fairly easy, and common, for fathers to build the toys and games of their children. These are among my favourite things to build. I love seeing my daughters play and enjoy the things I have built for them. This post will examine a few games.

A game board can be as simple or as elaborate as the builder desires. I will begin with a simple checkerboard.


This board could not be simpler. It is an eight inch square piece of wood. Since there are eight squares per side of a chckerboard, the math is rudinemtary. The squares in this case are simply painted on. I used one inch wide masking tape to lay out the board, and thick brown paint. I had to lay out the tape and paint twice, the second time reversing the original pattern, to get the full effect. A simple moulding, which I made with one of my moulding planes, puts a nice border around the whole thing. A few coats of varnish and the piece is complete and ready to go. On the other side is a simple Nine Men's Morris layout.

I used to sell a few of these boards when I tried to sell at craftshows. I used to make boards with the pattern made out of light and aark woods- usually walnut and maple. But there I discovered the most anyone was willing to pay for a checkerboard was eight dollars, and they didn't really care what it was made of. I dropped the hard work, and just went to painting.

If you can paint a straight line, or layout some tape to guide a straight line, the next two boards are hardly more difficult than the checkerboard. The one on the left is a game I like to call "Monotony", the other is a game that was popular with the vikings called hnefatafl. More on that in a bit.


I built the monotony game after our old board fell apart after being opened and closed so often. Since I had everything for the game, and I had some wood with which I wasn't doing anything else, I decided to make a game that would last rather than shell out for a new board and pieces and etc etc.

An advantage to these game boards is that they have two sides, and I can put a second game on the flip side, like so:


The game on the left is The Game of the Goose, a game that was popular from the Renaissance to about the Nineteenth century. It's a kind of early version of Snakes and Ladders. The most difficult part of making the game was drawing the spiral. What I decided I needed was a kind of compass that had a steadily decreasing radius. What I came up with was a half inch wide dowel with a string tied to it in such a way that the string would wrap around the dowel as it was moved around the dowel, rather than rotate, as it would were I trying to use it for a compass. With a pencil tied to the end of the string, and moving the pencil around the dowel like a compass, the winding of the string would pull the pencil in closer to the dowel in a regular and consistant way Thus I was able to draw a spiral with sufficient space between the lines for a game track. I then took some calipers, set them to the width of the track, and used the wirth to pace off the number of squares necessary for the game. I then decorated the board according to a few boards I had seen on line.

The other game board can be used for some solitaire games, or a game called "The Fox and the Geese". The Fox game is interesting, and shares a quality with Hnefatafl: both are what is called asymetrical games. An asymmetrical game is quite different from checkers or chess, in which the two players have idetical pieces which move identically with identical goals. Instead, asymmetrical games have sides of different sizes with different goals. You can see that from the layout of the pieces on the hnefatafl board below.


The goals are simple: the dark side is to get the king (the tall piece) to a corner, and the white side, which has almost twice as many pieces, is to stop that from happening.

Here are two crokinole boards I made, both leftovers from the craftshow days. One has the lines simply painted on, the other has coloured wood filler put into grooves I made with a router mounted onto a kind of compass.


This is a really enjoyable game.

If you want a board that is a little more complicated, there are the two below: skittles and bagatelle:




:Skittles is actually the name of a family of games. What they all share in common are these little bowling pins which are somehow to be knowcked down. In the case of this game, a top is set spinning in the game area, and points are determined by which and how many pins it knocks over.

Bagatelle is an early form of pinball. Marbles or bearings are shoved, using a push stick, up a channel and into the playing field. The field being tilted, they roll down , coming to a stop in the various holes and spaces. Which holes and which spaces they fall into determines the points. I got the plans for both of these off the internet.

Pinball is at the heart of the last two games here. These are copies of the old Munro hockey and baseball games.


The hockey in particular is a little like two guys playing pinball at each other. Not as sophisticated as the modern rod style of table hockey games, but entertaining none the less.

The hockey game was built from a kit, which provided me with the metal parts, as well as the "players", along with the springs and so on. I bought the plans for the baseball game on line, and built it using bent coat hangers for the metal parts. It works, and the kids do enjoy pulling it out from time to time.

Next post will be about toys I have made for the kids.

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Comment by Professor on February 1, 2010 at 9:14am
I commend you, Sean. I am proficient at many things; a craft such as this would not be one of them, though. This is great work.
Comment by Sean on February 1, 2010 at 9:05am
Done that a bit. Did a few parquetry chequer boards for an order a while back. It is very labour intensive. I'll do it again at some point when I want to give the kids some kind of heirloom set.
Comment by Christopher Solomon on February 1, 2010 at 9:01am
Since you are building for your kids... ever thought about doing some intarsia on the game boards? Kind of like the woodfiller you did, but with actual wood.
Comment by Sean on January 30, 2010 at 10:51pm
What's etsy? I don't know of it.

I used to try and sell my games and other items at craft shows- except for the monotony board (A very large company would get very excited if I tried to do that. They would mention some very bad words like "lawyers" and "lawsuits" and "sue your dumb carcass back into the stone age" if I were to do such a thing) and a few of the ones for which I bought plans. It did not work out well. My problem was there was a huge disparity between what I thought I should be paid and what the customers thought I should be paid. I will probably write a post about that later, but to give an example: I originally built two of the baseball games, with the intention fo selling them. I originally tacked the oprice at around $100, which, after factoring time and materials, would have had me paying myself something in the region of minimum wage. As I carried it around from craftshow to craftshow, I began lowering the price to try and make a sale. In the end, I sold it for thirty five bucks, just to get rid of it and break even on the cost of materials. Shortly after that I quit the shows.
Comment by James! on January 27, 2010 at 1:52pm
I never considered building my own board games before. Now I must. Thanks for all of the information and inspiration.
Comment by John Clanton on January 27, 2010 at 11:08am
This is an awesome post, Sean!

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