Gaming Without a Budget – Lauby’s Malifaux Table

Hello and welcome to another installment on how to lord your disposable income over poor neck-beards.  Today we’re going to be spending way more money than we need to with just a touch of a  “This Old House” vibe.

Let’s get to it.

Special Lady Friend and I recently started up Malifaux and we’re having a grand old time at it.  But after a few test games it became apparent that we were in dire need of a gaming surface. Now, most people’s first thoughts on this topic would be on how this could be done cheaply.  Screw that noise! Lets spend some goddamn money and do this up proper!”

With all that in mind, I set out to plan and build a 3’x3′ gaming surface that I could potentially shelter under in the event of an earthquake.

Shelter more like the girl in front, not those idiots in back.

Step zero (as I am now, as snootily as possible, calling it) was research.  I’ve not made a lot of gaming surfaces as I’ve never needed them in my own home. Or at least not ones with grass on them. So there were some questions I needed answered so that spending a lot of money didn’t become wasting a lot of money (remember, spending money with nothing to show for it = bad). Thankfully, I had some articles on the Good Robot Us’s site to work from.


A Mr. D. Tron has made a much more frugal effort to make a gaming table and I will be using this as a guide for technique if not cost. And, seriously, go read those two posts because I am going to be making a ton of references to them.

Important note: Be sure to click on any images for enhugening purposes.

As with dethtron’s Flames of War table, it all starts with the base material.  In this case, a 3/4″ sheet of MDF cut into the proper sizes. The fact that I got two 3×3 squares AND kept the left overs is about the only nod to saving money you’re gonna see today because it just couldn’t be helped.   Well, that and the fact that you can totally have the Home depot guys cut things to size for you – which you should totally have happen.  So about $30 bucks for that all said and done for a contractor sized sheet.

Also a cat.  The internet loves cats.

So why MDF (medium density fiberboard)?  To paraphrase the manager in This is Spinal Tap: “having a good solid piece of wood is quite often…useful”.  If I’m honest, I just plain don’t like insulation foam.  It’s for poor people – along with macaroni & cheese, American cars and 20xx vintages of wine.

Now you may be questioning the weight of a 3/4 inch thick peice of wood – and your right, it does weigh about 1.2 fuck-tons (or 1 metric fuck-tonne for your Euros and your everyman metric system.  God, I hate you).  But for me, the weight is a design feature rather than a flaw – it’s part one of my ingenious (and expensive) system to keep my gaming board from sliding around.

Now it’s on to actual construction.  Step one of that is the basic prep work  – namely sanding the edges smooth and then wiping ALL of the saw dust off.  The sanding being especially important since I was/am going to add some veneer edging to cover up the rough cut sides.

Another potential expense is the iron, if all you wear is wrinkled cloths
One of the things I really wanted to do was make sure the edges of the surface looked ‘finished’.  In my mind, if your going to spend time and money making a good looking gaming surface, you don’t want anything to detract from it.  It’s a lot like painting a great miniature and then making the conscious decision to not base it. Anywho, the edging is pretty easy to apply so long as you have an iron and some patience. I picked up some natural birch flavored stuff for about 8 bucks.
Important note:  Probably a good idea to do the edging before painting and flocking (like me) because of the heat issues.
See how rad that looks? And that’s just one side.
I edged to all four sides and then moved on to painting – being very careful to cover the edges in masking tape to keep that natural birch goodness intact. There’s a reason you spent money in it in the first place and it wasn’t to hide the fact that you spent money.
Mr. Tron’s sand + paint trick is one of the best bits of tech I’ve ever had the opportunity to implement.   I did a first coat of paint with no sand in order to make sure my coverage was good. Then I mixed some sand into a wad of paint and textured it up.  
Important note:  You’ll need to filter the bigger chunks of rock out of the sand in order to get a uniform surface when you’re using this trick.  Those bigger lumps can really cause problems with terrain laying flat or miniatures staying upright.
Note on the Important note:  If you pop a storm screen off of a window on your apartment to strain sand with, you should under no circumstances tell your significant other whom you live with that you did this.
I started drybrushing the highlights before I remembered to take a picture
I think it’s relevant to point out another area in which I made the conscious decision to not save money again and just get exactly what I wanted.  I had been slumming it a bit and spent some time searching in vain for a good shade of brown in the mis-mixed paint section of the local DIY stores.  I gave up after the $2 special turned out to be less brown and more “diarrhea orange”.  Which may actually have been mis-mixed rather than evidence of the piss-poor judgment of some mouth breathing suburbanite.  So I just said ‘screw it’ and had the worlds biggest pot of P3 Gun Corps Brown made up.  Color matching FTW.  All said and done, it was about $15 for the good color and my experience with random chance.  Highlighting was a simple affair of drybrushing some craft paints on.
Lookin’ snazzy already
Normally, the next step would be to add the static grass.  But there is one, crucial, flaw that a slab of MDF has that insulation foam does not – a heavy slab of wood is not going to be the gentlest thing to happen to the top of an Ethan Allen table.  So there’s a problem that needs a solution.  Which also brings me to part two of my plan to keep this thing from sliding around:  Rug Gripping Tape.
I just realized that I photographed the french side of the box.
The tape adds a nice little pad to protect the table this thing will sit on AND gives it plenty of grip.  I, literally, had to hip check this thing to get it to move.  So $8 bucks well spent. Oh, and I did the tape before the flocking because I wasn’t too interested in mussing up the grass if I did it the other way around.
Important note: The rug tape I was using is only sticky on ONE SIDE. So be careful when you’re shopping for rug tape since there are similar products that are intended to actually tape the carpet to your floor.
NOW it’s flocking time. First, I re-masked the edges.  Second, the glue.  Courtesy of Elmer’s.  I ended up using about a bottle and a half of the 8oz sizes. 
The keys here are having a large paintbrush, speed and good coverage.  The masking tape is excellent since it allows you to get a bit sloppy with no repercussions.  Or at least I didn’t have any.  In any case another $10 bucks for glue and some low tackiness masking tape.
I then used pretty much the same flocking recipe that good ol’ dethtron used – but with an added pinch or two of some yellow-brown grass for extra flavor.  So about $17 .  As a bonus, between the left over flock and the paint, you’ll have all the materials you’ll need to perfectly match any terrain you may build to the table.
Important note: If it’s maybe a hot day while you’re doing all this, it may be a good idea to get a sweatband or a head rag or something.  It turns out that sweat will actually stain static grass.  But on the plus side, I can say that this table has a little bit of my actual being in it.
After the glue was dry it was time for a couple coats of a clear matte spray to seal in the goodness and for added durability.  I got some artist quality stuff from Krylon that I am assured will not yellow over time.  We’re building this thing to last, so a bit of foresight is required.  So another $8. 
Some more waiting for things to dry happened and then it was time to remove the masking tape and carefully trim off the sticky-out parts from the flocking.
And there we are.  A pretty darn great gaming table if I do say so myself.  And I do.  Also a good conversation piece to break up the lulls between  mouthfuls of canapĂ©.  All for the low, low cost of around $90.

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