Everyone knows about 3D printers now, and what kinds of miraculous things are being done with them. What you might not know is how fun 3D printing is, and how much fun it can create for your whole family and a bunch of your friends. We’re talking 3D printed tabletop games.
I know what you’re thinking. “Guy,” you ask, “how is it free if I have to buy a 3D printer? Those things cost thousands!” First, you can get some pretty decent 3D printers well under $1000. There may soon be a 3D printer for $100. Many schools now have 3D printers that you may be able to use. Check with your library, too.
You can also look for local makerspaces or hackerspaces. These are clubs, of a sort, that are equipped with all sorts of wonderful technology. It’s a very inexpensive way to indulge your new 3D printed game hobby and maybe teach your kids about DIY.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the games you can make and play.
If you like your games portable, quick to play, zombie based, and cute as a button, Zombie Apocalypse is for you. This is a game that can be played between 2 people of any age. The premise is simple. You have a human and you have 3 zombies. If you’re the human, you need to go from one side of the board to the other to win. If you’re Team Zombie, you have to trap the human so they can no longer move.
The game play may look familiar to you. This game goes back a while to the French military, where it was known as Hare and Hounds. Or whatever Hare and Hounds is in French. Zombies equal hounds and the human equals the hare.
Zombies go first, moving one zombie one space, but only forward or sideways. Then the human goes, moving one space in any valid direction (indicated by lines on the board). This goes back and forth until either the human makes it all the way across or the zombies completely block the human.
The printed pieces are simple and easy to handle. Creator AndyGadget has uploaded all the 3D printing files you would need to make the game. He also provides files for printing a container for it all.
If you’d like to take this on family road trips, I suggest gluing magnets to the bottoms of your zombies and human and cutting metal pieces to fit into the hexagons. You could even go one step further and make Xs and Os so you can play that on the middle part of the board.
This is for the nostalgic. If you had a Commodore 64 or an Atari, you probably played Archon: The Light and the Dark. If you’re under 40, this game was possibly the inspiration for Harry Potter’s battle chess.
The game sets up like chess, but when two rivals meet in Archon, the battle takes center stage and the victor takes the square. Sometimes there’s even a double-kill with no victor. To win the game you must either occupy 5 power points on the board, eliminate all your opponents pieces, or eliminate all but one piece that you have imprisoned.
How does a game like that make the leap from the screen to the tabletop? Apparently it takes 30 years, but Jimmy Wilhelmson did it. A considerable amount of design went into faithfully reproducing 2-dimensional 8-bit characters into 3-dimensional physical objects. When you look at them from the side, they appear as they did on the screen. Yet when looking at them from other angles, it’s still clear enough what they’re supposed to be. Creating that effect is harder than it looks.
With the game making the leap to the tabletop, how do you play out the battles? How do you replicate the pawns, knights and goblins, attacking quickly but weakly. Or how the Dragons are very strong and have a distance attack, for example? It doesn’t appear that Wilhemlmson figured that out, but I’m sure you can create your own way to replicate the battles and odds using dice. In this case, fleshing out the game will be much of the fun.
If you like turn based, point-to-point, strategy games, you’ll enjoy Troke. Also known as Castle Checkers or Siege, Troke was a classic board game dating back to 1956 and appears to have gone out of production in 1967.
Youmagine contributor Joe Larson remembered Troke and thought enough of it to recreate it and published the design files for you to use. Once you read about how it plays, you’re going to want to try it.
Each player moves “three different kinds of pieces (tower, wall, and moat) across a board diagonally forward, straight ahead or sideways, but never backwards. In some versions of the game, points are scored for capturing opponent’s pieces and by forming complete “castles” (a tower, wall, and moat) on the player’s goal line. Otherwise, it is a race to see who can get all their pieces to the goal line. A feature of the game is that if you merge with one or two different pieces you take one or two extra moves. You are allowed to merge (capture) with opponent’s pieces and thus move them away from their goal and towards your own.”
The game is challenging, strategic, and the 3D printed version has pieces and a board more pleasing to the eye than the original. How fun is that?
Speaking of sieges, it’s only natural that someone would create a 3D printed game using classic siege machines like the catapult. Just the idea of having your own little catapult flinging balls or a penny shooting ballista is enough reason to print these files.
The fact that there is a game aspect included is just a bonus. It’s a bit like capture the flag, only the goal is to knock over the flag. Players agree beforehand what weapons can be used. You then set up three flags behind walls and fortifications you set up as you see fit. You and the other player take turns firing shots. The first player to knock over all three of the other players flags wins.
There are some other details to the game of course, but that’s the basic idea. Be careful playing this, though. Apparently the ballistas, “…can do some real damage to soft tissues.” Maybe there should be a file for printing a face shield, too.
No one wants to hear about another 3D printed chess set. Chess is definitely a cool game, but come on! There’s got to be a million 3D chess set downloads out there. So why am I including this one? Well, it’s cute.
Each piece is a tiny pot for growing a small plant. You know how everyone has a chess set sitting in the corner of a room gathering dust? Print this one and you’ll have the only chess set that is supposed to have dirt on it.
Think about it. How perfect would it be to have a cactus as a rook? Or a sage bishop? Maybe you could grow some chives and parsley in them. Then while your opponent is wasting time pondering their impending doom, you can snack on the chives. Then follow up with some parsley so you have fresh breath when you pronounce, “Check and mate.”
We saved the best till last: this is possibly the coolest 3D printed game ever. From the mind of George R. R. Martin, the land of Volantis, and the computer of Arian Croft of Pocket Tactics fame, comes Cyvasse.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll know what Cyvasse is all about. If not, that’s okay too. The game stands on its own and you don’t need to know anything about the books or show to enjoy it. It’s just cool looking even if you’re not playing it.
The game board might resemble a chess board, but it doesn’t play much like it. A barrier is set across the middle of the board. Then each player places their stronghold and mountain pieces on their own side of the board. Next, they place their playing pieces around their keep. Any remaining playing pieces are kept hidden.
Now, the game starts to play out a bit like chess. The two players take turns moving pieces in their designated way. Pieces can be taken and so can the stronghold. When the stronghold is taken, all hidden players are taken too. The game goes on until a king is captured, whether the king is on the board or hidden in the keep.
What Game Will You Print?
3D printers are fun in themselves. Creating your own games and inventions just makes them more fun. Will you print and make one of the games above? Have you found another game to print? Maybe you can create your own game from scratch. Whatever you do, you’ll have twice the fun knowing you had a hand in bringing it into reality. Game on!
Original Troke Game via Museum of Play, 3D Printed Troke Game via Youmagine, Cover of Original Archon Game, Archon on a Commodore 64 via Wikimedia, Archon 3D Pieces via Wikimedia, Archon in 2D and 3D via Spelpappan, Mini Planter Chess Set via XYZ Workshop, Zombie Apocalypse Board Game via Instructables, Seej via Zheng3, George R. R. Martin’s Cyvasse (unofficial game), via Thingiverse.