The boards in board games are really high quality, they are durable and look great. I wondered exactly what they are made from.
What are board game boards made from? They are usually made from binding board and occasionally chipboard. The boards are made from paper and/or cloth fibres. Fibres are densely packed to make the boards durable and humidity resistant. The fibres are also thin which ensures the board is smooth on the surface.
But there are more materials than just the board itself which make a board game board.
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A board game board is made of four key materials.
- Textured paper wrap
- Printed paper
Each material comes in different types and is there for different reasons from durability to style. While the printed design of the board game board is super important, the materials which go into making it hugely affect your experience of a game.
The board game board
Board game boards are generally made from binding board which is the same thing that hardback book covers are made from. They may also be made from chipboard or very thin wood. I just look at binding board here.
A board game board needs to be durable because it will be used to place game pieces on, may be folded and stored, perhaps have food and drink spilt on it. The thickness of the board, the density of the fibres and the type of materials used all affect the rigidity, humidity resistance and durability of the board.
A good board game board needs to be able to withstand people pressing pieces onto it over and over again. It means it needs to be dense so that every time you place a piece it doesn’t leave a dent or a scratch. To do this, the fibres it is made from are small, packed closely together and held with glue.
There is no international standard for it, but the key takeaway is that thickness doesn’t necessarily indicate density. You could have a thick board which is less dense than a thinner one depending on how closely packed the fibres are and how much glue has been used.
You have likely experienced boards and game pieces made from softer types of cardboard.
- They tear when you push them out of the tile sheet.
- They bend easily and get wrinkled creases down the middle.
- They separate when you push them into a plastic stand and you need to tape it back together.
Take a look at the cardboard used in a tile or token in a few of your board games. The cardboard varies hugely!
Board game boards need to be humidity resistant.
They are going to be used for years and years, they may be stored in lofts, cupboards and basements if they aren’t used very often. They will see the passing of many seasons with very different levels of humidity. They may also be manufactured in a country like China and need to be shipped around the world.
To make board games able to withstand this humidity, the pulp is mixed with glue. A high ratio of glue to fibres is key to humidity resistance.
Smoothness, thickness and colour
Board game boards need to be very smooth on the surface so that the playing surface is level for the game pieces. To achieve a flat board the fibres used to make it are thin.
Board game boards are available in different thicknesses. Usually 1.27mm (0.005) – 2.54 (0.10 in). Generally speaking, the thicker the board, the more layers of fibre it has.
The colour of a board game board varies depending on what is made from. If it’s brown it is likely made from more paper and card fibres, if it is grey, it likely has been made with more cloth fibres.
Textured paper wrap
Wrapped around the board game board is a piece of thick, usually textured, paper. The wrap tends to go around the back of the game board and is often folded over the front to form a bordered edge on the playing surface.
This is to make the board look more attractive (grey and brown cardboard doesn’t look that interesting) and to make it more durable. By glueing and sticking the paper to the board it helps to make the board more resistant to humidity changes.
The paper itself may be coated with something and feel a bit like plastic to help with durability and create a moisture-resistant barrier around the board in case you spill something on it.
The textured paper comes in different colours such as black, or it could have a pattern on a it or some original artwork.
The cardboard that board games are made from is too thick to go through a traditional printer. So the board design is printed onto paper and then mounted onto the board.
The printing is done on an industrial scale using a method called offset printing. This is what is used to print newspapers too.
You may have seen the big offset printing machines with huge steel rollers on TV.
Paper is fed through these huge machines with big steel rollers on. Each roller puts a different colour onto the paper like the colours in a printer at home – Magenta, Yellow, Cyan and Black.
By the time the paper has gone through all the rollers, all the colours are on the page.
Glueing the printed board game design onto the board is a tough job. The printed sheet must be aligned perfectly because misalignment is very obvious when the board is square with symmetrical borders and it’s the thing you’ll be starting at during most of the game!
To protect the ink from being rubbed off the print, from wear and tear, oil from your fingers and game pieces, a thin clear protective finish is applied to it. It can be applied during printing, or after the paper has been mounted onto the board game board.
There are a few different types of coating that can be applied.
A (usually) water-based coat of varnish is applied to seal the ink and paper. Coatings can give a matt or glossy effect to the paper. Matt coatings make the colours look less bright, glossy gives the colours a higher contrast with a darker black and brighter colours.
A coating may also be textured and sprayed onto the board.
It is a sticky liquid which only dries and sets when exposed to UV light. It is thicker than a standard coating so is harder wearing.
Boards can be covered with a thin sheet of plastic. Laminated boards are more resistant than coated boards, they can also be textured.
Laminated plastic can give a foil effect too so that you can still see the print, but the colours give a rainbow effect.
Laminated foil coatings can be found on shiny cards in collectable card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon.
How are board game boards cut?
Board game boards are cut using die-cutting. A machine with a cutting plate in the shape of the cuts required is pressed down onto the board like a big cookie cutter.
How can make my own board game board?
You could make your own board game board using binding board or illustration board from a hobby shop. Print and glue images to both sides and spray a coat of paint sealant on it, perhaps using something like ‘ardcoat for miniatures. Alternatively, use an existing board with your own image.
So there you have it. A brief introduction to how board game boards are made!