Friday, July 15, 2016

D.I.Y. Game Mats

I have long been impressed by the fancy game mats produced by commercial firms. I have seen various types at the wargames conventions over the years and R.U.P. has purchased some very nice ones as well. Two things have stood in the way of me purchasing them; first I'm cheap, second I wasn't able to find one that exactly met my needs. Another (far less significant) problem was the felt material they all seem to be made from. I have had many bad experiences with felt; it stretches, it gets nappy, people spill beer/wine on it and ruin the finish. So for years I soldiered on (pun intended, you can thrown rotten vegetables later) with my old fabric cloths. That was until yesterday.

Yesterday I was at Lowe's (one of those big-box home improvement stores) when my eye happened to fall on what looked like outdoor carpeting. It was in a less than frightening shade of green so I stepped over to the display and examined a roll.. To my surprise it wasn't the traditional coarse green plastic, it looked for all the world like plastic felt. I grasped a roll, it weighed nearly nothing and felt soft to the touch. A quick glance at the label showed it to be made from recycled plastic pop bottles. I promptly bought two six foot by eight foot rolls for the ridiculously low price of twenty dollars (US) each.

Once I got them home I unrolled one across my game table to examine it more closely. One side is smooth, almost shiny. The other side has the faintest hint of a knap to it. I tugged at both sides to see it it would tear or distend, it resisted manfully showing no stretching or tearing. I poked and prodded the fuzzy side to see it would shed fibers the felt does, again I was happily surprised that it held it shape extraordinarily well. I cut the sheet into two four foot by six foot pieces for further experimentation.

look for this label, it was on sale in the outdoor furniture section at Lowe's 


the manufacturer, in case you don't have a local outlet

the sheet draped across my 4x6 foot table, 
a line of masking tape marks the center line to guide my cut

sharp sturdy shears are a must, the material isn't hard to cut 
but there is no "grain" at all, so cutting free-hand was out (at least for me it was)

two table mats for under twenty dollars

but, I can never leave well enough alone, I decided that it was too green, 
battles are rarely fought on golf courses

so I dry-brushed on some muddy brown, 
use a cheap brush ......this is brutal work

a nine dollar gallon of mistinted paint and a dollar paintbrush,
 I use an off-cut of particleboard as a blotter

twenty minutes later a much more satisfactory look

looks great under the troops

 the drybrushing gives a nicely uneven look 
and tones down the green to a managable level

on the second sheet I  got a little more artistic 
and experimented with suggesting ridge lines and low ground

The next step will be making specific terrain type like woods, farm fields, roads. I am going to try painting then directly onto the mat  and try another approach of cutting them out as free-standing pieces that can be laid over a standard mat. I will have to dig into my files and get out the old British Ordinance Survey maps from the 1870's and try my hand at reproducing a section as a game mat.


  1. The mats look much better with a bit of dry-brushing. Great work!

  2. That is great. I will have to look for one of those.

  3. I live about a mile from a big Home Improvement place--time for me to visit!! Thanks for the heads up.

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

  4. Replies
    1. That is exactly the item, be careful of the gray and tan ones they have a very noticeable linear texture to the upper surface

  5. Sweet. Really impressed by this, and I need a big game mat for a Napoleonics game I hope to run this November.