Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gaming on the cheap: DIY Miniature Carriers

Back at GenCon 2009, I purchased a Battlefoam(tm) bag- a Battlefoam 216 pack. I've been pretty satisfied with the bag, I have two of their Imperial Guard trays and a 72 figure troop tray. With this bag, I get carrying capacity of 204 figures. More if I double up on the figures, which I do for my "mass troops" like the kobolds, goblins or bulk orcs. As I keep cranking out the miniatures with my painting push for this winter, I'm nearing full capacity, in fact I've ran out of the 1" x 2" spaces. I had purchased a second 216 pack, but I bought custom foam to make my own, and I've been using these for the minis that don't fit standard rectangles.

I've looked at their more expensive packs, I've looked at the Sabol Army Transports, but the idea of spending $75 to $150 for carrying around lead/plastic figures just isn't in the cards. Then I happened to see this post on DIY Foam Trays on the blog House of Paincakes. They've been doing a series of post "Gaming on a Budget" which I've enjoyed greatly. This all seems to have been inspired by an Oct 2010 blog post on DIY foam trays at a site called "War Builder."

This was all good, but I wanted some sort of a carrier - something that I could buy on the cheap, and it would work as good as the Battlefoam PACK or the Sabol. I examined a Sabol Army Transport that was for sale at Games Plus's semi-annual auction and to me, it looked no different than those soft sided cooler bags and lunch bags I've seen and used. Hmm...

(Pictures and info after the cut...)

A trip to Wal-Mart netted me this big-ass bag for $18.

The inside measured roughly 12" x 12" x 12" (we'll get back to that in a minute). It came with a plastic interior  bucket which pulls out, leaving me with folds of puffy, soft, insulating material - pretty much the same as the Sabol felt - to me. And it's got a nice pouch/pocket in front for dice or rules or the soda that the interior WAS designed for. Heh.

Now... about the foam...

The War Builder blog suggested Joann's and upholstery foam. A trip to Joann's didn't pan out for me. I didn't have the 20% off coupon that Mike @ War Builder had and the foam itself was going to cost me close to $50. My wife suggested Hobby Lobby and sure enough, I found something that would work just fine:

The roll of poly-foam ($14) would net me 12 trays. The black 3mm children's foam ($1/each) would be the stiff bottom boards. I bought the 2" 12x12 for $3 so I could experiment with it as well. According to my calculations, I could get nine trays into the bag (1" foam + ~ 1/4" for the bottom per tray). The dimensions of the backer (12x18) allow me to get 3 bottoms per 2 sheets of foam (I'd have to tape the two 6" pieces together, on the bottom away from the minis - duct tape to the rescue!) - so based on my figures, I would spend $22 for 12 trays - less than $2.00 apiece! You can't beat that anywhere unless you're buying used.

So I went to work:

I sat down with Photoshop, cranked out a 12"x12" grid of 1.5"x1" cutouts, printed them on 8x13 legal, cut out the areas, taped the thing together and a rough looksee said I was in business! I bought one of those hobby knive's that extends outwards - very useful and works great! I was going to try an electric knife, but with the small cuts I'm making, I figured it would be more hassle than it was worth, so I never used it.

I made the individual cuts, then went back and started pulling out the foam pieces to make the cutouts. The metal straight-edge is a must have - or at least a rule with a nice metal edge. It helped to keep my cuts pretty straight.

Here's what the bottom looks like, this is the side that the stiffer foam will be glued to. Looks pretty bad, but once you get the board on it, you can't really tell.

I used Tacky Glue. It takes about 8 hours to dry in my basement, but when you're like me and you screw up on the placement, or you take forever to squeeze out that much glue, it's worth it. So far, so good!

Now for the drying part. I kept the soft poly foam side down, the stiffer foam sheet on top, then I put a foamboard on that, then stacked books so that there was even downward pressure to keep everything squeezed together for the drying. I knew those old Haynes/Chiltons would come in handy some day!

So I'm all happy... it took an hour for my first tray and it's taking me about 30 to 45 min per tray now that I've got an idea of how to do it. So my first tray dries up all nice and I'm pretty happy to try it out and I put it into the carrier and... disaster! It's too big! Remember when I said the bag measured "roughly" 12x12x12? Well, that was apparently too generous because it's more like ~11x~11x~11. Ugh! There was nothing else to do... but to remove one column and one row from my trays to make them 11"x11".

Not a pretty hack job but... it was worth it to see this:

Liiiiiiiike a glove! (well, kinda)

So, it works! Not the prettiest job in the world, but let's tally costs:
Bag: $18
Foam: $14
Child's Foam Sheets (bottoms, x8): $8
---- $40.00

Forty bucks. The cheapest Sabol with trays is ~$75 ($72, according to their website, although you can get deals on their website now and again. The biggest cost, my time. At about 30 to 45 minutes per tray, I'm looking at about 7 to 8 hours of work to do 9 trays.

How does it compare, capacity-wise, with my PACK? Well my 3 trays have (72+50+50) 172 1.5" x 1" spaces, 20 2" x 1" spaces and 12 1 3/4" x 2" spaces, for a total of 204 spaces.

My DIY carrier will have 6 trays of 48 1.5"x1" spaces each (288), 2 trays of 36 2" x 1" spaces (72), and 1 tray of 16 2x2" spaces. So that's a total of 376 spaces. That's over 50% more space! The neat thing is... with how cheap my foam trays are, I just clued myself into a nice modular system. I can easily put these trays into a tote. I can separate my different monster and PC types, even have trays for my DBA and Battletech minis and just swap out depending on what I'm playing. At under $2.00 a tray, I don't see why I wouldn't keep doing this.

So there you go... hope this is of use to someone else.

UPDATED 3/25/2011 -
Remember how I said the bag measured "roughly" 12x12x12"? And how that bit me in the butt for the tray size as I actually needed closer to 11x11? Well, that also worked in my favor! I finished my 9th tray last night and lo-and-behold, I found that I can actually fit 10 to 11 trays into the bag! So roughly 11 to 12" of foam, thanks to the expandable top! I also had to rejigger my 1x2s and 2x2s, but I ended up with four more 1x2 spots in the end.

My foam backers are only 3mm (~ 1/16th") thick, so I'm about half an inch on backer. So two more inches...

If I go with another 1x1.5 (48 figures) and another 1x2 (36 figures), that makes my total capacity at 464 figures, over DOUBLE what I get from my one PACK 216! The empty PACK sells ~ $45, so I've already saved money just with the bag itself! Sweet!


bliss_infinte said...

I'm all about DIY gaming on the cheap. Nice work!

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Bliss - thanks! I hope to bring it up to GaryCon this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Hey, glad you liked my post @ Warbuilder. I am going to have to go out to Walmart and check out these bags. I have been looking for something like that for a while.


Roger G-S said...

Back in the day I used a hard plastic handgun carrier from Walmart. Without modding, the pyramid foam interior walls kept snug about 40 man-sized minis, and it could have gone up to more if I'd installed multiple layers.

Guns don't kill PC's, minis do ...

Lasgunpacker said...

Very nice! Doing it yourself is nearly always better, and it looks like your system is so close to the "official" standard as well.

Larger monsters/tanks/dragons can just get a double thick foam layer, just like the "professional" foam sites do.

I do not transport my figs often, but doing it on the cheap is something that I appreciate and would imulate.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@mike - thank you for stopping by. For $18, it was worth it, even if I couldn't make this work, I can use it for it's intended purpose. :)

@Roger - I looked at those as well, but given that I could use a whole lot of gobbos and orcs and player figs, I wanted something with a bit more capacity.

@lazgun - that's what I bought the 2" foam for. I can use that for my larger figures and my DBA 1/72 armies. Unfortunately, Hobby Lobby doesn't sell 1 1/2" foam, but I'm sure I can find some on the Internet.

Dangerous Brian said...

Looks awesome. If only we had Walmarts in Scotland.

Mike said...

If only you had done this 2 months earlier. I could have saved some money!! Good job though, great ingenuity!!!