Gift Ideas: Custom Board Game

A lot of people have asked me where I came up with this idea for handcrafted Christmas / why I decided to do this and I, unfortunately, don’t have a great answer. I can’t really remember! So, regardless of the catalyst, I decided to make a custom board game for one of my nephews. He is turning 7 this month, so he is reading and starting to become aware of his surroundings, including his neighborhood.

As a kid, I was always a fan of the Game of Life, but could rarely get anyone to play it all the way through with me. As I got older, I found the game Mall Madness and LOVED it, so when trying to come up with the premise for this game, I decided to marry the two to create: My Actual Neighborhood (the hubs picked the title).

Here’s how I did it:

  • Create the game premise. Before you start designing a board or anything else, it’s important to have a plan for how the game will be played. That way, you’ll know what the board should look like and what pieces, cards and other materials you’ll need. I decided that I wanted to include pictures of his neighborhood, so, for the gameplay, each player would draw a card that would give them a “mission” for the game. This “mission” would include 3 places on the board that they’d have to go to in order to win. I then created cute little scenarios to accompany each combination of locations. For example, one scenario was: You’re having a sleepover with your cousins at Grandma’s. Start at home and pack your bag. Then, go pick up your cousins from their house. Lose a turn at their house because they aren’t ready. Finally, head to Grandma’s for a night of fun. Other scenarios require the player to go buy something (like craft supplies for a gift for mom or dad), for which they must first earn money. In order to earn money, they can either complete chores at any of the locations (each location has a corresponding chore and payment amount) OR they can get lucky and land on a board space that pays them (for losing a tooth, having a birthday, etc.). I outlined all of this FIRST so I could think through how to design the board and what other pieces I’d need to create.
  • Design the board. My next step was to draw out what I wanted the board to look like. I did this on paper first and really started by thinking about the locations I wanted to include (I included 6: his house, his school, our house, another aunt & uncle’s house, houses of his grandparents on either side and his mom’s work, which is Wal-mart, so it worked out for a few of the missions) and where they exist in relation to one another. My original sketch was pretty tough to follow, so I added color and it looked like this:

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Note, I added the park as somewhat of an afterthought because I had a lot of dead space and I also wanted a neutral location for all players to start. The same is true with the Community pool (I had a few extra blocks I didn’t know what to do with).

  • Create the board. Next, I transferred my design concept onto the actual board. I wanted to get an understanding of the sizing of each space / the board overall so I could create the other pieces to scale. Since my original design was on a letter-sized sheet of paper, I wanted to try to scale it so I wouldn’t have to rework all the spacing. My final sizing was roughly 4:1 (just under) with the fold down the middle of the board. This required a little math to convert onto the board, but I just counted the number of spaces I needed vertically and horizontally and then divided the length and width dimensions of the game board accordingly to create evenly sized spaces. The materials I used to create the board included:
    • Tri-fold board from the Dollar Tree – I used one side flap and part of the main board piece to create a board that had a pre-built fold down the middle.
    • Exacto knife and cutting mat – I used this to cut the top and side to get the size I wanted. It’s really hard to cut straight, so a metal ruler would have been incredibly helpful for this part, but I didn’t have one so I free-handed it (after making line markings, of course).
    • Ruler and pencil – for measuring and marking everything; as mentioned, if you have a metal ruler, even better as this will help you with cutting too!
    • Calculator or brain – to do math
  • Add board details. Once I had the basic layout of spaces, I went back through and added pictures of each location and other board accents. For the pictures, I printed them out at home on plain computer paper and used double stick tape to attach them. I decided to include arrows on each space to indicate which way a player could move (like how roads work). I also added stoplight symbols on some spaces and location markers on others; more about what these mean below. To finish the game board, I applied a thin layer of mod podge to the bottom. I decided against applying a layer on the top because I was worried it would prevent it from folding nicely and/or would make the colors run.
  • Create your supplemental materials. Now that the board was done, I needed to create everything else to go along with it. The supplies I used (referenced below as well) included: paper cutter (super helpful for getting straight cuts!), stamp pads in red and blue, letter stamps and a location symbol stamp, number stickers (Dollar Tree), colored dot stickers, printer and a few colors of paper. Note, the preview / google docs version of some of the below templates don’t display correctly. For best results, download and open with Microsoft Word.
    • Money – I looked at pictures online of board game money to get an idea (and also based this off of the style of American money since that’d be familiar for my nephew). You can see my money template here.
    • Mission cards – I used Microsoft word to create 4 cards per page and wrote out each mission using a numbered list. I made sure to keep the formatting consistent so each card would be the same size. Then, on the back, I used stickers and stamps to label each as “Mission” with a number (so they can switch up what mission number they have each time they play). I made a total of 10 missions. You can see my template here. 
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    • Stoplight cards – as I mentioned, I drew little stoplight symbols on the board with marker, so I needed cards to go along with them to indicate what they mean. Each stoplight card had some sort of driving-related incident – a speeding ticket, out of windshield washer fluid, ran out of gas, etc. If the player lands on the space, they must draw a card and then either pay the fine (if they’ve earned money) or lose a turn. Again, I used Microsoft Word; you can see my template here. I printed these on colored paper to distinguish them from the mission cards. For the back, I used colored dots to make the little stoplight symbol.
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    • Location symbol cards – these are like bonuses throughout the game. If you land on a space with a location symbol, you’d draw a card and earn money for some reason (babysitting your cousins, helping an elderly person carry their groceries, picking up your neighbor’s dog’s poop, etc.). I used a different color of paper for these and used a location symbol stamp to mark the backs. My template (Microsoft Word) is here.
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    • Instruction sheet – definitely don’t forget this! You can see my template here. I laminated it after printing just because I love laminating.
    • Location Chore Payment Card – as mentioned, if the player needed to earn money to make a purchase, he or she could choose to visit an additional location and lose a turn to earn some cash. I created this little guide here to indicate how much money would be earned at each location.
  • Make the game pieces. Thankfully, my husband got a 3D printer for Christmas in 2017. I don’t have any great recommendations for you on how to create pieces without one (maybe find random knick-knacks around your house that you could include? Maybe make little cardboard people or stands?), but here’s the pieces we used from Thingiverse:

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  • Make the game box. I found a really helpful blog about how to make a board game box here. My husband was adamant that he didn’t want to just use a clothing gift box, so I followed the instructions using a couple of boxes I received some shipments (Amazon, Wal-mart, etc.) to create a custom-sized box. Then, I covered the entire thing with thing brown paper (from my massive roll I’ve used for all my gift wrapping). I used mod podge to adhere the brown paper to the cardboard. Then, I printed out pictures of all the locations on the game board and a few others (his dad’s work, restaurants and stores they go to in their area, the mall, a park, etc.) and used these to cover the top and sides of the top piece for the box. I used mod podge to adhere the pictures to the box and then applied a thin layer of mod podge on top as well to give it a shiny finish and protect it. I also made sure to include the name of the game right in the middle.

 

Once I had everything done, I used baggies and a little box we had laying around to keep the cards, money and game pieces organized. Here’s the final product:

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Gift Ideas: Awkward Cat Calendar

If you read the title and thought ‘I don’t like cats,’ you are not alone. But don’t stop reading! Even if you are not a cat lover like I am, you can use the information to create a custom calendar about something you DO love…like your family, dogs, flowers, nature, etc. It’s totally customizable.

As this year was handcrafted Christmas, I decided to finally give in to what one of my sister’s had been basically begging me to make for years – a calendar full of awkward cat pictures. She does not have cats, so she finds it absolutely hilarious when they sit in awkward ways to lick their butts or generally lay very strangely. So, what better gift than 12 months of weird pics of cats? Here’s what I did.

Materials:

  • Paper – I used a thicker cardstock
  • Laminating pouches & laminator – optional, but this will not only create a better looking final product but, if you laminate like I did, you can create a calendar that can actually be used for years to come
  • Printer
  • Scissors
  • Markers – also optional, but I drew some designs on each page. You could totally print these off when you print the basic calendar layout if you don’t like to draw
  • Hole punch – I used a cat paw shaped one for some added fun; feel free to get creative
  • Binder rings – you will use these to put all the pages together but still allow it to fully open and hang; you could also use ribbon or similar, but I wanted something a little more hearty. I used these ones.
  • Picture corners – totally optional, but I wanted to give my sister the option to replace the cat pics with others in the future, so I put all the pictures in using these picture corners.
    • If you don’t end up using these, you’ll need glue or double-sided tape or some other way to attach the pictures to your calendar

 

Instructions:

  1. Choose your pictures – you will want anywhere from 3-6 pictures per page, depending on the size of the photo. I had a number of 4×6 pictures that I cut down to a much smaller size because, well, cats are smaller than humans, so they take up less frame. Since my calendar was all cats, I selected all my pictures and then organized them into themes and matched the themes up with the months:
    1. January – snuggly kitties (since it’s cold outside)
    2. February – all pics of Dex, since he was born in February
    3. March – all pics of G; we lost him in March of 2018 😦
    4. April – window perch pics since it’s starting to get a little nice out
    5. May – all pics of Jameson, since he was born in May
    6. June – Gemini sign, so pics of my “twins” – they are actually from different litters, but the same mama, but they act like twins with how they’re always together
    7. July – cats and humans
    8. August – sun porch pics
    9. September – all pics of Molly since she was born in September
    10. October – I call this the ‘murder series’ – my cats are indoor/outdoor and they are pretty serious hunters and, as such, bring us lots of ‘presents’
    11. November – twosomes and threesomes
    12. December – cats in boxes (like Christmas…with presents…ya know…)
  2. Print your calendar – this part is easy. You can use my calendar template here. I did not include the numbers for the month because I laminated my calendar. When you laminate paper, you can easily use dry-erase markers on it like on a whiteboard. So, my sister can add the dates on the appropriate days of the week depending on the year and use this calendar for years to come.
  3. Draw pictures and laminate – after I printed each of the calendar pages out, I felt like they looked a little bland. I’m not a huge fan of clipart, so I decided to hand draw two small images on either side of the month name. I chose images that I could (mostly) successfully draw and that would make sense for that month / their family. After everything was drawn, I laminated each page.
    1. January – New Year’s party hat and confetti / noise maker and a snoman
    2. February – snowflake and hearts
    3. March – shamrock and an Easter egg (although, unfortunately, Easter is SUPER late in 2019 at April 21)
    4. April – flowers and balloons (they have a birthday in April and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    5. May – balloons and an umbrella with rain (they have two birthdays in May and April flowers bring…May showers…)
    6. June – sunglasses and a flip flop
    7. July – American flag and balloons (they have a birthday in July)
    8. August – a sun and a schoolhouse (my sister is a teacher, so it’s back to school for her!)
    9. September – an apple and a football
    10. October – leaves and a pumpkin
    11. November – turkey and shopping bags (we LOVE Black Friday shopping)
    12. December – Christmas tree and a present
  4. Organize your pictures on the page – for this part, I HIGHLY encourage you to punch your holes on each month FIRST and then layout your photos. I made the mistake of not hole punching first and laid out all my photos, stuck them on and then had to try to work around them to create the holes on each page in roughly the same spot without ruining any pics. It was annoying; do better than I did. As a tip, you need holes at both the top AND bottom of each page. The holes at the top of the picture page will be used for hanging and at the bottom will be used to attach it all together. Be sure to remember that when you flip the month page up, it will be upside down and backward, so you need to put your pictures on correctly so they don’t end up upside down.
  5. Stick your pics and add the rings – once I had all my pictures cut to size and arranged, I started placing them on the page. After all my pics were in, I put my rings through to put the calendar together and that was it!

 

To complement the calendar, I provided my sister with two command hooks to hang it up (I thought hanging from two spots would be better than a center hole since the calendar had some weight to it) and some ultra fine point dry erase markers to write on each month (these ones).

Here are some pics:

(Apparently I didn’t take a photo of December…oopsies!)

Photo Coasters

This is a classic craft that you can find a lot of places and one that I find works great in a pinch, especially around the holidays. It’s very simple to put together and requires cheap and easy to find materials, some of which you probably already have in your craft room/area/toolkit.

Materials:

  • Mod Podge – I like to use the dishwasher safe Mod Podge for this one so I can wipe down the coasters without worrying; it looks pricey, but I’ve had the same bottle for 10+ projects and still have about half a bottle left!
  • Plain white 4″x4″ tiles – I usually go to Home Depot to get mine – they run about $0.20 -$0.40/tile, so a decent size set of coasters is still super cost effective
  • Cork – I like to line the tiles in a cork bottom to protect whatever your coasters may be sitting on; this cork has a nice grid backing which makes cutting perfect and consistent squares a cinch
  • Printed photos cut to 4″ x 4″ – I’ve found that the online ordering at Target is the easiest/cheapest/quickest when I’m using photos from my phone
  • Hot glue & gun
  • Alcohol and paper towel/cotton ball/equivalent

First things first – you need to choose your photos. This will determine the number of coasters you want to make and therefore the amount of supplies you need for the rest of the project. I like to gift coasters in sets of 4, but I have actually done a gift set of 5 (it was photos of the couples in one family). I have a set of 8 coasters because my dining table has 8 seats. Anyhow, my point is – you can do whatever you want – just determine that up front. When you’re choosing photos, make sure you consider the amount you will have to crop the photo. When you print at somewhere like Target, your photos will come out as 4″x6″, so you’ll need to crop out 2″ from the longer side. This is especially important for photos with faces – you don’t want to have to crop out a forehead or chin.

Once you have your cropped photos and other materials, the first thing to start with is the cork bottom. Use the grid lines on the paper backing to cut out the appropriate size square to cover the bottom of the tile, leaving a little bit of room around the edges so it doesn’t overlap the sides. You should cut one cork square for each tile. Once all your cork is cut, then you want to start applying. Flip all the tiles over and use your hot glue and gun to apply the cork to the bottom. Don’t forget to remove the paper backing to reveal the sticky side of the cork. The hot glue acts as an extra bond to ensure the cork doesn’t come loose, especially since the bottom of the tile isn’t smooth.back of coaster.jpg

**Note, I can’t stress enough how batch working is the way to go when doing crafts, especially when you have repetitive actions like cutting out a certain number of the same thing and applying a step to multiples. This type of organization will save you time and stress and will also ensure your creations are made consistently.

Once all your cork bottoms have dried, flip your tiles and use your alcohol and paper towel/cotton ball/equivalent to clean the top of the tile. Rubbing alcohol is fine – you really just need to remove any oil / hair / finger grease from the area where you’ll be applying the Mod Podge, which is the whole top of the tile. Once you’ve alcohol’d all tiles, apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to each and place your pictures on each. I like to use a tissue or equivalent to place between the picture and my fingers so I can press down the whole area of the photo without leaving a bunch of fingerprints. Just be careful not to get the tissue stuck to the Mod Podge! Allow your Mod Podge layer to dry for a few hours and your picture to set into place. Apply 1-2 additional thin layers of Mod Podge to the photo and tile, allowing each layer to dry in between. When you’re applying, it may look streaky. Don’t worry – Mod Podge dries pretty clearly, so you won’t see this. It’s probably a good idea to use uniform straight rows, but you won’t notice them in the end.