Cotton game boardsI’m interested in games, and gaming. They’re an important social activity; they teach rules or guidelines or strategies for engagement with the world; they help us understand our history as human beings.

In the past, I ran a series of workshops on games and game design. It wasn’t really about game design. Kids’ games, the ones they invent themselves, are interesting… but they often display a child’s fascination with rule-making, and the rules often get complicated fast.  It’s often a good idea to teach them the rules to multiple games, because many games are also teaching important cultural lessons at the same time that they teach healthy competition skills.

  • Mancala in its various forms teaches cooperation as a strategy to come out ahead.
  • Tablut and related Viking and Celtic games teach asymmetric warfare — how to come out ahead when outnumbered; how to win when you have too many troops.
  • Checkers or Draughts teaches competition between roughly-equal forces of similar composition.  But it’s a different game than
  • Chess, which teaches competition between roughly-equal forces of complex composition.  And it’s different again from
  • Card Games, which rely on the probabilities of 52 (or 78) cards in various combinations to achieve victory — and which are often as much about the social aspects as the competitive ones.

So it was with all of these things in mind that I went on a web-quest to find some new games.  And I found some.  RavenGames put together a great list of medieval games, and also designed a fabric for sale on which can be cut up and sewed in order to create game boards.  Add a ribbon, a bit of soutache or braid, and each game board can be turned into a bag or a wrapper for the game pieces and the rules (which come on another piece of fabric).

Cotton game boardsSo, for $30 plus shipping & handling, you get seven games and their rules. But you’re not done yet.  Because each game board has to be separated out from the yard of fabric, and cut up into seven squares.  Each rule set has to be similarly cut out.  Once that’s done, you need some backing material.  I used fat quarters in simple solid-color fabric to make the backing; and I sewed them with my sewing machine using a French seam (sew the wrong sides together [leaving an opening to turn the pocket], turn and press, sew inside the seam, turn and press, sew up the turning hole).

I still need game pieces, and to add a bit of braid to wrap and tie the game boards closed around the game pieces.  I’ll probably pick up washers, some nuts and bolts, or some 1/2″ doweling at a home supply store, and some dice to go with the games that need them.  And the result will be seven medieval games, each with its own board and its own game pieces, for around $6.00 apiece.

Now.  You can get cheaper than this.  You can do all the digital design work yourself, make printable forms, print them on paper, make little balls of paper or chunks of plastic into pieces.  But I like this method, myself. The results are a little more durable.  The process teaches some basic sewing skills.  The work is not complicated but requires patience and diligence to get results.  The results are fun to look at.  And now I have four game-boards (soon, 7!) and a stuff sack to put them in, to take with me when I go places.   I like that.