When personal 3D printers first became available they were still fairly expensive, not to mention a little buggy. To keep costs down, some printers came with instructions on how to print out the remaining parts you’d need to make the printer fully functional! Calibration problems were also a frequent issue, turning your perfect design into a swirl of colored plastic spaghetti strands.
In recent years prices on 3D printers have dropped and their accuracy has improved. Now you can find a decent 3D printer for under $250 with reels of filament costing you an additional $25 per color.
If you’re a creative person who is good with 3D modeling, there are some excellent open source/free software applications out there (Ultimaker Cura, Blender, and TinkerCAD, for instance) that will allow you to create items to your exact specifications.
On the other hand, if you’re like me and not good at 3D modeling, you’re in luck. If you Consult The Google you’ll find a number of sites where, thanks to generous and creative people, you can find and download 3D printer files without charge.
My preferred site is Thingiverse. Creators are constantly adding new files to the site and updating older ones. Most importantly, there are a large number of fellow gamers who post their game-related items to the site.
Here are the six most useful game-related things I’ve 3D printed. Some I consider to be necessary, others more decorative. Still, I feel each one makes their individual gaming experiences that much better.
Terraforming Mars Player Mat Overlays
I’ve reviewed the digital version of Terraforming Mars here on Meeple Mountain. In that review I failed to mention the biggest advantage of the digital version over the physical game: accidentally bumping into your computer/tablet’s monitor won’t cause all of your resource cubes (or “eurocubes”) to scatter all over the place.
For instance, here is a standard Terraforming Mars player mat.
One bump of the table later, and you can end up with something that looks like this.
This has happened each and every time I’ve played Terraforming Mars and it’s incredibly frustrating. With resource cubes just sitting on a piece of paper, it’s no wonder it happens so often.
In Andrew Plassard’s review of the physical game here on Meeple Mountain, he complained about the player mats by saying, “ it’s insane for a game with a price tag as high as Terraforming Mars to have component quality this low.” I completely agree and cannot believe this wasn’t caught and corrected during playtesting. Did FryxGames just not care about this essential part of their game? (They offered improved mats as part of a Kickstarter campaign for an expansion, meaning they must have received a lot of complaints.)
When I discovered I could do 3D printing, this was the first thing that I wanted to print out.
Here’s a Terraforming Mars Player Board close to the one I printed out.
Since printing mine there have been many more player mat holder designs listed at Thingiverse. If I were to be printing them now, I’d likely choose another design as the corner clips, which hold the player mat in place, have caused more than one corner to snap off.
There’s another thing about these mat covers that I didn’t realize before I printed them out: the counter tracks are all open with no notches in place to keep the counters from accidentally sliding right or left.
BONUS ONE: My Terraforming Mars box is pretty full. I have three of the expansions in the box along with all of the boards and pieces. It’s a tight fit, so this simple case helps out considerably.
The one thing to note about it: it’s very thin. So thin, the top could easily snap if something fell on it.
The files I used can be found here: Terraforming Mars Hextile Holder (and Lid)
BONUS TWO: Want to make your own set of 3D tiles for Terraforming Mars? There are plenty of designs available to choose from!
Scythe is not only a game I really like, but the player mat designers did a far better job. The Scythe player mats are perfect, with inset spaces for each piece that’s supposed to fit into each area.
In fact, the box design is so good that all of the miniatures and pieces fit well in the box as is. So what’s there to 3D print for Scythe?
Well, this really cool box to hold all of the components.
Admittedly, if the designer hadn’t added the Scythe logo to the top of the box I probably wouldn’t have bothered. As it is, I think it looks really cool.
The lid has angled sides that fit tightly against the slightly flared edges of the box. This holds the top and bottom together, unlike the Splendor box.
While I really like this container, it’s odd that not all of the coins fit in their intended slots (note the coin in the lower right resource container in the picture above). I typically have to stash a few in a resource container. That’s not enough to keep me from using it, though.
The files I used can be found here: Scythe Resources and Coins Organizer
Catan Card Organizers
Elsewhere on Meeple Mountain, I’ve written about Catan, both as a game and regarding gameplay strategies. The first things I 3D printed, however, were made to strategically deal with a different problem Catan poses: a mess of resource cards throughout the game.
Oh, at the start of Catan each resource is in its own neat pile with boundary lines between resources clearly respected. Then, less than halfway into the game, they’re a mess that needs to be cleaned up every few rounds.
To take care of this problem I 3D printed a series of card organizers for Catan. Being new to 3D printing, I wanted something that was both simple and useful. More importantly, I also wanted a project that didn’t take a lot of filament, just in case I did something wrong in that initial 3D printer setup.
These very simple card holders were the perfect introductory project. Not only are they individually made, but they interlock to create a single card holding unit on the table.
The files I used can be found here: Catan Card Tray/Holder Snapable & Stackable
Lords of Waterdeep Meeples
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Lords of Waterdeep is a solid worker placement game with a D&D theme loosely slapped on top of it.
That eurogame-worker placement aspect is exemplified by the use of small wooden cubes, similar to those used in Terraforming Mars. In Lords of Waterdeep, they represent the
resources Adventurers you recruit from the various buildings in the city of Waterdeep.
And, to be honest, these cubes not only show how slapped on the theme really is, but they make the game visually boring to play. I mean, Waterdeep is one of the most fascinating and dangerous places in the Forgotten Realms. Taking turns, collecting tiny wooden cubes just doesn’t cut it thematically.
For me, 3D printing Meeples for Waterdeep was an easy choice to make. The Meeples give the game a more D&D Adventurer feel, even if the Meeples don’t actually go out on Adventures.
The files I used can be found here: Meeples for Lords of Waterdeep
I really like Splendor — I’ve written about how much I love Splendor, reviewed the digital Splendor app, and even suggested how Space Cowboys could bling up Splendor.
For me, Splendor is not only a perfect gateway game but it also introduces people to the concept of engine building games. The game also holds up well to repeated plays: the randomness in the appearance of the three levels of Development cards as well as the Nobles means that each game you play will be different.
Unfortunately, Splendor is not without its flaws: it is one of the worst packaged games I’ve ever seen. If you’re like me and like to display your games like books on a shelf, any time you take Splendor down and open it up, it’s going to look like a mess when you open the box.
Even more annoying, not only was the box insert poorly designed, but the components take up such a small amount of space in the empty box. It’s a truly frustrating failure in design.
My gaming group loves Splendor as much as I do, so it’s in heavy rotation whenever we get together. However, I have occasionally left it at home because I didn’t want to carry around a too-big box that’s going to explode all over the table whenever it’s opened.
Again, I am not alone in this thinking.
Just look at this compact design. Every component in its own space all in a simple, sturdy box. What’s not to love?
To give you an idea of the size of the box, here it is leaning against the empty inner box.
I love how easy it is to carry around this box. The only drawback is that the lid does not attach to the heavy bottom of the box. I keep a large rubber band around my printed box to solve that problem.
The files I used can be found here: Splendor Game Organizer
What do Terraforming Mars, Lords of Waterdeep, and Pandemic have in common? Eurocubes. Unlike with Lords of Waterdeep, Pandemic’s cubes don’t bother me so much. They represent viruses, which are sort of abstract things to a non-medical person like myself.
However, thematically, there’s no reason why Pandemic can’t be enhanced by some weird, vaguely threatening-looking shapes.
If you’re wondering if the 3D printed viruses are too small or why the sizes are so different, there is a reason: I messed up.
As part of the 3D printing process you can change the size of any object you 3D print, making them larger or smaller based on percentages. I didn’t have a good sense of scale for these and it shows. With the exception of the purple Mutant Virus (from the On The Brink expansion), they all need to be much larger.
The files I used can be found here: Pandemic Virus Tokens
How to Get Started
If this list has encouraged you to look into 3D printing, there are some good resources online to help you out. Lifehacker and Instructables (https://www.instructables.com/id/3D-Printing-1/) both have good introductory guides. The 3D Printing subreddit also has a good Getting Started page.
If you think you’d like to try 3D Printing out, there are many MakerSpaces, HackerSpaces, and general InnovationSpaces around the world that can provide not only the equipment, but people to assist with your new interest. An increasing number of public libraries have them available for general use as well. (Policies will differ from country to country, library to library, so check with your local library first.)
It’s also worth checking if your local community college or university has 3D printers available for the public to use.
Before purchasing a 3D printer of your own you might consider searching for the latest reviews online. The 3D Printing subreddit has a buying guide with a monthly sticky where people can ask for recommendations. Also, there are several Facebook groups on the subject where you can get suggestions.
If you’d rather have someone else do the 3D printing for you, there are plenty of people on Etsy who will do it for you, for a fee of course. Sculpteo and Shapeways are both places to look into if you want to have a company do 3D printing in bulk.
With 3D printers being affordable and dependable, they’re a great resource for gamers looking to make their games stand out with some special pieces. From custom Meeples, to component organizers, to full game box organizers, once you get started with 3D printing, you’ll quickly realize how many games you want to improve with unique elements.
If you paint miniatures, be it for D&D and/or other fantasy characters, you’ll be amazed at the number of characters and items that are available to be printed. And speaking of D&D, how about 3D printing out your own dice tower?
(NOTE: My own dice tower would have been part of this list, but I left it at work. As I’m writing this during the 2020 US work shutdown, I haven’t been to my office in months. I wasn’t willing to drive 45 minutes to pick it up to take photos of it for this article. If you’re curious, though, this is the dice tower I 3D printed, although I can’t recommend it. Two of the thin spires broke off the first day, and that was before I ever tried rolling dice down the curved staircase.)
If this list has encouraged you to get into 3D printing, please come back and leave a comment telling me what you’ve printed out. And if you’re already 3D printing parts and pieces for your games, please leave a comment as well with a link to where I can see some of your work!
(My thanks to fellow Meeple Mountain writer Marcus Cathey for his help on the How to Get Started last section.)