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Battle Boards Assemble!: A Review of Battlegraph Dry Erase Tiles

Posted By Phil Vecchione On May 20, 2009 @ 4:00 am In Reviews | 20 Comments

Last week, Longtooth Studios started shipping their new  Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards (aka Battle Boards). The successor to Tact-Tiles, the Battle Boards are a set of interlocking, dry-erase, map tiles. They are an alternative to the venerable Battlemat, and today, I am going to take a set of Battle Boards out for spin, and let you know how they stack up.

A quick disclaimer:  Longtooth Studios provided the Gnomes with a single set of Battle Boards, and after a excruciating round of Gnomish Spin The Bottle (don’t ask), the Battle Boards were mine to review.

Opening The Package

The Battle Boards come in a 4-pack, retailing at $24.95. TOpened_Packagehe boards are 11” by 11” and have two tabs and two slots on each tile. They have a 1 inch grid scored into the surface.

The packaging is a simple plastic bag containing the 4 tiles and a single sheet of paper that contains instructions for their use.

The tiles are particle board with a dry erase top. A one inch grid has been scored into the dry erase surface. The grid has been scored in a way that no matter how you arrange the tiles the grid is continuous, which is a nice touch.

The boards have a sturdy feel to them; they feel solid when you pick them up. The edges are clean, and the tiles lock together with ease. The scoring on the grid is sharp and clean.

When the four tiles are arranged in a 2×2 square, the grid that is formed is just a bit smaller than a small Battlemat.

Battleboards_on_Battlemat

The 4-tile square is 19  one inch squares by 20 one inch squares, or in D&D terms:  95’ x 100’. This size a great for mapping one large room, but you are going to want a second set of tiles to be able to lay tiles down as your party moves through the dungeon.

So, a  Battlemat is just a bit larger than the Battle Boards, but the real difference between the two comes when you need to pack both of them up to take them to your game. My Battlemat gets rolled up and put into a small mailing tube. The Battle Boards stack neatly upon one another and would easily fit in a backpack.

Mat_vs_Board

To get a feel for how thick the tiles are, I stacked the 4 tiles up next to my 3.5 Players Handbook. As you can see below the tiles are about 3/4 the thickness of a PHB  and won’t take up much more space than another hardcover book when you stow them in your backpack.

PHB_side_by_side

Taking The Boards Out For A Spin

Now that the tiles are on the table, how do they play? I broke out some dry erase markers and some of my miniatures. One of the things that I really like about the boards is that they are white, so all the colors of dry erase makers really showed up nicely.

ManyColorsIn addition, the scoring on the boards made drawing straight lines quite easy. The marker dropped into the groove of the score and helped me to make straight lines. On my Battlemat, my lines are often wavy, and a bit messy, so I was pleased to be able to put down such straight lines so easily. Also there is a slight clicking sound that is made as the marker moves across one of the lines, that makes counting squares while you are drawing easier.

The boards erase cleanly with an eraser, without any ghost lines on the surface. However, the dry erase powder falls between the tiles when you erase. I did not discover this until I lifted up the tiles after using them and found the powdery outline of the tiles on the table. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of, depending on where you put your tiles down.

Below are two more action shots of the boards, in two different configurations, showing you just how versatile you can be with just four boards, and some markers.

SquareRoom TShape

Handle With (some) Care

The Battle Boards are a lot of fun, but they do require some care, and some of that care is worth mentioning.  First, the Battle Boards are not sealed on the back. This means that if someone spills their BigGulp on the table, the boards are in danger. Should this happen, you need to dry the bottoms of the boards, ASAP. I don’t consider this a big deal, since my PHB has the same issue, if something spills near it, it is in just as much danger. So bottom line:  keep your drinks off the gaming table.

Second, cleaning the dry erase surface requires some care as well. If it gets any smudges on it from either the dry erase markers, cheesy puffs, or pizza fingers, you cannot use just any cleaning product on the surface. The scored surface requires a fast evaporating surface cleaner, otherwise moisture can get under the dry erase surface and cause bubbling, reducing the overall quality of the tile.

There is a useful movie on YouTube, created by Longtooth, that details the cleaning of the tiles.  I recommend watching it before using your tiles for the first time.

Originally, Longtooth was going to produce a cleaner for the tiles, but instead recommends using denatured alcohol to clean the tile surfaces. Even with denatured alcohol, you still need to use it very sparingly. A quart bottle of denatured alcohol goes for about $7 (lowes.com) and can be found at your local hardware store. It would appear that it is no more toxic than dry erase cleaner, but not something you want to fall into the hands of the kids or pets.

Bottom Line

The Battle Boards are a really nice product, and one that I would have no problem using at my table. The tiles are well constructed and are worth the $24.99 retail price. The four-pack makes for a decent sized play surface, but you will want four more tiles to really take advantage of cycling tiles while you play. In that case you are going to shell out about $50. Then add another $10 for a bottle of denatured alcohol and some kind of squirt bottle.

The white dry erase surface makes any color marker visible, allowing you to use a variety of colors when drawing.  As with any dry erase surface, your lines are going vanish with a stray smudge from your hand or your players’. On the other hand, unlike the Battlemat, you do not need a bottle of water and paper towels to clean off the tiles between encounters; one swipe of your dry erase eraser, and you are ready to start mapping again.

The tiles are solid but not indestructible. They are sensitive to spills around the table, so you are going to want to be a bit more careful with beverages, than with a Battlemat. The scored surface is a double edge blade, on the one hand, it’s a neat and clean grid that actually assists drawing on it. On the other hand, the scored surface requires some special care and handling.

The Battle Boards are a versatile tool for your game table. The ability arrange and re-arrange your tiles as you need them is extremely useful. The tiles are easy to set up and can be transported easily in a backpack. So, if you missed the Tact-Tiles craze a few years ago, then head over to Longtooth and pick up some Battle Boards.

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.




20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Battle Boards Assemble!: A Review of Battlegraph Dry Erase Tiles"

#1 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On May 20, 2009 @ 6:48 am

I was lucky enough to buy some Tact-Tiles during their brief production run, and I love the things. These look like a great following act, with some improvements.

Another advantage of dry-erase: Players can write temporary conditions, bonuses, etc directly on the boards, and easily erase them when they’re over.

#2 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On May 20, 2009 @ 7:34 am

I may pick up a set of these after my move. They look fantastic and for the traveling GM, the ability to pack them up and take them with you easily is a huge bonus. Any tips for pre-drawing them before transport or will putting them in a pack and carrying them about pretty much ruin anything written on them?

#3 Comment By LesInk On May 20, 2009 @ 8:33 am

I’ll going to be the negative voice (Devil’s Advocate) on the thread here. To me (and without using the product), it sounds like the product will require too much babying for me to use comfortably. I mean, seriously, that’s alot of special care. Plus, I’ve already got a battlemat (2 sizes, in fact). Why would I want this in addition to my other one? When I take my big battle mat, sure, I can’t put in a bag, but it’s like carrying around a large staff to hit people over the head with. I mean, wow, it gets me in the mood to role play a wizard or something.

More seriously, the price is a tad high for the chance of easy damage.

Anyone agree?

BTW, Thanks for the detailed review.

#4 Comment By Restless On May 20, 2009 @ 8:48 am

Is there anything people have used that is dry-erase that rolls up like a battlemat?

It doesn’t even have to have a grid, as far as I’m concerned.

#5 Comment By wampuscat43 On May 20, 2009 @ 9:08 am

@LesInk – the big advantage here is, if your PCs move off the map, just tack on another board and continue moving.

#6 Comment By DNAphil On May 20, 2009 @ 9:11 am

@Matt: I read that if you want to prep them in advance and travel, you will need to put a spacer between the boards, otherwise they will erase if they rub against each other.

@Leslnk: I have two Battlemats as well, and the main advantage I would say for these, are that they are dry erase. The wet erase battlemats can be a pain, since you have to have a source of water and a decent amount of paper towels or something like it. With the Battle Tiles, you need markers and an eraser.

From my casual use so far, I have not needed to do any of the special surface cleaning. Normal use with the markers only requires you use an eraser. The denatured alcohol is only needed if some other stain gets on the boards.

No doubt that the vinyl Battlemat is more durable, but I think there is some advantage to the dry erase, and the smaller footprint.

#7 Comment By BryanB On May 20, 2009 @ 9:48 am

I am currently constructing my own dry erase tiles. One can make twelve similar sized tiles for about $25, but you have to be willing to do the work. The ones I am making will not be quite as durable as these though.

-Grid marked 30×20 white foam board (2-pack)
-Peel and mount laminate roll (not sheets)
-Yardstick, Exacto knife, & Black Sharpie

#8 Comment By Sarlax On May 20, 2009 @ 9:56 am

I bought two sets and have been playing with them for a couple of weeks now. Here’s something else I’ve noticed: the accumulation of dust in the grooves means that your dry erase markers will accumulate the dust grime from previous markers unless you’re cleaning all the time.

It’s easy to see why. As you draw on the Battlegraph, the pen runs directly in the groove itself, leaving dust. Even after wiping down with a dry eraser, the original dark-brown line will be traced with the color you used (and will just be black over time from the different colors mixed). This isn’t a big deal itself and isn’t immediately noticeable.

You will spot it, however, when you next run a light-color marker, like orange or blue. As I draw down the line, the marker will pick up the black dust from before and get a little dirty, and the next blue line I draw will have streaks of black in it. It’s the same effect as if you were to write draw something new with dry erase pen on something old.

I haven’t put them through real field testing in a game (just the home lab), but I imagine that this could add up. I might be drawing a dungeon in all black, erase it, and then draw forest and river over the same grid lines and have my blue and green pick up all the black dust, unless I’m giving the boards a thorough wipe down with alcohol after every cleaning.

I don’t know if this will eventually make the markers unusable or if the worst case is just that I draw an inch of junk in a clean spot to get the black off the marker, but I figure it’s worth noting.

#9 Comment By DNAphil On May 20, 2009 @ 10:48 am

@Sarlax: I can see how the dust could accumulate in the grooves. I am betting that a wipe down with denatured alcohol would do the trick. The other idea could be to use a little canned air and just dust the tiles off. I will have to tinker around myself to see.

#10 Comment By Sarlax On May 20, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

@DNAphil: I think that’s correct, but blowing dust off or breaking out chemicals doesn’t seem practical to do during a session, so the grime build on markers seems unavoidable.

#11 Comment By Martin Ralya On May 20, 2009 @ 8:20 pm

@Restless – Paizo puts out a series of Flip-Mats, which are dry-erase battlemaps that fold down to about the size of a gaming book. I’ve never seen a rolled battlemat that’s also dry-erase — must be something about the surface that doesn’t lend itself to flexibility.

@Sarlax – Good point about dark/light dry-erase marker mixing. On the flipside, I usually draw in darker colors anyway — and even if you limit yourself to black/blue/red you’ve got a lot of ground covered without needing lighter markers.

It would be interesting to see a version of Battlegraphs with no scoring, or only the fainter scoring.

#12 Comment By Alan De Smet On May 20, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

I have two of the Flip Mats. They are not without their flaws (Why doesn’t the grid extend to the edge!?), but I like them. You can use wet or dry erase markers. But for the me the real benefit is that they fold up and stick in my bag easily. Even two or three of them take almost no space folded up.

#13 Comment By Patrick Benson On May 21, 2009 @ 9:17 am

I second the Flip Mats. I have several and I am very happy with them. I will check out the Battle Boards though, and maybe I’ll be impressed by them as well.

Somehting to keep in mind about all of this stuff though is that the more tools that you have the more likely that you will have the right one for the job. Battle Boards don’t need to replace what you are using today, as I still use my battlemats as well as my Flip Mats. They all have their unique advantages.

#14 Comment By Cactus On May 21, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

I don’t really see the problem regarding the risk of spillage. How much paper does the average gaming table accumulate in the ten minutes after your players arrive? Character sheets, notes, books, magazines and GM screens. Then there are the dice, miniatures, pencil cases – all of which would be at some risk from an unexpected lake of fizzy beverage.

Rather than keep drinks away I just keep clumsy players away from the gaming table, and we eat curry every week around mine!

I can see how portability can be an issue, but I GM in my own home (too many books to carry elsewhere, and I need time to unwind between work and game). I like the look of these so much I registered and entered the competition to win some!

#15 Comment By Alan De Smet On May 21, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

I’m with Cactus in that the concern about spillage seems overblown. My tables are also covered with stuff I’d rather not have get wet. However, it does point out one weakness in the Battlegraph tiles: I can’t hose them down. With my old Chessex battle mats or my new Flip Mats, I clear off the table after a game, then splash water on them and wipe up with paper towels. On at least one occasion I actually hosed off a battle map in the sink. (The battle mat’s back stained with the colors. I find it amusing.)

Of course, if one prefers dry erase markers, this is irrelevant.

#16 Comment By blalien On May 25, 2009 @ 11:25 am

Yeah I can’t think of any way to transport the tiles without ruining the drawing. Then again, it wouldn’t be that hard to show up to the table 20 minutes early and draw all your maps then.

How would you transport them anyway? Some sort of art…portfolio…binder? Can somebody recommend a specific product?

#17 Comment By longtooth On May 25, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

They key to drawing ahead of time is to place a few pieces of non-slip material in the white spaces between each board.
This stuff works really well.
http://www.organize-it-online.com/itm_gripit.html

Drawer liner like this is available at most grocery and department stores.

It does two things. First it provides a space between each board so that they do not rub together and erase your work, and second, it holds the stack together with the added friction of the pads. This way they don’t slide all around. When storing your boards, I recommend using pads. Dirt and grime sometimes get picked up at the table, and you don’t want that grinding between your boards.
I recommend using three pieces between each board to provide support to the stack above.

This is my favorite advantage of these boards to other ways of mapping. You can really detail out a night’s worth of adventuring ahead of time saving game time for gaming. Your maps will tend to be better detail too because you don’t have bored and restless players waiting across the table.

The dry erase surface is of high enough quality that you can leave the marker on the board for many days without ghosting.

We are getting ready to shoot another video that will demonstrate this technique. I hope to shoot the next video in a nearby gaming store. We are avid supporters of keeping the game store alive. It is needed now more than ever. Join a meetup group and start gaming!

#18 Comment By blalien On May 25, 2009 @ 5:57 pm

Wow, I gotta respect a company that directly responds to the fanbase. I am buying these as soon as my paycheck comes in.

#19 Comment By Marduk On July 8, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

I am rather behind the times, apparently. But I just found this, so you never know when people will pop by to read.

My solution to the dry erase/battlemat situation was to keep the plastic sheet protecting the screen of the last television I bought. It is clear, so anything I want to put on the battlemat beforehand will be visible, and handles both dry- and wet-erase markers without any trouble. Even if you haven’t kept such a treasure and don’t expect to buy a new television anytime soon, you may know someone who will. Or you could check with your local stores and see about getting the sheets from new display models… the stores will normally just throw them away, and most people would rather give junk to someone who would use it.

#20 Pingback By How to make a DM very happy… On August 10, 2010 @ 6:25 pm


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