Chances are good that as a GM, you’ve heard about Tact-Tiles (often mis-identified as Tac-Tiles): modular, interlocking dry-erase boards with built-in 1″ grids suitable for use with miniatures. And if you’re lucky enough to have bought a set while they were still being produced, you guard them with your life.
I’ve used my set more or less constantly for over three years, and every single person I’ve gamed with has loved them; ditto with every gamer I’ve ever described them to, or discussed them with. The manufacturer, BC Products, stopped making them more than a year ago, and they appear to have gone out of business — a damned shame.
Without exaggeration, I consider Tact-Tiles one of the best game aids ever created. They’re an essential part of my GMing tool kit, and I can’t imagine playing or running D&D 3.x or 4e without having them available.
I found out about Battle Boards on Monday night, when Gnome Stew reader Mike K. emailed me with a link to the Battlegraph website (thanks, Mike!). I poked around the site, bouncing with glee, and immediately got in touch with the owner of Longtooth Games, Brian Davison, to see if he would be interested in doing an interview with the Stew.
We’re pleased to present the first-ever interview with Brian Davison of Longtooth Games — a Gnome Stew exclusive. Without further ado, the inside scoop on Battle Boards.
An Interview with Brian Davison of Longtooth Games
Welcome to Gnome Stew, Brian. Let’s start with some basics — tell us a little bit about yourself, and introduce Longtooth Studios. I assume you’re a gamer, but that’s all I know.
That’s right, I have been a gamer for twenty years, mostly D&D, from 1st Edition AD&D up to fourth, and everywhere in between. For most of those years, I have played in a home brew campaign world that has been a long time in the making. I have not gamed much outside a tight local group, but look forward to getting out and playing more.
Professionally I am a graphic designer and I am currently attending classes for my BA in the same. I am married to my wonderful wife Joy, and together we have four children.
Longtooth Studios is the lovechild of my professional career and the hobby that I have enjoyed for so many years. Battle Graph Dry Erase Boards (battle boards if you will) is intended to be our flagship product, but there will be much more where that came from. The name comes from the fact that we have been at this for so many years. It can be said that with our experience, that we are long in the tooth.
On to the tiles, then. What are Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards?
They are an interlocking, dry erase surface on which terrain and other features may be drawn. They are best prepared in advance and then presented in small sections, expanding forward as the characters move on while displacing tiles they have left behind. They have been crafted with the balance of affordability and durability in mind. I like to think they are priced to buy in volume. While they are not indestructible, they are durable enough to be reused many times and with care, should last years.
Like many GMs, I saw these and thought, “Thank god! Someone brought Tact-Tiles back in a different form.” Is there any connection between Battlegraphs and Tact-Tiles?
I have spoken with Tom at BC Products, to be sure that we are not at odds with one another. I honor his contribution to this project, and hope that we are successful enough to strengthen the relationship.
What drove you to make Battlegraphs, and how long have they been in the works?
They actually started with a store-bought dry erase surface scored by hand with a metal yardstick and a knife back when 3rd Edition D&D made it unthinkable to play without a mini. The process has grown from there, and we have learned a few things along the way.
What do they cost? Are there any deals for ordering multiple tiles?
Currently they are $17.06 for a single set of four boards, and there is a little price incentive built in for ordering multiple sets up to four sets. That is with a 10% pre-order discount. After release the prices will go up for certain, even more than just the 10% discount. They will go from a regular price of $18.95 to $19.99. That is as far as I want to take it. Even though I feel there will be a demand at higher rates, I want to make affordable enough to school age gamers that they can enjoy them too. Then there is the current economy.
They’re available for pre-order now — when do you expect them to be available for sale?
May 1st is the official release date. Pre-orders will begin shipping just two days prior.
Is your website the only place to buy them, or will they be in stores, at GenCon 2009, etc.?
I really want to come up to GenCon, I have never been. I am working on that, but I fear I am a little late in the game. I also would like to make them available at Dragon*Con in Atlanta.
Retail distribution will have to wait until I can expand my production. We are speaking with a major distributor who is throwing numbers around that we hope to expand into. Any investors out there?
Why did you go with grooved grid lines, rather than raised ones? Do they fill up with dry-erase marker dust?
It comes down to the fastest most effective process. This helps keep costs low. The grooves offer benefits, and also offer challenges. They are just deep enough to get through the dry erase surface. In doing so they become susceptible to water damage. As explained in our YouTube segment, water will cause the substrate to expand and blister the surface. They will still work, but are not as pretty. The boards can be made waterproof, but it adds a great deal to the process, and thus the price.
I don’t want everyone to think that if these get wet they will melt, that’s not true. If they do get wet, they will require attention that wasn’t an issue with Tact-Tiles. I know that it may not be the best idea from a marketing standpoint, but I want buyers to be prepared to make the most of this product and not get an unpleasant surprise later.
We care for our books, and paper maps, because water hurts them, we will just have to do the same with the boards. I will be sending a free sample of the cleaner that should be used with the boards, and it will also be available for purchase after release. The cleaner is not a ploy to squeeze more money; it really is the only thing I have found that cleans the boards with no damage. We call the cleaner Aftermath.
How should they be cleaned and stored? Is it safe to leave them all marked up overnight, or for weeks between gaming sessions?
I have had very good results with leaving marks on the boards for weeks, with no “ghosting.” I have noticed that some markers work better than others, but I think this applies to all dry erase surfaces. When in doubt, go with Expo. Stay away from cheaper brands, and the low odor variety, and you will be happy with the results. I marked up a $300 enameled board with low odor discount markers and they left a little ghosting that had to be removed with cleaner. If you find that a brand you just paid for is giving you trouble, Aftermath will remove any marks left behind after wiping. Be sure to read the labeling before use, it is flammable.
I’ve used my Tact-Tiles a couple of times a month for around three years straight, and they show hardly any wear. How do Battlegraphs measure up in the durability department?
Tact-tiles are great; I will never say anything to the contrary. Battlegraph boards are better in some ways, not as good in others. As you have learned, you don’t want to let water stand on battlegraph boards. Any spill needs to be cleaned up quickly, and Aftermath will help minimize any damage. The scored surface is like having a built in straight edge. It will really speed up your dungeon crafting. The white surface allows bright colors to be used to full effect. The boards should last for years if cared for. I still have my original hand scored board from years ago, but it has been retired in favor of my new boards. One thing is for certain, if the worst happens, and they get chewed up by a rabid beaver, or someone starts a fire with them, it isn’t going to sting as bad when you can easily and cheaply replace them.
What else should Gnome Stew readers know about Battle Graphs?
Get some; we need to bring gaming back to the tabletop where it belongs.
More Info on Battle Boards
Our thanks to Brian for taking the time to answer our questions — especially with a day job, a wife and four kids, and the launch of Battle Boards on the horizon. More info on Battle Boards, including more photos, is available on the Battlegraph website.