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The Successor to Tact-Tiles: Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards, aka Battle Boards (the Stew Interviews their Creator)

Posted By Martin Ralya On March 25, 2009 @ 1:53 am In Gaming Trends,Tools for GMs | 28 Comments

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.

So why all this lead-in about Tact-Tiles? Because Longtooth Studios will soon be producing a successor product to Tact-Tiles: Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards, aka Battle Boards.

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.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.




28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "The Successor to Tact-Tiles: Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards, aka Battle Boards (the Stew Interviews their Creator)"

#1 Comment By Resurrected Gamer On March 25, 2009 @ 4:01 am

Interesting interview Martin! I hope Longtooth Studios will offer the boards in a smaller size as well, maybe a 4×4 grid. Still, it looks like a great product to add to a GM’s bag-of-tricks as is!

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On March 25, 2009 @ 9:20 am

I swear by Tact-tiles, and look forward to being able to point other people to a worthy successor. I don’t draw ahead much, but I love being able to shift a map by picking up the pieces on one edge and dropping them on the far side.

#3 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 25, 2009 @ 11:28 am

Here’s a question that harkens WAYYYY back.

If I go over the grid on my Battle Boards with a wax crayon, will that make them immune to water damage?

You state that it’s the substrate that warps, so a wax seal on those areas should at least help, right?

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 25, 2009 @ 1:46 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – From my very limited understanding of chemistry and my own experiments with other products – wax is a water repellent. Not a sealant, so eventually water will react with it and break it down (think of a dixie cup with water in it for many, many hours and how it begins to become softer and more pliable). That said, I wouldn’t use the wax because of how the dry erase ink might bond and stain once it makes contact with the wax. Maybe it won’t stain the laminate parts of the board, but what about the grooves and other items on the table that it might make contact with.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 25, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

BTW – I am very tempted to pick up a set of these and will wait to hear what our reviewer has to say about them. :)

#6 Comment By Sarlax On March 25, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

One thing that stops me as a GM from picking up many gaming products (mapping software, character builders, organizers, etc.) is that I don’t know what I’m getting into.

After watching the demo videos, I feel very comfortable picking up a set or three of these. $17 seems like a good deal for a product that requires only a reasonable level of care. What makes me most comfortable is that the company is coming right out and telling me what to look our for with this product. That kind of disclosure up front makes me inclined to trust the manufacturer.

#7 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On March 25, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

As one of the lucky few who has a set of Tact-Tiles, let me say that this looks completely full of awesome.

#8 Comment By AlasseMages On March 25, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

It took me a while to realize that the picture was actually 4 boards snapped together. I think this is a fantastic idea, though I agree with comment number one. Making a smaller variant would be great, since a lot of my dungeons play with darkness, and being able to reveal the map in small portions would be cool.

Regardless, I will definitely be buying a set or two.

#9 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 25, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

@Sarlax – Yep, I agree completely. Brian’s a nice guy, but many nice guys wouldn’t have given this interview with his level of candor. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Brian’s approach.

#10 Comment By dmmagic On March 25, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

I’m regretting having bought the “official” D&D tile sets when 4.0 came out. They’re really pretty, and they certainly help when compared to using nothing, but they take so long to set up! On top of that, they’re a PITA to store or transport.

I hate to have wasted money on them, but that’s not stopping me from looking at other products. These look like a good solution, but I’m torn between these and the Flip-Mat. I’d pretty much have to buy two Battlegrids for a higher total cost, but being able to arrange them how I like (long hallways, skinny caverns with neat shapes, etc.) is really appealing.

I’ll decide next week after stopping by our local gaming store to see what they think. Thanks for posting this!

#11 Comment By Meat Shield On March 25, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

(Brand new to the site, hi everyone)

I have a set of Tact-Tiles my group uses every session. Love them. My potential issue here with this product is the puzzle piece cut outs

1) They will not fit into my existing Tact Tiles pieces – so no super large map unless I buy a lot of these Battlegraphs

2) The cutouts on one side of the Battlegraphs are a different shape than the other side, so you can’t take the four of them and make one long passageway the way you could with Tact Tiles, whose cutouts were all the same size and could be fitted into many different configurations

That being said, this is still the best (soon to be) currently produced product I know of out there in battle grids

#12 Comment By Meat Shield On March 25, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

And, upon reflection, I will say that I like having the grooves cut out for the tactile feedback it gives you and the help it gives with making straight lines – that is one thing that is better than the Tact Tiles.

#13 Comment By Meat Shield On March 25, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

@Meat Shield – Gah – I’m dumb. Yes you can still make a long hallway with them. Your flexibility is still less than with teh Tact Tiles though as the male and female parts on the Tact Tiles are all the same shape

#14 Comment By longtooth On March 25, 2009 @ 10:38 pm

@Meat Shield

Hi folks!
This is Brian Davison, creator of Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards. I am thrilled to be here, and thankful to get such a nice welcome on Gnome Stew.
If I may comment on the message above, I would like to explain why the sides have different sized tabs and slots.
They don’t limit the configuration of the board at all, in fact they clarify how the board should be oriented. When you draw out your map ahead of time, you will not have to worry how the next piece falls into place. it will only go in one way. Tact-tiles were this way as well, it was just that the difference was not as pronounced.

Thank you everyone for the support. We look forward to many years of providing you with great accessories to the games we love.

Brian Davison
Longtooth Studios
Making the stuff games are made of

#15 Comment By longtooth On March 25, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

@Martin Ralya

Thank you!
I think the golden rule applies here. If you think about it though, keeping them dry isn’t that big of a deal, and if a spill occurs, having been warned, you can just clean them up quickly.
I was just treating everyone as I would want to be treated.
Good news is that after release we will begin to offer boards that have been sealed, and hex grid boards. These will cost approximately twice as much though. Worth it to some and not to others. For me, I would rather just keep them dry, and save my money for other toys.

#16 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 26, 2009 @ 6:55 am

@dmmagic – One of my players is the creator of the Flip Mat and owner of Steel Sqwire and he gave me a bunch of the demos he had when he sold them under the Steel Sqwire brand before making the deal with Paizo. They rock! I keep four of them in my gaming binder and they are great for conventions. If they don’t lay flat just reverse the folds and they will. I can’t say enough good things about them.

That said, these Battlegraph tiles look great too. I’ll probably end up with a set of these as well. You can never have enough cool gaming geek toys! :)

#17 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 26, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

@ Patrick

Black crayon with occasional re-application should take care of both those concerns. However, as an alternative, what about clear nail polish. Certainly there has to be something that will do the trick (but just isn’t efficient from a mass production standpoint)

#18 Comment By BryanB On March 26, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

I missed the Tact-Tiles when they came around. I may need to check these out, although I have often been satisfied with just my Chessex battlemats or dungeon tiles.

#19 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 26, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – Fair enough. I would not want to use a solution that requires re-application. I also wouldn’t want the dry erase ink mixing with the wax as it is sure to eventually come off of the board itself and who knows what it might come in contact with and stain.

I’m sure there are things that might work fine, I’m just not betting on wax as being the right solution here. Maybe white board paint with black pigment added would work? Plus, the point is not to spill stuff on the board to begin with. :)

#20 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 28, 2009 @ 9:24 am

@longtooth – Agreed — I take care of my stuff, and taking care of these certainly wouldn’t be an issue for me. I just appreciate your honesty in pointing out that Battlgraphs (like everything else in the world) aren’t perfect.

Personally, I’ve managed to go several years without spilling anything on my Tact-Tiles, and if I’ve spilled anything on a paper map or board game in the last 20 years, I certainly don’t remember doing it. The occasional gaming book has suffered, though. ;-)

#21 Comment By longtooth On March 28, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

I would be interested to know how many people use painted minis, counters, or a combination of both. I know that we use a lot of counters. A variety of objects ranging from board game pieces, colored lumps of glass, and cardboard cutouts in addition to miniatures for our characters when we find ones we like.
I am developing a line of gamer friendly “tokens” or “counters” that I have found to improve our games here.

What are your experiences out there?

#22 Comment By PerilousDM On March 29, 2009 @ 7:54 am

Re: Battlegraph – I invested in 21 Tact-tiles back at GenCon in Milwaukee, and at $91 they turned out to be a great investment. The solid plastic and painted on grid are virtually indestructible… what is the substrate of these Battlegraphs? I’m guessing ‘Monopoly’ board style cardstock, or perhaps old Mayfair Games (the puzzle-board originators) style cardstock (thinner than MB/Parker Bros boards). Either way they will may be susceptible to the corners bending/separating. Also, paper based boards will tend to warp in humid environments. A shame these can’t be made of plastic; Tact-tiles ftw.

#23 Comment By PerilousDM On March 29, 2009 @ 8:00 am

@longtooth – Not only do I use miniatures, I still have a good collection of the now-ancient Grenadier miniatures (circa 1979) that I painted – wow – almost 30 years ago! I recently inventoried my D&D minis, and I am up to over 500 pieces, and close to 300 different figures. I also turned my wife and sister-in-law on to painting, helping boost my metal collection. ;]
As for counters, I use the stack of blank 1/2″ cardboard die-cut counters I’ve collected (made by The Armoury, not sure if they’re still around) and label those for conditions, etc. Yeah, I’m big into visual aids.
:^D

#24 Comment By longtooth On March 29, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

@PerilousDM

The boards are made of hardboard. Which is a highly compressed wood fiber / resin combination. They are much more rigid than cardboard. Keep an eye out for an upcoming video where I allow my two year old play with the boards, which he has really enjoyed doing lately. It should be a great demonstration of their durability.
The next video will be about drawing dungeons in advance.
I will try to liven up the presentation a little. I have had a bit of feedback concerning how dry the demo is. LOL
Maybe a hot spokes model? Would that be better? ANYTHING would be better. : )

#25 Comment By Meat Shield On March 29, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

@longtooth – Well, I got the Tact Tiles out for our session this weekend, and apparently I was wrong – they also have differing sized tabs and slots, depending on which face you are looking at. I was wrong, sorry about that Longtooth.

Gawd, I could have SWORN they were the same size…..

#26 Comment By Boo-key On April 3, 2009 @ 1:04 am

There are tiles made from thick plastic with textured grid instead of black lines. I saw them on ebay but they don’t show up on the companies website:

http://www.GreatVictoryWidgets.com

I also found some cool erasable dungeon mats there. Looks pretty cool. Anybody seen these?

#27 Comment By longtooth On April 3, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

I have spruced up the longtooth site a bit while its still under construction. Check out the nifty new flash that will give a better idea of how the homesite will look. Give it a second to load and then enjoy!

http://www.longtoothstudios.com

#28 Pingback By GameMastery Review: Pirate Ship Flip-Mat and Map Pack: Mines – EN World: Your Daily RPG Magazine On January 27, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

[...] a bit on Flip Mats). Sadly, the guy who made Tact-Tiles is out of business now, and I've not found an exact substitute. That writer is right. I guard my Tact-Tiles with my life. And a sword. __________________ ~No one [...]


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