Gaming Table

Home Gaming Table
The path of the Bond Villain Lair Gaming Table Saga

Into the Dungeon Down Below, AKA the Man Cave

Once we bought our final house and my wife and I started discussing the details of the decor and design that we would have, she made an interesting proposal to me. I would be allowed to do anything I want underground as long as she held sway above ground. I mean, really? What an awesome deal! Of course renovating a house built in 1950 required a lot of decisions all the way around, but free reign in my own space? BWAHAHAHAHAAH!

Ahem.

Yes. Besides rubbing my hands together and cackling like a B-Movie villain, I was ready for this task. I had a 1100 sq ft unfinished basement that I could do anything I wanted to. I confirmed my wife’s commitment to this, and praised her continuously for her foresight to let me go on this endeavor.

Once I started working on the design I realized there were many problems to solve. And since this was under the house my options might be severely limited. Here are the original images of the basement.

The floor plan was basically this when we started:

While an interesting space it had a lot of problems for the future Cave of Awesomeness and Gaming. The first thing that was needed was to rearrange everything into different spaces that made better use of the space. We went through a lot of different designs before coming up with something that was close to what we wanted.

With the last design we seemed to have a winner in many ways. One of the primary issues with the basement was the 7′ ceilings. I was given two choices, one was to raise the house, which probably would not have flown well in the historical neighborhood I am in, or to dig down. Dig down? Hmmm, underground lair… BWAHAHAHAHAAH!

Ahem..

Yes, digging down. I did not really understand what that would entail until the work actually began. To gain two feet of space means they had to dig down four feet, and build a giant french drain under the entire basement floor to handle the ground water that would be seeping up. Then there was the need to reinforce the basement walls. In the end we ended up with 17″ thick concrete walls, a 16″ thick concrete floor, and two sump tanks, one of which is three feet wide and seven feet deep. Two steel beams cross the ceiling holding the entire house up off the basement allowing us to not need any pillars in any of the rooms. We could hide them all in the walls.

Yes, if you ignore the wooden house above me, I do have a bunker. Minus the roof that is… so close.

After removing 600,000 lbs of material in the basement they were able to start building it all back.

In retrospect, this was a huge job. And yes, they did start all the digging manually. There was not sufficient room for an excavator, yet. They needed to selectively remove sections of the floor, rebuild it, then add in the new wall to the old wall so that the house could be supported. Then remove the rest of the floor. We also discovered a horrifying fact. With the age of the house, the sewage pipes were all made of iron. Old rusty iron. Old rusty iron pipes that were stuffed full… Yes, full. In fact the iron pipes were so soft they could be crushed and ripped apart with your bare hands. Well, assuming you did not mind your hands full of shit.

By finding this issue, we saved ourselves from a catastrophe in the next few years when they would have exploded all of the new man cave.

The next stage was to start putting the pieces in.

And now that we had some reinforcement we were able to finally breach the outside wall and bring in real heavy gear.

And more walls go up

And with our only true egress point sealed again the only way in and out of the basement was via a ladder. Here you can see laying out conduit for floor power where the table will go eventually. Because the entire floor will be concrete this was our only chance to put in the conduit and plan for any future cabling that might be needed. This also locked us into position for where the table would have to go.

And now closing it all up.

And the sump tanks. One small one for the private toilet. Private, it’s mine damn you! And one for all the house french drains. Both have a dual pump system. The one on the big tank is so powerful that when it is on, it blows water for three feet into the street from the outtake pipe. Do not stand near it when it goes.

It was time to start putting the stairs back in and walls and such. When we found one small issue. An issue of two steps. It seems we mis-measured the distance of how far the treads will go, and the stairs would intrude into the base area more than we had originally counted for. We had to go back to the drawings and revise them on the fly since everything was on schedule. We ended up with this modified plan.

Basically we moved the entry to the office to under the stairs and closed up the space at the bottom of the stairs. This did cause a couple weeks of stress until we worked it all out. In the end, this design worked out much better, but now introduced new desires that could not be filled. There was now a natural wet bar area that we were not able to put a sink into. Sigh.

Because we had the very thick concrete walls, we decided to go with steel frame for all the outside walls and wood for the interior ones. This allowed the steel frames to be mounted straight to the concrete walls. For insulation we put in three inches of dense spray foam sealing up the perimeter as tightly as possible.

And lastly all the mechanical and plumbing was installed, followed by drywall. Of all the construction on the house, this was the most extensive and time consuming. While all the construction for the whole house took nine months, the basement was four months of that work.

Table Install

Oh how everyone will be happy with the new table. No longer playing on plastic CostCo tables. No more having everything spill over on the edges. Now we can have a game on a real table.

The table is ready to be installed and brought to the basement. Hmm, oh. The high turns and limited space… we did measure for the size of the top? It is in a single piece after all… And yes, it fit. Only a few small scrapes and gouges out of the wall. A small repair for a future of glory!

And there it is. As you can see we also added in some RGB LCD lights on the inside. The entire table has been coated with the same of clear coat that is used for commercial bars. The inside of the table should be able to hold water assuming a keg somehow blew up in the basement. It ended up being an absolutely beautiful table and fits in the man cave better than almost any other furniture here. I am so very excited to play our first game on the table.

Table Build – Game Play Pre-TV/VTT Details

This is the second in a series to talk more about the tables, its parts and how we are using it.

Gaming Pre-TV

When I began using the table in the beginning, I really had huge hopes and inspiration on how I would use it. Reality on the other hand bites hard on the ass when you actually try these things during game play.

In the beginning I had all the delusions of grandeur where I would be able to have all the Dwarven Forge pieces out, mood lighting, and be able to deliver an amazing gaming experience. The alcove was the perfect place to have all these pieces. I could set up an encounter and cover it up so my cats would not considering it a new play area for themselves. It really did work very well, and did add a new dimension of playing. But was it worth it? Not really. In fact, besides that one encounter, it became very burdensome quickly.

While the Dwarven Forge parts look great, they take time to set up. I played with setting up most of an adventure area and covered it with cardboard to give that fog of war experience. But it just was not possible to have enough space, nor enough time to update changes to the adventure area. Taking a break frequently to reset just was not very practical. And while I really like the stuff, it complete failed to fit into our game very well.

If your game is at all dynamic, your scenes need to change frequently and something that can take away from the game to keep resetting the map just distracts and detracts from the game. This issue was only exacerbated because I had two games to run and could not leave a build up for either one more than a few days. If only we have VTT to replace this for us.

Which means putting the leafs back in and using a giant Chessex mat to cover the table instead. This worked very well. Combing this with a large number of the smaller mats it not only could accommodate each game very well, but allowed for some carry over of material between the two different games that were being run.

Table Use and Sitting or Not

When building the table I wanted the possibility of having the players and game master to have the option of sitting or standing. As I and others age, standing while playing can make it easier on the old bones and just provide a different view point of the action that is happening. And I know that during game play when I was much younger, jumping up in excitement during an encounter has happened more than once, possibly even sending pizza or some beverage flying. By giving everyone a platform to have that option was important, but once play started, what did everyone actually do?

On average we have five to six players at each game. The table itself was made to hold at least eight, and if friendly, there is easily room for two at the end of the table giving us eight player spots plus the game master. While the table has never been that crowded it does have a large capacity. There is only a single player overlap between the two games, which means I have nine players plus myself at different times playing on this table. The other game master is just another player in the Monday game and only the Monday game switches game masters.

This has proved to be an interesting difference between the two games related to who sits and who stands. On the Monday game (five players, four male and one female), everyone stands except whomever sits at the end of the table. On the Friday game (six players, four females and two males), no one stands. This has remained the same before and after the TV was installed on top of and later inside the table. Age wise, the average age of the Friday game is greater, but in experience, the Monday game has the most experienced players.

Why the person who sits at the end of the table always sits is interesting. Since they have the longest view of the table and can reach little on the table, they are most likely to request someone else to move the miniatures or ask for tactical verification of the situation. Maybe they just feel they are too far away from the action?

No real scientific analysis, just interesting facts between the groups.

Game Master Computer

Since there was now a nice large space for the game master, I wanted to be able to have a computer there where I could look up rules or questions, and have a place to start driving the game electronically and not have to rely on paper as much. It was a bold undertaking, but small steps.

Having the LG 5k Monitor attached to a nice monitor arm by Ergotron which was mounted to the side of the table was just the start. Using some rear mounting brackets, I had attached a new Apple Macintosh Mini. This allowed me to have all the gear and cables in a nice tight spot and with a bunch of Velcro strapping it was bundled together quite well. While this might seem a certain amount of overkill, I wanted to make sure that I would not have to replace any of the hardware for a long time and would be able to drive anything I wanted related to VTT in the future.

I really love the Ergotron monitor arms. You will find them in most industrial and hospital areas. They are tough, solid, and will outlast anything you want to do with them. I have used them for more than a couple of decades and continue to purchase them anytime I meed something to hold up a monitor.

The new Mac Mini was going to be a requirement since whenever I installed the TV, I knew that it would be a 4k TV and the last two generations of Mac Mini’s were lacking quite a bit. Yes, I could have built a hackintosh, or used a Windows based PC, but I just wanted it all to work out of the box without having to fiddle with it much and I knew that anything I tested on my desktop workstation (also a Macintosh) would seamlessly work on the game master station, which was important. And all the game masters that would be running games at my house also have Macintosh’s. Meaning, getting the real thing would be worth it for less hassle in the future.

Everything was mounted on the side of the table, pushed over, and plenty of room left for the GM screens and what paperwork was left over.

Active Play

With everything set up, play was easy and besides a few people with T-Rex arms, everything reachable. This was definitely a huge improvement over any previous gaming set up that I and most of the others have ever had. The mat on the table for a natural die rolling area. Life was good and game play drove on. Having a nice open space everyone was able to easily chat and play.

Playing on the Table of the Gods

It is a new glorious piece of furniture. It worked out better than I expected. Although the measurements for the top of the table were mostly based for me… some of our shorter players, well most of our players cannot reach all the mini’s from one side of the table to the other. Oh well. Maybe a croupier stick will work?

I thought it might be nice to show some gaming in progress to see how it looks. We will start with pulling out the leafs and use our Dwarven Forge 3D builds.

While nice, except for some specific set encounters, it is never time efficient to use the 3D landscape pieces. Instead most of the time we option for a monster sized Chessix grid mat that is large enough to cover the entire table.

And it seems that my cat likes the table as well.

Table Build – Cooling Installation

There have been a lot of questions about the details of how the cooling actually worked and how I am ensuring that the TV does not overheat in its now sealed environment. So, this page will be to go over the details of that part of the build as well as what specific hardware was used to drive all of it.

The basic concept that was used was to create a permanent cooling solution to anticipate the actual head load and then to make sure that there was a sufficient airflow to move heat out of the sealed box. I knew what the ambient temperature would be in a box without any assistance from fans or other forced air solutions from my previous experience with the initial install of the TV in a box on top of the table. But I also knew that when the TV was dropped into the table itself we would be sealing it in much more than the first experiment.

Flat screen TV’s are not usually cooled using fans but instead rely on the heat to rise through the components. The TV will have vents on the bottom as well as vents somewhere along the top of the components, usually in the middle of the back of the TV. By having the TV on its back, that natural flow of hot air would not be what the manufacturers were expecting and I would have a problem of the temperature increasing by having that heat trapped. In the first Box installation there were vents on three sides of the box that allowed a slow leakage of that hot air and would reach an equilibrium with the ambient room temperature. The new installation would not allow this since the TV would now be mounted inside the table with solid walls on all sides.

So, a new design was needed. The diagram below shows this concept.

This shows the expected air flow as well as where I would have fans installed to ensure that I could force air if needed. The black boxes in the diagram are where fans would be installed. The idea was to use the first set of fans to pull the cool air in and into the TV. The fans within the table would then pull the now heated air out. The primary air intake is nothing more than a simple vent, but it was a third place that I could install fans if for any reason there was not sufficient air flow to cool the TV.

Yes, the vent is below a drawer and I had some concern that it would interfere with the pull of air, but the four 80mm fans were able to pull enough air such that it was easy to feel that flow where the vent was. In fact, that air flow was slightly uncomfortable because it made for cold legs if you were wearing shorts or something else that left your legs exposed.

The two dual 80mm fans as well as the two triple 120mm fans are both from AC Infinity. For a controller I ended up with the AC Infinity Controller 8 to give me the most amount of temperature probes and the most options for installation. I spent a fair amount of time looking for a good solution that was less DYI and more professional looking and for ease of implementation. I bought them weeks in advance of the install so I could see how well they worked, how much noise they made, and how the controller worked. I wanted all the parts perfectly functional before trusting the installation.

One thing I discovered, and was not really surprised about was that the 80mm fan units, even at their lowest speed, were very audible. Whereas the 120mm fans were nearly completely silent. I thought about replacing the fans with better ones but was not willing to go that far yet. Perhaps once the fans were installed they would not be as noisy as expected. The 120mm fans were just great and performed well and better than expected. If the 80mm fans continued to be too noisy post-install, it would be pretty simple to replace them later.

Here are the during and post-install pictures. Showing the starting of with the intake air vent through to the 80mm fans and out to the 120mm fans.

To control the fans and make sure they would be able to operate automatically with a single temperature probe, I first tried putting all the 80mm fans on one set of power cables and the 120mm fans on another chain from the controller. From the manual it seemed to imply that the controller should be able to power that number of fans through two ports but the reality was that it was not able to, and I had to use all four fan power ports on the controller. This also then meant I had to use all four of the temperature probes to control each set of fans. There was not an option to tie one probe to multiple power ports. Each fan had a probe terminate near where the fans were installed. While none of them were in a perfect location for tracking the temperature, it was fine for this install. To make sure I had an independent source of temperature tracking, I also installed a TempStick. This allowed me to have WiFi tracking of the temperature since the AC Infinity controller was very much lacking any remote tracking and management.

The TempStick is an interesting device. I would have preferred something that I could have plugged in for power. The TempStick works great and is easily portable. But if you want five minute temperature data points, the two AAA batteries will run out of juice pretty quickly, and probably not last more than a few months. This means I would have to reach in and grab it to replace the batteries somewhat frequently. I ended up just setting them for the default 30 minute temperature check which will allow the batteries to last somewhere between six and 12 months. That time is based off all the others that I have installed around the house and outside. Being able to pull the data in remotely as well as configuring it definitely made the TempStick the winner for me.

All the fans are powered through chained USB cables connected to the controller. One immediate problem that occurred was that almost none of the cables were actually long enough to reach where the controller was installed. There was not an option to purchase longer cables, so a simple USB extender cable was used. I used one for each of the chains to make sure that all the cable lengths were the same just in case the impedance caused some sort of issue with the different of lengths of the cable for power. These extenders were tested pre-installation as well to make sure that worked too.

I played with different temperature settings and controls to see what worked best. The 80mm fans continued to be audibly noisy even after the installation. The 120mm fans were still nearly silent. With any amount of conversation of the players, the 120mm fans noise was easily covered. Another interesting benefit was that the 120mm fans were actually sufficient to carry almost all the cooling by themselves without needing the extra air flow from the 80mm fans. This allowed me to set different temperature set points on the two sets of fans such that unless things got much warmer inside the box, the 80mm fans would not need to fire off. This kept the noise down, and did not chill the person sitting at the air intake vent location.

Conclusion

Overall I am very happy with the installation and the hardware I used. I really would have liked to have seen that the controller had WiFi access to track the temperature and even manage it. The 80mm fans were a little of a disappointment, but the 120mm fans were much better, so a break even there. There were many options to configure the controller that allowed me to create an environment that make noise and airflow controlled and would not detract from game play. The whole point of all of this was to improve game play and continue down the path of Virtual Table Top gaming.

Table Build

Do not expect a long montage of pictures for this. I’ll admit I failed almost completely here, and did not get very many as it was being constructed. So you will have to enjoy the small set that I have here:

As you can see a few design changes were already incorporated. Instead of the large wooden cross beams that I had in my drawings, we were able to instead use two large pedestals. This allowed two things. The first a much easy way of hiding all the cables from the floor up to the table, and the second, provide a some hidden storage space with drawers.

Table Build – Postmortem

While the table is pretty awesome and everyone enjoys playing on it, I would be remiss if I did not look back on the points where it fell short, or I should say, where I fell short in the design. That fell into several areas.

Height

At some point a firm decision had to be made on how tall the table would be. When looking at this, it seemed that a more controlling factor was related to what chair would go under the table. There were three possible heights that I could choose from. Since I knew what style and vendor I would use, I had a very set value for those possible heights.

The first was the standard chair which had the dimensions of: Overall: 19¾”W x 23¼”D x 40½”H Seat: 19¾”W x 19″D Seat Crown Height: 20″

The next was a counter height: Counter Stool: 19¾”W x 24″D x 45½”H Seat: 19¾”W x 18¾”D Seat Crown Height: 26½” Footrest: 7″H. And the third option was bar height: Bar stool: 19¾”W x 24½”D x 49½”H Seat: 19¾”W x 19″D Seat Crown Height: 30½” Footrest: 10¾”H

This gave me an under the table height of 20″, 26.5″, and 30.5″. Added to that would be leg height and space to move in and out of the table. I assumed 5″, therefore giving me an under table height at 25″, 31.5″, and 35.5″. From there, it was a calculation of top down instead. What was the maximum height I wanted the table to stand? Also planning on storage between the table top and the bottom of the table in the format of drawers. I was limited to how much I could add between the two spaces.

My considerations were that I wanted a table where we could sit or stand at as needed. That precluded the standard table height and put into either counter or bar heights. A normal counter is at 36″, although all my kitchen ones are at 38.5″, and a normal bar height is between 40″ to 42″. Making the assumption that more is better, and bigger is better. I went with the 42″ height and bar stools. That then determined the amount of space left for the drawers as well as how deep the alcove would be to hold a TV.

And there lies the arguments. I am a bit taller than the average person while at least half of my players are female and are of average height or less. This means that the end height I chose is not as optimal for them as it is for me. The chairs that I had selected are fairly tall, and while not heavy, can be cumbersome to move. And almost no one’s feet can reach the floor when sitting leaving everyone feeling a little more lilliputian than normal.

It is hard to make the call if I choose the correct height or if counter height would have worked better. With our iPads and character sheets on the table, the current height works very well while sitting or standing. Counter height would have been lower and had more bending over, but – more of the table would have been reachable to those with T-Rex arms. The end result is mixed and that is almost completely driven by the height of the person. I am happy about where it is.

Drawers

This is one area where I had the most failure. In planning the drawers I had thought there was plenty of space based off the depth of the table top and the amount of desk space left over. What I did not figure in for was the thickness of the table top, bottom, and how much space was lost due to the soft close drawers.

I started of with 5.5″ of space, but once constructed my drawers only had 1.75″ of height inside the drawer, and 2″ before hitting the insides. That was tragic mistake in that my wonderful storage drawers became almost useless. To fit any type of useful boxes or normal items inside the drawers, I really needed 3″ of space and I am woefully short of that.

To fix this, I could have easily added an inch to the height and stolen an half an inch of the leg space while still providing sufficient space to sit. Also, if I had gone with counter height, I could have added a little more space, although everyone sitting at the table would have felt more like a child than normal as the table would sit very high from normal.

The other issue with the drawers are the length of them. The two sets of three drawers on the long side of the table really needed to have 12″ of space within them to allow a full size sheet of paper to fit in. You can see from this image how well standard paper fits into the drawer. The biggest limitation to making the drawers much deeper was the maximum size of the room and the larger TV size that I selected to eventually be placed into the table.

Generally the side drawers were an almost complete failure, while the end drawers are much deeper, they also fail on the height as all the rest did.

Alcove, AKA the TV Pit

The design issues and concerns here are a mixed bag. Since I was not sure about what TV would be in place I did not really plan appropriate holes and conduits for cables and power. The reality is that almost all the flat screen TV’s would have been similar enough to have allowed me to have better planned for that eventual insertion.

This would have allowed for a more graceful install later, as well as allowing it to be reversible since the planned infrastructure would have been part of the plan and been directly incorporated into the table. Instead I can only go forward and embrace having the TV there because the amount of damage to the table is not recoverable. In fact, it would be better to just have the entire table rebuilt at this point if I am not happy with what has happened to it.

Overall

The table is very nice. Most of the issues, besides the drawers are mostly minor as long as we are happy with the current final form. It works well, and I expect many more years of game playing on top of it.

Next Upgrades

Where else would I go with this? Well everything else would be focused on the TV. What I really would like to see is a full multi-touch screen. This would would allow much a much more close experience for the players. I will be waiting for the price of those to drop quite a bit more before I replace that current TV.

The Design and Basic Principals

I was pretty excited to jump in and start drawing up something. I quickly realized several things.

  • I am not an artist
  • I am a poor draftsman
  • I suck at drawing
  • I can use a ruler and measuring tape somewhat competently.
  • And to make sure, I am not an artist

Yes, I quickly went from many pieces of mangled graph paper to a basic graphics drawing program. No, I did not spend the money for AutoCAD. While useful, I knew that I really only needed a rough drawing for the planned table since I was commissioning someone else to build it for me. My competence is in other areas than woodworking. I needed fairly accurate measurements, but even those would change over time as the design would update during the build to deal with real world physics as well as the actual size of the room it would be placed within.

I started with something simple:

The first design was really to start figuring out the features and basic size of what I wanted. I wanted something that was bar height so that my group could sit or stand at the table. It was important to future proof by providing a deep well in the middle of the table to either hold 3D terrain features or better yet, a television for virtual table top play. Deciding on which size TV would go in it controlled many of the future measurement decisions.

From there, there would be a need for drawers and storage and a fine tuning of where the total design was going. It was also at this point that it was decided to go with a 65″ TV in the future. Putting a little extra space on all the sides, this is what I went with:

Admitted there were a very large number of revisions between each of the images that are shown, but these do represent the major revision points. Continuing to think about the details, it was also clear that power would be needed not only for the eventual TV, but for all the players, as everyone has a multitude of electronics for gaming but just because.

And finally, the almost completed design. Trying to be complete with all the design pieces all on one piece of paper. This was the final drawn design that was created.

Admitted, there were still a lot of assumptions on my part and the design itself. I was concerned that there would not be sufficient stability of the table considering what would be the tremendous weight of the top. It seems I overthought this too much and there was a much more simple solution once we started building this beast.

Of Layouts and Tactical the Advantage of Furniture

We have a table design, check. We are building out the basement, check. We know what will go where… uhm. Well yes. Obviously in parallel to the basement being rebuilt we had to know fairly clearly of what would be in the basement and where. This had to include where electrical outlets would be, where lights would illuminate the awesome planned games, and where everyone would actually be sitting. And maybe some entertainment in case we needed to watch some Anime at 100db.

Much like the design of the floor plans themselves, we went through a lot of different iterations of the layout as well. We had settled on one main configuration until the slight mis-step with the lack of two steps on the stairs changed everything for us. This is what we had originally:

As you can see, we have our gaming table, a nice little office, a couch area with a monster TV for our cat girl needs. But, with some of the space change, especially a doorway moving, we needed something new.

It was a difficult decision, but one that had to be made somewhat quickly since it impacted a lot of the infrastructure installations. We ended up with the third choice which then influenced all of our other decisions. Such as shelving:

Lighting.

And now we are settled on the build, the layout, and the furniture. So, where the hell is my table?

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