Canvas Game Boards for DBA

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This alternative to felt or fabric game cloths and foam, wood or tile game boards was developed by David Kuijt for use by members of the Washington Area De Bellis Antiquitatis Gamers (WADBAG) gaming group.

Take a length of medium weight canvas (i.e. canvas heavy enough to lie flat on a table top without wrinkling or bunching up to the touch). Either sail canvas or medium weight artist's canvas will do. It should be wider and longer (at least by a couple of inches) than the desired size of your game board. Or if you purchase a length of canvas, you can work with the entire length.

Soak the canvas.  When still lightly wet, lay it out on a flat, water resistance surface for painting.

Painting is basically a watercolor technique with acrylic paint. Working with one color at a time, select acrylic paint in desired earth tone/foliage colors and mix one part paint to four parts water in a cup. Start with the base or gound color. Apply the color to the canvas with (housepainter-sized) paint brushes as if painting a top down landscape. Lightly brush the base color, and as you get more confident, experiment flicking on color to represent foliage or irregularities in the ground. With a finer brush, you can mark in irregular linear features like streambeds, watercourses, or gullies. Don't try to paint really fine or detailed features...since the water will wick into the canvas spreading the color. When you get the canvas the way you like it, stop and let it dry.

Once dry, mark out your game board in the desired size on the painted canvas using pencil and a large square or straight edge. Then make a 50/50 mix of PVC or white glue (Wonderbond works particularly well at this) and spooge it out along the marked line, smooshing it into the canvas with your finger as you go. This will fix the canvas fibers and prevent fraying when you cut your board.

Once the glue dries, cut out your board along the pencil lines with a very sharp pair of scissors.  Soaking and drying causes the canvas to shrink, so it is important not to measure and cut until the canvas has fully dried.

Why Canvas Gameboards?

  • Materials are cheap and readily available.
  • Canvas can be purchased inexpensively by the foot/yard from wide-rolls and can be cut to any desired size for gaming, which makes it easy to create a number of boards for regular, wide-board, big battle, and hugh battle gaming.
  • Canvas is heavy enough to lie flat on the table without shifting around or bunching up (like felt)
  • Canvas is smooth enough that sharp corners of metal-based elements don't "catch" like felt.
  • They're as durable as carpet or any other material you might name.
  • Canvas boards are very lightweight and can be rolled up around a length of dowel and/or transported in a cardboard tube, making them easy to transport. You can actually put multiple boards in the same tube or around the same dowel, and still not be burdened. Don't fold them into a square, however, since this will put a crease in the material. But depending on how deep the crease is, you may be able to iron it out.
  • The paint jobs create a very attractive effect similar to the top-down perspective on the DBA On-Line game boards. Or put another way, they look like what you might see looking out the window of an airplane at a 1000 feet.
  • With a little care, you can paint gamescloths to represent specific historical battlefields.

Purchasing Canvas Gamecloths

This article gives you all the information you need to make up your own canvas gamecloths. If you want some, but are hesitant to try out the technique yourself.

David Kuijt is willing to create custom canvas gamecloths for a reasonable price and often sells extra cloths at HMGS-East conventions. Pricing depends on size and requirements. Contact David for additional details.

Stephen Webb uses artists canvas stretched on 2x2 and 3x3 frames, painted with earth-toned spray paints.

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Last Updated:   13 Feb. 2008

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome.
Direct them to Chris Brantley at