Unnatural History

Anyone who has visited one of the big museums, such as the British Museum or the Natural History Museum in London, will know that not only are they filled with cool and interesting things, but they…are…HUGE. I’m not just talking about the exteriors, but once you walk in through the front doors, you find yourself within a cool, marble-floored hall, whose ceiling and walls stretch away from you – almost to infinity. This sense of scale, of grandeur, is deliberate, as it puts you in the right frame of mind to full appreciate the artefacts that you will shortly be viewing.

Now, back in 2009, Sony released Ghostbusters: The Video Game across various home console platforms, including PS2, PS3, Xbox 360 and the Wii. There were two ‘versions’ of the game – realistic and stylised – depending on which console you had, but the general plot was the same.

It was set in New York in 1991 and the Ghostbusters, with the addition of a new “Experimental Weapons Technician” (controlled by the player), attempted to thwart the convoluted plan of Ivo Shandor to return from beyond the veil and complete the work he had begun back in the 1920’s.

Now, unlike a lot of the games published under the Ghostbusters banner, the script and story for this had been created by Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, and featured the actual vocal talents of the majority of the original cast, including the notoriously reclusive Bill Murray.

And it was awesome, especially on the Wii, as you actually felt like you WERE a Ghostbuster.

You may be wondering how this video game and my introduction regarding museums are related to one another…or to wargaming, which is the purpose of this blog and probably why you’re here in the first place. All WILL be explained, so read on.

So, one of the levels of this game featured the American Museum of Natural History, star of the first Night in the Museum movie and novel Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (NB: the movie based on the latter – The Relic (1997) – whilst not too bad, moved the action to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, so not the same place.) You got to explore various parts of the museum and bust a variety of supernatural menaces along the way.

This got me thinking that having a tabletop representation of a museum – a museum ‘board’ if you will – would be a great location to play a variety of games on. A heist of a valuable artefact could be thwarted by costumed vigilantes or uniformed police; a group of stalwart, square-jawed adventurers could sneak in to prevent cultists from opening a portal to another dimension and releasing some squamous horror; paranormal exterminators or meddling teens could investigate and eliminate a haunting, whether real or faked. Just think of all the movies you’ve seen that have featured a museum or art gallery as a major location and think of what fun YOU could have with your figures, if you had one yourself…

Now, I am aware that Sally 4th does as part of their Terra Blocks range, under the sub-heading of Exotic Locations, The Museum of Antiquities, which is constructed from 17 100mm cubes, that can be rearranged to your heart’s content, for £17.50.

However, whilst nice, this doesn’t really convey the scale of the big museums to me, so I sat on this idea for a while until I had one of my unbelievably genius ideas. You may be somewhat sceptical at this point, but just you wait and see…

Right, first thing you need is a box, but not just any box. You need a box that is pretty big, robust and deep. I was initially going to use a box file for this, as they’re pretty cheap and easy to get hold of wherever you happen to be in the world, but then remembered that Ikea do black storage boxes for a very reasonable £2.00 each. Obviously, being Ikea, you’ve got to build them yourself, but no tools are necessary, as these are the only parts you get:

As you can see from the instruction sheet, this box is called ‘Tjena’, and comes in three parts; the pre-assembled lid, the sides and folded bottom and a flat insert to go in the bottom of the box for added stability. The box is 13 3/4″ long, 9 3/4″ wide and 4″ tall (or 35cm, 25cm and 10cm, if you use Metric) and looks like this once you’ve built it;

You can now see why you have a insert, as the folded part of the base of the box means it hasn’t got a flat bottom.

Each one of these boxes will represent one hall within our museum, so depending on how large you want your museum to be depends on how many boxes you buy. As each ‘hall’ is only £2.00 (in the UK at least), your playing area and budget will dictate how many halls your museum has.

Once you’ve decided how many halls you are going to have and the approximate layout, you need to cut openings in the relevant walls of your halls, so that the visitors can move between halls. Make sure that the openings in each hall are the same size, so that when you put them together, they marry up. I have decided that as my museum may have exhibits such as prehistoric animals or modern art in the form of giant plastic pigs, the openings need to be 3″ wide and this hall will have three openings, so I cut these out.

The reason I did this first is because whilst the box, insert and lid are coloured black, the card it’s made from isn’t, so the cut parts show the original colour of the cardboard it’s made from. As the next stage involves paint, it’s better to have all the bits you’re going to paint on show at the same time.

As museums tend to have neutral coloured walls, out came my £4.00 can of Wilko ‘Soft Taupe’ spray paint and the interior walls (and the cut parts showing the base card colour) were given a liberal coat, then left to dry whilst I moved on to the next part. And this is what it looked like once it was dry.

However, whilst it was drying, I tackled the ‘floor’. The idea here was to cover the card insert with suitably patterned self-adhesive decorative vinyl. Having found a role of said product that featured 1 inch squares, that looked like floor tiles (and is actually fairly similar to the tiled floor of the British Museum) in Poundland, I thought it would be ideal.

So, I cut a section big enough to cover the insert and overlap the edges, peeled of the backing paper and carefully applied the sticky-back plastic to my card insert, like so;

As the walls of my hall were now dry, I simply dropped my floor into place and had the first of my basic museum halls completed;

And to give a sense of scale, here’s Jake Hudson of the local Ghostbusters franchise facing off against some Oriental beastie stalking the halls of the Rookhaven Museum of Natural History;

Now, it’s not complete, as I am intending on adding skirting boards, light switches and power outlets to the walls, to make it look more ‘real’, but I wanted to get this up on the blog so others could see just how simple, quick and inexpensive creating a large interior space to play in was. It doesn’t need to be a museum – it could be ANY interior. And it doesn’t need to be a room this size – it could be easily divided up into smaller rooms, to represent a secret base or a prison or…well anything YOU need.

And, once you’re done playing, pop the lid on and stack it up with the other halls you’ve built. Robust, quick and easy to build and store, and cheap.

Genius.

‘Nuff said.

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15 thoughts on “Unnatural History

    • Thanks Steve. This is an idea I’ve had for s while, but only recently worked out how to do it. The beauty of this idea is that the hall can be populated with whatever I want. Old historical figures that I seem to have accumulated for a game I don’t play? New display for my museum. Or art gallery. Might have to finally create that Vigo portrait.

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    • Thanks Pete and welcome to the Buffet. This is kind of what this blog’s about – creating cool stuff from inexpensive components to play games with. And some occasional crazy ideas…

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  1. Great idea. I’ve seen similar “photo box” dungeons, but I never would have thought to use them as a museaum. And you’re right: they’re quite utilitarian and can be used for many different gaming genres, including the aforementioned dungeons, if you’re so inclined.
    I might have to steal this one, Jez,,,

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    • Help yourself, Keith. Part of the reason I post ideas like this is to encourage others to give it a go too. Why spend your hard-earned cash on someone else’s “almost” terrain, when a bit of imagination and a nudge in the right direction can produce something that suits your needs for a small outlay?

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    • Thank you, Michael. Whilst writing the post, I was thinking to myself “Hmmm, I wonder if this might tempt Michael back to Gotham? Surely one of that’s city’s museums is ripe for a ‘fowl’ robbery.” I’d love to see what others do with this idea…finally a use for those Egyptian knick-knacks you see in seaside tat-shops.

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  2. Pingback: Carpathian Kitten Loss | Carrion Crow's Buffet

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