3D Printing Custom Gaming Pieces Sub Terra

DISCLAIMER: The techniques used in this blog may be considered copyright infringement however the steps taken were used purely for personal, non-commercial fan improvements to the game. With that in mind you are recommended to replicate these steps only for the same non-commercial purposes and at your own risk.

Earlier in the year I backed a game on Kickstarter called Sub Terra which I like to describe as a weird mix where Carcassonne meets Forbidden Island in a deadly caver setting, I guess some wouldn’t agree but it’s what I feel describes the game quite well. The game turned up in late October and it was super exciting to unbox and play. One of the main parts of the game is “horrors” which spawn and chase you round the map, causing immediate loss of consciousness for any player they touch. These can be quite threatening however during the campaign the production company explained that their custom designed horror pieces hadn’t come out as they’d anticipated and had resorted to using stock black wooden pieces.

Not very threatening wooden tokens

Honestly, this was a bit of a let-down partly due to the size and shape of the pieces (a short untextured cylinder) and partly due to the fact that the cave tiles are quite dark and the black colour of the pieces made them vanish on the board. That said their decision somewhat understandable from a production standpoint.

On a tile, gets a bit invisible under atmospheric lighting.

So, having been excited to play and being an avid 3D printer with 3D modelling skills I decided to make my own custom pieces. Now it’s worth quickly mentioning that they do offer a version of the game with custom miniatures and it’s only £18 more than the version I purchased and had I been in possession a bit more spare cash at the time and a bit more confidence in the campaign I would have almost certainly backed this and if you can afford it I’d recommend you investigate that.

I mulled over how to make some custom pieces from finding some “horror” like figure on sites like Thingiverse to a more standard looking “token” shaped item. I couldn’t find anything I particularly liked on the web so I decided that something akin to their original design would work well. The creators had released a print and play version of the game and I thought it would be cool to model something similar to the official horror artwork, which looks like a monstrous triple claw slash on a jagged outline background. I had planned to import the artwork into Illustrator and trace the outline of the claws fairly accurately but with ease of printing in mind. As it turned out the artwork in the print and play downloads is semi-editable PDF vectors. As such I was actually able to extract the claw and jagged outline design into Illustrator, export the shape in an SVG file and import THAT file into Blender.

Extracting the design from the PNP files

In Blender the SVG is represented by a NURBS curve. This needs converting to a mesh. After a bit of scaling and face/edge cleanup I was able to extrude the claw and outline shapes. I modelled a simple cylinder shaped token based on a guesstimate measurement of the game tiles and applied a boolean modifier between the cylinder and the imported shape, resulting in a really nice claw cutout on the top face.

Imported SVG

I exported the STL and opened it in my 3D printing slicer of choice (usually Cura – slic3r seems to make my printer act weird).

Single token in Cura

My first attempt in Cura didn’t go so well, the claws were too small and I knew they wouldn’t print cleanly. I scaled the token up a bit until the claws had definition then went back into Blender to make the tweaks final, adjusting the cylinder to better fit the scaled design without letting the volume get too large. I still wanted these to print as quickly as possible.

The final design.

They came out great! They also print pretty quickly. The game requires 3 tokens and this turns out to be the perfect number for the design. Being quite small you really need to print multiple copies at once to improve the quality of each one. If you’d like a more detailed blog on 3D printing let me know in the comments, though I’m assuming you already have a printer or a friend who has one if you’re reading this post. As it turns out, three copies were just enough to optimise the print quality.

The printed pieces

Like I said the prints looked great however there was one last touch missing. When I got my printer, one of the first non-filament items I got for it was some strontium aluminate powder. This is a non-toxic, non-radioactive (despite the name) glow in the dark powder that can be mixed with almost any liquid binder. I had always planned to add this to the cut out face around the claws to give the design an eerie, sinister, threatening feel. I mixed the powder with some clear nail varnish and used a small brush to get the paste right into the design. In the past I’ve had trouble with the nail varnish evaporating and leaving just the residue stuck to the printed part.

The tokens and supplied die glowing after a short charge under a daylight bulb

This works quite well but doesn’t look all that great when the lights are on (and uncharged), especially if you’re not too accurate with the brush like I am, however in the dark this looks amazing! As such I would recommend trying a binder less likely to evaporate like epoxy resin or even better maybe using some pre-made glow in the dark paint. If I had any glow in the dark PLA filament I would maybe redesign the tokens to have a second “fill” part that would fit into the top face, around the claws, however getting the tolerance on the fit may take a few attempts. I don’t think printing the entire thing in glow in the dark filament would be as impressive, you’d probably lose the claw design in the glow.

How the strontium aluminate looks under regular lights

What surprised me about the glow in the dark powder was that I had anticipated needing to leave the tokens out in the sun for the better part of a day to get a good game’s length of glow out of them, however I found that they glow really well under the UV light from the torch (and from my atmospheric lighting that I’ll cover in the next post).

I will be looking to get the blessing from the game’s creators, ITB to release the designs, using the original artwork I’m not even comfortable releasing the design for free, however using the steps above you should be able to make your own if you fancy it. If you don’t have and can’t afford a 3D printer (they’re not for the faint of heart) you might be able to find a local hackspace where you could get help or having made your design you could try a service like shapeways, a commercial 3D printing company.

I have been toying with a 3D printable token for my own game, coming to Kickstarter soon, for the community to print if they want a more personalised feel to their game and hope that this will be a nice post-release add-on for fans with 3D printers.

Useful Links

If you have a 3D printer and would like to print some of these yourself you may find the following products useful. The Amazon affiliate links are not recommendations, they are purely supplied for convenience. That said I have used the strontium aluminate powder and it works about as well as you would expect and these are products I have considered and would consider trying in the future.

Black PLA

Glow in the dark Strontium Aluminate powder

Glow in the dark PLA

Glow in the dark paint

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