A very unusual article, this one. More than half of the article is contained within a set of images that I’ve put together in dribs and drabs over the last week or so.

The idea for what you’re about to “read” came to me when I opened a box of tissues – a box measuring roughly 4.5″ x 3.4″ x 8.5″…


The diagram below should tell you everything you need to know. In fact, my original intention was to post nothing but this image, which is why it contains the details it does…

3d battlemaps 1

All clear so far? If so, bear with me while I spell things out for those who aren’t dioramically-inclined.

I’ve tried cutting boxes in half before, and even with glue reinforcing, they never seemed to quite work; the corners were too prone to collapse. This design solves that problem by deliberately keeping the corners intact. That means that you no longer get two “structures” out of each box, but better to have one worthwhile result than two useless ones.

The key to this approach is what you don’t cut away, and especially the “lip” that is left at the top.:

3d battlemaps cuts2

Once you have the excess material removed, glue any pieces of cardboard that have come adrift back together (there shouldn’t be any, but I don’t know what sort of box you’ll use – I deliberately left the instructions open on that point).


So, what’s the point?

Well, here are three configuration examples for you to chew on.

3d battlemaps 2a

Configuration one is the basic one, using a 4 x 8 battlemap for the floor and another one for the wall. Note how the wall one is held securely by the slot and the paddle-pop sticks.

3d battlemaps 2b

Configuration 2 is a little more ambitious. The floor is a different 4×8 tile. The back is now an 8×8 sheet, so it extends a long way above the “scaffolding”, and two 1×2 torch tiles are leaned up against it on the lip. Remember, the vertical scale can be anything you want it to be. If each division represented 1′, these torches would be roughly at head height, just about perfectly positioned.

3d battlemaps 2c

The third configuration is a little wilder. The floor now consists of a 4×4 tile, a 2×4 tile, and two 2×2 staircase tiles. A 4×2 staircase tile is leaning against the back wall, held by the gap between the 2×2 staircase tiles. Other tiles may be placed on top of these as dressing, as usual. The back now consists of four different 8×2 tiles, inserted vertically. This shows how you can create waterfalls, castle walls, or whatever else you want using a combination of tiles. Of course, more tiles can be leaned up against the wall at the bottom, representing bushes or pots or whatever.

This arrangement is easily as quick to set up as normal battlemaps, but it depicts 3D in a functional way. In an article or a comment a couple of years ago, it was suggested that poker chips be used to indicate height; assuming that each now represents 1 vertical division makes this an even more functional idea. There is still a completely open space for hands to reach in and move figures.

Advanced Construction

Finally, consider the cross-section below:
3d battlemaps adv2

This is a more difficult cutting operation, and more difficult reinforcement with the paddle-pop sticks – but it preserves all edges of the box, which means that it should be strong enough to support placing a second battlemap (b) on the top, as shown – creating a multilevel structure. (I would also contemplate some vertical paddle-pops for still greater structural rigidity.

Sure, you could use the two battlemaps more or less side by side to achieve the same thing – but isn’t it better to be able to see one character above another? Usage might be a little more cramped, but you can always lift off the tile on top if necessary to get access to figures in the room below. As an alternative, consider a pair of chopsticks, or – if you are chopstick-challenged, like me – a pair of large tweezers. In a pinch, a pair of needle-nose pliers would also probably do the trick.

What to put on the back

You don’t have to follow this suggestion, but I would reach for a roll of self-adhesive vinyl kitchen counter material. It’s just like contact plastic except that it’s heavier, more durable, opaque, and available in a number of patterns. Check your local hardware supplier! In fact, it’s strong enough to count as stiffening the bare cardboard of the box in it’s own right.

And the beauty of the whole thing is that once its been built, it takes no longer to set up than any other battlemap! 3D doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive – not any more…

Update 10 Jan 2015

I’ve received a couple of requests for clarification regarding the dimensions of the strips left on the sides, top, and front, and thought up one additional refinement worth adding to the overall description.
dimensions query and design refinement

Supplemental Dimensions – Sides

The width of the narrow part of the sides should be the width of one paddlepop stick (about 1cm). I thought that was fairly obvious from the suggestion that extra sticks could be glued there for structural reinforcement, but some people wanted to be sure.

The thicker parts of the sides, where the corners are, should be 1 additional paddlepop-stick-width wide. the length of these should be 2 paddlepop sticks wide, except in one case (shown with a circle) which should be a maximum of 2. I would actually probably use 1 as my preferred dimension.

The added width is needed at the base because people will be reaching over it to move miniatures and change battlemap “floors”, so these will be subject to extra wear and tear.

Supplemental Dimensions – Front

The same goes for the front: One paddlepop stick in height for the front lip, except at the corners, where two give a little extra rigidity. The horizontal length of these corner tabs should be no more than 2 paddlepop sticks in width, and I would probably use 1, so that there was as little in the way of seeing what was going on as possible.

Supplemental Dimensions – Top

I would make the top section a little wider, say 1.5 paddlepop sticks for the narrow part and two for the thicker part at the sides. The width of the tabs should definitely only be one paddlepop stick in width. This provides a wider “lip” on which other tiles can be stood up to lean against the back, as was shown in configuration 2, above.

Enhanced Design

However, while preparing the illustration above, I thought of an additional refinement to the design. Instead of cutting the complete width of the top strip back to the indicated narrow-width dimension, consider cutting a little deeper – back to the 1-paddlepop stick mark – but only removing a triangle of material, leaving a tab running almost the entire length of the box. This can then be bent (into the shape indicated below the label “Bend Lines” to provide a narrow lip that would help prevent tiles leaning against the back from slipping.

The easy way to get cardboard to bend is to use a ballpoint pen or bread-and-butter knife with a ruler to score the side facing the bend – so the bend down would be done on the inside of the box and the bend up on the outside. Use the ruler to score a straight line with your chosen implement without cutting it – all you want to do is compress the wood pulp in the soft cardboard.

This will sometimes cause a bend in the opposite direction to the one you want, but that’s okay. You can then use the ruler to apply force evenly across the whole section to be bent at the same time by placing it on the opposite side, in line with the scoring on the other side of the cardboard, giving a consistent bend. The scoring line will usually be visible on the other side of the cardboard with no need for measurements.

— Mike

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