15 Ways to Upgrade your Tabletop Games

International Tabletop Day (April 30) is just around the corner—and what better way to celebrate a love of games than by giving your favorites a little upgrade? Toss the cardboard tiles and plastic tokens and add a little extra realism to your game night with these 15 options.


Epicycle Designs via Etsy

In Pandemic, players race across the world, attempting to cure different diseases that are represented by little colored cubes. Many players opt to enhance the realism of those dire situations by purchasing real petri dishes to contain the unused cubes. You can also buy pieces that resemble the game's characters (for example: scientist, researcher, medic), or make your research stations a bit more substantial.


Splendor turns players into gem merchants—so why not make the stakes seem a little higher by replacing the fake gem tokens with more realistic glass or plastic jewels? Another option: follow this fan's lead and add gold coins.


You'll have no problem claiming routes with the trains that come with Ticket to Ride, but these wooden alternatives (with coordinating meeples) make for an even smoother ride. And perhaps they’re substantial enough to prevent players from pulling an Anne Wheaton.


WRIGHTideas via Etsy

You have to win a certain number of rounds to be the overall victor in the game Love Letter, so the winner of each round receives a little red square to help keep track of victories. However, with a name like Love Letter, there’s no shortage of interesting alternatives to the squares. You can opt to purchase glass heart tokens, pieces that resemble blobs of sealing wax, or tiny polymer clay roses.


Mix chess and entomology and you've got Hive, a game where each type of piece moves differently to help you claim the other player's queen bee. For a delicious upgrade, press the original tiles into silicon to create molds for the pieces. Then, pour chocolate into the molds to make an edible version.


A modern-day classic, Carcassonne is a tile-laying game that encourages players to build roads, cities, and fields. These 3D-printed tiles might be a little harder to pack into a box than the flat tiles that come with the game, but they're helpful when it comes to visualizing your empire.


To compete, Agricola players have to plow fields, collect wood, buy animals, and feed their families, among other things. Players can really immerse themselves in those tasks by swapping the included colored disks for these tiny shapes that actually resemble the items.


Epicycle Designs via Etsy

Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe, this popular game requires a number of meeples to be placed around the game board in order to complete quests, collect money, and take other various actions. Swap the meeples for these little polymer clay versions to make the Lords of Waterdeep characters really come to life.


In Power Grid, the players, who represent companies, purchase power plants and other resources with the hope of suppling electricity to cities. You can customize your version by trading the standard components for buildings that are more specific to the game. Or, if you’re really into Power Grid, you can add some sizzle by wiring your board to light up.


DaftConcepts via Etsy

Made by the creator of Pandemic, Forbidden Island requires players to work together in order to find treasures on an island before it sinks. The tiles representing different parts of the island have to be arranged in a specific manner each time—so why not keep them tidy with a wooden frame?


Bang! The Dice Game pits player against player in an Old West setting—but your enemy depends on what character you are. Players lose life points when they get "shot" by arrows and bullets, represented by little cardboard tokens. Up the ante with these more realistic depictions.


PiecesofGame via Etsy

In Castle Panic, players have to protect the castle in the center of the board from attacks from monsters like orcs, trolls, and goblins. This 3D-printed castle is perhaps a little more inspiring to defend than the cardboard pieces that come with the game.


Somewhat similar to Tetris, Patchwork comes with little cardboard buttons that players use to buy patches and help complete their quilts. Real buttons are relatively inexpensive, however, so many Patchwork enthusiasts have upgraded their game with the real things.


VanGamble via Etsy

Settlers of Catan, a game where players build settlements, cities, and roads, is a mainstay in many households. It's easy to make your copy stand out, though—a number of Etsy shops sell Catan upgrades, from game frames to wooden hex tiles.


King of Tokyo is Yahtzee's more destructive cousin, a dice game where monsters try to defeat each other and rule the capital city. The cardboard characters included with the game gets the job done, but these versions—polymer clay, of course—feel like they could wreak some real havoc.

This Augmented-Reality App Makes the Hospital Experience Less Scary for Kids

Staying in a hospital can be a scary experience for kids, but a little distraction can make it less stressful. According to studies conducted by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK, distracted patients have an easier time with their appointments and require less pain medication. Now, Co.Design reports that the hospital is releasing its own app designed to keep children entertained—and calm—from the moment they check in.

The Android and iOS app, called Alder Play, was designed by ustwo, the makers of the wildly popular smartphone game Monument Valley and the stress relief tool Pause. Patients can download the app before they arrive at the hospital, choosing a virtual animal buddy to guide them through their stay. Then, once they check into the hospital, their furry companion shows them around the facility using augmented-reality technology.

The app features plenty of fun scavenger hunts and other games for kids to play during their downtime, but its most important features are designed to coach young patients through treatments. Short videos walk them through procedures like blood tests so that when the time comes, the situation will feel less intimidating. And for each step in the hospitalization process, from body scans to gown changes, doctors can give kids virtual stickers to reward them for following directions or just being brave. There’s also an AI chatbot (powered by IBM’s Watson) available to answer any questions kids or their parents might have about the hospital.

The app is very new, and Alder Hey is still assessing whether or not it's changing their young hospital guests’ experiences for the better. If the game is successful, children's hospitals around the world may consider developing exclusive apps of their own.

[h/t Co.Design]

Cell Free Technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology


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