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.

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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
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Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Nervous System
Every Laser-Cut 'Geode' Jigsaw Puzzle is One of a Kind
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Nervous System

If you haven’t picked up a boxed jigsaw puzzle in a while, trust that they’ve undergone a serious transformation since your childhood. One of the most innovative companies in the category is Nervous System, a self-described “generative design studio” that composes computer programs to create puzzles based on patterns found in nature.

Their latest project, Geode, is a line of jigsaw puzzles modeled after agate stone. Like the rest of Nervous System’s puzzle inventory, it has an unusual and dynamic design; it's meant to mimic the band pattern of actual agate created by trapped gas in volcanic stone.

Several geode puzzles are shown
Nervous System

According to Nervous System’s site: “To create the organic shape of the pieces, we designed a system based the simulation of dendritic solidification, a crystal growth process similar to the formation of snowflakes that occurs in supercooled solutions of certain metallic alloys. By varying the parameter space, the system can produce a variety of cut styles. Each puzzle produced features its own unique landscape of interlocking shapes. No two are alike.”

Though lovely to look at, the puzzles utilize Nervous System's "Maze" piece-cutting method, which results in irregular and distorted shapes that may prove "fiendishly difficult" for some.

The 8.5-inch puzzles are made from plywood and feature 180 pieces. You can grab one for $60 at Nervous System’s online shop.

[h/t MyModernMet]


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