Ralph Clark from Ingression Point asked me if I’d be up for reviewing a pre-release set of his company’s dry-erase Automagic Tiles, which are currently being funded through Kickstarter. I’m a fan of dry-erase tiles for tactical mapping, so I said yes; a package of tiles arrived a few days later.
This review is based on pre-release tiles that might differ from the finished product.
What has come before
It’s impossible for me to review Automagic Tiles outside of the context of two similar products that are no longer on the market: Tact-Tiles and Battlegraph Dry Erase Boards (aka Battle Boards). I reviewed Tact-Tiles back in 2006 and Phil reviewed Battle Boards back in 2009. (I also interviewed the creator of Battle Boards in 2009.)
The basic concept behind all three products is similar: dry-erase map tiles with puzzle-fit edges that enable you to quickly draw a map, add tiles to it as the PCs move around, and remove tiles to reuse them where they’re needed most. You also have the option of pre-drawing your maps, which requires careful tile stacking or some sort of non-absorbent material between the tiles. Tact-Tiles were 10″x10″, Battle Boards were 11″x11″.
Battle Boards were basically a successor to Tact-Tiles, which were popular but for some reason didn’t stay on the market for all that long. They were similar in size, but instead of being gray with raised (relief) brown grid lines they were white with grooved grid lines. I actually didn’t know Battle Boards had ceased production until I was doing my homework for this review and got a database error from their website; if my assumption is incorrect, then they might still be around.
This review isn’t a comparison of these three tile options. Given that two of them are out of “print,” that doesn’t seem like it would be too useful. But the context is important, and you might have experience with one or both predecessor products, so I wanted to establish that baseline up front.
My experience with dry-erase map tiles
I used my set of Tact-Tiles in several short games as a GM, and then in at least one campaign lasting more than a year as a player; I still have that set (they’re built to last). I logged dozens and dozens of hours of play time using them over the course of a few years. They rock.
Battle Boards I’ve only used as a player, but we used them in virtually every session of two D&D 3.x campaigns played weekly over the course of about two years. I liked them a hair less than Tact-Tiles, mainly because the grooves tended to collect dry-erase dust and I found the white surface a bit too stark compared to Tact-Tiles’ gray plastic. The first problem was minor and the second was purely a matter of personal preference; Battle Boards were also a great product.
- Come in two sizes, 8.5″x8.5″ and 4.5″x4.5″
- Have puzzle-fit edges that keep them together on the table and allow any tile to connect to any other tile
- Are transparent, enabling you to place a map or background sheet beneath them
- Come in two varieties: standard, which have little holes bored through them every inch, and scored, which have a 1″ grid of grooved lines on one side
- Cost $50 for the standard set and $55 for the scored set on Kickstarter
My review package included a full standard set (four large, eight small) and a partial scored set (one large, four small), so I’ll cover both types of tile.
Standard (drilled) tiles
The drilled tiles have no grid, or if you like they have a virtual grid defined by its vertices. Here’s a full standard set on our (increasingly battered) dining table:
The mix of small and large tiles is also nice, as it means that when all you need is a tiny room or corridor you don’t need to use a whole tile. This gives you a lot of options and stretches the mapping space available in a standard set.
Here’s another picture of that layout, this time with a map. Note the different connection options on display:
These holes also have a much cleaner look than the scored lines in the other type of tile, and they obscure less of what’s under them when used in conjunction with a map or background sheet. The combination of tactile feedback when drawing and minimal occlusion of what’s below the tiles is fantastic, and I like those two features a lot.
The holes also don’t collect dry-erase dust, something I worried about when I first heard about this feature.
Here are my standard tiles over a Birthright map, with some supply lines and battle plans sketched in:
Here’s my partial scored set:
I imagine the final product will include a warning against doing this, and I suspect other folks might instinctively use the smooth side rather than the scored side, but I wanted to mention it. The smooth side erases cleanly.
Setting aside the scored tiles having a Do Not Use side, which isn’t a flaw so much as it’s something to be mindful of, I have three problems with Automagic Tiles.
The first is that boring the holes in the standard tiles, and scoring the lines on the scored tiles, leaves some “burn” or “fuzziness” around the holes/lines. It’s not a big deal with the holes, as you can see in this close-up, but it’s worth noting:
My tiles were gritty when they arrived. (I don’t know if this is due to them being pre-release products.) Consequently, they’re covered in scratches. Scratches are hard to capture on a phone camera, but the area by my hand is pretty representative:
Automagic Tiles have four great features, but on balance my pre-release tiles didn’t make a favorable impression. If I’d purchased these tiles I would have been disappointed, particularly by the scored tiles. I see a lot of potential in Automagic Tiles given their strengths, but the quality of the tiles I received is lacking.
Because Automagic Tiles aren’t in production yet, they’re still undergoing development. For one example of that, check out Kickstarter update #18, which notes that the scored lines catch too much dry-erase powder and require extra effort to clean. The finished product may be significantly improved.
Here’s what I liked about my Automagic Tiles:
- The fact that they’re transparent, allowing them to be used over a map or other background
- The holes in the standard tiles, which are a great drawing aid
- That they come in two sizes, adding versatility
- How many ways you can connect them — their best feature overall
And here’s what I didn’t like about them:
- Their cheap look and feel
- Marred edges, scratches, grit, and fuzzed-out areas
- Their price point, which is too high for what you get (with the caveat that Kickstarter != retail)
If you’d like to grab a set of these tiles, the Automagic Tiles Kickstarter campaign runs until June 3, 2013 and is already at ~500% of its $2,000 funding goal.
If you have any questions about Automagic Tiles that I can answer based on my set, I’ll be happy to answer them. Thanks for reading!