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!
I like how they went with 8.5 inches for the tiles so you can print out backer picture on your home computer on letter paper with minimal fuss. Even assuming margins on your printer, each page really only has to be 8′ by 8′. The extra half inch will be subsumed in the next tile over the same way four 4.5 tiles add to an 8.5 tile. That was smart thinking on their part. I wonder if it was intentional or happy coincidence.
Regarding the messy edges and surface, didn’t we ALL do that project in high school shop class where we made a plastic letter opener from this same basic material? A few seconds with a buffer attachment for your drill should clean those up. Granted, annoying that you’d have to finish a product yourself but not so different than inking Game Science dice and the extra labor would add to the already high cost.
Power polishing the recurved bits could result in poor fit afterwards, even if you could get a buffer into the tight s-curves.
So, you made shivs in shop?
Very interesting item. I may have a peek at their kickstarter.
I agree with all your pros and cons, and am curious if it is just a pre-production sample issue, or more par for the course.
Difficult to see how they are going to address your concerns seeing as how machining the tiles is always going to leave the “burn” (which is just the fine polished finish being effed up by the scaring of the tool face) and the chipping which is a fact of life for the material chosen (looks like Lexan to me). If there was no “burn” you’d have difficulty seeing the holes anyway.
The only way to make edges smooth is to either cast the tiles that way or polish them down after cutting from a large sheet, and both those would make the cost exorbitant in all probablility. I suspect these were cut with a scrollsaw or possibly a spiralsaw.
I dunno if the tiles can be laser cut, but even that leaves artifacts in clear plastic.
Your scratches can be polished out with some of the stuff you use for de-fogging headlight glass (which wouldn’t be required if they made them out of glass but don’t get me started) and some elbow grease, for shiny, scratch-free tiles. Good luck keeping them that way.
I had to come answer some questions for you guys, hope you don’t mind! These are made out of acrylic and cut with a CO2 laser. The last set of cuts we made were much cleaner after making calibrations to the machine and touching up the design itself. The key to stop the laser burn and chipping was to lower the power of the laser (it was cutting WAY too hot) and to speed up the head. By forcing the cuts to be smooth and quick, the acrylic comes out with a smooth edge that is perfect.
If you have any more questions, ask here or put them up on the Kickstarter! I’ll answer as best I can,
Lasers! Everything is better with lasers.
Thanks for dropping by to provide some additional info, Levi!
I’ve been playing with the NoteBoard recently, and to me, it’s ruddy amazing. Everything I need a wipe clean mapping board to be. Although it’s not too clear from the images in the following review, the other side is hexed and squared for ranges. When I map, i tend not to go into that much detail though.
Rosysteve suggested I review the Noteboard here on the Stew, which was a good idea. I’ve got a copy and will be reviewing it at some point.
Well, I have a pale complexion and had been out in the sun that day so I suppose it was an understandable mistake. BoD
While nifty, the idea of keeping part of the map, moving it, and attaching more map seems overkill. I’ve never been interested in drawing out all of the dungeon, only locations with fights, so there is little to no overlap where the “keep part of the map, move it, and add more” seemed useful. I can imagine a cool rolling fight, butI’ve clearly never missed the functionality.
For many years I used a monstrous Chessex mat (they sell cheap scratch and dent ones at Gen Con). More recently I’ve valued small and light, so I moved to Steel Sqwore’s Flip-Mat’s. They’re pretty good, although the brown background makes it hard to see some colors. I’m eyeing up the NoteBoards as a replacement.
Doesn’t *everyone* use a Chessex mat? 8o)
The tiles are nice because you can lay them over a map you want to annotate but don’t want to mark up (the incredibly lovely map of The Wilderland from The One Ring springs to mind as an obvious candidate here).
The Noteboard is nice, but I noticed that if one were to lay it out lengthwise, one could remove two “columns”, add two “rows” made from the pieces removed and end up with a surface of the same area using the same number of components but now the same square shape and size as … the small Chessex map.
I wrote to the designer, and he kindly wrote back saying that he is in negotiations to sell the business so this will be someone else’s issue to chase up.
The noteboard is a great resource for a number of reasons, not least of those being its affordability, but it isn’t offering to solve quite the same problem as these tiles.
(Later) I just thought up another use for the tiles. The One Ring GM could draw out a “suggested route” on his secret map using a tile or two, and transfer the route to the Player version of the map by overlaying it with the tiles drawn on, c/w inexplicable zags and zigs that the players will attempt to change to “shorten” the trip.