Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to make a Westeros Map - Pt.1

I'm a big fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the TV series Game of Thrones is based (hell, I adore the show aswell and I can't say that about many book to film adaptations). They really got the casting right, didn't they? Anyway...

A while back I bought a copy of A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (2nd Ed.) and proceeded to play a few games with friends. After getting through the unnecessarily dense rule book I really love the game, it's tense and relies on strategy, teamwork, backstabbing and a little bit of luck. The game tokens, cards and other components are quite lovely and really do the the universe justice. But I really loved the board. I have a bit of a thing for fantasy maps, so with this in mind I decided that I would make a 3D Westeros map from scratch and really go to town on the detail. One could use the method in this guide to make a board that will suit almost all medieval/fantasy board games, though after mulling it over I've decided it'll be for decoration only. The amount of game related detail I'd have to add would ruin the aesthetic in my humble opinion, and this really is meant to be looked at rather than played on. That, and as I don't have to worry about it being a playable surface I don't have to worry about it being a functional piece. And now to the drawing board!

What you'll need

Before starting the build it pays to plan and figure out you'll is required. Here is what I used (power tools not pictured):

Map outline - I used the board game board to trace the outline of the map, but optionally you could get a printed copy of the map using an image from the internet (see the bottom of this post for some suitable links).

Backing board - You could use chipboard or MDF, but a piece of quality edge laminate board will be much more durable, be far less prone to warping and look far better.

Map/Detail board - This is what most of the board detail will be made from. As this will be painted and detailed it doesn't matter what it looks like, so I used 6mm (1/4") MDF as it's easy to cut and shape, plus it adheres well to the backing board.

Tracing pad - A3 or bigger.

Pencils and a couple of fine tipped permanent markers - For tracing and map layout.

Brushes - I used about 6-7 making this board, ranging from a 0 fine tip miniature brush to a 3" gloss brush.

Paints - Make sure they're water based. I used Citadel paints and a commercial brand gloss.

Spray undercoat - I used Citadel Chaos Black, though any matt black water based paint should do.

Wood file/Dremel - I used a fine/med grade 1" flat file and a Dremel with assorted pieces.

Scalpel and/or Scissors - I used both.

Filler - I'm using Builders Bog, but you can use any fine, durable filler. Car filler (bog/bondo) is also suitable, though the tougher the filler the better as it will be subject to more than a few dings with regular play.

PVA Glue - Always good to have some on hand.

Sandpaper - I used a few sheets of 80 and 120 grit sandpaper.

Jigsaw/Router/Coping Saw - I used a jigsaw and router (not pictured) to shape my board, though a coping saw and file will do the job. That said a jigsaw and router make life much, much easier though they are both dangerous tools and as such you should know what you're doing with them lest you hurt yourself. I can't state this loudly enough - power tools are dangerous, especially routers and saws, and as such be sure to wear the appropriate safety equipment whilst using them.

Moulded Trim and Brass Hardware (optional) - When the board is complete I want to protect the edges and frame it nicely, so I'm using 28mm moulded hardwood trim, brass nails and brass corners with brass tacks. This is entirely optional but I recommend it as it looks great and evens out the edges to give it a uniform, professional aesthetic.

Making the board

Step 1 - Tracing and cutting out the map

This is a seemingly simple step but know that it is fiddly, precise and time consuming. As you can see in the image below, I needed to use three sheets of tracing paper to trace the board in full. I used a pencil to do the tracing and a scalpel and pair of scissors to cut out the shape. This step is fairly easy but I will state this - take your time, do it once and do it well. If you make a mistake you will not be a happy individual.

N.B. - I have cut out all the islands around Westeros and put them aside, as they'll be added later. The process is the same as the map except on a smaller scale.

Left: The three pieces of tracing paper, ready to be traced on. Right: Traced and cut out carefully.  

Once that's done it's time to get a print of it on the map/detail board (6mm MDF, in this case). Be sure to put blu-tack/tape in the middle of each piece of tracing paper to keep it still, and spray from the middle of the paper to the outside and not the other way around (as you'll blow the tracing paper away). Also, keep the used pieces of tracing paper as you might want to use them again (and believe me, you won't want to trace the map again!).

Above: The tracing paper before and after being used as a spray stencil.

Step 2 - Cutting, shaping and putting it all together.

As with tracing the map this might seem to be a fairly easy task, but again it is fiddly, time consuming and it is very easy to make a mistake (and even harder to correct it). Once again take your time, do it once and do it accurately.

Above: Rough map cut out using the jigsaw, after which I used a router and jigsaw to cut out the detail. The edges will be rough after being cut, so be sure to use sandpaper to tidy them up.

Below Left: The complete map cutout and backing board.   Below Right: Placing the moulding against the board's edge I aligned the top of the map to it to make sure than when it's finished it all fits flush together.

Above: Though the glue would've been more than enough to hold the map to the backing board I used a dozen 1" tacks to hold the map in place. This also ensures the map doesn't move accidentally because once the glue is dry you'd destroy it before you're able to adjust its position.

Below Left: I used a two part epoxy glue to adhere the map cutout to the backing board. Make sure you sand wood surfaces thoroughly before you apply the glue, and be sure to apply it evenly and give it plenty of time to set (I left it overnight).   Below Right: The finished board, ready for detailing. The islands were rather fiddly to get right but they look great.

Step 3 - Preparing the board for detail.

I used a couple of permanent markers to outline the features of Westeros on the board before adding detail to make sure everything was laid out correctly. Lucky for me a short way into the build I was given a set of maps of the entire Song of Ice and Fire world by some close friends for my birthday (thanks again Kendall and Dan!) so I had great reference material to work with, but if you were to jump on Google you'd find a number of great maps to use (I've put links to a couple of good ones at the bottom of this post). I recommend you colour code the features so that you don't mistake a river for the edge of a mountain range (or vice-versa), and double check everything before proceeding. 

Above: The completed blank board, ready for detail.

Check out part 2 to see how to add detail, paint the board and apply the finishing touches.

Westeros Map Links:
The 'Where's Waldo' Westeros Map (warning: big [!] file) -


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hi Cody,

      Thanks for the kind words, I'm glad you like it. If you make one yourself be sure to share it with me, I love seeing other peoples work! Stay tuned as I've got a few projects coming up in the next few months that you may want to try yourself, particularly if you have the drive and time to do so.