One of the resources that we learned about early on in the design process was the Cleveland Library Maker Space called TechCentral. They have an epilogue mini which is capable of cutting 1x2 foot wooden sheets at 1/8" thick. Having never used a laser cutter, or seen one in action, I was intrigued. The one thing I knew about it was that it could do cuts and etches. And as long as I passed it a black and white file, it should be able to make a game board for me. So in February of 2017, we started down the long road of designing the laser cut game which eventually became the laser cut print and play edition.
The rightmost picture is the first piece we ever burned. It ended up in the scrap pile because our cutting settings didn't punch through the material so the pieces didn't pop out. The middle picture shows the first full board. I was conservative with the cut lines so you see that each tile has it's own box. The cutting process took twice as long but that's what learning is for. We fitted our new tiles to the frame that we had from the previous version and they fit nicely. Notice that we have walls in that version. This was before we switched to the arrow pathing method.
A few weeks later we worked out how to laser cut a nicer boarder and we integrated the player guide into the boarder. We did a preliminary cut of this in cardboard (picture below left). Doing a test cut in cardboard helped us perfect our cut instructions to the laser cutter. In the middle picture below you can see part of the new boarder tile, as well as monsters with health 1 through 6 as round circles. The rightmost picture below shows the fully assembled board and border. We have three phases, a build phase, a move phase, and a capture phase.
We played with this board several times. We noticed that it was hard for people to keep track of and predict what placing a wall would do. In computer based tower defense games, the computer calculates this effect for you. You can see in the build phase we have the concept of placing a wall, upgrading a tower, as well as the associated cost of upgrading a tower. In the movement phase, we see the start of monsters with different health having different movement speeds.
Having the opportunity to use the laser cutter was an amazing experience. After working for months of work on the weekends to make a design paid off when we got to hold those first pieces. We went from having a black and white paper copy of the game to having a wooden copy. At this point, people were happy to play test with us even though our rules were rough. I have a feeling it was the opportunity see and play with the wooden pieces up close that kept them engaged.