I am obsessed with a most ridiculous hobby. Many hobbies are known for being a time suck and a wallet drain, but few are more of these than tabletop hobby wargaming. I have been playing all manner of boardgame, roleplaying game, and wargame most of my life. My real passion is for tabletop fantasy and sci-fi miniature wargames. This is a very multi-disciplinary hobby in which you plan your armies, assemble and paint your miniatures, build the gaming tables you play on, construct the buildings and terrain that go on the table, plan games and campaigns, and then, after all of that, you can spend hours, weeks, even years playing through a game or series of linked game campaigns.

As you might imagine, each of these aspects of the hobby can take a lot of time. Intimidating amounts of time (and shocking, hide-it-from-the-loved-ones, amounts of money). Being someone who works a lot, it’s really hard for me to get much of the above done (except for the spending too much money part). I have found, over the years, that the only time I (and I hear the same from other gamers) get any real work done on painting and modeling is if there’s some deadline: A game coming up, a convention to prepare for, a gaming group working together on painting, etc. In the last two years, I have added a new get-‘er-done scheme to that list: An annual “makecation,” a ten-day period in which I and my grown son, Blake, do nothing but model, paint, and play games all day. In the dictionary of the my life, if you turned to “heaven,” the accompanying picture would look something like this:

Me in my happy place. You can really fall down a rabbit hole with miniature painting. There’s a whole world in that tiny model! (BTW: That is a papercraft jellyfish lamp reflected in the dining room window, not a UFO hovering outside.)

Blake and I did our first gaming makecation (which we quickly dubbed a “gamecation”) last year, end of summer. It was immensely fun, and when I proposed that we do it again this year, he was as enthused about it as I was. So, from August 21 to Sept 4, we did almost nothing else but sit at our dining room table, all day and into the early morning hours, and we modeled, painted, built terrain, and played games. I cannot begin to describe to you the joy I felt–joy, contentment, and inspiration that lingers even still.

I made sure to take lots of pictures and kept a day-by-day log of events on my Facebook page and in a private FB gaming group that I run. Here are some of the highlights.

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Sneaky tip for getting a friend into a game (and setting a painting deadline for yourself): A great, albeit a twist underhanded, way of getting a friend into a game that you want to play with them is to buy a starter army for you and one for them as a gift. With the gift, you issue them a challenge to paint their army and bring it to the tabletop to fight yours on a set day. Then, you can root each other on (or talk smack) in the lead-up to the big battle. We ended up with our respective Blood Bowl teams because Blake bought me a team for Father’s Day and then I bought him a team for his birthday and issued a challenge for us to both have them done to play with over the gamecation.

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Planning, Building, and Painting Frostgrave Scenery

Given how much work we wanted to accomplish over the ten days, we knew we had to be organized and have a basic plan. We knew we wanted to paint our teams for Blood Bowl (a tabletop fantasy football game that is like American football, crossed with the Mad Max Thunderdome, in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien) and we wanted to build and paint some terrain for Frostgrave (a narrative fantasy miniatures game of warring wizards). We had also hoped to set up a Frostgrave board and play a game of that and some games of Blood Bowl. In the end, we managed to finish our Blood Bowl teams, play the game, and had an amazing time. We also built and painted a bunch of Frostgrave treasure tokens and several terrain pieces, including a small crypt and a wizard’s summoning circle on a hill. Sadly, we never got a chance to set up our Frostgrave table, but when we do (when Blake comes home for Thanksgiving), we’ll have some really fun new terrain to game on.

Assembling, Painting, and Playing Blood Bowl Teams

Games that use painted miniatures can sometimes require dozens and dozens of minis. Painting this many models can quickly become daunting, and ridiculously time-consuming. One way of improving this is working alongside others and making a party out of it. In Blake’s and my case, we had only 12 models each to assemble, prime, paint, and base, but even that turned into a significant job which took up over half of our gamecation time. But doing it together made it really fun and a memorable bonding experience. And I cannot express to you the pride and downright wonder you feel playing a game comprised of playing pieces that you have so painstakingly planned out and painted yourselves.

Here are a few of the tools that we used and some of the hobby hacks we came up with over the course of the week.

For cutting the Styrofoam to make up my Frostgrave summoning mound, I got out my trusty Wonder Cutter, a foam-cutting tool that I have had for 18 years. Halfway through the project, I broke down and bought a new wand-style cutter which was much better suited to the kind of cuts I needed to make.

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Blake scratch-built this treasure token out of “Green Stuff” (two-part epoxy putty).

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Blake used Green Stuff to fashion a working hinge for the chapel door.

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The Reaper Bones “Obsidian Crypt” model kit that we used was made to work in both fantasy and dark Gothic far future (e.g. Warhammer 40,000) settings, so it had steel beams and rivets all over it. We used a flat chisel-tipped razor knife to nip off all of the rivets and then I fashioned a sander out of a pencil and a piece of sanding paper to sand them all smooth. Worked like a charm.

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Together, Blake and I made this piece of terrain, a “runic stone,” to be used with the Frostgrave game. It was carved out of a scrap piece of Styro, covered in a white glue wash, carved in sigils (using a ball point pen), and then drybrush-painted in shades of gray, from dark to light.

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The runic stone with a base I made from plasticard and wall spackle.

Our ten-day gamecation seemed to fly by. When it was over, we had assembled, painted, based, and fielded two 12-player teams, built some cool terrain, and painted up a bunch of game playing pieces. Last year’s experience was some of the most fun I’d had in recent memory. This year topped that. It was a great way of forcing myself to take a break from work, get a lot of hobby time in, and it was a really wonderful bonding experience with my son. I’m already looking forward to next year.

If you have a hobby or maker activity that you love, but never feel like you give yourself over to it, if you have the means to do so, DO IT! The past two years have been such great gifts. I encourage you to think about trying a makecation yourself one year. And if it’s something you can do with your kids or your partner or a group of friends, all the better.