Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Building a Jenga Dice Tower

Let's start with the obvious question: What in tarnation is a Jenga dice tower? For those of you not in the know, a dice tower is any kind of small tower (usually made of cardboard or wood), in which you place dice in the top of the tower, and they roll out the bottom, effectively rolling the dice for you. Because, ya know, it's a lot of work to roll those dice. All those days playing Alien Frontiers or Risk, I've been thinking "Blast! If only there was some way--SOME WAY!--I could relieve this dice-rolling wrist stress and still have a perfectly random outcome." Well, a dice tower is the answer.

So granted, I rebuffed, rejected, and roundly mocked the idea of making (or worse, buying) a dice tower for a long time, but the greatest husband in the world persisted. Stubborn monkey. And thank goodness he did; It turns out that the function of a dice tower is to be just plain FUN! It's another cool useless gadget that makes people smile. So consider me pro-dice tower from here on out.

Now to get ourselves a dice tower, we turned to a particularly creative mind over at BGG: user BadgerWithAGun. He has posted a brilliantly created PDF mock-up of directions for building a cheap and awesome dice tower using Jenga blocks (view the plans HERE).Yes, Jenga--that game that no one plays anymore, and dumps off at every thrift shop in the world.

Here is the story of how we sat down last night and decided it was time to build our dice tower, and hopefully you'll see how fabulous and easy it is. Maybe you'll be making one of your own this weekend (If so, we want to see pictures! )

Step 1: Gather Your Dice Tower Materials

You'll need the following items to build your Jenga dice tower:
  • 30 Jenga blocks (one complete game set comes with more than 30)
  • Wood glue
  • Foam board, or game board that you'd like to chop up
  • 3 wooden clothespins
  • Sharp scissors 
  • Paper towel
  • Felt (optional)
All of this is going to be uber cheap. Check at a couple thrift stores and garage sales, and you should be able to get a used Jenga set for about $1.00-4.00. A new bottle of wood glue cost us $3.00. Felt costs you pennies, and the rest we had on-hand. So the total cost of this dice tower, for us, was just over $5.00.

Step 2: Start Gluing Your Jenga Blocks

Per the instruction sheet, use the wood glue to start assembling pairs of Jenga blocks into "Ls", and then glue together the "Ls" (as shown in pics) to form 1 Jenga block x 1 Jenga block squares.


These will be the levels of your tower. In total, you will need 6 of these squares. Hold off on stacking them on attaching the squares to each other--it's not time to stack the tower just yet. (In the pic below, I've just stacked them to make sure they're all coming out even, I haven't attached the squares together yet.)


Tip: Make sure you keep a small sheet of paper towel on-hand, and keep wiping away excess glue before it dries. And remember, since the blocks are sitting on their sides, and will eventually be stacked on top of each other, "Jenga" logo orientation doesn't matter. 

Once you have all 6 of your Jenga block squares glued and dried, you're ready to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Glue Together the Tower Base


Now it's time to assemble 6 Jenga blocks into a 2 block x 1 block rectangle. This is going to be your base, your tray that the dice roll out into. At this point in our building process, it was getting a little late at night, hence the goofy shadows in this picture above. There was glue everywhere, and the cats were campaigning to go to bed. But no one can thwart us when we decide to build a dice tower late at night! Good thing our wood glue dries really quickly, though.

Step 4: Cut Out Your Ramps and Base

Set aside your Jenga blocks for now, and pull out that foam board you set aside for this project. Or, if you're crazy like us, you can butcher an old game board for this purpose. We chose an old Stratego board whose pieces had long ago been discarded. Using the scissors, we cut out two identical pieces of the game board that are just wide enough to fit inside one of the Jenga squares, and just long enough to extend from the top edge of the blocks to the bottom edge, so as to form a ramp. You'll have to gauge the angle the best you can. 


You'll glue these in place, and then grab those wooden clothespins mentioned in the materials section. Snip off small little wooden bits of the clothespins to use as braces for the ramps to sit on. Above is what the underside looks like once it's all been cut, assembled, and glued. You'll need to make a total of 2 of these, and these will become Layer #1 (top layer of the tower), and Layer #3. 

For the final ramp, we cut a piece of game board big enough to create a ramp from the top of Layer #6 to the bottom of the dice tray (so it'll be almost twice as big as the other ramps, since it spans two layers). Here is a sneak peek at the diagram from the PDF instruction sheet over at BGG. 


Notice in this diagram that there's also a piece of game board that is cut to the size of the base and attached as the bottom of the dice tray. This is the step where you should go ahead and cut out this base piece and glue it to the bottom of the tray.

I'd have more personal pictures to show of this step, but this is where it started to get really late, and I started to get easily distracted playing with the cats or doing other important things while the greatest husband in the world (GHITW) did all of this part. Here's a pic of the final result. In the center is the base tray, with the bottom piece of the Stratego board attached underneath, and Layer #6 on top, with ramp in place.


Step 5: Assemble Your Tower!

Zzzzzz. Zzzzzz. Mememememe. Zzzzzzz. What? What's going on? Oh, that's right. I was off, um, not paying attention while GHITW fidgeted with the ramps for a needless amount of time. Okay, it was really only about 20 minutes, but it felt like a really long time.

But now it's time to BUILD THE TOWER! Yeaaa! Before you bust out the glue, practice stacking the layers together (staggering each layer so its block formation alternates), with ramps in proper place, facing the proper direction. Once you think you have it right, do some test rolls of the dice. Try a few different sizes of dice just to make sure everything's lined up and working right.


Once you're satisfied, apply a generous amount of glue in between the layers to stack your tower up. Be sure to wipe excess glue away with your paper towel.


Once it dries, you're ready to let the dice roll! That's all it takes. 

Now, some people find dice towers a little noisy, and suggest gluing in mats of felt on the ramps and the bottom tray. I don't know. The sound with the game board ramps and the Jenga blocks is kind of neat, I think--sort of a fun wooden tinkle that sounds like a steam punk wooden gadget (or so I imagine). We'll be skipping the felt.

After that, the tower is yours to decorate. Leave it plain, if that's your bag. I plan to do some elaborate sketching and painting all over this one (photos to come at a later date if it turns out well!). Or, you might want to just grab a can of spray paint and go to town.


The most important thing is to have fun with this contraption. I've heard stories of these towers being built double-sided so that a D&D Dungeon Master can choose which slot to drop the dice into--one so the dice rolls out to a tray facing the players, and one so the dice rolls out to a tray concealed behind the DM's screen. Brilliant. Unnecessary, maybe, but brilliant. Make this tower your own, make it interesting, make it unique, and add a little extra fun to your gaming experience


And don't forget to share those photos of your own dice tower!

5 comments:

  1. Waaay too much work for a non-issue, but if you're having fun, I'm good with it.

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  2. Too much work? Bah! Gluing Jenga pieces is easy and slightly fun. Although I might prefer to snooze through the ramp alignment part, I'd definitely make another of these again just for fun.

    It's the pioneering "just because we can" gaming spirit!

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  3. My girlfriend and I are going to be making one of these for our Heroclix games and decorating it with our favorite comic book scenes. Thanks for posting the tutorial! :D

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  4. I made 3 dice towers out of foamboard then inspiration struck to make one out of Jenga pieces. I knew I wouldn't be the first person with this idea so I looked online and found your design. It'll be a great jumping off point for me. I think I'll try a combination of baffles and plinko dowels to make the rolls random. Should also make a really cool sound. :)

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  5. However, the usage and functionality of the tower depend greatly on your needs and preferences. Some people may consider it as highly functional and useful while others may have different opinions.For more information visit here; http://www.woodendicetower.com/

    ReplyDelete