The Table Design & Features
The first thing you should do when considering building your own gaming table is sit down and think through what it is that you want and can accommodate, both in terms of features, size and also cost.
I would recommend working out what features you want and going from there. First consider what kind of games you are looking to play on it. If you are mostly going to use it for card games then consider a poker table type design, which will also work well with most board games. If you’re more likely to use it for RPGs then you’re probably going to want a different surface and perhaps some sort of tray / drawer design for the Games Master and / or the players. If it’s for wargaming then you have other features you want to consider.
With my background mostly in poker, other card games and board games, ideally I want the following:
Recessed Play Area
Having a recessed play area is useful for a few reasons, the most obvious of which is that it provides a wall around the play area to prevent dice, cards or anything else easily sliding or rolling off the table. I’m sure you’ve all encountered those over zealous gamers who love to fling dice about and spend just as much time hunting for dice on the floor than you do playing. Cards can also slide off tables when dealing so minimising things ending up on the floor is going to be useful, especially if it saves you losing pieces of the game which can ruin it. It can also be fun rolling dice off the inside edge of the table, just like craps players in a casino.
Padded Gaming Surface
Personally one of the most frustrating things when playing games is not being able to pick cards up off the table. Having a padded playing surface easily lets you get slightly under the edge of a card making it much easier to pick up. There doesn’t need to be much padding and too much can actually hamper your ability to play some games, firm with a little give is all you need. You can also cover the table with fabric which can both look and feel nice and also make picking things up easier. It is entirely possible to just use some fabric without anything extra underneath.
If you’re going to make a recess in the middle of the table for playing on, then why not add padding around the outside rail you’ve created. Leaning on the edge of the table is something a lot of people will do and while I’ve no complaints about leaning on a hard table, a padded one is that much nicer, especially for longer sessions.
Interchangeable play areas can be nice to have, especially if you are changing the type of games you are playing. Being able to lay down a map and put a clear wipe clean perspex sheet that you can write on with dry erase pens can be nice to have for RPGs and wargames.
Cup holders are also common, either sunk into the side rail, or attachable to the outside of it. Some gamers prefer to keep drinks away from the table to avoid accidents which can end up destroying games.
Hard table surfaces are another common feature. These allow you to leave a game set up mid session while you cover the table up to use it for other activities such as eating. There are two main ways of doing this, either having a cover which will go over the whole table, suitable for those who’ve got a padded rail. Or if you’ve left the rail with a hard surface, then you can put in wooden leaves to cover the play area giving you a continuous normal looking dining table.
Then you have things like drawers, in built lighting, attachable trays, integrated beer pump or anything else your imagination can come up with. Planning it out first though will save you headaches during the build and should hopefully stop you having to make multiple trips to go buy things you didn’t realise you would need.
While technically a feature I thought this deserved mentioning separately. For poker tables it is common for them to have two types of design, those with legs and those that are just meant to be used on top of another table.
If you are planning on using some form of legs (there are many choices here) then you need to check out the height of both the bottom of the table for leg clearance when sitting on the chairs you want to use, as well as the overall top height. If you are just going to use it for gaming then the top height isn’t quite as important, but if you plan to use it for eating on as well, then making it too high will be uncomfortable. The top surface of most dining tables falls between 28″ and 30″ or 71cm to 76cm. Obviously the bigger the difference in heights, then the deeper recessed play area you will have.
A table topper design you don’t have this concern as you can just place it on top of an existing table and is obviously more portable. This type of design may also be suitable for a smaller table to go on a coffee table when sitting on sofas.