Geek Chic: The Sulton Gaming Table (GenCon 2008)
Robert Gifford of Game Chic was kind enough talk with me at GenCon 2008.
Tell us the beginnings of this table.
Honestly it started out like a lot of gamers do – you sit around and say “If I could have the ultimate “something,” if I could have the ultimate table…” I was talking to a handful of gamers and honestly half-heartedly, half-jokingly said, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do this. And they took me dead seriously because I’m that type of guy. They said, “He’s really doing it.” And, of course, I guess maybe I’m the kind of guy that takes a dare. And I said, “Well, goodness gracious. They think I’m going to do it, so I’m going to do it.” That was actually happening right about the same time as Gary Gygax’s passing and it was kind-of putting things in perspective. I thought, “You know, 40 years of war-gaming, 30 years of role-playing gaming…or 100 years of war-gaming if you go back to HG Wells, and we didn’t have any kinds of solutions that were like this at all. It was all home-made, hand-done, and no commercial stuff. And the thing is this is about respecting our hobby and respecting the game. It’s about elevating them to a level that they deserve. People buy pool tables all the time and they never play pool. We play these games all the time and we play them on pieces of plywood over sawhorses. We need to start realizing that these games are worth our time, worth our money, and worth our overall investment, and that’s how we bring our families and people around these things and keep these things going.
What is your background on this? Are you a woodworker, engineer?
No, it’s funny. I guess I had a designer deep inside me. I designed the table completely and totally. I built it up in 3D. I hadn’t used a 3D program before then, but I figured I’m a computer geek…you know I really consider myself a meta-geek; I’m geeky about geeks. Geeks to me are people who are absolutely focused in or at least really curious about one thing, so I’m really curious about what kind of roads people have traveled down. So I kind-of know people’s passions because that’s what interests me – other people’s passions. So I kind-of knew the people to talk to. I knew a guy a long time ago that I would call a wood-geek or a furniture-geek (Hans Weber), and I brought the plans to him and we sat down and talked about it and I said, “Is this doable?” And this was only about 6 months ago really. And he looked at it and he said, “Yea, it’s doable. Let’s go.” We just went full-tilt, straight out after that. You’re looking at our second prototype. The third and final production model is being built. And Hans is on a very well-deserved vacation hiking through the Cascades right now. I think the response has been very positive and we’re really proud of it no matter what. People could say, “It’s garbage,” and we’d say “You’re WRONG!” (Laughing) We think it’s great and we’re just glad everyone else thinks it’s as great as we do.
Tell me a little bit about the features that you love about this table?
You know, I like all kinds of gaming, so the big thing about it is that I wanted it to be multi-purpose. I wanted it to be absolutely multifunctional for whatever game struck your curiosity, for whatever game fell out of fashion and then came back into fashion. I’ve played miniatures games, role-playing games, card games, collectible card games – I’ve played the whole gambit of stuff that’s available, and I wanted to make sure that it satisfied all that. I guess the feature that I like most about it is the versatility. The thing about it is that it’s the perfect role-playing game table. Each person has their own gaming station with a flip-down desk and drawers and storage and a drawer that knocks back so you get all the space that you need whenever you want it. These things slot back all the way in so that when you flip the desk down you get enough space to put your character sheet and your book. Now if you don’t need that, if you’re playing war games all the time and you’re setting up against someone on the opposite side, you pull this back out and push this back up and you have a dice rolling channel down the middle of the table for rolling all your dice. You’re no longer knocking down all those guys, bending the spears on those little guys that you worked so hard to put together and play. You can flip down what we call these command stations – the GM stations on the end. Each side has one. You end up with a big, full space to put all your reference books and papers and everything. You can file them in these little slats or whatever you like and you’re ready to go. So when you need that rule on orcs – what’s their morale save against ballistas – you got it right there. You walk over, you grab it, and you’re no longer shuffling through everything you have. It has this light table surface (although I may be overstating it because I don’t want people putting their negatives on it because it’s not color-balanced or anything) that absolutely emits light. It’s what we use to push light through on the back of the satellite photos that we put in there.
I heard you got stopped by Home Land Security because of the photos.
We did! Apparently Home Land Security thought our satellite photos were worth looking into, so they got rerouted. I guess that’s a good thing. It means we’re bringing gaming to a level that Home Land Security finds threatening.
Where are you based out of?
We’re north of Seattle. Seattle is the closest place. Right now, what we’re doing for probably the next 6 months is trying to get these things into people’s homes. In 6 months I might change my mind thinking “We’re going to go broke,” but right now we’re delivering it for the purchase price of the table.
And what is the price tag?
What is it made of?
It’s made out of black walnut and hard-rock sugar maple. From the perspective of being green, we wanted to be good about this. One of the things people ask us is do you do it out of mahogany. Well, we don’t do it out of mahogany and the reason is that mahogany is a rainforest wood. Black walnut is a stainable wood out of the US. We want to make sure we are doing this right in every way that we can. We’re cutting down trees to make these things, so the big thing about it from my perspective is that when you buy stuff you want to make sure it lasts a lifetime. You buy stuff that you don’t intend to throw away, and this thing is going to last 50 years and then your grandkids are going to fight over it.
Have you gotten orders?
Yes, absolutely. Before the con we had this kind of GenCon preview. We took in 9 orders. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We really think there’s a lot more people out there that could have this. There are people here at the con that are asking dimensions and measurements; they’re going right home to check it and make sure they can do it. There are people that were on the phone with people back at home checking to make sure the measurements work. We haven’t signed any paperwork yet at the con, but we have people that are checking measurements and we’ll probably have some by tonight or tomorrow.
What are the dimensions of the table.
The exterior dimensions of the table are 9 feet long by 5 ½ feet wide, comparable to a large tournament pool table. It’s 35 inches high. The interior dimensions are…the play space that has the light table is 4 feet wide by 7 ½ feet long, so it’s large enough to play all the tournament-style games. 4 x 6 is the largest possible tournament play area you need, so you have some extra room to set aside figures.
What about the felt?
It’s velvet. We put that in what we call the “game keeper.” The game keeper actually sits in the notch and is flush to the top and it gives you 2 inches underneath that surface to keep your games in progress. So you keep it going in progress and you can just freeze everything, but you still have a table that you can play your casual games on – your card games, board games, etc. It actually has 2 surfaces. One of them is velvet that is good for card games or board games. The other one is a walnut surface to match so that if your wife wants to use it as an extra table, she can.