Creating a Living Game Board for the Backyard Environment

MB005002Playing games outside in the summer has been an old standby for many youth growing up before the invention of the Internet and electronic games.   A great way of reintroducing backyard games to the youth of today is to create a living game board.

A living game board consists of using a combination of living plant material and/or hardscape that is built into the lawn.  Many different kinds of games can be created through this method and includes chess and/or checkerboard, matching game, tic-tac-toe, and twister.

Living Chess and/or Checker Board

To create this type of game board requires quite a bit of space.  The project that will be described requires 64 square feet of flat lawn.  To begin the project, measure and mark off the boundaries of the board.  Outline the area with powder milk and place stakes in each corner of the marked area.  Connect the corners with rope forming the outline of the board.

Once this step is completed, begin to make the checker board pattern on the lawn.  Measure and mark eight rows that are 12 inches apart going up the side and across the top for a total of 64 squares.  Now comes the creative part of this process and where some design decisions need to be made.  First, are the squares going to be all plant material or are some going to be hardscape such as stepping-stones, or are all the squares going to be hardscape?  There does exist advantages and disadvantages to each type of game board.  A game board made of all live plant material can require additional care especially if the board is used a lot.  There does exist some plants that thrive when being tread upon, but they are limited.  Mixing a hardscape and vegetation is easier on the maintenance and if stepping-stones are used they can simply be moved to mow the turf.  Finally, if the board is made up of all hardscape, the maintenance is minimal.

To create a game board using a combination of vegetation and hardscape begins with selecting the hardscape.  Solar-lit stepping-stones work great, but also colored tile and even colored mulch will work.  In this example, 32 12-inch square solar-lit stepping-stones were laid in an alternating pattern on top of the turf.  This alternating process continued until the board was completed.

If using other plant material besides turf, the gardener will need to completely remove the turf from the squares where the other plant material will be placed.  A good choice for this plant material is creeping thyme.  It easily withstands traffic and when stepped on it releases a wonderful aroma.

If using all hardscape for the game board, then the gardener will need to kill all the turf in the area or dig it up.  Once the turf has been removed, simply lay the hardscape down in an alternating pattern.

The game pieces needed for the chess and/or checkerboard are made from different types of materials.  Giant chess pieces can be found, but can also be made by the gardener in the form of topiaries. Blocks of wood or stumps can be burned with the symbol of each chess piece and used as the game pieces.  Checker game pieces can also be made from two different types of wood blocks or paint wood in two different colors.

Matching Game

A backyard matching game does not require as much space as the chess and/or checkerboard but the larger the board the more fun that can be found.  A matching game is made by decoupage, a picture on the underneath side of a tile or stepping-stone.  Repeat the process with an identical picture on the underside of another tile and repeat until enough tiles have been created.  Make sure that all the tiles for this game are all the same color.

Next, create the game board, which can be as simple as the turf or as complex as a large area of sand.  Once the game board has been created, simply place the game pieces face down on the surface and begin the game.

Tic-Tac-Toe Board

A simple tic-tac-toe board can be constructed right on the lawn.  Mark off two rows going vertically and two rows going horizontally with powdered milk.  This will create a temporary grid pattern on the turf.  Next, create the game pieces.  These can be Frisbees that are two different colors, wooden logs with an “X” and “O” marked on the top and even hula-hoops.

Twister Game Board

The twister game board is one that is made from green, yellow, red, and blue tiles or even solar stepping-stones in different colors.  These board pieces can be placed on top of the turf or a sand pit can be dug to hold the pieces.  To create the board, begin to lay a row of six blue tiles.  Next to this row lay another row of six, but this time use yellow tiles. Follow this pattern with green and then red.  Once the twister spinner is made the game is ready to play.

Welcome the family back to the backyard and to a time of cold lemonade and homemade ice cream. Reintroduce the kids to the great outdoors with these simple and classic board games created not on a computer, but instead with some of the materials from Mother Nature herself. Most of all fill the air with giggles and laughter from a bygone day when the days were long and the summers never seemed to be long enough.


Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.