How to Build A Game Room

How to build a Game Room

A lot of people ask me, where did you get all of this stuff in your basement?  And then followup questions like “How did you know how to do all of this stuff?” and “What do all of these things cost?”.  I thought I’d take the time to answer those with an article that kind of encompasses them all, which is “How to build a Game Room”.

Chexx bubble hockey with lighted movie posters
Chexx bubble hockey with lighted movie posters

Getting Started

Before doing anything, you need to determine:

  • how much space you have
  • how much of a budget you have
  • are you willing to buy used games
  • how much power you have in that area

Let’s start with the first of those.

How much space do you have?

A game room can be in as small of a space as a 10 x 10 room or as big of an area as a 2,000 square foot basement.  You’d be amazed what some people can pack into a really small space.  My game room is about 500 sq ft but it shares that area with other non-game room items.

The amount of space can determine right out of the gate what thing are possible in your game room.  If you don’t have a long area, then something like shuffleboard would out the door right off the bat.  Similarly, pool tables require a lot of room for the pool sticks around the table, making it something that will only fit in particular spaces.

How much of a budget do you have?

I’ve seen game rooms that were assembled for almost nothing all the way up to several hundred thousand dollars.  Like the space issues I noted before, too small of a budget will eliminate some things right off the bat, like a new pinball machine.  However, other things like pool tables are available for free sometimes as long as you’re willing to move them out of the seller’s house in short order.

One of the biggest things I recommend is that if you’re going to spend a lot of money, buy things which don’t depreciate very much (if at all).  Examples of things that retain value would be:

  • used pinball machines
  • older arcade machines
  • used super chexx
  • used tornado foosball tables
  • neon signs

Examples of things which lose a lot of value would be:

  • new pool tables
  • new tornado foosball tables
  • most game room furniture
  • home air hockey tables

Are you willing to buy used games?

This is a big question for a lot of home owners, it’s a mental hurdle for a lot of people.  The are some valid reasons to go either way in some instances.  For instance, if you’re not very skilled with repairing things, I’d have a hard time recommending that you buy a used pinball machine, at least for your first one anyways.  Other things, like foosball tables, are basically the same whether they are new or used, the main difference being some wear or scratches.

Usually the harder something is to move and the more space it takes up, the harder it is for some to sell.  That’s why pool tables are so hard to sell, and why you see them up for free every so often.  Usually what happens is homeowner A sells their house and moves a long ways away, and as a ‘bonus’ leaves their pool table in the house when they leave rather than pay someone a bunch of money to move it.  Homeowner B then decides that they don’t want it and want it gone immediately, so they post it on craigslist as ‘free’.  You should also keep this in mind when negotiating to buy something, if it’s a pain in the butt to move, don’t be afraid to offer less money.

How much power do you have in your area?

On the surface, this might seem like a silly question.  “Power?  I’ve got tons of outlets, why do I care about power?”.  Well if your game room is filled with foosball, pool, and shuffleboard, then power is of little concern.  If you have a bunch of pinball and arcade games though, all of a sudden power usage is a real concern.

Pinball machines are real power hogs, each machine uses about 3 amps, so if you’re operating more than 4 machines on a 15 amp breaker, you might have issues.  A lot of houses are wired where there are a lot of outlets all on one breaker in an area, and no other options for power.  That doesn’t mean you can’t put more than 4 games in that area, but it does mean that if you’re going to be playing more than 4 at a time, you may need an extension cord or to convert the games to LED bulbs to reduce the power draw.

Movie posters plus game room TV
Movie posters plus game room TV

Next Steps

Once you’re determined the answers to the questions above, it’s now time to determine what you want to put in there that will fit physically, electrically, and within budget.  Some of the most common options are:

  • pool tables
  • pinball machines
  • retro arcade machines
  • arcade driving machines and new arcade games
  • foosball
  • Super Chexx bubble hockey table
  • shuffleboard
  • dart board
  • air hockey
  • ping pong (table tennis)
  • card table
  • bumper pool

Let’s start going down this list, going over the pro’s, con’s, dimensions, and cost of these options.

Pool table

Pool tables are usually 8′ long x 4′ wide most of the time, and require, at a minimum, a 12′ x 16′ space to play in.  In a smaller size room, that can really eat up a lot of the available space, so you’d better really like pool if you’re going to buy one.

Pros

  • can be picked up cheap used a lot of times
  • very little maintenance
  • can be played by multiple people while watching sports, tv, etc.
  • can also double as a ping pong table in the same space

Cons

  • takes up a lot of space
  • VERY heavy to move
  • only really fun if you have more than one person.
  • if buying new, they can depreciate a ton

Pinball Machine

Pinball machines are usually around 2 1/2 feet wide by 4 feet long, and can consume a decent amount of power and money.  They’re also pretty heavy to move, requiring 2 people and a dolly if you have stairs.  I’ve moved a ton of these things, and it’s not something that you’d want to trade out very often if you have a difficult staircase to manage or no help.  Currently they’re the #1 item in my personal game room, I’d take them over anything else, mainly because I can play them at any time and don’t require someone else of my skill level to play with.

Pros

  • great as a single player game, possibly the best single player game in the game room due to the fact that every game is always different.
  • thousands of machines to choose from, all different from one another
  • if bought used, the popular ones have been retaining value or increasing in value for years

Cons

  • very heavy to move
  • pretty expensive for some of the best tables, exceeding $5,000
  • requires periodic maintenance to keep running
  • has a lot of little things that can break
  • not the greatest game for multiplayer

Retro Arcade Machines

Arcade games usually fall into two categories, new ones and ones from 20+ years ago.  I’ll talk about the older ones first.  Retro arcade games have picked up in popularity again after almost being completely destroyed by the MAME craze of the early 2000’s, where arcade games went from thousands of dollars to like 10% of that over a short period of time.  I think part of the comeback is that people finally realized that while MAME can emulate all the older games, it can’t replicate the controls of some the games very well like Spy Hunter or Tron.

One of the things you have to be aware of with the retro arcade games is that there are two types, the ones that you play until you die (like Donkey Kong), and the ones that you can keep pumping full of quarters until you reach the end (like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4 player arcade).  95% of the time, you want the ones that won’t continue on with more quarters.  The reason for that is, if you can keep pumping in quarters at home and get to the end in an hour, well you’ve pretty much seen everything in the game already.  The challenge will be gone, and you’ll get tired of it pretty quickly.  It was fun in the arcade because it was a race to see how long your quarter could last, but at home that challenge is gone and the game becomes not nearly as fun.

The ones you only get 3 lives and can’t continue though will last far longer in home use.  Games like Donkey Kong, Ms Pac Man, Spy Hunter, etc will provide a lasting challenge to you.

Pros

  • most games are pretty affordable, ranging from a few hundred to $1000 in price.
  • once they’re working, they don’t require much maintenance
  • there are a wide range of 1, 2, 3, and 4 player games
  • most of the games are pretty steady in value now, meaning that if you buy one for $500 now it likely will be around that in a few years should you decide to sell

Cons

  • Some of the games are really heavy and awkward, making it difficult to move into your game room
  • the games are very simple compared to today’s games.  As a result, some of them can get old rather quickly if you choose the wrong game.
  • once you get good at the game, games can last forever, taking away a lot of the appeal

New Arcade Games

Most of the newer arcade games are either racing or shooting games, almost everything else has kind of gone away outside of some fighting games.  Racing games are fun but you pretty much need someone else to play with to make it fun, meaning you have to have more than one of the racing cockpits (bulky and heavy).  Shooting games are almost all quarter eaters, so after a few plays you’ve pretty much seen everything in the game.  Unless you have a ton of space, I’d have a hard time recommending either of them unless you’re buying them strictly for other people to use when they come over.

Pros

  • great for multiplayer fun with guests
  • very easy for new guests to play, everyone knows how to drive or shoot

Cons

  • most driving games and shooters are bulky and heavy
  • if you buy new, most of these games depreciate rather rapidly as newer games replace them.  They don’t have the nostalgia factor helping their value (yet).
  • most of the games are also rather expensive unless you buy something a few years old (after a lot of the depreciation has taken place).

Foosball

Foosball is a great game to have in the basement for certain age groups.  Great for older kids/adults, not so great for younger kids.  The main reason it isn’t good for kids is because on most of them the rods slide out the opposite side and hit younger kids in the face, head, or chest.

Pros

  • Game is great fun for 2 to 4 player
  • very affordable for used tables
  • very little maintenance

Cons

  • requires somebody else to play with
  • new ones are expensive and depreciate rather quickly
  • game takes up a medium amount of space and is hard to move

Super Chexx Bubble Hockey

On of the favorite things in my game room, bubble hockey is relatively unknown outside of the northern states and Canada.  For those who haven’t played one, the best way I can describe it is that is a combination of foosball and the electronic scoring of air hockey.  It is much safer for younger kids than foosball because the rods don’t protuded out the other side.

Pros

  • game is a lot of fun for 2 to 4 players
  • game can be customized
  • Chexx games retain their value quite well if bought used

Cons

  • Game is somewhat difficult to move
  • Game is pretty expensive new ($2500 to $3000) and can sometimes be hard to sell.  It retains it’s value fairly well though
  • sometimes tie games can take quite a while to finish
  • most versions of the game don’t have a power switch or a single player switch, which makes it hard for small children to operate

Shuffleboard

Shuffleboard is something you rarely see in a game room, mainly because of the enormous size that most of them take up.  Some shorter ones will make it into some basements, but it’s the long ones that are the best to play.  I really like shuffleboard, my grandmother in law owns one that has been in her basement for over 50 years.

Pros

  • great for 2 players or 4 players
  • rarely seen, so guests are really excited when they see one
  • anyone can play from young to old

Cons

  • takes up a ton of space
  • not much fun as a single player
  • little kids can smash their fingers pretty easy

Darts

Darts are a game that almost everyone has played at one point of their life.  I played a lot of darts at Buffalo Wild Wings in college, usually playing some cricket or 301.  Darts usually come in one of two forms, either the metal darts and wood board or the plastic darts with the electronic board.  I liked the metal version when I was a kid, but now that the electronic stuff works a lot better, I prefer those now.

Pros

  • doesn’t take up much space
  • game that everyone can play, good for up to 4 players
  • offers a good challenge, and is easy to play while talking and watching TV
  • professional used models keep their value pretty well
  • not very expensive

Cons

  • not great to play by yourself
  • not a good game for little kids
  • can damage the wall if the people playing aren’t coordinated

Air Hockey

One of the most popular games at the arcade, air hockey is a little bit tougher in home game rooms because it’s really hard to move a commercial quality table into a basement.  If you don’t buy a commercial quality table, then you’re setting yourself for kind of a crapshoot on quality and gameplay.  The problem with most cheaper tables is that they’re smaller than the arcade, the puck flies off a lot easier, and generally just isn’t the same as playing in the arcades.  But if you go the other way and buy a full arcade unit, then you have to deal with the large size and huge amount of weight it has.  My favorite units were actually the ones in the 90’s that used to shoot out multiple pucks after a certain amount of time, I think they were made by sega.

Pros

  • great game for two players and sometimes 4
  • one of the most physically exhausting games you can play
  • very fun game and easy for everyone to play, even kids
  • Cons
  • cheap games are small and have issues with pucks flying off most of the time
  • arcade quality games are super heavy and take up a lot of space
  • too heavy to even move around the game room

Ping Pong (table tennis)

Almost everyone has played ping pong at some point.  It’s been around forever, and it’s entry point money wise is very low in comparison with a lot of other things.  I think when Forrest Gump came out in the 90’s it kind of brought back a resurgence of it in the game rooms, a lot of my friends kind of picked it up again at that time.

Pros

  • Very affordable, in fact you can actually pick one up for free pretty easily if watch for one
  • great for 2 or 4 players, anyone from any age can play but most kids have to be at least 6 or 7 before they can really hit the ball properly.
  • you can buy tables that fold up and store pretty easily

Cons

  • most tables don’t store particularly well, they just fold straight up
  • when in use, the table takes up a lot of room
  • if you don’t have someone else at your skill level, it could be hard to play

Card Table

One of the original things people would put in their game rooms, card tables have been around forever.  There are several different kinds, there are the ones that fold and store up at a minutes notice, the ones that permanent with a poker flip top, the ones that straight poker tables and are long and elliptical, etc.  Currently I’ve got the folding kind, mainly because I don’t have the space for a permanent one.  If I did, I’d probably have the circle kind with a flip top, so it could be dual use.

Pros

  • can be picked up cheap used
  • everyone knows a card game, pretty universal for both young and old
  • great for parties, and can be used for lots of other things besides cards

Cons

  • can take up a lot of space if you get a permanent table
  • can be pretty expensive new and devalues quickly
  • pretty much need more than one person to use unless you like playing solitaire all the time

Bumper Pool

Bumper pool seems like it used to pretty popular in the 80’s but fell off in popularity after that.  I’m not sure exactly why that is, but I’m guessing that rise of video games and home consoles probably played a big part in it, since bumper pool was the option for those with limited space and now those people could get a game console instead.

Pros

  • Can be combined with card tables offer a second option, in fact almost all of them I see are like this
  • A good way to offer pool if you don’t have the room for a full sized game
  • kids really seem to like bumper pool

Cons

  • other than kids playing it, I can’t remember ever seeing adults playing it
  • most people haven’t played it with real rules, making it a little harder than a lot of games
  • not super popular and doesn’t have the same fun factor as regular pool.  A lot harder to play with an odd number of people

Assembling your game room

Now that you’ve picked out the equipment for your game room, the next step is to actually lay it out and make sure it fits.  There are several options, ranging from technical to basic.  The most common ones I see are people mocking it up in google sketchup or cutting out shapes in a scale size and test fitting everything.  I mainly just used a tape measure and tried to see where my pinball machines would fit.  After that, I just tried to move my other things (chexx, ping pong, fireplace/tv, etc) around those.  The main thing you have to work around is things that require plugins or require additional space for playing.

After you’ve got everything laid out, it’s time to go find your stuff.  I highly recommend searching for things on craigslist or your local facebook group before anywhere else, just to save yourself some money.  You never know what will be posted there, and it can save you thousands of dollars.  Posting “Want to Buy” ads is also effective for certain items, as long you indicate that you’re willing to pay money and not looking for the cheapest deal.  This process may take a couple months if you’re trying to save money.

I’d also recommend using like searchtempest.com in order to search craigslist in all the surrounding towns, sometimes you can get a great deal in a town a little ways away just because nobody else wants to drive to get it.  Some of my best deals have come in towns out in the middle of nowhere, where there is a severe lack of buyers.

If you’re not successful finding what you’re looking for used on craigslist or facebook, I’d next move to collector forums.  On those places, you’re a lot less likely to get ripped off and the equipment will be in good shape usually.  You’ll usually pay more for it too.  Pinside.com and the KLOV forums are great places for arcade equipment.

If none of those pan out, then the next stop is to hit up your local store, the internet, and the local distributor of arcade equipment.  You pretty much have to hit up all three because you never know which one is going to give you the best price.  Usually the internet or distributor will be cheapest, but sometimes the local store will have exactly what you’re looking for at a price under what you were expecting to pay.

Wrap up

Hopefully this article has helped you get a handle on what it takes to assemble your game room.  I’m sure I will be adding to it over time, but I wanted to get the base article up now.  If you have any questions please email me at the link at the bottom of the page.  Thanks

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