Tag Archives: scenery

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Getting your Hands on the Materials

Over the last few weeks I’ve been offering tips, hints and advice on creating tabletop terrain for wargames such as Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40K and Skirmish-style games such as Frostgrave. The feedback, comments and notifications I’ve received have had an underlying theme; where do you get your supplies from in the UK?

Being in the UK, many of the materials we see used online do not seem to be available to us. So, I’ve decided to create a comprehensive list of the tools, materials and where I sourced them from. This should hopefully give you a better idea of what you’re looking for and how to get hold of them.

Here goes…

Tools of the Trade

Knives, Blades & Cutting Mats

I’m not going to go into too much detail here as, chances are, you know where to buy crafting knives. The places I think do reasonably priced craft knives are places like The Range, Wilko (Wilkinson’s) and the like (some of these places are relatively new to the north-west UK). That said, some hobby and craft supply stores do tend to charge an arm and a leg for their products, so shop around. I’ve often found supermarkets can surprise you with some cheap, good quality craft knives. A couple of GBP should get you something sensible

Wilkinson’s do a good range of affordable tools, disposable knives being one of them.

The same can apply for cutting mats. I tend to get the SpaceFly brand because they’re cheap, available all over the place and come in a range of sizes and colours. The best place for cutting mats? I actually find Amazon works best. Try to avoid the rotary cutting mats – they’re thinner and not as robust. In my experience, they tend to slip about too.

Hot-wire Cutters

If you want to be cutting bricks from foam or saving yourself from buying a tonne of extra blades, then a hot wire cutter is something you should consider. There’s two thoughts I have on this; cheap is fine, expensive isn’t necessary.

I started with a cheap, basic, hand made hot wire cutter from eBay which set me back about £35. It does the job and you get what you pay for. If you’re flashing cash, you could go for the Proxxon version but in reality, you don’t need to. I upgraded recently to a hot-wire cutter made in China and sold in the UK, from eBay which set me back just over £60. It comes with an pretty accurate set of measuring points, the wire doesn’t flex too much and is held in place neatly. It also cuts faster by having a hotter wire.

Paints, Inks, Washes & Brushes

Again, there’s not much point in going into detail here. If you’re making terrain you don’t need to buy expensive paints. So long as they’re acrylic and mat finish paints, you can buy the cheapest you can find. Art shops are a good place to go, but they will stock more expensive brands, so again, try shops like Wilkinson, the Range and Hobby Craft.

The same applies for brushes. For finer detail paints or highlighting you want a medium sized and soft brush. For mass painting or large areas or slapping on paints and sealers like Mod Podge, a large coarse brush is fine. You can usually get sets with a good variety. Same rules apply; you can buy expensive or cheap, the difference is that one you will replace more frequently but that’s perfectly natural for paint brushes.

More on washes later…

Glue & Glue Guns

Mini glue guns are best. You can get them for less than £5 and the glue sticks online, especially eBay, are sold by the 100 for a couple of GBP. You can go a little more up market here if you have the budget – cheap glue guns will tend to dribble  the hot glue between uses unless you turn it off and on again (which takes time to heat up, so I tend to leave them on as I work).

With PVA glue – the price reflects the water content. Expensive means thicker and stronger, cheap means more water but likely quicker to dry and easier to paint on. Again, buy what you can afford, but for the terrain making, you can buy the cheap stuff and no one will ever know! The great thing about PVA glue is that you can thin it down with water (which for the most part, is free).

Foam, XPS & Styrofoam

The crux of this article. Let’s get something straight. In the US & Canada, XPS foam comes in pink or blue colours and is readily available in large quantities. In the UK however, it seems to be nowhere. That is because over here in the UK we call XPS foam, Styrofoam. XPS is the abbreviation for Extruded Polystyrene – it is basically a very strong, durable but craftable foam which does not bend. EPS, which is expanded polystyrene is the stuff that your electrical goods get boxed in, the white stuff which looks like it has been made out of thousands of tiny bubbles.

Styrofoam / XPS is available mostly online through eBay. I tend to use the supplier named Blue Foam, found here. Depending on the thickness and sheet size, you can get a reasonable amount of Styrofoam for less than £20. This is the material I commonly buy and use to create bricks and bases for my terrain buildings.

You could buy from a hardware or DIY store but I’ve yet to find it in an affordable or ready to use format. If you have found it, please let me know!

Foamstock, Card & Paper

Foamstock is just a piece of foam front and backed with paper. It’s used to mount photographs amongst other junior school crafts. Again, you can get it just about anywhere but the cheap stuff is fine to use and available in pound shops!

I use card recycled from postal packaging. When you buy a book from Amazon they usually turn up in a thin but sturdy card envelope. This stuff is strong and durable and ideal for detailing terrain miniatures. I use it for cutting roof tiles / shingles.

Paper. It’s just paper!

Measuring Rules

I tend to buy rulers and squares from Wilkinson’s or the Range. You may need to dig deep in store to find them. For £20 you should be able to get good quality steel rulers etc that will last you years. Not bad for a small initial outlay!

The God that is Mod Podge!

Yep, this stuff is amazing. It’s not just a fancy PVA glue. No. It is terrain divinity. It dries with more toughness and water repellent properties than PVA, because it contains resins which act as a sort of easy to use concrete. No terrain made from foam should be made without it!

The best news is that you can now buy it in UK shops readily. I first bought some online, but recently found it cheaper in the Range. Not even Hobby Craft had it in stock last time I checked!

Making Decent Wash…

You’ll notice a lot of people create their own washes for terrain. A wash is a water-thin paint that is applied liberally to a miniature which, as it dries, recedes into the recesses of the model to create shadows. It’s a miracle product!

The problem for terrain crafting is that you need a lot of it, and frankly it can be expensive (looking at you, GW)! So here’s how to make your own – keep in mind, if you buy these products you’ll be able to make litres of wash and you can modify them for varied results…

What you will need:

  • Artist Ink (black and brown usually)
  • Mat Medium (essentially colourless paint)
  • Water (deionised is best)
  • A bottle container or two
  • A smidge of washing up liquid

Now, there are literally hundreds of tutorials online to show you how to make washes, so I’m not going to repeat them here, I will however share a link to a really helpful guy who knows a bit more about painting than I do, meet Luke!

If you’d like to read on the previous articles, you can find them in the links below:

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Bombastic Buildings and Fantastic Features – Creating your Tabletop Battlefield

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

If you’re on Facebook or Twitter you can find us in these links, where we post often, so you’ll get notifications if you follow us:

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

Facebook page!

In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at making trenches, futuristic and alien terrain pieces (Mars was requested) and possibly upping my painting game!

If you think this article or related articles have been helpful, or if you want to contribute with some knowledge of your own, get in touch and leave or comment or get hold of us on Twitter or Facebook!

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

In the last few weeks I’ve gone over some of the techniques for making battlefield terrain. The focus has been on buildings and structures and this week we’re going to finish that theme off by bringing it all together. I promised some multistory buildings too. Read on to see more of the good stuff and how I achieved the beginnings of some great results!

What am I doing?

I decided to make everything so that it would fit on convenient 15 x 15 cm tiles. This was so that I could orientate the same tiles to create different looking terrain, whether I’m playing Age of Sigmar, AoS Skirmish, Frostgrave or even some Dungeons & Dragons.

Similar tiles can be used to create urban scenery in Warhammer 40,000, which I’ll cover at some point in the future.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I also upgraded my hot-wire cutter. It was a little more expensive, in the £50-60 region, but the arm doesn’t flex, the wire doesn’t bend and it heats up consistently making its ability to cut through foam much better! Alarmingly, the wire does glow bright orange, which was a little disconcerting at first!

So how did I do, what did I do, and how did I do it? Read on…

A trial run…

I decided to test my formula for creating tabletop scenery with an unsuspecting volunteer. I quickly ran down the basic steps of creating the terrain piece, introduced the volunteer to a hot glue gun and Styrofoam, hefted a tonne of miniature bricks onto the table and allowed that person to run away with their imagination. This is the outcome so far (note, it still needs painting).

 

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As you can see, it really doesn’t take much to get stuck in and have a go. Once again, there wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved in the creation of this quaint little tower – imagination provided the blueprints and away they went!

The Tile Set Blueprints

OK, so creating as many 15 x 15 cm tiles as required. To make my life easier, I got hold of some 1 cm thick black Styrofoam. It was an eBay purchase and cost me about £16 but may be cheaper in other parts of the world. Why did I buy these? It’s quite difficult to thin down thick Styrofoam on account of the wobbly nature of the hot-wire cutter.

So, not everything needs be to broken or derelict, no, there needs to be more so I’m going to build some complete structures which fit on the 15 cm tiles; watchtowers, tall walls, dead-ends, bell towers, warehouses, pig pens, shambolic defensive positions – you name it!

Because each tile is essentially 6 x 6 inches, I can fit four in a single square foot. Multiply this by four and you’ve got yourself an interchangeable, customisable and modular tabletop terrain system. I’ll go to town on some bigger open plazas with ruined columns etc in the future (to make it easier and give any missile troops a chance).

Footpaths & Plazas

From a design point of view, I’d like to build some footpaths, essentially narrow death traps that must be risked to get to different places on the map.  Here are some images of the test pieces I worked on. It can take time to get it right, so give yourself an open mind when you’re trying out ideas – you won’t put pressure on yourself and get worked up by perceived ‘failures’ at the end of your crafting session.

 

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The dirt footpaths are 5 x 15 cm. By applying a lot of pressure with some scrunched up tin foil to the centre of the Styrofoam piece, and lighter touches to the outer quarters I was able to create the impression that the path had been used for many years. I cut some 0.5 x 0.5 x 15 slithers of foam and cut them up, weathering and aging them with the foil to look like curb pieces.

In the future when I attempt larger roads, I will use the ‘crazy pathing’ idea and simply trim the pieces down to compensate for the curb. I’ll also impress the foam in places to make it look like carts had been through, wearing down the road over the years.

The roads should be at least 10 cm wide and up to 30 cm long (the extent of my purchased Styrofoam sheets) – they will look good running through the centre of the board, or alongside the boards on bigger battle arenas. Details are important here, so I need to think about how I’m going to decorate the pieces to make them believable.

It sounds easy, but it’s actually very hard to make simple open spaces and retain the feeling of interest and wonder. Because there’s likely no focal point to grab the eye, it needs to have a few extra details to keep the area ‘alive’ and quirky.

I’ve decided on a single gallows with some stakes rammed into the ground to keep people away from ‘justice’ being served…

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I added some ‘crazy pathing’ for a bit more variety, weathering the whole lot with the tin foil method. To make the pathing stones I cut foam strips 2 x 2 cm then went over the corners, freehand cutting in irregular ways. I then cut the stones from the end of the strips at 0.5 cm, creating odd and mismatched but flat stones. In hindsight, I should have cut these narrow than 0.5 cm, maybe half that again to 0.25 cm.

Texture is also important, so I’ll likely be using some of the rolling pins from Green Stuff World. An example of my trial run with these can be found in the images below…

 

 

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Ramping It Up!

Finally, I decided to have a go at the multistory building idea.

I wanted to make this bigger, but I also wanted to be able to use different parts of it at different times. To achieve this, I started with 4 tiles to make a jumbo tile and began building a wall which would interconnect. I added a ruined wall around the edges of the jumbo tile, leaving plenty of gaps and debris for cover and interesting features.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

I then started to make a second story of brickwork, which I could lock or lay in place and built this up a few times. Finally, I made a third story set of brickwork, but this time to accommodate half a roof.

The roof in these pieces was made from foam board, which is light and tough. I cut out rows of packing card (the sort of thin card your Amazon books are delivered in). Each row was 2 cm high with a cut  1 cm deep every 1 cm along the row. I then just cut and hacked out pieces to create the impression of roof slates. This was time consuming, but quite rewarding. You can see some of the details in the image below.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Finally, here’s a series of images showing you how to connect together.

 

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OK, so its not complete yet (I mean, I did just complete an entire week of a UK LARP event!) So I’ll post some images next week.

That’s it for now, and the end of this miniseries for terrain and scenery. If you’ve learnt anything, or if you have some advice and tips of your own, please leave a message in the comments below.

There will be more on tabletop terrain in the future, but for now, I really want to get these pieces finished and have them lined up for some gaming!

Good luck, and have fun!

Ferris

Part One…

Part Two…

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

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Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Bombastic Buildings and Fantastic Features – Creating your Tabletop Battlefield

If you’ve ever played any sort of tabletop game that did not require a board of its own, you’ve probably considered terrain.

Terrain in tabletop war games is used to represent geographical features on a battlefield, whether it’s medieval France, the grim darkness of the 41st millennium or the post apocalypse. Terrain makes the tabletop battlefield not just look interesting, but offers tactical features, blocks line of sight and generally adds an extra layer to the tiny dimensions. Terrain features become part of the game.

The are lots of cool things out there already and a lot of it very cheap. Take for example, MDF laser cut buildings. Affordable and surprisingly detailed…

But what to do if you don’t have any terrain? How can you get it? Well, since I’ve not written much over the last month, I’m offering you a multi-blog series on my attempt to acquire and create tabletop terrain. Here goes…

Think Big and Start Small

I’ve been tabletop gaming for years, on and off. As a kid in the late 80s and early 90s it was impossible to buy terrain that was a) good and b) affordable. Now that I’m all grown up, it’s about time that I set aside some of my life and get together something which I can invite friends over to checkout and drool upon.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

What do I want?

Being realistic I’m not going to have all the space in the world. Everything needs to fit on my current gaming table (I dine on my gaming table, not the other way around). My trusty gaming table isn’t huge: it’s not quite 4.5’ x 3’ foot – that’s a couple of feet too small for most standard wargames.

I’m a player of Warhammer in its various forms, so ideally I’ll need something which is 6’x4’ but I’ll be honest – the size isn’t what matters to me (they all say that). I’m more about the terrain, fantastical features to bring life to the battlefield of the Age of Sigmar or the 41st Millennium. So, forget the size for now, lets see how we’re going to create the stuff!

Design Notes

I won’t be going into any great planning detail for this project. I know in my head what the theme of the battlefield will look like and I think that is enough for now. I’ve also spent a few weeks watching YouTube videos and reading articles to give me some sort of grounding in the techniques used by modelers with a tonne more experience than I have.

There are two very important messages that I’ve got from the internet; 1) It is OK to be totally new to this part of the hobby, 2) don’t spend your time painstakingly drawing up designs and measuring everything.

Part 1 seems sensible – everyone has to begin somewhere.

Part 2 seems a little silly at first, until you realise that modelling terrain is just like any other creative endeavor. If you enjoy planning to the millimeter then lucky you! But for everyone else, just get stuck in and learn from your mistakes – it’s totally worth it, just like writing and editing your NaNoWriMo each year – write it first and enjoy the creativity, then learn from your editing and proofing steps. Easy to say and read and I understand reality isn’t that straight forward, but there’s something to be said for just getting on with the task.

I will add that I am not a total stranger to crafts. I’ve got several years of leather working experience, completely self-learnt. Why is this important to you? Well in the interest of honesty, I can cut pretty much freehand… and it’s right first time. You guys probably can’t so please take your time cutting anything, and for heaven’s sake, be careful!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Safety & Hazards

A word of caution, some of the stuff I’ll be using is considered toxic – but don’t panic too much. I’m talking about polystyrene based materials, which are essentially plastic.

Loads of people will cry out about how toxic polystyrene can be when you cut it with a hot wire or melt it. Yes, it is toxic, and yes the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) say it may be carcinogenic (may cause cancer) but I’ll point out that every MSDS is written from an industrial point of view where exposure is massive compared to that of a hobbyist. That said, always craft in a well ventilated area or if you can, outside. Always vacuum up any bits and pieces so they don’t stay floating around your house or work space for children and pets to inhale or ingest.

A clean work space is a safe work space.

Next up are materials and tools. I want to stress that you don’t need to go out and buy a load of expensive stuff. If you’re starting out you can get away with some PVA glue and a craft knife with some old packaging material. But if you want to make your life easier and have a small budget, you can get yourself some time-saving tools.

Materials

The great thing about making terrain is that you don’t have to buy in loads of expensive materials and tools. Chances are you throw out a lot of the materials we’ll be using in your household waste bin. Save some of it and recycle it into something useful.

Polystyrene – there’s a couple of varieties we may all be familiar with; Expanded polystyrene which is used in packaging and is normally made up of small spheres which crumble away when you break chunks of it up. It can be referred to as EPS. Extruded polystyrene is much more homogeneous and smooth. Extruded polystyrene is sometimes referred to XPS foam. If like me and you’re in the UK, XPS is generally referred to as Styrofoam. There’s a lot of confusion about what materials are named so if you’re in the know (and by that I mean: use the stuff at work or make it) please let me know!

Tools

I find that you can get away with the cheapest craft knives and some PVA glue, but if there was one essential piece of equipment I think you will benefit from its’ a hot glue gun. Not the massive sized ones, just a simple, small one. Why? Large glue guns get really hot and you don’t have as much control over them. A small glue gun is more precise and there’s less wasted glue. You can get cheap glue guns with a hundred glue sticks for less than £10, maybe even less than £7. I think I spotted some in Hobby & Craft for £5 (sans glue sticks). Shop around.

You can pick up craft knives quite cheaply. I recommend you have a disposable & retractable knife and a separate single bladed craft knife (the ones that look like surgical knives). Depending on where you are in the world, you can find these in hobby stores with extra / spare blades. Whatever you do, be careful with knives – I’ve cut myself more than a few times so I imagine you will too. GO SLOWLY.

The Ruined Tower

I’m going to wrap up this post with a few images and some constructive criticism of my own pilot project –  a ruined circular tower, which I’m hoping to use in Age of Sigmar, Frostgrave or even Warhammer 40K…

I made this up using a sheet of packaging polystyrene for the base, and polyethylene foam (the stuff they use to make LARP foam weapons) for the brick work. Some lolly sticks and gravel / flocking for the details.

Criticism Number 1 – the bricks. Polyethylene is quite robust. Easy to cut and apparently heat moldable. However, it doesn’t get battered easily. Even after I scraped it across the concrete outside, it still managed to hold itself together. It looks too perfect.

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Criticism Number 2 – Inside the tower there is a nice portion of what looks like a once highly detailed floor surface. I made this with a rolling pin made by Green Stuff World. The rolling pin kept sticking to my putty, no matter how much water or Vaseline I used, hence why it is only a small portion of the broken flooring!

wargame wargames terrain building modelling warhammer 40K age of sigmar AOS miniatures frostgrave

Criticism Number 3 – The dry-brushing. Dry brushing is when you add a bit of paint to the brush, wipe most of it off and very lightly and quickly move the brush over the item you’re painting. Because the bricks lack detail this didn’t turn out exactly how I hoped – but the textured bricks I hope to make next time may change that.

Overall I think for a first attempt this turned out alright. I’ve still got to finish off the edge of the base (you can see the bubbles of expanded polystyrene).

In my next post I’ll go into the formulation I’ve devised from my first test piece. I’ll make a visual account of it too so you get to see the different stages. I’ll also go into more detail in the next few posts.

Part 2

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