Saturday, 29 August 2009

Terrain Making

Apologies for the hiatus in blog updates, our last three game nights have been spent making more terrain and finally laying the carpet in the garage. We'll be returning to fighting battles on wednesday next when Neils' troops get to fight against Andy's untried French corps. The trial campaign has pretty much run its course but before we end it we've decided to give Andy an opportunity to command his troops in a full scale game. Andy is relatively new to Napoleonics so it will be a good opportunity for him to see what does and doesn't work.

I think I've mentioned before that we have had real problems with the 3ft x 3ft terrain boards warping once they were finished. As you can see by the photo it's quite pronounced and has caused all sorts of problems in maintaining a stable playing surface. We've tried various remedies including wetting them down and placing weights on the corners, and even clamping them to the table for several days at a time, but all to no avail. A few days later they're back to looking like Ali Baba's slippers. This has led to drastic measures. We've been forced into screwing lengths of wood onto the underside along the edges in order to straighten them out. Not only has this involved extra cost it has also meant that all of the existing boards have had to have the screw holes back filled and repainted, all of which eats into gaming time.

Here's a group of the new boards that we've been making at an early stage in the process. I would point out that though we're very happy with the boards they are designed as much with functionality in mind as with aesthetics. If you want to see some really lovely terrain along with an excellent step by step guide then I'd recommend you look at the following blog: You'll need to search back a bit for the relevant post but it's definitely worth it and it's also a really fine blog. The photo above shows the new boards which have been PVA'd and with hills made from insulating foam. This stuff is easy enough to shape and helps keep the weight of the boards down. Also there are Polyfilla roads which we striate (real word?) with a fork to add the rutted effect.

The next stage sees the the open spaces and hills covered with a mixture of paint, PVA and sawdust to which we've given the technical term gloop. This stuff takes an age to dry but when it does it's rock hard. Here you can see Dom, who takes a strange delight in "glooping", lovingly applying the muck in a coat about 5mm thick.

When it's finally dry the grassy areas are painted with a dark green base coat followed by a lighter green dry brush. This is then dry brushed with yellow to get the desired effect. Similarly roads are undercoated chocolate brown and highlighted with a lighter shade. This is also applied to the tops of hills to delineate crest lines and seems to work well. The boards are all geomorphic which simply put means that the roads enter the boards at the centre and this allows us to vary the terrain enormously,

The final effect as you can see is quite effective and we'll soon be working on new river boards and possibly a few which have specific features like sunken roads. The main thing is that we now have more than enough boards to cover both tables which should make the games far more interesting.
So the next thing on the agenda is to fight the final battle of the trial campaign and then get the new campaign started. We've made quite a few changes for the next one and I'll hopefully be able to outline them before we get started.


john de terre neuve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john de terre neuve said...

Extremely kind of you to refer my terrain in your post.

The funny thing is that I like your construction style, using square boards is a gigantic plus in designing road placement, I am still struggling with a decision on how to do my roads.

I have had some problems with warping as well, especially with the river modules.

Your terrain looks great, I will look forward to see your rivers and hills.

Good luck,


Anonymous said...

I used to staple a sheet of hardboard over the chipboard. Roads/rivers were cut out so they were slightly sunken. That way, when I put the gloop on it was the hardboard that soaked it up rather than the chipboard. It worked on my old 2ftx2ft boards.



Noel said...

Hi John, the modules are made from chipboard (not sure what you'd call it in the US.) It's made up of shavings and wood chips which are glued and then compressed into shape. Doubtless you have the same type of thing.
I like Matts' idea of putting hardboard onto the modules, though it's too late for me to do it now, I wish we'd thought of it. We had toyed with the idea of using a router to create rivers but settled for using polyfilla to build up a gentle slope for the banks. It works quite well and is quick and easy to do.

Rafael Pardo said...

I am curious about the result final of your efforts.
I started a similar approach to the yours, but after some time (and many battles) I did found that it was somewhat repetitive, to fight always on the same battlefields!
My own approach is now to use EPS (40 cm square) modules with only some ondulating texturing. The roads, rivers, streams, woods, towns and some special hills, are independent elements that can be located elsewhere in the table.

Dom said...

Hi Rafa, I don't think we will suffer from the repetition issue. We have about 30 boards at the moment, 36 when rivers are done, and we can only use a maximum of 20. We will have to fit a lot of gaming in before the terrain begins to look the same.

I'm sure we will give it a go though ;0

And did Noel mention sunken roads. My heart leaps at the prospect. Pass me the sawdust, glue and paint, it's glooping time

Anonymous said...

Noel. My name is Jeff and I have a couple of questions. Please email off line at your convenience....wmevms96 at aoldotdom.....These are in reference to your campaigns. Thank you in advance.

Der Alte Fritz said...

Thank you for the tutorial on the terrain boards. The end result looks very nice. I made similar boards using ceiling tiles (because they were perfectly square) and they do not warp. However, they are not as sturdy as chipboard, which in indestructible. I eventually moved on to terrain mats and put terrain pieces on top of the mats using the sawdust method you described. Mats are easier for transporting around the convention circuit. Still, the allure of boards remains.

Noel said...

Hi again all, Rafa, I echo Dom's point that we probably won't have a problem with repetition as each of the boards has four different facings and we have a lot of boards.
Fritz, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) living in the Southwest of England we get very little in the way of conventions, so the requirement to transport boards doesn't arise.
I have to admit that the whole design of our boards and the way they're used is stolen from the Wargames Holiday Centre. In truth I never really considered any other way of making them as they seemed the ideal solution to my particular needs.

Ged Elliott said...

I'll add my advice here, in no particular order.
The sawdust should be sieved before use (use a simple cooking sieve) and discard the bigger granules.
Does the "gloop" contain paint of the base colour? If not it should. For roads have you tried woodflex as an alternative to polyfilla. If you use polyfilla make sure you mix chocolate brown emulsion paint with it before you start.
A coating of 5mm sounds too thick? Finally on warping, consider pre-sealed MDF boards, more expensive but according to others the warping is far less pronounced. If staying with chip board, either weight the boards or baton them whilst they fully dry.
Hope this is of some use

Noel said...

I'm amazed at the number of comments that this post has spawned. To be totally honest I originally put it in as a filler due to our lack of battle reports. I would definitely agree with Ged's advice about sieving the sawdust well before putting it in the gloop and should have mentioned it.
The gloop doesn't contain base colour though we did think about doing it. Fortunately we picked up a couple of 10 litre drums of magnolia at B&Q for a give away price. As for the 5mm thing it's probably a bit less than that, more like 3mm.
I haven't come across woodflex but I'll take a look, though Chris swears by tiling grout. We did try weighting the boards while they dried and it worked for about a week. I will be sticking with chipboard now mainly because the other boards are all done that way and the batons seem to have solved the problem of warping. Also we won't need many more, other than a few river boards and "one offs".

Dom said...

And I will echo Noels point about echoing Gerrys point, I think. When the gloop concept was discussed, a brown or green base paint would have made sense but it was just bloody expensive in the quantities we would have been using it in. The mixture itself it a about 60% sawdust, 30% paint, 10% P.V.A and should be the consistancy of those lovely cake mixs that mothers used to make when you were desperate to lick out the bowl. The creamier the better as you get a smooth finish. Noel has just suggested that we produce a post on the process when we work on the river boards.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with gloop was green paint with the sawdust/sand thrown in. That way any hard knocks just chipped of more base colour.


Noel said...

Sand Matt? I'm intrigued, is that for texture, resilience or both? I've seen it used on buildings but I didn't realise people used it for terrain as well.


Anonymous said...

Noel-A bit late but budgie sand was for both-it "coated" everything very well and stopped the boards "smoothing and glossing" over time. (It was not planned that way-I needed to bulk out my sawdust at the time!).


Paul said...

Hi there, probably a little late but something to keep in mind for next time,just a comment on your problem of warping in your terrain modules.

I am involved in the building industry and have 20+ years dealing with timber and timber related proucts.

I have seen this effect a few times and believe it is due to the moisture of the top covering materials not being balanced on the underside so the top 'drys out' and reaches upwards (warps) so to speak.

Simple remendy is to seal both faces of the board with paint, this keeps the board at a 'stable' status. Ceiling primer is best and while a little more expensive than normal waterbased paint a little goes a long way.

Great work all round on your blog and its postings.


Noel said...

Hi Paul,
I agree totally that sealing both sides of the board would have saved us the trouble of warping. We finally came to this same conclusion after much trial and error and too late to for it to be practical. We had sealed them with watered down PVA glue but that clearly ddn't work.

Your suggestion of ceiling primer sounds like the best option