Thursday 27 December 2012


So, I made a bunch of woods to make for our Age of Arthur campaign day a month ago. Which has, as these things sometimes do, got me thinking about terrain generally, also prompted by watching a bunch of videos from TerranScapes and TheTerrainGuy, as well as some interesting thoughts from Pete's Wargaming Blog and Phil Broeders on the subject, and the inspiration of the amazing Roundwood's World.
Having a bit of a railway modelling background, I tend to really notice when people put effort into terrain, and it does seem to me that, in general, as wargamers, we could do better. Some folks, clearly, do - a lot of the display games at shows have had a LOT of work put into them, for example Southend Wargames Club's 'Battle Of Benfleet', and Sidney Roundwood seems to put most of the rest of us to shame. But... show games are one offs, which gives them limited replay value down the club on a Monday night. (Pete reckons the main drawback is actually space - while I take his point, I consider replay value to be as significant if not more.) Hence, while I adore the work the Terrain Guy does, for example, it's kind of tough to spend that much time and money on a board you're then not going to be able to re-use that many times before you get bored of the opportunities it presents.

One way round that, is of course terrain tiles, as produced by TSS and others commercially, and things like Sidney R's WW1 trench tiles: I like these, up to a point, but it does become very obvious after a while if you use them for everything, as the roads on TSS tiles (for example) are very distinctive, the terrain surface is all a bit samey, it's very clearly divided into 2' square 'chunks' and the geomorphic nature of the roads and rivers is a dead giveaway. And again, by the time you've got enough of everything to handle enough cases for this not to be an issue, you've hit the space problem.

So that's not quite what I'm looking for, either.

And that brings us down to the next step up from bare or green boards, which is terrain mats. I have to admit, for all I've said about GW, their 6'x'4' battlemat is probably one of the best things they do. Its main drawback, if I'm honest, is that it's a bit uniform - things like this mat are better, but a heck of a lot pricier, though Noch do appear to do some at a more sensible price that are a bit less one colour of grass. It's also not a shade you can match easily unless you buy GW flock/grass, though - and it's flat...

On top of that (see what I did there?), one of my pet dislikes is 'hills', by which I mean the small, optimistic pimples on a 6'x4' board that allegedly pass for a rolling hill - ok, in 6mm scale you might get away with it, but in anything larger, elevation changes to scale, even to ground scale, are typically distinctly bigger and more sweeping than the average lump of painted polystyrene. As well as that, unless your terrain mat/board and scenic 'lump' match, it looks rubbish. And of course, the other problem with a cloth or bare boards? You can't dig trenches or anything else below ground level, even if you want to, which leads again to that suspicious looking problem of oddly raised bumps in the ground with holes dug in them.

And then there's rivers and roads. Rivers actually fall into the same class as trenches, in that theoretically at least they should be below the surrounding ground surface. We do our best to fudge it, and generally those nice plastic roads and rivers look ok... ish. If you can live with them not following contours and suspend disbelief about the water level being above the ground!

So, after a long list of what I don't like, what's my plan?

Well - it involves building a bunch of terrain tiles on 2'x2' (12mm MDF + 50mm craft foam, for the most part) which are fundamentally about the topography, and not the man-made features. I'll built a bunch of basic grassland tiles, a few with some rivers/streams in a semi-geomorphic layout. On top of that (and probably quite early on) I'm going to build three shoreline tiles (for reasons that will become apparent later!). The intent is that anything else will be (like the woods I've already done) medium/large pieces of terrain that match the flocking on the tiles, and can be laid flat on the flat tiles, plus some big hills that can be laid on top as well. As for roads, I'm going to be stealing Phil Broeders' idea for flexible roads :D

Anyway. That's the plan. Let's see how it goes in 2013.


  1. Mike, Russ is planning to do exactly the same for our wargaming needs. A module terrain system based on 18' and 9' blocks (square and rectangular). This will include mountains, beaches and flat areas that should allow us to stage most battles.

    It's a hell of an undertaking though. I would suggest doing some test blocks first.

    Also, Ian has some modular terrain that is green on one side and sandy on the other to get more use from them. So desert and temperate warfare can be conducted using the same terrain blocks.

  2. Honestly, I wish you very good luck with the project, that I'll be following closely and with a lot of interest.

    To me terrain has been (actually, "is") the never ending story of the hobby and never one founds a fully satisfactory solution.

    As I've been recently playing mainly skirmish games, a good playing mat is a very valid option if the scenery on top is high quality (see the Viertnam games photos in my blog.

  3. Woah, before you go off making tiles, you might want to check this out:

    Just made one myself. Super cheap, super versatile, and works great with modular terrain pieces (I base mine on cds for the low profile.)



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