one thing I wanted to see more of in play at my local game store was varied height terrain. The shop where I play has a few buildings with accessible roof or top levels, but outside sniper deployments there is little to keep units off the ground.
After playing just a single game on one of the tabletop simulator maps I knew I wanted to play more games with varied terrain. I liked the hills and raised platforms troops could move around and over, and use for height advantage (or in some cases, disadvantage).
i did some reading and watching (as usual) of people’s tutorials for building wargamming terrain. One of the first things I had to work out was the line between ‘realistic’ terrain and what I would refer to as ‘utilitarian’. Model builders make amazing looking terrain, often for model railroad sets or dioramas. They looked great, but would be impractical on the tabletop. Rounded hills, natural looking shapes and irregular heights don’t lend themselves to troop cohesion.
When I talk about terrain being utilitarian I mean that it sacrifices some degree of realism for usability in a game. Hills are tiered with each tier having a flat top, and the sides usually have a sleep slope rather than irregular or gentle ones. This makes it easier to line troops up for cover, and climb up tier by tier while maintaining room for the bases to sit.
Knowing what I wanted it to generally look like I set out to get supplies. I was hoping to make the first level of my piece 2” high, with a second 1” tier. However I had trouble tracking down the correct foam board in 2” height. People online talked about pink extruded foam like it was lining the wall of your local hardware store, but all I could find was the 1” sheets. I blame LA and our year round warm weather, but either way I picked up the 1” and opted to start there.
The first step was to sketch out roughly what I wanted. I cut a sheet of 1/4” MDF board into a rounded shape, sanded down the edges with a Dremel sander, then with a pencil sketched out where I wanted the “hills” to sit. As you can see below, this was super sketchy, and included lines I decided I dd not like. The basic idea here was to know what shapes I wanted to cut before I started cutting, so that both the hills and the flat would be usable space. I also needed the top of the hill to have enough space for the tower itself.
Next I used these outlines to mark up and cut the foam. Clearly trying to mark a cut line on the foam board based on lines on a base was not ideal, but even without an exact match this helped me get something close to what I had in mind.
Before I cut and formed the edges on the hills, I needed to glue my two tier hill together. I smeared a good coating of PVA glue all over the bottom of the upper hill and set it on the lower. It did not sit flush - the foam was so light the glue would push it up off the board - so I needed to weigh it down. Don’t tell my wife, but Le Creuset cookware is perfect.
The second problem was that the surface I was letting it dry on was not perfectly flat, and the glue started to slide. This happens really slowing, so you might not see it happening, walk away, then come back later to find the alignment ruined. I luckily caught it right away, and was able to fix the issue. I ended up setting the bases on a towel, and that seemed to help level it out.
I have also since read that if you put a little hot glue in the middle, then the PVA around the got glue to cover the rest of the surface, that you will get a better initial hold. The hot glue, while not strong enough for the final product, will dry faster and hold it in place while the PVA does the real work over a slower dry period.
Once the two parts were solidly glued together, I started to cutting the edges. I wanted to create a look like rock face along the sides, and followed some tutorials I found online. For the first hill, I took a bread knife (the kind with the serrated edge) and scraped along the sides of the foam. This left a rough, pebbled surface, but it was uniform in its texture across all the sides. For the second one, I used a knife to cut then tear chunks out. Once I had pulled some large chunks our around the whole hill, I did a second pass to tear and cut smaller bits in the gaps between the larger removals.
While I was at it, I also cut some rough ‘stairs’ onto each level. I wanted once point where troops could ascend without it being difficult terrain. This was a messy process of cutting away with an exacto knife. The cuts were messy and the process was stupidly dangerous, so I would say next time I would be better off to cut stairs from leftover foam and place them in front of the tiers, rather than trying to cut into said tiers.
In the end I was not thrilled with either option. The smaller, roughed edge was too little and the larger torn version was too much. This is something I’ll need to work on versioning for future projects.
With these cut, I could glue these hills to the base. This is a repeat of the steps above, with the PVA glue on the foam to secure it to the base. I weighed them down and left them for another 24 hours.
The next step was some light texture. I used playground sand, which I already had on hand, spread lightly across the base, with a little on the tops of the foam hills. Playground sand was grittier than I should have used - a fine beach sand or fine grit from a hobby shop would have been best. Once the sand was dried on, I primed everything in Uniform Grey.
Before I started the detail painting, I glued some scatter onto the pieces. I have previously built some distressed barricades, so I glues those down for the troops to use. I also tore some small round bits of foam and glued those down around the base to look like rock debris. I also had some larger plaster rocks I had picked up from the local train store which I glued down. This was a less good idea as it added a lot of weight, and did not match the foam hills at all, even after painting. If I could do it over, I would have used cut foam here as well.
The first step of painting was the base. I used Rhinox Hide over the gray primer to give it a dark, muddy base coat. On top of that I used a liberal amount of Stirland Mud. This is lighter than the Rhinox Hide and has a muddy texture, so the ground had a more natural look. I did one last pass with Vallejo European Mud, used more sporadically in the open areas, to give an even thicker, dirtier look.
I wanted to let the base texture and paint dry, so I moved next to brushing coloring onto the hill sides, to make it appear like a rocky wall. My fist pass was with a mixture of Uniform Gray and a little white to lighten it up. The difference between this mixture and the Uniform Gray primer base was subtle enough hat I would apply it liberally on the sides to provide some contrast without changing the look too drastically. I then started mixing more of the white in and brushing it on in lighter and lighter patches. Last I used Citadel’s Terminus Stone dry to start brushing a white highlight on the top most ridges.
I then went back to add some final colors to the base. I wanted a green / yellow look on top to better match the playmat these were meant to go on. I used mixtures of Army Painter Hemp Rope and Commando Green to get a color that matched like I wanted.
The final step on this was flocking. I used Woodland Scenics Burnt Grass from a shaker to get the look I wanted. I sprayed some PVA on the base, spread it out evenly with an old brush, then shook the flock onto the whole base. I then blew the excess off. Be careful to only blow out — this stuff in insanely fine and if you breath in first, you will hate life.
I did some final touchups where the pain was uneven or the the flocking was too thick, but more of less this left me with a final product I was happy with.