I’ve been wargaming since I was a wee lad, but until now I’d never built a whole table. I’ve always just used mats I’ve bought. So I decided to build some urban terrain boards for modern and sci-fi games
Building the boards
First of all, hats off to Mel the Terrain Tutor. As usual his videos were full of great advice and being a tightarse I appreciate his relentless drive to find cheap ways to build cool stuff. In particular this video he did for a similar 4x4ft table was hugely useful:
I’ve gone for a slightly different approach. He’s opted for really wide roads split down the middle, I wanted to have narrower streets and smaller blocks. To be fair, his version is probably much more realistic for most ground scales, but mine provides more options for layout.
After briefly dallying with the idea of 1x1ft squares I eventually decided to go for 2x2ft. Slightly more of a pain to store, but better looking and easier to set up and pack away, I figure.
The base is 6mm MDF, and instead of foamcore on top like Mel I decided to use 3mm hardwood. Foamcore is great if you want to carve footpaths, but I’m not too bothered about that and hardwood is a whole lot cheaper than foamcore.
My top tip for a project like this is: have a plan. If you can do yourself a scale drawing even better. This will allow you to plan things out a bit and make sure you’re not making silly mistakes like making the roads too narrow for your vehicles or your buildings not fitting into the space available. It doesn’t have to be anything flash, I just used a Google Drawing file and made some objects representing buildings, etc so I could drag them around and make sure I was happy with layouts.
The roads are made from strips of sand paper, which helpfully comes in a standard width of 115mm, which is just about bang on wide enough for two lanes of 28mm vehicles. Mel’s version doubles that up. It really depends what sort of look and ground scale you’re going for. If you want ground scale to match figure scale then yeah you probably want them that wide, but I’m happy with the same contracted ground scale 28mm buildings come in.
So if you’ve got a plan, it’s time to start cutting wood! I cut the 6mm MDF into four two-foot squares, that’s the easy part. For the 3mm sheets on top you’ll need your plan, carefully cut these in the shape you’ve planned out. Mine isn’t a super exact fit, that’s ok.
I stuck the hardwood to the MDF base and left it to dry under some heavy weights to prevent too much warpage.
While all this was drying a went and 3D printed myself some manhole covers and drains to add to the roads. It’s a little detail, but terrain is all about the details IMO.
When the gleu had dried I went back and applied a thin coat of PVA to the raised areas and sprinkled some fine sand around. The roads are sandpaper so already have a texture, I deliberately made the “concrete” a bit more uneven and a different texture.
Time to turn these from wood colour, into a exciting shades of grey! Hmm.
I gave the boards a quick spray prime to give the base coat a key to grab hold of, then with some cheap grey paint from tester pots I just splashed paint across the raised areas, and mixed up a much darker grey and did the road surfaces. Which gets us to about here:
Once that had dried I mixed up some black and brown washes and started splodging it around. You don’t need to be neat at all, you can leave puddles of black to represent oil spills, brown patches are dirt and dust. One thing I’ve learned with terrain is imperfection is good, and you can throw quite strong wash colours on because they fade slightly as they dry anyway.
Once that was dry (sensing a theme here) I threw a couple of layers of grey drybrushing on it with an old paintbrush. Mel recommends stippling this, I actually found brushing it worked better for me. The top layer is almost white:
Again, slightly messy is good.
Eagle-eyed readers will also notice I’ve stuck on the manhole covers and drains at this point.
All that’s left now is road markings. This is make-or-break time. Mess this up and the whole thing will look rubbish. Honestly I kind of walked away from the project at this point to mull it over in my mind a bit.
Doing some homework online it seemed the technique is to dab paint through a stencil. Proper stencil folk use sheets of mylar, so I ordered some online and started researching pictures of road markings online. Once I’d found some I liked I printed them out onto paper and stuck a fresh blade into my hobby knife.
You can use your paper printouts to check the scale on the actual boards, and if you’re happy tape the paper under your mylar sheets and use it as your template to cut the mylar. Go slowly and carefully, but it’s not hard.
So, armed with my stencils it was time to
destroy finish my boards!
Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Some folks on Twitter gave me the excellent piece of advice to practice on a piece of scrap first; I’m really glad I listened. The consistency of your paint is key. Don’t thin it! I was using gloopy cheap test pots from Halfords (a white called “Almost White”, if you’re interested) and it works a lot better if the paint is really thick.
So armed with my sponge I carefully dabbed on the markings, and it turned out to be pretty easy. Whew!
Again, slightly messy is good. Road markings are never pristine.
I didn’t go for big words like “STOP”, etc as I want these to be usable for scifi as well as moderns so I tried to keep it generic. But I did mark them up for driving on the left side of the road, because clearly that’s the correct side 😉
And this is the end result. They’re not perfect by any means, but for a first attempt I’m really happy with them and hopefully they’ll see some great games: