Thursday 18 June 2015

Proper Battlefield Maintenance- annual terrain repairs

Battle has ended for another year, the combatants shake hands and begin their slow journey back to distant lands.

The ruins are more ruined.
The trees stand bare, like autumn has hit them in one fell swoop.
Hills lie barren and exposed, those madmen ranting about not earth underneath, but instead a white, fluffy packing material have been quickly silenced by the Inquisition.
This year’s conflict has hit the battlefield hard, now begins the time to renew.

Hi everyone, today I am here to talk to you about a yearly ritual that I have been observing for some time now. One of the strange things about attending a university gaming club (other than the fact I haven’t been a student for a long, long time) is that the club breaks for the summer. This gives me time to take stock of existing projects on the go or what I want to achieve in the next year. It also means that I get to do some spot repairs on the terrain in the club, to prepare them for the coming year of gaming.
My terrain philosophy is to produce something that is functional and looks decent on the tabletop. I don’t want to spend hours upon hours constructing intricate ruins, accounting for every brick that is out of place, only to have a terrain piece that is more hazardous to my own troops than the enemy (the dreaded wobbly model syndrome). I want terrain that is nice but that my models stand on, after all, they are the ones that get the most time and effort spent on them. It would be great (if a little unfair) to have terrain that swallowed up my units making me and the enemy forget about them until that crucial turn, but that is not what terrain is for. It takes long enough to pack up armies after a game without having to worry about scouring the ruins for an errant Ork that has been left behind (like a foul smelling and belligerent Macaulay Culkin).

My other criteria for terrain is that it must be sturdy. After close to two decades of wargaming, I still do not know how to store terrain in a way that minimises space while equally protecting the contents within. Most of the terrain used in the club is stuff that I have made for them or from my own collection that I donate during the term year (this has the benefit of clearing some space in my games room that will inevitably soon be filled with more terrain). Before the recent union redevelopment, space was at a premium. We had one small cupboard in which to store everything that warsoc required; codices and rulebooks, RPG books, board games and wargaming terrain. Now, we took more than our fair share of space in the cupboard, but space was still tight. Terrain packing tended to be less about what would keep everything intact and more about just getting everything to fit back in the cupboard. Adding a base to your terrain pieces can help make them more sturdy, as well as allowing you to add addition details to them.

Things have improved dramatically in the last year. We now have a cupboard dedicated to societies and plenty of space for me to expand with my manic and grandiose terrain making ideas. However, over time, stuff will still get damaged. No matter how carefully items are packed away and stored, we are still using terrain made from foamboard, polystyrene and cardboard (for the most part). These are not indestructible building materials. Most stuff tends to get piled in a box from week to week, hence, after a year of weekly gaming, some of the items are in need of repair.

Here’s what I want to do over the summer:

1. Rebasing the ruins
Inspired by an old white dwarf article, my collection of gothic ruins have been based and painted. I originally put them on cake bases. This provided a cheap, lightweight and sturdy cardboard base on which to secure the ruins, plus you got a cake to eat! (I am aware that you can purchase cake bases on their own, without the cake, but……shut up, don’t judge me!). The one drawback is that the foil covering the base does not adhere PVA and sand too well, so you do get occasional chipping to show the foil underneath. It doesn’t look great. I plan to rebase these on some MDF for a sturdier (albeit heavier) support that should hopefully prevent some of the flaking. Any tips on a sturdy varnish would be appreciated, purity seal hasn’t seemed to have much effect.

2. Citadel Woods
It’s amazing how a paint job can completely change your opinion on a model. For me, it was the Citadel Wood. Our club had three sets of these languishing in a cupboard (only two had been partially assembled). I wasn’t a big fan of them, but I was sick of fighting over barren, grey tree trunks. I decided to quickly paint them up using a few basic colours and highlights. After I got the first set completed, my opinion on them totally changed. The detail on them was great and easy to pick out with drybrushing. There was only one problem with the kit; the leaves. I had a nightmare getting these on. There are mountain goats perched on a precipice half way up Mount Everest that are impressed with how the leaves stay on this kit. As a result, after a couple of months of weekly use, barely a single leaf remained in place on the woods.


The thought of re-gluing them back on filled me with dread, they would likely not survive long yet again. Inspiration came from another blog that I read.  Upon reading a tournament battle report, I noticed what appeared to be a set of citadel woods with moss/lichen leaves instead of the plastic ones supplied. To me, this looks great, and I want to try something similar this time with the club’s woods. Hopefully these will be a bit more durable than the current ones.

3. Rock formations and barbed wire
Again, minor repairs needed here. Some touching up of the paint on the rocks and gluing the wire back in to place are all that is required.


4. Woods
I recently purchased some laser-cut MDF for rebasing my old trees. When I made them originally, the plan was to mount them on bases and cut out a foamboard insert in which to house them. My skills at cutting circular holes in foamboard aside, they turned out pretty good, but are in need of an update. I plan to nail the trees to the wood to attach them a bit more securely and can decorate the bases with some rocks and flock.


5. Hills
We only have a couple of hills in the club collection. I have a large store of polystyrene packing with which to make some more. My parents (bless them) still collect every piece of unusual polystyrene packaging that comes through the door, just in case I may want to do something with them. I am sure their opinions on my hobby have improved dramatically now that they no longer have to store all this stuff in their own house (or take me to the local GW store and see how much everything costs!).
My overblown random polystyrene/cardboard/wood collection has started to overspill into the garden shed. It is slowly encroaching on the space designated for the bike and lawnmower. One of these days I am going to forget that these items are not terrain pieces and they will be cannibalised for my next project.
So, I have a busy few months ahead of me in preparation for the new gaming year. I do enjoy making terrain as it is generally quick to make and very quick to paint. I can normally bat out a few pieces quite easily over the course of a weekend. I’ll be hopefully posting on my progress over the coming months.


  1. Todd over at sincain40k uses furniture polish as a primary sealer, then follows it up with matte varnish to take away the shine. I still haven't tried it, but he swears by it!

    Tried to find a link about it...can't. Will keep looking .

    1. Thanks Greg, let me know if you find it. Might be worth a try.

  2. LOL @ "(I am aware that you can purchase cake bases on their own, without the cake, but……shut up, don’t judge me!). "

    For my terrain, I just use the same spray-sealant as I do the models, but I use a lot more coats. My terrain holds up pretty well, but it hasn't been that long since I finished it and, since it's at my house, it's used sparingly and only by people I trust--so I'm not sure my advice is worth anything in this instance.

    1. It's definitely worth a shot. My home terrain holds up a lot better, I guess through less usage. The club terrain sees a lot more use, so has to be sturdier. It can be disheartening to see people handle it a bit roughly after the effort you have put in, but that has to be expected at times. Most people are pretty good with keeping it nice.

    2. Also, thanks for the LOL! I try to inject a little humour into some articles, I'm glad it is appreciated.