Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Eleventh Hour

The Great War terrain project is nearing completion - at least of stage one. Stage two will involve constructing inserts like gun emplacements, pill boxes, ruined buildings, and the like.

As you'll see from an earlier post, I began building back in early December, 2011 so its taken me almost two months to do the basic modeling of nine modular terrain boards. The total playing area is 36 square feet, with a number of different set ups possible. The most common layout would be 6 ft x 6 ft.

The boards at this stage are certainly "playable" but like any DIY project there's potential here for plenty of fine tuning and additional detailing. I've also made a few mistakes along the way. In general the boards fit together well, but there are a few unsightly gaps between some. Unfortunately the tools I was using were not up to cutting precise and clean lines in styrofoam. I wish I'd made one of those large styrofoam cutters you can find online, with the capacity to cut big pieces cleanly. The other mistake was that of making some of the trenches too narrow. I had originally wanted to produce trenches that could accomodated double-mounted figures, but somehow I didn't follow through on that with the result that some of the trenches will only allow the passage of one miniature at a time.

Anyway, on to the last stages in producing the boards. I added corrugated iron and other simulated reinforcing to the revetments in the communications trench and command positions, and then painted on the elastomeric roof coating, making sure that it filled any gaps between the tops of the trench reinforcement and the adjacent Styrofoam. Then, in a method I'd used for the other boards, I sprinkled on a mix of play sand and aquarium gravel. The board was left to dry for 24 hours and then the loose materials were shaken free.

I brushed on the usual combination of earth pigments, leaving the first coat to dry over a twenty-four hour period, and then waiting a couple of hours between drybrushed coats of lighter terrain color.

Next it was on to the fine details. I had to go back to the now hardened sandbags and fill in any gaps and holes that had developed as a result of the shrinkage that occurred during the drying process. Once these were filled and dry, I painted on a layer of Woodlands Scenics scenic cement that dries clear and should hold the sandbags together. I base coasted the sandbags with Delta Creamcoat Antique White, followed by a wash of Vallejo German WWII Beige Camouflage. I highlighted this with Antique White again, and finally with a basic white.

While I was waiting for that to dry, I applied a thin layer of roof coating to the bases of the trenches and also to any gaps that were visible along the edges of the revetments. Next I stuck down pieces of cut up card and wood to represent duckboards. This part of the process is a little messy as you have to get your fingers right down into the trenches, and the roof coating has a tendency to stick like glue to anything that touches it. While the roof coating was still wet on the base of the trenches, I also sprinkled on a layer of sand. Once again, all this was left to dry and cure for a day or so.

After lightly shaking off the excess texturing material, it was on to the task of detailing the trenches. I laid down the foundation earth color, and then the highlighting. I also applied pieces of wood to the now dry corrugated iron and planking revetments to represent buttressing. With all previous stages dry, I proceeded with base coating and drybrushing the duckboards and revetments. For the corrugated iron I used a base coat of Craft Smart Dark Grey, highlighted with Craft Smart Grey and then white. For rust patches I brushed on Vallejo Orange Brown # 981. I pre-painted the wooden upright supports for the corrugated iron before gluing them in place. For the woodwork on the interor of the trenches I used a base coat of dark Burnt Umber highlighted with Vallejo Orange Brown, followed by Delta Creamcoat Antique White. This was a very time consuming process, but the results have really brought the terrain features to life. There's much more that could be done to add details and fine touches, but at this point I'd rather move on to painting the opposing forces that will one day inhabit the battlefield

The last step involved something of a decision - should I add some grass or not? I first laid out the entire set of terrain boards to see the impression that would be gained by a vast expanse of churned up earth. It was, as I expected somewhat monotonous and depressing - probably not far from the realities faced by all who spent time in the trenches.

I then proceeded to add touches of greenery. I started tentatively at first, realizing that less might eventually mean more. Overdoing it at this stage would mean laying down another layer of roof coating, texture, and paint to cover the mistake. I wanted to avoid doing that if possible.
I decided on an selection of static grasses from Woodlands Scenics. The results you can see for yourself below.

One of the last steps was almost accidental. I'd wanted to create a varied color to the terrain boards already dominated by a reddish brown. I chose burnt umber and mixed it was Future Floor Finish and then painted a wash on the interior of the shell holes. Looking at the boards the next day I realized that the wash had dried with a glossy finish and that the Future had pooled in the deepest recesses of the shell holes. It produced an effect close to wet mud.

So there you have it. Two months more or less from start to finish. I will eventually create a few more boards and also add some detailed inserts. But for now I've had enough of terrain making, and I'm looking forward to painting up some figures to go with the battlefield. More on that next time.


  1. Inspirational stuff! Watch out for that small kid in the blue hoodie. If he leans on the table I can see it all falling to the floor and therein lies disaster. Keep the kid away... MAN project. Looking forward to seeing some shots of this being used.

  2. Magnificent, Digger. These look really tremendous. Well done, Sir! I like the way that some of the trenches are narrow and accomodate single figures - not at all an unrealistic feature of some of the older trenches on the front line, apparently. The sandbags look fantastic and the green Woodland Scenics effect certainly does raise the boards from being uniform brown.

    You have finished your boards in about the same time as I took to make mine. Fantastic work again, mate. You deserve : (i) a large cool beer; and (ii) to get on to the fun part which is gaming on them! I'm sure you'll really enjoy that part! Awesome!

    Really looking forward to the next part with the figures.

  3. Good stuff Digger - great terrain board. Love to see the game on it!


  4. I concur, the boards look fantastic. Now if you lived a bit closer I have some US Marines that are just about ready to go.

  5. @Mark - a timely warning. Never under estimate the destructive power of a three year old. Actually the boards are fairly secure. Unseen beneath them is half an old table tennis table.
    @Sidney - yes mate a beer sounds good. Looking forward to sharing the results of my painting too.
    @Doc - yes I can't wait to get up and gaming.
    @ Kris - Any time you're in San Diego a game will be a pleasure

  6. cracking job on that table well done!


  7. Clearly a labour of love which I think looks fantastic. May I suggest a few stunted forest tiles which can be placed on as required to add a little variety?

    Looking forward to the next update and now Following your blog!

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