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To Buy or To Build: Wargaming Terrain

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You’ve finally gotten all of your models assembled, and just finished detailing the paint on the last one. Your miniatures are primed and ready for war, and you’re ready to get them to the table. Looking at what you’ve got, even with a battle mat things can look a bit two-dimensional. You could really bring your game to life with some scenery, but there are some questions that rise. Where do I find terrain? Should I buy it or build it?

Not too long ago we sat down and started working on a battle mat that we made from scratch, and we ended up really happy with it. For a while now I’ve personally been working on my own pieces of terrain for my wargames, and it’s turned into another hobby on its own that I’ve really come to enjoy. When playing miniature wargames, there’s nothing else quite like seeing houses, towers, hills, and forests spring up from your tabletop to put your game in an even more immersive world.

After checking out some tutorials and tons of photos, I grabbed some materials and dove in, headfirst. I wanted to see if building the terrain myself would make me happier than spending tons of money just buying pre-made pieces. Now this isn’t going to be a start-to-finish guide, rather my approach to this article is to provide some examples of home-built terrain and discuss the advantages of building over buying. After this piece, however, we do plan to roll out some step-by-step guides on individual pieces of terrain that will be put on our guides page.

When I started working with creating my own terrain I didn’t really know what to do. All I knew was that we had tons of Warmachine models and we’d not played the game in a long time. I found myself unmotivated to play because we didn’t really have a surface to play on aside from a wooden table. I sat down and thought about it, and decided that having a game board and terrain just might help me be more willing to get the game out and playing.

The first thing I needed to do was build a surface to play on, and thus my game board was born. For this I took a wooden panel that we had sitting around from Kae’s art supplies and primed it. After that I got some wood glue and scattered play sand across the entire board. Next I let the sand dry for a full 24 hours, then sanded the excess off. Then I took some craft paint, painted the surface, and once it was dry I spread some fine turf across the board. Before I knew it I had a brand new 3’x4’ board to play on. I know it’s not standard for Warmachine, but it works well with the game and stores easily. I plan on making another one soon, and we’ll set up some step-by-step with it.

I really like the fallen pillar.

Now that I had a surface to play on, I needed some terrain to help bring the board to life. The first thing that came to mind was a broken section of ruins. I’d read all over the net that the best thing to use for making your own terrain is foam, so I picked up a sheet of the white beaded foam to use. I got a giant sheet for just over a buck, so I couldn’t pass it up. Now white beaded foam is a bit difficult, because when you cut it the foam isn’t smooth. It beads off, which I’ve found is perfect for creating stone structures. When making hills or other types of terrain I’d recommend pink insulation foam. It’s a bit more expensive, but worth it. I drew out some designs on the foam, cut everything out, and then hot-glued it all together. Using hot glue is risky, because it will melt the foam when applied since it’s so hot. The trick is to get the glue on the foam and adhere your pieces together as quick as possible.

Once everything dried I painted a base coat of black acrylic paint on the entire piece, and followed it up with some different shades of gray drybrushing. The end result was weathered-looking stone. I was super happy with the outcome, and I eventually added some details along with some fine turf flock for moss covering

Afterwards I wanted to build a sort of structure with pillars, and I came up with a walled, ruined temple piece. I added in a wall for cover, and some vines around the side of the piece. It came out pretty well, and I simply followed the same pattern as the piece before it.

Of course, no wargame is complete without walls for cover, so those came next. With the walls, I cut out a small piece of foam and made a grid on both sides. Using a hobby knife, I scored the lines to make indentations to indicate stonework. On the insulation foam you can simply use a pencil to indent the lines you make, but this white foam beads up, so a hobby knife is much better. I cut a base out of some modular board (which is perfect for basing terrain pieces, by the way), and glued the wall section to it. Then it received a coat of black paint, followed by some stone drybrushing. Flocking came after, and I finally had a wall piece.

Nothing like peeking through the arches to fire off a spear!

To follow up this wall piece I wanted something with arches, just to test out how rounding the foam worked. Surprisingly, I was able to measure out and cut the foam in a way that came out looking smooth. I made sure to measure out 1-inch squares in case I wanted to use the terrain for other games, and it helped space the arches apart evenly.

Something that nearly every player wants in their game is a forest, or multiple forests. I was completely in the dark about how to make one of my own, so I went in blind to make one. I cut out a piece of modular board for a base and picked up some trees from a hobby store. This is something I’m alright with, since I don’t have wiring, putty, or the patience to make trees on my own. The trees weren’t expensive, and most of the time you can get coupons to make them cheaper. I hot-glued the trees down and flocked the entire base with ballast, fine turf, and clumped foliage for bushes. In an instant I had my own small forest to use whenever I wanted

All in all, I believe making your own terrain for your wargames is rewarding. Of course buying pre-made terrain is faster and easier, but I love the feeling of knowing I made something on my own that I can be proud of. Plus, with the money I’ve spend on materials I’ve made all of these pieces without having to buy more, so I’ve definitely gotten my money’s worth. What’s most important is that I’m happy with my creations.

There are all sorts of forums where you can get help, ideas, tips, and guides to build your own terrain. It’s a great way to bring even more of your creativity into your games. Building all of this has helped motivate me to actually play my games more, and now I can’t put my models down. I’m looking forward to building more pieces, including houses and destroyed buildings to make my games even more interesting.