One of the questions that we often get asked when people see our games on Lard Island News is how we put together our terrain, and never more so than for our Boer War games where we are having to get all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes in order to represent accurately the ground over which the historical battles were fought. So, I thought I’d expose all and let you see how it is done.
The system we use stems from our desire to get the ground we fight over as accurate as possible a representation of the real battlefield. As such we abandoned the terrain boards that we use for demonstration games at the shows as these don’t allow us the flexibility that we want for a simple club evening game. Our starting point there has always been to get a system that is quickly put in place and cleared away at the end of the evening, but also one that allows us to replicate contour maps as accurately as possible. The solution we found is relatively cheap, very flexible and quick to set up as will be seen. Door mats.
Yes, door mats. The stuff you wipe your feet on. At our local DIY outlets in the UK you can pick this plastic backed coir matting on a 1 metre wide roll. I have no idea what “coir” is, nor do I much care, but it looks like this.
We found that a couple of metres was enough to get pretty much all of the variety and coverage that we will ever want, and that cost us in the region of £20.
Of course it isn’t pretty, so you wouldn’t want it sat on top of your table. So we use is as a base. When planning the table we tend to use contour maps of the battlefield. Scan that in to your computer, put the image into Powerpoint or similar and then draw your own contours on top of that. You don’t need to include all of the contours, just choose the key ones you need to get a feel for the ground and then add the details onto that.
For example here’s the map that I used for Talana Hill. The original map came from the British Official History (I got my copy from Naval & Military press, a truly fantastic product with four books of maps). In the image below you can see how I have shown the basic contours on my Powerpoint map, but this is more than adequate to get the battlefield right on the table top. Naturally here I was cognisant of the ground scale of the rules and the table size that I was looking for. For this game we were going to use a 6’ by 7’6” table in order to represent about five square miles of Natal.The first step in setting up our table was to use a selection of door mat shapes to make the most prominent part of the flat topped African hills. As can be seen this is simply a case of assembling lots of bits of irregular shaped bits of door matting.
Once we have done this we set them to one side and look at establishing the basic low lying contours. Again this is done simply using more matting for the basic bulk of the hills. The fact that we don’t have perfect coverage at this stage doesn’t matter as we will see in the next stage.
So, with our basic contours in place we now add some thinner carpet to get create a smoother more rolling terrain than the stepped look of the door matting. This is very thin carpet indeed and ideal for the job. If you can, imagine the type of carpet that vagrants might buy to sleep on under railway arches and you’ll have the idea. Sid bought this. He is not a vagrant, he is from Yorkshire.
The next stage is to cover the contours with a blanket. In this instance I particularly want the top halves of the hills to stand out, so I am putting them on top of the blanket rather than underneath it. Now we add our normal dyed sheets and add the terrain and some scatter. On the hills we use builders Sharp Sand which has been dried out (I just kept mine inside for a few weeks and it dried naturally, but I am sure you coudl accelerate that by using an airing cupboard or similar) as this is mixed with small stoned and grit. Woodland Scenics provide the rest of the scatter which is largely torn up bits of clump foliage. In this example where we are playing in 6mm we have used lichen for the woods. If there were a farm here or there to be added I use Monopoly houses and hotels (these would paint up nicely) whereas the native kraals I bought in 6mm from Irregular Miniatures. I used small stones collected from the sharp sand to fashion the famous wall of Talana Hill in a rough fashion, but rough as it maybe it proved more than adequate for our purposes and visually looked fine. The stream is simply blue felt cut into strips. For larger rivers we tend to use ready made river sections.
And that’s it. Ten minutes to set up, five minutes to clear away. I certainly wouldn’t use it for a participation game at a show, we always make up terrain boards for that, however for a club evening where I am looking to replicate a real battlefield this works for us.
Well, SELWG has come and gone and as a result of a short holiday it has taken me longer to get this report together than I had hoped, but I trust that “better late than never” will apply. We ran two games during the day, I must admit that I over the years our game