As 2014 comes to an end, thoughts on Lard Island turn to next year’s projects and, in particular, our games on the show circuit. By the middle of the year we plan to have our rules for ultra-modern conflict, Fighting Season, published. Down in Australia, well known military author Leigh Neville has been working hard on the beta version of the rules and we will be joining him on the project as of the first week of January when playtesting begins with a vengeance. Of course, that means we need new figures and new terrain, so my Christmas holiday project is to build a small Afghan village in time for our first show of the year, Crusade in Penarth in January. (Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda to the lads down there in South Wales, and a Pasg Hapus while we’re about it!)
Normally my approach to any build project is to throw myself in with very little planning. This time, however, I managed to put my back out just before the project started and, as a result, I have had adequate time lying on a hard floor and scanning my iPad, to research Afghan villages fully. There are some great tutorials for wargamers on the web, but I must admit that my time was largely spent scanning Google Earth and watching the Ross Kemp in Afghanistan boxed set of DVDs that were meant to be arriving with Santa. Fortunately my missus took pity on me and let me have them early.
My objective with the DVDs was not to revel in Mr Kemp’s limited selection of liberally applied expletives, but to look specifically at the terrain. I had originally hoped that at least some of my North African houses would make adequate stand-ins, but the truth was somewhat different. What both the DVDs and Google Earth showed was that unlike the majority of wargaming models one sees, the compounds were large open spaces with very little in the way of buildings or cover. This seems to me to be rather important as if the models are jammed into a small space with a tiny courtyard at the centre this fails to present the players with the same tactical challenges as the troops in the ground. As a result, I decided to follow the real pattern and try to create some nasty open ground for troops to fight across.
Being flat on my back also allowed me to spend a bit of time on eBay sourcing the best materials cheaply, but the core component was going to be high density polystyrene of which I bought a 4′ by 2′ sheet 2″ deep and a sheet of 3mm MDF which would serve as the bases for the models. A word of warning here. I purchased the polystyrene before I began my research as they make perfectly good 12 foot high walls. The problem is that many Afghan compounds have walls much higher than that, often 18′ high. So how I overcome that problem I have yet to decide. Were I starting again 1’d buy 3″ deep polystyrene as this can always be cut down. Secondly, whilst we Brits went metric in 1971, the truth is that we didn’t and, for most normal people, we still haven’t. This is not just reflected in the fact that children will still tell you their weight in stones and height in feet and inches, but also that most of our wood is still cut in Imperial sizes which they then approximate to a metric size. A key example here is that 120cm by 60cm MDF sheets in Homebase have actually still been 4′ by 2′ as they were cut on the old Imperial machines. Now this is just changing and they are going with metric. So if your terrain collection, like mine, is based on 4′ by 2′ boards, it would be worth your while stocking up on these while you can find them. Which has nothing to do with the Afghan village, but I thought I’d mention it.
Right, so to begin with I got my board of “nearly 4′ by 2′” and marked out my terrain modules. The basic size was 12″ square which would be a large individual building, such as the mosque, or the main part of a larger compound. On the “not quite 12″ square” bits I drew up some secondary parts of a larger compound, some smaller single building compounds. Below that on 6″ square sections or smaller, I drew a mix of small wall section modules, so that sections of walls could be destroyed and replaced, a few small gardens and the odd 6″ length of wall which are always handy. This system would, I hoped, allow for a fair bit of variety. I need to get a second sheet to do the crops and irrigation channels, but that’s for later in the project. For now I completely filled my MDF shape. You can see where the mosque will be.
Unfortunately, pencil doesn’t show up well in the photos, so I manipulated the contrast on the image below so you can see better what I did.
The next step was to cut up the board into the individual modules. I used a basic chippy’s saw for this and then cut the corners off with a set of pliers. I find that rounding the corners softens the visual effect and, pragmatically, it avoids bumped corners looking tatty with use.
Part of the plan not mentioned yet was to make the village look a bit more rugged by the addition of some large rocky areas with houses build on or around them. I also wanted the flexibility for some games of placing the buildings so that a wadi or stream could run through the village, so the rocky areas would help achieve this look. Here I deployed my new toy, a hot wire cutter for polystyrene. I got mine for eleven quid on eBay and it has alll the qualities of something bought for that price. It is horrible cheap plastic and powered by a battery, but it does the job. The more expensive options which were forty quid and more would undoubtedly look nicer, but this is more than adequate. Within moments I was wielding it like Zorro.
Here you can see the section with rocky outcrops. The top ones are the ones where the wadi can go. They don’t look great, but they will do once we sand them down and apply some real rocks. I stick mine down with a hot glue gun which is perfect for the job.
Finally, I sanded the polystyrene down and the edges of the boards. I used a sander, the type you do the skirting board with, and this makes it easier than doing it by hand, but it is still a bloody tedious chore. PLEASE do make sure you wear a good mask when sanding MDF, that stuff is more toxic than apartheid and can be a killer if it gets in your lungs. Cheap masks are next to useless. I bought a respirator type mask years ago and that is a worthwhile investment. I also do all of my sanding outside and ideally in a decent breeze.
With that done, I decided to start at the simple end and just knock out some small gardens and walls. I want to build up to the more complex structure and learn as I go. I also need some time to think about those 18′ high walls and how to crack that nut. Here I used a sheet of blue stuff which was knocking about in my spares box. It’s about 1cm thick and about 12″ by 3.5″.
I measured this against one of my Empress Miniatures British infantry (undercoated at this stage) and reckoned that about 9/10th of an inch was the right height for the garden wall. That small sheet was just enough to do this lot.
You may be wondering why the triangular gardens. One of the issues with modular terrain is that it can be very orderly, too orderly for an Afghan environment. Afghanistan is one of the few places on earth not to have been influenced culturally by European colonists and, as a result, they have one of the obsession with order that we seem to have, as a result the very idea of an orderly Afghan village is not quite right. The triangular garden sections allow us to break up straight lines in our terrain, as we see here, with the two blank boards masquerading as buildings.
I used the hot wire to shape the tops of the walls in an irregular fashion. The tool was perfect for this but for cutting straight lines I’d still recommend a sharp knife. Finally I added some rocks by drawing them on with a ballpoint pen. When we goe later in the process I’ll be adding some real rocks to make this wall look more real than it does at present. Anyway, I reckon it’s time to move on to a larger structure. That should be interesting…
With the Germans on the back foot, I, playing the British have a serious decision to make. I have achieved my red line objective of breaking into and capturing the enemy;’s main defensive positions at Sheik al Fak, this in itself in not an inconsiderable victory and I have the option of consolidating on this