All good things must come to an end. Several years after I produced the Epic scale boards in the previous post I replaced them with a set of Realm of Battle boards which Games Workshop had just released. Hard to believe these boards themselves are now around eight years old and the terrain on them significantly older than that when I come to think about it. I wrote this back in 2008 (I think?) so along with the other Epic articles it’s one for the archives.
I do still have these boards and with hindsight and the passing of time there are a few things I would probably do differently now, especially as I make far more use of an airbrush these days for terrain. That being said it’s still a fun battlefield to game on, especially when the city sections are fully loaded up. The scale of the roads might be slightly off but I can see me using this set up for Dropzone Commander with the 4Ground buildings. Anyway, over to me from 2008-ish.
Seven years does not seem like a long time in wargaming, but for my Epic scale terrain boards it was long enough and time they were put out to pasture. Since I constructed them back in 2001 for UK Games Day, they have been revised, expanded, torn down, rebuilt and lugged around the house for impromptu battles and campaigns more times than I care to remember and they have served me very well indeed over the years. But like all things eventually, they were long over-due for replacement and so it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I removed the parts that could be salvaged for incorporation into future terrain projects and laid the boards to rest at the local recycling tip late autumn. They were not alone in that respect either as a set of rather battered 40K boards also followed suit as well, between them freeing up a considerable space in my workshop, not to mention relieving a not inconsiderable weight from the poor floorboards which have been straining under the weight of all that MDF for quite a few years now.
So now that I had made the space, what to fill it with and, more importantly, what should I use as a replacement?
Anyone who knows me well, knows I like making wargaming terrain almost as much as the armies themselves. For me it is a fundamental part of the hobby as there is no better sight than a painted army fighting over spectacular scenery and having one without the other just doesn’t work for me. it was for that reason I expended so much effort producing a set of dedicated gaming boards for Epic in the first place. With the benefit of several years hindsight however, there were a number of areas I definitely felt could have been, well, better. The two biggest irritations for me with them was their inflexibility and weight. The city sections and hills did look great and were certainly fun to game over. However, they never really changed and that became an issue. No matter what campaign we were fighting, or what armies we were using, it was always the same city and the same layout.
The second problem was their size. MDF is not a particularly light material, at least not if you are going to either reinforce it to stop it flexing, or buy it in thick enough sections to be robust enough on its own. By the time I had added the hills, roads and textures I was getting a mini workout every time I set a game up. Not a bad thing in itself I admit, but the novelty did start to wear off after a bit I have to be honest.
Out of the two requirements, the first was the easiest to solve; just go back to using lots of scatter terrain rather than stuff modelled directly onto the boards. Simple, but not as effective looking as a bespoke board to be fair. The second requirement; weight, was a little more troublesome. There is an old adage that says “You get what you pay for” and this is just as true with gaming boards. A ‘lighter’ solution is to use very thinner sheets of MDF and cover it with a layer of foam or polystyrene sheet and indeed this is a method I have used in the past many times over the years. It is cheap, very light and easy to work with. The trouble is it is also not hugely robust or resistant to damage. The finishing quality is also a bit questionable which means to get a good result you have to cover it with a layer of finer texturing and detail which rather defeats the purpose. Perfect for making cost effective and flexible boards that you can replace easily enough as they get worn, but not really what I was looking for.
Another option was to see what pre-manufactured boards were commercially available. This was something I looked into a few years ago with ‘Warscape’, who made vac-formed plastic modular boards and even picked up a sample set. Initially a superb idea, unfortunately they just didn’t quite hit the mark as they were unsupported underneath and just flexed too much for my tastes. Nothing that couldn’t be solved however with a little reinforcement, but that did rather defeat the purpose of buying them in the first place. However, as Warscape sadly appear to have ceased trading a few years ago that ruled them out. Another option I looked at was the textured silicon ‘Ash Waste’ mats produced in the US by Zuzzy which certainly looked to be a worthy product and made it onto my potential short list. Other possible options included various ‘hex’ tile solutions of which there were numerous, however I am not a fan of hex tiles personally so although they ranked very highly in the flexible stakes and ease of storage they just weren’t what I was looking for.
At this stage I was all set to give Zuzzy’s silicon gaming mat a try out due to its ease of storage and clever design, however much to my surprise Games Workshop threw their hat into the modular gaming boards arena metaphorically speaking with the release of the ‘Realm of Battle’ boards. Obviously showing how much I was out of the loop recently, this caught me totally off guard as, although I knew it was something they had explored in the past, the final product was actually a lot more substantial (in more ways than one!) than I had expected. Now, there is no denying that Games Workshop’s modular boards do carry a sizeable price tag and judging by the amount of hostility on certain forums, it is an amount many are not prepared to pay for their gaming table. For me however, I considered them entirely on their merits as an investment into my hobby and how they stacked up against my criteria above. Even weighing in at a hefty 30lb in total when in their carry case, they were still substantially lighter than my original MDF city boards and an awful lot more flexible. What clinched it for me in the end however was seeing them in the flesh and just how solidly constructed they were. There was no denying the quality and ultimately it was that, plus their ease of transport and storage which convinced me to give them a try.
So now I have decided on the format of my replacement gaming table, on to how to make best use out of it. As I mentioned at the start, I decommissioned two sets of gaming boards; 8′ x 4′ of Epic scale terrain including the cityscape and a 6′ x 4′ generic 40K scale board. This left me with a bit of a conundrum, how to paint the boards so that I could use them for both scales and maximise their use.
I considered various colour schemes, but the one I felt was most neutral was a cross between light desert and scrub wasteland. For a long while the classic ash wastes grey was a front runner, but, having done that to death over the past few years I have to confess I also wanted a bit of a change and fancied gaming on something new. As this was all a bit of a theory however, I thought it wise to test it out first on something a little less expensive than the boards themselves rather than paint up six 2′ x 2′ boards only to find out I didn’t like the colour. The candidate I chose to be my test subject was the Citadel modular gaming hill as it was of similar construction and texture to the boards themselves. That plus if it worked they were designed to be used in conjunction with the Realm of Battle hills anyway, so it wouldn’t be wasted. Cunning stuff.
Beginning with a black undercoat I pretty much followed Games Workshop’s own recommended desert palette as the starting point and gave the entire hill a coat of Bestial Brown first of all. Once this had dried I picked out the rocks crevices in Dark Flesh followed by a 50/50 mix of Codex Grey and Graveyard Earth which I dry brushed on followed by two lighter dry brushes of Fortress Grey and then finally Bleached Bone. For the rest of the hill I dry brushed Vomit Brown up to the rocks taking care to blend it into the already painted rock overhangs for a more natural finish and finally a 50/50 mix of Vomit Brown and White. Once this had dried fully I started to add some further colours and textures to help break up the uniformity and make the hill appear a little more interesting.
I started by grinding up some reddish brown artists pastels which I then carefully brushed into some of the cracks and cuts in the rocks to deepen the shading and give the rocks an outwardly reddish tint as if they contained deposits of oxidised metals. Being pastels they had to be sealed onto the surface to stop them being smeared or brushed off. To do this I gave the hill a couple of light coats of hair spray which is perfect for the task. Once fixed in place, I then added the light grass textures which were a combination of static grasses and flock.
Overall the look I wanted to achieve was that of a semi-arid wasteland, almost but not quite desert. This meant I couldn’t use a flocking material that was too verdant or green. I started by mixing two of my static grasses together with some Woodland Scenics harvest gold to create a more suitable bleached out golden brown mix. I then applied this in very light patches on the hill before adding a few areas of mixed turf flock to finish. Once the flock was stuck down I fixed it in place with another light coat of hairspray before sealing it with a fine misting of watered down wood glue applied with a spray bottle. This was then left overnight to set properly. As a final task I blended the green and browns of the flock into a more sun bleached finish with a very light dry brush of rotting flesh and bleached bone.
Satisfied with the colours I made a start on the boards themselves following exactly the same process as I did for the hill
Those pesky skulls
One of the more interesting things about the Realm of Battle boards is the additional attention to details, like the rather bizarre pits of skulls on a couple of the boards. These are really quite nifty, should you be doing a 40K or Fantasy inspired Chaos board. If you are intending to use them for Epic however, then they are probably not quite so welcome. luckily, they are very easily rectified with a little wood glue and some mixed sand and gravel which helped break them up and disguise the majority of them should you decide, like me, that they are not to your tastes.
With the skulls dealt with I set about painting the first four board sections, concentrating on those with the quarter hills and leaving the two flat panels for the end as I had specific plans for those. More on that later.
There is nothing really to add here that I didn’t cover earlier for the modular hill as I followed exactly the same palette and process, other than it seemed to take forever to finish them! Now I should state up front that the quickest and easiest way to paint them is to use a decent sized decorators brush. However, as I wanted to ensure I had good control over the density of dry brushing from one area of the boards to the next to keep them natural looking, I used a number of much smaller brushes which did make the process a great deal slower and more laborious than it probably needed to be if I’m honest. Once I had more or less finished with the main painting, I worked a generous amount of the earthy pastels into the former skull pits which I had left bestial brown and sealed it in place with yet more hair spray before finishing it with a couple of light coats of matt varnish. This gave the broken patches a really nice metal oxide feel to them and helped really distract from any remaining skulls you could still see peeking from the surface. I was originally considering additionally filling these areas with a very thin layer of water effects to create some dirty looking pools, but liked the red and orange rust look to the pits so much I decided to leave them as they were.
Back to the city
Now I mentioned earlier that I had deliberately left the two flat boards until the end as I had a specific plan for those. In decommissioning my original gaming boards, I did manage to successfully salvage pretty much all of the Forgeworld Epic scale roads that I had used. Certainly not wanting to waste these I decided to use them to convert the final two panels into urban sections which I could be mixed in with the other sections to make a variety of cityscapes as no Epic game is truly complete without at least a few urban settlements for the war engines to run amok through.
In keeping to the goal of making the terrain as flexible as possible I decided to mount the roads only and no fixed buildings of any sort. This would give me the option of mixing up a whole variety of intact, ruined or themed buildings on the board creating an almost endless variety of different urban combinations. I also decided to treat each of the two boards as a wholly independent urban piece so that neither were dependant on having to be adjacent to the other but would still not look out of place if they were. This meant ensuring that all of the road sections terminated just short of any board edge as naturally as possible, which as it happens turned out to be a rather frustrating process of trial and error. In the end, the solution I opted for was to break up a few of the road sections so that they looked ‘bombed out’ or in a state of some decay by mixing parts of road with additional sand and gravel.
The placement of the roads was also something I gave consideration to and instead of running them parallel to the board edges as is generally done, I decided to set them at an offset angle from corner to corner. This makes it much harder for the eye to link them precisely from one board to the next and avoids the need to have all of the roads starting and ending at exactly the same points on all edges which I think looks very forced. Personally I also think it gives the table a more natural look of depth as it stops everything looking like it is artificially arranged to a grid pattern.
After cleaning up the resin road sections I salvaged from the old gaming boards, I mounted them onto the unpainted panels using a strong epoxy glue. The pieces of broken road and paving were then stuck down to randomly soften the edges where the roads met the edge of the boards. For the texture I mixed up some coarse gravel and fine sand into the consistency I wanted and then sprinkled it in place in between the road sections. Using a soft brush I then ‘swept’ it into the position I wanted it and stuck the resulting debris down with Woodland Scenics own terrain glue that I applied using an eye-dropper.
After I had given the glue a chance to completely set overnight, I undercoated the boards black and then painted them in exactly the same I did the previous four panels covered earlier before working on the road sections.
As the roads were already black from the primer I started by drybrushing the paving sections evenly with a 50/50 mix of codex grey and graveyard earth. This was then given a very light drybrush of bleached bone to finish, which I continued onto the roadway itself to pick up some of the highlights. To give the roadway a less precise finish I weathered both the paving and road surface using pastels. For the paving a very light coating of a light grey-blue pastel similar in shade to ghostly grey was dusted on and then a charcoal coloured pastel was dabbled over this to weather it and break up the uniformity. I concentrated in particular in areas close to the roadway and around drains and hatches. To blend the pastel smoothly into the paving and road I simply used my finger instead of a brush as it is a lot more subtle and controllable (plus it’s more fun and really unleashes your inner five year old!).
For the roads themselves I used my fingers to lightly ‘smudge’ some dark brown pastels into the centre of the roads and in particular around junctions where dirt and grit naturally tends to get deposited by traffic. This was then further highlighted with a final light smudging of yellowed tan pastel, again using a finger to lightly pick up a few highlights and further blend in the other pastels. To seal the whole finish in place I have the roads a few light coats of hairspray before a final spray coat of matt varnish to protect the surface.
After sticking down a few patches of flock, lichen and static grasses similar to those I used on the hill sections, the boards were more or less complete and ready to have war waged upon them.
Overall I am pleased with the finished result and am very much looking forward to adding some terrain to them to really bring them to life for future games. The whole process from start to finish taught me a couple of useful lessons also. Firstly, no matter how long you think a project will take, it often takes an awful lot longer. I had anticipated that it would take me perhaps a couple of weekends to complete all six boards from start to finish, however the reality was actually a lot longer. Overall, I estimated that I spent close to four full days (including drying time) on the initial four hill sections and an additional full two days on the flat road panels for the painting alone. Admittedly the whole process would have gone a lot faster if I had used larger brushes, however I wouldn’t have got quite the same end result I did using smaller ones.
The other interesting lesson was that the final result may not turn out exactly as expected. When I made a start on the boards I had an image in my head of a sort of arid desert wasteland. As I applied and painted the textures however, what started to evolve was more of a neutral scrubland that was neither strongly one thing nor another. This actually suited my purposes better as it meant I could tie in a far greater variety of scatter terrain to emphasise a particular environment. For example, ancient desert ruins and bleached deadwood to reinforce an arid theme or more lush trees and overgrown features for something a bit more ‘Mediterranean’.
Now the fun really starts as I can start to work on populating the boards with some varied terrain features that tie in with the colours and textures I have used so far. The finished boards above were set out with some of my existing buildings purely to give an idea of how they look with some basic terrain in place. To ensure the terrain and buildings in particular match the boards, my next task will be to revisit the entire current collection to bring it all in line with the roads and ruins. But that is not where it will end, as I have plans for a great deal more scatter terrain yet, including craters, rock mesa’s, airfields, industrial complexes and some very special (not to mention large!) themed pieces. Finding myself bitten by the terrain bug once more, the next year is going to be a very busy one indeed.