1 April 2016

Terrain boards - 01

A good spot of holiday geeking today. Last year I built a gaming table, complete with shelves and a sunken surface to hold terrain boards. It has seen some action (Inquisimunda, X-Wing, Knights' Quest, Dragon Rampant, and Blood Bowl), but it hasn't reached its potential yet because it was missing its terrain boards.

Time to do something about that!

My intention, since the start of this project, was to produce four terrain boards that could be rearranged to give multiple configurations of three of them. One would be completely flat, the other three will have more or less river and hill and are shown below.

Completely mixing metric and imperial, the boards will be 100x50cm to give me a total of 5'x3.3' (the largest table I could get away with). You'll see that  I carefully measured out the position of river entrances and exits, as well as that big hill in the middle, to ensure I could rearrange them. Like I said, the fourth board will be essentially featureless to allow a big flat plain between two hills for larger battles.

I transferred the design to the boards:

And then started to cut foam. Good heavens above, cutting blue foam with a kitchen knife is one the most thankless hobby tasks ever encountered! Worse than cleaning mold lines off or dealing with a badly cast undercut. In the words of a student of mine, "literally the worst thing in the world ever, including the angry little man with the bad moustache!" I knew the project would die today if I had to cut it all by hand.

Fortunately, I'm moderately technically competent and have access to a school science department. Time for an impromptu hot-wire cutter! I had to go and feed my fish at school anyway today, so while I was there I borrowed a couple of bits :)

It was as simple as I'd hoped. A power pack that would give me 4V and a nice high current, two leads with crocodile clips on the end, and those clips holding a short length (15cm?) of bare metal wire. I tried copper (too low resistance, the power pack kept tripping) and iron (didn't get hot enough) wire as well, but nichrome did the job just right.

With that home-made device working well, I started to carve out the riverbeds and shape the hill.

After a good lungful or two of extruded polystyrene, and with the assistance of mini-Rab #1 working the on/off switch, I got the basic shapes to my satisfaction and got on with smoothing out the contours with premixed plaster ("Diall" brand from B&Q)

The splodge, bottom right, is a small hollow. It proved surprisingly difficult! I'm aiming for a gently rolling surface but shall need to look at some other terrain projects to see how to get that effect.

What do you think so far? Any points to bear in mind from your own creations? Things I should include?



  1. Looking good so far mate and great move with the wire cutter. I bought one which was great for small jobs but even with the extender it wasn't quite up to the really big pieces I wanted to cut for my Shrine of Rigg.

    Can't wait to sort my own man cave out so I can get something a bit more permanent like this built myself...

    1. Thanks, Steve, even my shakes-her-head-at-the-time-I-spend-geeking wife was impressed by my technical tomfoolery.

  2. Looking good. Getting a gently undulating surface is the hardest thing in the world, in my experience. Flat prairie might be a better idea.

    1. I fear you're right, Herbert, but I'm not quite ready to give up on my dream just yet! Or not completely, anyway :)