I was looking at the Micro Art Studios Infinity bases the other day. I’d seen them on the net before and was pleased to see that they looked even nicer in person (so to speak). Several of them have bits of smashed up Infinity models embedded in them, which allows you to tailor your bases to show you crushing your regular opponent’s forces. Just copy their paint scheme on the wrecks πŸ™‚

The bases set me thinking again about how dowdy most battlefields look in terrain terms. Compared to the highly detailed and lovingly made bases we can now easily buy, most of our* terrain is simplified and characterless, generic and drab. Games are often fought over unpainted boxes or poorly thought out, randomly assembled clutters of AT43 containers, random fuel drums and crates. Of course, many of these things could be on a battlefield, it’s just unlikely that they would be the only thing you’d ever see. We can doΒ  better.

High quality detailed terrain is, of course, no easier to make than miniatures, but almost everyone seems to shy away from even trying. This is understandable in a way, but only to a point. After all, isn’t the point of playing with miniatures rather than card counters so that we can see our battles in glorious 3D? Terrain should be a central part of a game, but most gamers I know (myself included) are reluctant to spend the time, money or effort in making their tabletop anywhere near the standard they aim for in their miniatures. If you marked tabletops out of 10 as people mentally seem to do with models, they would lag several points behind. All of which seems to me to drag the whole experience down to well below where it could and should be.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to be able to game over some incredibly nice tables, and so I know from experience what it can add. Is it just that most people haven’t ever done it, so they don’t know what they’re missing? Is it the expense? The effort? The lack of guidance? What do you think?


*by “our” I mean most gamers, including me. Having been to many conventions, gaming clubs, tournaments and other events, I’ve got a fairly good idea of the average level of painting and terrain, and neither of them are very high. I think this is a great shame.

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18 Responses to Terrain

  1. fiend says:

    Now I own my own gaff, I’ve been trying to put together a collection of terrain, and tbh, it usually comes down to wanting to spend painting time working on the mountain of unpainted models and not getting round to getting paint on scenery.

    This is why I’ve punted for some pre-painted stuff along the way. Got some really nice chinese/cambodian ruins at Partizan a year or two back, and got some more this year.

    In terms of production of models, there’s so many manufacturers out there, if you don’t want to invest time in building scenery, it should just be a case of putting some of the figure budget over to purchasing commercial items, then getting the paints out. GW, for all their faults, have some lovely plastic scenery. The Manor House and its various walls and tower and random decor are gorgeous, for instance.

    Hammer n Ales ginger Sam.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I think you’re right about putting some of the figure budget over to terrain, though you seem reluctant to carry this to (what I think is) its logical conclusion and put some of the budget of time as well as money to it. Of course, it’s your hobby so you balance what’s important to you – there is no right answer (currently my personal budget of time is zero, and I’m sharing that 50/50 between figures and terrain).

      For me, I decided that I’d like a table of terrain that was as good as the models I put on it, and that those models should be as good as I can make them. Of course, I’m nowhere near this yet, but it’s what you’re aiming at that I’m thinking about here.

      In terms of models, I don’t think it matters whether they come pre-built and painted, or you’re building them from scratch out of bits of old cornflakes packet. It’s all about the end result for me. GW do some models that I think would be grand if they didn’t have the skulls, etc all over them, but then they wouldn’t be Warhammer buildings, they’d just be half-timbered houses, and that would never do. They’re great buildings for what they’re intended, and applicable elsewhere if you are less fussy. Me? Well, you know I’m fussy…

  2. fiend says:

    The way my hobbying tends to work is on basis of usage. I normally put painting time into that which I’m putting on the tabletop, or, if there’s a tournament coming up, then that will take over priority.

    Unfortunately, the plan to build up a collection of scenery, under that system, requires that I’m actually getting it on the table and using it, and my dining room has basically been completely taken over as storage space for the missus for quite some time now, so I’ve not been able to use it to play on.

    The watchtower and the walls and fences sold seperately from the GW manor can be built without skullage and with minimal decoration. But, as you say, you’re fussy, and if you do want a very specific look to a piece of scenery, then it’s probably going to have to be hand made anyway.

    This site was pointed out to me yesterday: http://www.antenocitisworkshop.com/ They’ve got all sorts of useful random things, including window and door frames, which would speed up production of home made buildings no end.

  3. Quirkworthy says:

    Antenociti is indeed the site I start with when it comes to looking for the makings of terrain. It’s got a vast array of bits and pieces and a load of great little details as well as whole pieces. Hours worth of exploring to be had on that site πŸ™‚

    I feel your pain on the dining room front. The table I bought especially to game on was hijacked for the dining room ages ago on the assumption that I could get another, and now they don’t make them any more. Need a plan B, but that requires more of the elusive time and money. I keep promising myself that I’ll get more organised (though it’s not happened yet) and sort a permanent gaming table where I can have nice terrain and so on. For myself, I think it’s just a matter of taking a week (or 6) off with clearing and sorting out some space to game properly in mind, and then knuckling down and making it happen. Easy to say, and hard to do when I can see now that any time I put aside will likely be assumed by those around me to be non-productive and largely just me fiddling about (and therefore will be eaten by allegedly “more important” things like painting bathrooms). We shall see though.

    Best of luck with your efforts πŸ™‚

  4. Andy Frazer says:

    Random AT-43 containers!!! That’s my table you’re talking about… why I oughta!!!

    Of course I’m in the enviable position of making my living by creating cool terrain, showing miniatures and talking about games. So, when I want to make a really good table, I just need to open the coffers.

    However, the sheer level of investment needed to make a top quality terrain table dwarfs that of painting a miniature or indeed an army, if you make the majority of terrain yourself (say from insulation foam) you can cut the costs, but once you start buying bits to go on your table, the cost starts to spiral out of control… as an example I have a trench table in the studio with hundreds of pounds worth of resin terrain, from two companies. It took dozens of man-hours, spread across four staff members to complete and that’s before I calculate the filming, editing and reshooting costs required to get the final result to the screen, so it can start recouping its costs.

    The rub is… the table is built so that you can film battles on it and still see all the miniatures… the downside? It’s actually useless for playing “proper” games on!

    That said however, I’m currently planning my next table. It’ll be an Infinity, Yu Jing Japanese themed table. I’m thinking about using the terrain from here: http://www.oshiromodelterrain.co.uk/ otherwise I’ll simply make a wall and cast it in either resin or plaster… in fact! We’re making some printable terrain to stick to foamboard! I could get the Japanese terrain printed… hmmmm
    I’ll be adding a few control panels and printed display screens anyway… probably a few neon Japanese signs too… gotta make it nice and anime!

    So many ideas… so little time.

  5. Quirkworthy says:

    Hi Andy, and thanks for the link to the Oshiro site. Looks very nice. I’ve bookmarked it for doing Bushido scenery. Can’t say I’d use it for Infinity myself, but that’s because I think the hi-tech manga-y-ness of it all is the dominant feature rather than the Japaneseyness. Never be afraid of making up words πŸ™‚

    I’m liking the look of the forthcoming Micro Arts buildings for Infinity, and will get one to try out and see when they’re released. For me, I think starting with that and then adding Asian touches would look better, but as in all these things your mileage may vary. They look good, but I’ll only be able to tell if they’re practical when I can put them together and try moving models in and around them. You need to be able to get in and move models around on the middle floors of buildings in the middle of the game without destroying the set up. My sausage fingers aren’t going to be pushing figures around with any dexterity without getting the roof off first. It looks like you should be able to, but we’ll see how easy it is in reality when I get one. No idea of release date yet though.

    I know what you mean about the differences between film and real gaming terrain. Many of the pieces we had in the GW studio were next to useless for gaming on, but looked really great in photos (which is what they were designed for).

    I disagree with your comment about the investment in time for terrain being necessarily that much more than for an army. It depends a lot on what you’re playing. A table for Infinity, Urban War or 40K Cityscape will obviously be far more labour, cash and time intensive than one for Warhammer or Kings of War where you need the wide open spaces. Bigger armies for the latter, and less terrain to build too. There is also the question of how multi-functional you intend your terrain to be. Trees, hills and the like can often serve for more than one game, whereas Infinity-specific (or 40k-specific) buildings may look odd anywhere else. Personally, I like the terrain to include at least some elements that are unique to that game as part of setting the scene in my mind. That doesn’t mean that most of your “countryside” terrain couldn’t be common across half a dozen games.

    The time or money equation works here as well as anywhere, so yes you can save money by scratchbuilding, but then you spend more time doing it instead. The age old problem. In the end, I think most gamers have more projects in their heads than they will ever find the time, money or space to realise. But it would be dull if that wasn’t the case πŸ™‚

  6. Andy Frazer says:

    With the advent of commercially available “dip”, armies are much less of a problem than they used to be. However, “dip” doesn’t really work on big terrain projects.

    We’re looking into the creation of more “print out” terrain that you can stick to foamboard. Once you’ve sealed the edges with a PVA/Aggregate mix, they’re really very sturdy, even more so if you print the textures out on card.

    I’m not sure of the next range of terrain, but Lloyd has (all but) finished the ruined cityscape… he printed one out yesterday and it looks great… now we just need to get some foamboard.

  7. Quirkworthy says:

    “β€œdip” doesn’t really work on big terrain projects”. Maybe you need a sheep dip πŸ™‚

    No excuses on the foamboard front Andy. When we were playing Smog the sheet you were going to stick the board to was foamcore. It was black too, so any bits you miss with the edging will be nice and shadowy. Looking forward to seeing it on http://www.beastsofwar.com.

  8. Andy Frazer says:

    I would dip everything if I could. The camera doesn’t really pick up the nuances of a good paintjob, so it’s perfect for us.

  9. Quirkworthy says:

    Fair comment. You do have the luxury of never going terribly close with a camera, so you can indeed get away with more. Get yourself a light bath and take close ups and you’ll soon see the difference πŸ™‚

  10. Elromanozo says:

    I really like good terrain, and I have loads of ideas on how to build it, but I don’t…
    For two reasons :
    1) No room.
    2) I don’t play wargames much, as I had to choose betwen minis, RPGs, wargames and work… So I chose work, RPGs, cheap and social and that I can play with my friends, as opposed to wargames, that aren’t cheap and require room… And I didn’t have many wargamer friends at the time. I also paint minis, but not much… Outside of my tutorials for Beasts of War, I paint one mini a month, maybe two, on average. Quality over quantity, I guess…

    I completely agree, where terrain is concerned, we can and should do better than a grass carpet, modular gothic crap, and a few pre-painted blocks… Especially when it’s so easy to make great looking trees, beautiful buildings out of foamcore and plasticard, and interesting futuristic structures with old shampoo bottles, glue-droppers, paint-pots, inhalers, plastic cups, old plastic toys, and other household objects.

    • fiend says:

      It’s not “easy” to make good looking terrain. Takes time to learn how to make it look good, how to make it so it works practically on the battlefield, and to put together a collection of the right “extras” to stop it looking like a shampoo bottle or an inhaler. Though to be fair, a tube/pot of Polyfilla and a stack of balsa sheets will go a long way for the latter.

      And, as Jake says, RPGs can take up a lot of space. Mate of mine has over 200 roleplaying systems, counting main rules and at least a couple of supplements for each system…

      • Quirkworthy says:

        Making terrain well is no easier than painting figures well, in my view. It requires a different set of skills and includes more about how things interact with it than most painting projects, and it’s far from easy. One of my original points was that the standard of terrain in the gaming hobby was generally fairly poor, and I stand by that thought. I think it’s also true to say that there are a number of outstanding painters, and far fewer outstanding terrain builders. It also seems to me that this situation is largely because we (meaning tabletop gamers in general) seem to put far less import on terrain than models, rules or sometimes even what snacks to have. I think this is all rather a shame, as I’ve played on some world class tabletop battlefields (in terrain terms) and know that it really does make a big difference to my enjoyment.

        I’m coming at all this from a position of having had little time to practically do anything over the last few calamitous years, and am set on treating terrain as part of the whole project when I build any new armies. It’s not a crusade or anything near as grand, just where I’ve come to in my own thinking, and something I’m happy to share with you all and see what feedback anyone has. Soon as I’ve finished this current bit of work and had a moment to catch my breath, I’ll be sorting this site out a bit more with a project or two that you can follow, comment on, laugh at, critique, and generally prod me into completing πŸ™‚

  11. Quirkworthy says:

    Wargaming is indeed a bigger space hog than RPGs, though even those piles of rules, adventures and supplements can mount up. Terrain particularly eats up shelf space, especially the nice stuff you don’t want to just bung in a pile. If you’ve spent the time/effort/money on making something nice you aren’t going to store it in a way that will require constant retouching and repair, and all that care tends to mean more shelf room.

    One day, I will indeed have a glorious and beautiful gaming set up, but that will take time. Happily, I’ve been talking with Jan at Micro Art Studios, and he sounds like he’s got some very nice tricks in the works that are going to save me much time and effort (at the mere cost of a few easily replaceable pounds). Roll on the release dates, that’s what I say.

    I always like the idea of being able to make nice terrain pieces out of household rubbish, though I have yet to manage it myself. All I ever ended up with was something that looked like household rubbish painted funny colours. I find it hard to see past its previous incarnation as a pop bottle, or plastic cup (but maybe that’s just me). All power to those that do not share this affliction.

  12. As an avid Urban War player i find that terrain is important, my own table is full of cool trenches from http://www.kallistra.co.uk and Hexagon Construction Sets. (i’ve never had the nerve to use the old Necromunda card terrain yet for UW). but it took us ages to get all the terrain painted up, and once we had started it really didn’t take as long as i thought it would have.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’ve used Necromunda terrain for UW battles more than a few times, and the Thought Police haven’t got me yet πŸ™‚

      Painting in general I find hard to predict in terms of timescales for completing either models or terrain. Sometimes it’s done in a trice, and other times I seem to get nowhere and the times flies by.

      • My table to support magnetic boards is done but is not that special except that I am not using any floor space as it is integrated with the space my exercise equipment is in. My next project is the first of my model railroad / war gaming tables or in model rail terms benchwork that will be 30 inches by 12 foot. At first I will use this 100% for war gaming. This module will have it’s own lights and a backdrop which is not normally talked about with war gaming tables but is very common with model railroading. I expect to be working on the table/terrain for two years before I would call it complete to put the time and effort into perspective. Before trains are added to the table it will be covered in ruins made using Hirstarts molds. I will be starting with the ruins after the table is up so we will see how much time they take I am actually optimistic I might be able to make progress on them with minimal time needed to cover the whole table. The ruins will be modular so they can be rearranged. This means all my skirmish battles will all take place in the ruins of the vast lost city of the “old ones”. Off the top of my head the total costs including lighting, lumber, Hirstarts molds, plaster etc.. could easily top a thousand dollars and even make it to two thousand but keep in mind this is also a primary hobby activity spanning two years so with cost averaged over two years the cost is manageable. I assume that most people in the war gaming hobby are already spending this much a year. For backdrops check this out [http://backdropwarehouse.com/indexbdwh.htm]. To put things in perspective the time to complete a model railroad layout is often measured in decades and they talk about lifetime layouts. For a long time my ruins terrain will be stored in place on the table so at least I will not have a storage problem in the near future. In the end three more tables 30 inches by 12 feet will be added so trains have space to run.

      • Quirkworthy says:


        That’s going to look very impressive, even before it is entirely complete. I look forward to the photos πŸ˜‰

        Backdrops aren’t normal in wargaming because (I suspect) of a mixture of the impermanence of most layouts, and also the fact that you often want access to all 4 sides to move models. If your (initial) table is only 30 inches deep then you will be able to reach across it easily enough without the need to get round the back. The only common usage I know of for backdrops in gaming is in photography for product shots and magazines. I have had them myself on a couple of gaming set ups over thee years, but not regularly. They can look really good though.

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