Monday, 29 March 2010

Painting the Town Green and Super-Detailing

The final stages in building Trench Terrain are perhaps the most fun of all. Before you paint the terrain, it looks like, well, lumps of card and dyed green towelling stuck to blue Styrofoam. There's nothing much to catch the eye.

It’s time to bring the terrain to life. There are loads of terrain painting guides on the internet and in the Games Workshop terrain books I posted on before. As I mentioned in an earlier Blog, painting terrain needs a different gear to painting miniatures. Think Macro, not micro.

We’re talking here about matt emulsion paint and home decorating brushes instead of Vallejo paints and size 00s. For wargamers used to being bent over at a painting table trying to pick out details of uniforms, it’s actually a really pleasant change. What I also found really useful was the help of friends from the TwoFatLardies wargaming group, simply just coming over and having a beer with a paintbrush in hand.

Painting terrain is a bigger job than painting miniatures, but in my view it should always be approached as a really fun, relaxing, “pressure off” part of the hobby.
The base coat of paint should help blend everything in, but it’s when you start to dry brush the terrain, and the trenches in particular, that everything really starts to come alive. Our base coats were a fairly dull green straight out of the matt emulsion tin for the grass, a dark brown for the shell-craters and dark grey for the soil and rock thrown up around the shell craters. I kept the interior of the trenches a dull brown, and then highlighted with a dusty ochre colour.

I felt after trying a few colour schemes for the trenches that it didn’t really matter if it wasn’t colourful. My reasoning went as follows. Firstly, your carefully painted miniatures will be in the trenches and you don’t want anything to gaudy or bright in the trenches to detract from them when people are watching or playing the game. Secondly, the main thing to remember about painting the trenches is to dry-brush and bring out with texture of the mud and the wood planking – and you don’t need fancy or gaudy colours for this. Remember to also try some dark rust/ brown paint washes for the rust on the corrugated iron.

The towelling should be dyed green already, and the PVA/ Interior Filler mix will have seeped into the towelling giving a rock hard base. This is a great, sturdy gaming base. But being a bit paranoid about how the terrain would fare in a year of heavy use and touring round different shows, I wanted to make the terrain as durable as possible. I therefore mixed some neat PVA with a base dark green paint to cover the towelling. I’m not sure this is essential, but it makes the towelling incredibly rigid and durable. Basically, once it’s glued down and covered with PVA/ paint wash, the towelling is going nowhere for a decade at least! Dry-brushing with neat green and ochre shades looks good, especially when finished off with some poppy scatter.

The following action from one of the pre-Salute 2009 games should give an idea of the final colours we used. First, an overhead view of the trenches with the German defenders under pressure from "C" battalion of the Royal Tank Corps....

....and then a close-up view of the trenches, with the German eingriffkampferen streaming forward to stem the Royal Surreys' attack...

Super-detailing, or “Can you see my signal rockets?”

What we did after finishing the basic trenches was take a break and play a few games. We got the feel of trench wargaming and started to think about whether we wanted any extra boards or whether we wanted to make any new large scale terrain items. While we were deliberating, I started adding some super-detail to your trench system...all the little items which makes the terrain come alive.

My maxim here was "catch the eye, but not too much". Personally, I think this is one of the nicest parts of finishing a project – coming back after a month or so and making just a small detail to enhance the overall shape and appearance of the terrain. But I didn't want to overwhelm the overall look of the Trench Boards with too much going on. I had in my own mind some large additional centrepiece terrain items (which I will be posting on later this Spring in part 2 and part 3 of this Blog), so anything going into the trenches as additional small terrain items needed to be eye-catching, but not over-powering. They needed to be something which people would like to see when they caught sight of it, but not something which unbalances the overall effect in the game. Super-detailing is quite a personal choice, and that was mine.

So, here, in that vein, are some SOS signal rockets made from scraps of balsa wood and some barbecue skewers just by the entrance to a Stellungsbattalion bunker. You can also see a pile of boxes and a large rat from Pardulon Miniatures ( watching the action.

Some other things I've made since have been various boxes of stores, a pile of hand-grenades at the ready and a couple of casualty figures to specifically fit within the front trench line. Here's one I called "Communications Down"...

And here's a selection of other German Stellungbatallionkampfer casualties to lie in the front line trench or the space between the front line and the support line trenches....

Well, that's the end of Part 1 of the Blog. Trench terrain is not anymore complicated or expensive than normal wargames terrain. Basically, at least in my book, it can be as “cheap as chips” (I’m from Yorkshire, after all), but it does take a while, simply because of the scale. However, if you have the space to try it, friends to help you out and an adventurous approach, I'd venture to say that absolutely anyone reading this Blog can make something just as good as what we produced. As I mentioned in the last post, the next few blogs will focus on constructing a ruined village on the Western Front.

Hope you can join me for that.


  1. This has been an absolutely wonderful series of posts. Thank you. I have board envy.

    ...and great trick about that toweling. That's brand new to me. Nice one.

  2. Thanks bsmoove for the kind comments and for "following" ! Towelling terrain was something I really wanted to try, and we've been really impressed by how durable it has been. Hardly any sign of wear in 12 months of hard wargaming. I hope you'll enjoy part 2 of the Blog, coming in April, when I move on to blogging the ruined Flemish village we built for the Crisis 2009 show in Antwerp and a series of wooded Terrain Boards based on the novel "Copse 125" by Ernst Junger.

  3. I love the detail. Go man go. This is what miniature gaming is all about.


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