Monday, 26 July 2010

Super Detailing

In the last post I blogged about constructing ruined buildings for the fictional village of Vlissinghe which we made for the TooFatLardies’ participation game of “Through the Mud and the Blood” at several wargame conventions last year. I’d taken the blog posting up to a stage I called “95% finished”. I’d like to mention in this post about how I went about adding the extra steps to add the last “5% stage”.

Before I continue, I’d like to say that the “5% stage” is very optional. Not every wargame building needs it. And even if you think that a building might need that extra detailing, my view would be that the building probably doesn’t need it immediately after you’ve got to the “95% stage”. It’s certainly viable to wait some time after getting to the “5% stage”. On a couple of occasions, I’ve used the nearly-finished buildings in a couple of games, trying to gain a sense of gaming “history” about what’s happened in the building.

That being said, like many gamers, I tend to think that wargames terrain pays back what you put into it. And part of the trick of creating a sense of a time and place in a wargame is in those details of the terrain which catch your eye as you play. So while I don’t rush to add those super-detailing steps, I do like to add them at some point.

In no particular order, here are a few (non-exhaustive) general themes which I follow for super-detailing wargames terrain

1. Setting a time and a place

One of the things that the super-detailing stage can help with is setting a time and a place for your wargame. With our participation game at Antwerp we wanted to set the scene for a Great War battle in a fictitious Flemish village forming part of the German reserve lines on the Siegfried Stellung. To try and achieve this, I added some small details like a scratch-built set of German military signposts and dotted some largish rats around the cellars, craters and trenches on the terrain boards.

I also added a Flemish gabled café with an authentic Flemish name (“de Witte Lelie”). I also added a café sign to try and reinforce the theme.

One unexpected, and slightly difficult to spot connection with Flanders, was to use the special Crisis 2009 giveaway figure, Dulle Griete, in the terrain. A model of Dulle Griete was kindly sent to me by Willie B. of the Tin Soldiers of Antwerp (thanks, Willie) and was used as the figurehead of the village Church, elevating her to the standing of a local saint, Sint Griete.

I hoped that these small touches would catch the eye and set the tone. Perhaps a player or viewer of the game wouldn’t catch all of the hints, but I hoped most of them would be spotted.

2. Through the Keyhole

I sometimes think it’s strange to construct wargame buildings which stand empty, wrecked and battle scarred but with little or no rubble and few signs of life. Of course, there are really good reasons for this. Rubble, splintered and wrecked furniture and fallen roof beams all get in the way of moving figures around the interior of the buildings. In my view, the trick in my view is to give the impression of all the chaos of war, without modelling the rubble as an integral part of the terrain model.

I therefore tried to find some model pieces which could be based inside the damaged buildings, ranging from a wardrobe and an old metal bathtub to a series of bottles and crates in a cellar and a rusty old stove. Most of these I found on the internet, supplied as cheap doll house furniture. For less than £10 I had all the furniture I needed to scatter into a series of bases which could then be inserted on the floors of the damaged buildings.

I tried to match the floor covering of the base with those of the buildings the items were to be placed in. I added a few extras from, basically, scrap-box items: some bottles and beer tankards from an old tavern set for roleplaying games, some letters for the writing bureau scattered on the floor, plenty of rubble (bricks made out of matchsticks or Styrofoam), and bits of balsa and cardboard. Quite a few of the model pieces were made for specific buildings, such as the boxes, bottles and barrels for under "de Witte Lelie" café.

There’s probably no end of modelling you can put into this stage. I had thought of adding family photographs to the walls, but sanity, fortunately, intervened.

You might remember the gaping hole in the floors I’d modelled to give the players a view of the cellars of the buildings in the village, whether filled with a casualty station, a command group or a pack of rats sheltering from the shelling. Despite the cinematic feel of looking down into the crypt of the Church, we found that placing figures on the floor had an added danger that the figures might fall through. I came up with a cheap and easy solution of making floor “coverings”. These are basically a piece of thick card, with some modelled planking or floor tiles (both cardboard) and some rubble. The floor “covering” can be placed over the hole in the cellar, and the figures can safely stand on the “covering” when they need to. The “coverings” also serve to cover over the cellars in the early part of the game for those players wanting to deploy figures in the cellar at the start, but away from the gaze of their opponent.

Here's a couple of pictures showing the furniture scattered throughout a couple of buildings, first "de Witte Lelie", and then a badly damaged shop.

3. I love the sound of breaking glass

One optional extra I tried for the first time in modelling the village was to add broken glass in some of the windows. This was perhaps the most fiddly part of modelling, the buildings, mainly because of the difficulty of fitting the glass into the windows once I had finished construction.

I used clear modelling plastic (picked up from the wonderful 4D Model shop in East London) which I cut out using a scalpel and a pair of sharp scissors. I cut the glass to fit the standard sized windows I’d used in the various buildings, and then cut each window in two, using each cut half in a different window.

The advantage of using the clear plastic was that it was easy to cut and splinter and could be scored with a scalpel or hobby knife. I glued the glass into the frame using araldite epoxy resin. I chose an epoxy as this would take longer to set than superglue, allowing me to place the glass into each window and move it around to get the best position.

Once the glass had set, I thought that it looked a little strange having pristine clear glass in a series of shelled out, battle scorched buildings. I therefore added some dirty grey-green paint effects around the windows along the sill, and then mixed up some green and sepia washes from the Citadel washes range. I then painted dirty wash over the shattered remains of the windows, leaving a grimy but still transparent covering as if the window had been stained with soot, smoke and general dirt during the period the building had been damaged. I used any small off-cuts of the clear plastic as shattered “glass” on the ground.

4. Specific scenario details

Sometimes there’s a special terrain piece which really adds to the game. In Peter Barton’s wonderful book of panoramas on the battle of Passchendaele, there’s an illustration of a German concrete bunker built inside a Flemish farmhouse. These were not uncommon features of the Flanders part of the Siegfried Stellung, and I wanted to try and build a pillbox into one of the buildings along the front line of the trench boards. The pillbox was fairly easy to scratch build out of an off-cutt of Styrofoam, and fits into one of the damaged houses.

I tried something similar regarding the crypt of the church of Sint Griete, finding a set of gravestones and an old Citadel Paladin on Ebay. While the crypt was meant to represent a large area which could be used a a command strongpoint for the defending forces, it formed too good an empty space to be left without some ecclesiastical furniture! All of the crtpt, except the gravestones and the Paladin was scratch-built from bits-box odds and ends, including a felt-tip pen top at each corner to resemble a stone column.

5. The detritus of war

Finally, I added a selection of military detritus, such as a couple of machine guns and rifles discarded in craters, spent bullet cartridges, abandoned helmets and the occasional dead soldier.

These were pretty easy to add to the boards and the buildings, with the spare weapons being available from a variety of retailers online. I thought it was easy to over do these aspects, so I used them in a couple of places and tried not to exaggerate them.

6. There and Back Again

Last but not least, and mindful of the trip to Antwerp, I used one of the Styrofoam boxes as storage for the village, cutting out a place for each of the buildings in one of the thinner Styrofoam sheets.

So, What's Next....

Well, that brings me to the end of the blog posts dealing with how we constructed the trench terrain and village boards for the "through the Mud and the Blood" participation game at Crisis 2009 in Antwerp. In the next post, I’ll pass on some of our experiences of running the participation games last year, as well as looking forward to some of the other Great War wargaming topics I’d like to cover in this blog in the future.


  1. More great advice, I'll get back to my WW1 inspired terrain in a month or two. I'll run "Through the Mud and the Blood" on it someday yet. ;-)

  2. Thanks Muskie, and way to go! "Mud and Blood" is a fun set of rules, although I am biased!! Good luck with the terrain and the games.

  3. Great post once again. I'm white with envy looking at your terrain and buldings. I wish I could achieve just even half of what you show in the photos.

  4. Anibal, that is really kind - thanks for the comment as well. When you're thinking about making terrain, half the battle is having the right materials, and then the other part is just having the inspiration. Now I've never met a wargamer who didn't have the insipration! And the materials - well that's what I've tried to cover in the blog. I'd honestly say that if you can build and paint a Chimera, or an IG Sentinel, or a resin Tiger in 28mm you'd definately have the skills to do anything shown on this blog. And looking at your wonderful blog, Anibal, at those tanks and that railway station, you're more than got what it takes:)

  5. wow everytime i veiw your site i'm blown away with the detail of your work the models are amazing

  6. Galpy,

    That's very kind, thanks for the comment. I only hope you like the Great War figures I'll be blogging in the future just as much.

  7. Beautiful work, Sidney - very inspirational. The doll house furniture is brilliant and when used in the shelled buildings really evokes a strong feeling of sadness and loss. The terrain then becomes not just some anonymous burned-out building but someone's home. Thats powerful stuff. Well done.

  8. @Curt - Many thanks indeed, Curt. Sorry I missed your comment in the run-up to Christmas. I wanted to try and show that "this was once a village" and that people had lived here before the fighting. I'm really greatful that you picked up and mentioned that. On the modelling front, I was amazed at how reasonable the doll's house furniture was to buy on ebay. It's only plastic, but it cleaned and painted up very well. Thanks again for your kind comments.

  9. Just found this post and I am gob-smacked. I always find that it is difficult to achieve the balance between diorama and gaming terrain: your super-detailing enables the feeling of the former, while still being robust enough and with enough space to get's figures in there to fight.

    You are a truly talented (and patient!) modeller - I wish I had the opportunity to build some terrain with you and learn some new tricks.

  10. All that extra super detail is stunning and really adds to the layout. Inspirational stuff.

  11. Great points, and some terrific detailing ideas. Your models look really terrific. Nice job.


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