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.

The Flexible Art of Slotting and Dropping

First, an apology for all who have been waiting patiently for the next instalment in this Blog. Please rest assured that I had not forgotten to update the Blog, but work got in the way of doing this (depressing, isn’t it, how that happens so often). Anyway, I am back and hope to finish stage 1 of the Blog a little later today (covering the Salute Boards). Stage 2 (the boards from Crisis 2009) and Stage 3 (new terrain boards) will follow in April 2010 and later in the Spring, respectively.

And a huge thank you to everyone who has become a “follower” of the Blog and who has left comments on the wargaming sites on the internet. It really is great to hear from people about their experiences of terrain building, particularly regarding terrain from the Great War. Anyway, on with the Blog....

I mentioned at the start of the Blog that we wanted to create the maximum flexibility in our terrain design. Sometimes this won’t always be possible. There might be that scenario which calls for a bunker to be deposited in that odd location on the board, or that shell-shattered wood in just the oddest of positions. But there may be other times that you just know that you want to build in a bunker or a gun position somewhere on the board, but you simply don’t want it there all the time.

Now don’t get me wrong. Of course you can just drop bunkers or strongpoints on the boards anywhere. I’m definitely not the sort of person who would ever think badly of anyone who did that. Quite the contrary, I do it all the time myself. But for the Great War Trench Terrain, I wanted to try and integrate these terrain items into the boards, making them a real feature of the terrain and something which looked as realistic as possible. My reasoning was that since I was trying to create the trenches dug into the terrain, i thought it would be consistent to try and do the same with the other terrain features.

I tried to go about doing this in two ways....

First, for the smaller bunkers which were a feature of the German Stellung in the Late War period, I created an area which could serve as an MG pit. Perhaps this was an old crater in the line which has been reinforced, or perhaps this was a deliberately reinforced area from which a machine gun firing on a fixed line could be situated. I made the proportions of the pit fairly square so I could also slot a small bunker on top of the pit. I also used the Styrofoam cut away from the main board as a base for the small bunker. This enabled me to make sure that the Bunker could be effectively “slotted” in place and would not move during the game.

Here’s a few photos of the pit being created, with some 28mm figures added for scale. I’ve tried to show how the Styrofoam cut away forms the base of the bunker to be placed on top of the pit.

Here’s another shot of the bunker in action, painted and finished with some camo netting and flock and positioned on top of the MG pit. The battle scene is from Crisis 2009. Hopefully you can get an idea of how the bunker can in some games be used to reinforce a flank (here of a village), or a trench support line. Or, if you prefer, the bunker can be removed and the defenders left with a weaker position.

Second, I tried to use the same general principle for creating “segments” to drop into the game boards. This takes a bit more work but in my view is really worth it and adds tremendously to the flexibility of the boards. On the first rank of "No-Man's Land" Trench Boards, I created whole sections which are cut out from the Styrofoam and can be dropped in place. So, when the board is used as no-man’s-land, the dropped segment is a reinforced crater for the attacker’s jump off point. However, when the board is reversed it can be sued as as a rear rank board behind the support trench, with the shell crater segment removed and a segment dropped in place representing a field gun position, a bunker, a casualty clearing station or an anti-aircraft MG mounting.

Here's a picture of the shell crater on one of the rear boards being made.

Next, a close-up of the finished shell crater segement in position "slotted" into the Terrain Board. The rubble in the crater was built up using builder's sand (a coarse, rough sand with numerous small pebbles, and fine talus. The "wood planking" is thick-ish cardboard, and the "corrugated iron" is actually corrugated cardboard. I wanted to try and create a different effect for the trenches leading into the shell craters, suggesting that they'd been hastily sapped forward by engineers...

And then a picture of the Royal Surreys preparing to leave that shell crater during one of the practice games before the Salute 2009 show.

And here's another shot, this time of all the Trench Boards we made for Salute 2009. You can see the three crater segments in each of the Trench Boards nearest the camera - each crater in the segment is surrounded by sandbags and improvised revetting using wooden boards and corrugated iron brought forward in the saps by the field engineers. You can also see how we used these boards as "jump off" saps for the attacker, with some sections with rifle grenades and some command elements being left in the saps as the lead sections close into an assault.

Designing each segment to drop in is good fun, and adds a lot of variety while still being integrated into the terrain. By designing and building different segements you get the maximum use out of the terrain, enhancing flexibility and preserving the effect of features being built into the terrain and not just placed on top of it.

Sometimes the segment can be a mini- terrain feature in this own right, such as this destroyed German MG position I made for our wooded “Copse 125” Terrain Boards.

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