+ inload: Worldbuilding +

+ inload: Worldbuilding +

While I own a Realm of Battle board, having a proper homemade board is something that I've missed a lot about the hobby. I think GW's Realm of Battle board is fantastic, price aside (I was lucky enough to get mine second-hand for a knock-down price), but playing on it somehow feels 'tournamenty'. I think it's because it's exactly like everyone else's (bar the paintjob), and lacks that unique quality that makes a board (or army) your own. 

+ Anyway, over the Easter weekend, I enlisted my brother to help me try something I'd never done before; and build a proper board to game on. Here's how I went about it. +

+ Inspiration +

+ My older brother used to make all the terrain and gameboards we played on, and did a great job of it – producing ruined cities, ork settlements, steaming jungles and abandoned industrial sites that were a great mix of our favourite action movies (Robocop, Predator, Star WarsTerminator, Starship Troopers), the terrain articles from White Dwarf, and some unique inspiration. He was really good at making modular scenery that nevertheless had a lot of character and identity.

+ I'm very lucky to have a gaming group that has some great terrain and scenery; mainly provided by Graham Gilchrist, who has some brilliant terrain sets including icy forests, desert mesa and urban. When choosing how I'd decorate my own board, I wanted to add something that we don't have; and that's a temperate set – a sort of slightly anonymous moorland/grassland. 

+ There was also some nostalgia there. I'm sure everyone of a certain age remembers goblin green boards – indeed, I think the reaction against that is why our group very rarely plays on green – but I wanted a nod to early gaming days, and with ten years of playing on other colours, some classic European-style terrain would be a welcome change.

+ Another advantage of grassland boards is that they're fairly anonymous and game-neutral; being suitable for my main games of 40k, Epic, and Warmachine.

+ Planning +

+ I had recently visited a show put on by Abingdon Wargamers, and saw a brilliant board that had used old towelling draped over boards to create a non-slip surface that was nevertheless flat and soft (to reduce chipping). It also had a lovely texture that really evoked the grasses and scrub of the landscape where I grew up. This was really where the germ of the idea came from, so thanks to that anonymous hero (and my apologies that I can't remember your name!)

+ My aims for the board were as follows:
  • They should be storable and relatively durable.
  • They should have a balance between modularity (for gaming variety), and character and interest.
  • They should be practical for gaming upon, with space for common game setups (12in on from the long edges, corner set ups etc.)
  • They should have proper hills and terrain; being complete gameboards in themselves, and not reliant on scatter terrain to provide interest.
  • There should be open spaces to add terrain, for further variety.
  • They should look fairly realistic. 
  • They should provide tactical and strategic opportunities and problems.
I wanted to add an element of skill and judgement to which side of the board to pick, regardless of the initial setup. Of course, this decision has to be balanced against realism – or you'd end up with a board that's perfectly balanced but boring to look at and play over. 

+ With those in mind, I made a sketch with marks every 6in (15cm) along the edges of the board. This was picked because 40k and Epic both use multiples of those distances, so I could start to plan spacing and help ensure I didn't create any awkward spots or create obvious advantages/disadvantages in the setup. 

+ To the sketch were added hatching for the four main heights: the ground level, 1in (25mm) height; 2in (50mm) height, and 4in (100mm) height. I tried to suggest an old watercourse – perhaps a river valley; and then I made sure that the three boards could be separated and arranged in different ways. The heights of the hills created some restrictions, but there are at least four ways of arranging the boards that tesselate properly. Once you introduce different games and different set-up rules, this generates a lot of possibilties. 

+ Once the sketch was completed, I adjusted it to make sure that areas were accessible from multiple approaches; and that there were some areas that could be optionally designated as impassable or dangerous terrain. This will hopefully keep players' options open, but also provide some challenges – exactly like real terrain. +

+ Action! +

+ My shopping list was as follows:
  • Three 2' x 4' 1in (25mm) MDF boards.
  • Two 2' x 4' 2in (50mm) spaceboard (inload link: wickes.co.uk/Space-Board-Eco-Insulation/p/161297)
  • Four colour tester pots of interior matt paint – a picked a selection of browns and muted greens, plus a brighter, yellowy green.
  • Polyfilla
  • PVA glue
  • Staplegun
+ Having transferred the first height level and 6in measurements to the MDF, we got stuck in, cutting and gluing the spaceboard in large sections and leaving that to dry. The higher levels were built up in the same way.

+ Once dry, the towelling was draped over the hills and secured with the staplegun, before being trimmed to allow the boards to be separated. This was a bit of a faff as we only had two old towels, which required things to be cut fairly carefully, and some patchworking. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to break up some of the hard lines in the 'riverbed/plain' that would otherwise allow people to guess distances. You can see an example of what I mean on the far right of the picture below – the two strips on the upper two boards were placed before I suddenly thought 'oh crap!'; and you can see how I made the bits further in towards the hill more patchworky and random.

+ With the towelling in place, I mixed up some polyfilla and added texture to the cliff/rocky areas. I then skimmed the raw edges to give a nicer finish. This will also protect the foam a little in case I come back to spraypaint some further colouring in the future. Again this was left to dry.

+ Once completely dry, we diluted and combine the paints in rough mixes to create a dappled, random effect. I  wanted to avoid the flat colour of a lot of boards, and also avoid the weird patchy terrain on some boards, where areas of perfect grass abut patches of bare soil completely randomly.

+ We did paint the abutting areas of boards to ensure a blend, using the same mix on the potential 2in (50mm) height edges, and a different mix of the 4in (100mm) height edges. These colours were variously extended over and into the main sections to ensure a blend. This wasn't completely natural, but it does allow a balance between modularity and naturalism. +

+ I'm pleased with the finished result – which luckily for ongoing domestic harmony fits neatly behind the sofabed in our spare room – and can't wait to get a game in. What should we do first? Warmachine? Epic? +


  1. The use of towels for grass is an excellent idea & apart from the hem that's visible on the right hand side of the board, I reckon you did a great job!

    I like the modular layout you've selected too.....usually modular boards are split into six pieces, but I think the way you have done it is more than adequate to provide variability.

    Might have to poach a few ideas of you :)

  2. This is something I've been organising for a time. Games on my realm of battle have begun to feel a bit... Stale, I'll say... This includes the citadel terrain pieces too.

    I do miss having a fully scratch built battlefield and terrain set. I was just trying to figure out whether I wanted to go for flocked, toweled, or textured as the main base.

    Your boards look very nice, I love the different blends of colour, there's just something a bit more comfortable about playing on scratch built terrain.

  3. I must echo the other guys' comments, this table is completely different from a realm of battle table... it just has a totally different feeling to it.

    Playing Epic on this board sure would kick a$$ :]


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