Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Swamp Board - A Genesis

A couple of weeks ago I announced that my first terrain project for 2014 was to be a swamp themed board. Well, the weather has started to cooperate in Western NY so I started work on the board. The idea behind this board is that I want to create a realistic looking lowlands/swamp that fits a 6x4 table surface but will have modular pieces so that even though the overall shape and layout of the board will always be the same, the modular pieces should have enough variety so that the board as unlimited potential for layouts. So let's see what I got done last week.

The first thing I did was purchase 2 - 8ft x 4ft pink foam sheets from Home Depot. I cut the extra 2 feet off of each sheet and set them aside for future use. I then laid out the sheets together to form a 6 foot x 4 foot surface and traced an outline of areas that I wanted to become the swampy, wetlands area on the board based off of the sketch I produced last month. 

Then, while it was somewhat warm out, I took the sheets out to my garage and with the dremel I sanded out the areas that will become the water ways.

*** IMPORTANT - As the dremel tool spins at high speeds, the foam tends to melt during this process so it is important that you do this outdoors or in a well ventilated area so that you do not become overwhelmed with the smell of melting foam. Plus the fact that little bits of pink foam fly everywhere it makes it easier to clean up in the garage. ***

Once completed I went over the carved out areas with a wire brush to remove any melted pieces from the board.

The next step was to clean up the areas where the water and land will meet. Since swamps and wetlands are generally lowland areas that see frequent flooding, the points where the land and water meet are generally flat with very little embankments. To achieve this look I took some drywall compound and created a nice angled transition between the bottom of the lower areas with the raised surface. I simply used a small paint scraper to apply the pink compound and then shaped it so that it created a gentle slope.

When applying the compound I wasn't too worried about smoothing out the shape as it is easier to sand down and shape when the compound dries.

Once the compound had been sanded down I wanted to add the base layer of sand to the bottom of the water areas. Since I will be using Realistic Water that will be somewhat opaque, I wanted to add rocks, tree branches, and course sand to the bottom areas of the water ways.

Once that was done I needed to do one more thing before I start adding sand to the rest of the board. Remember how I said I wanted to make the board so that the terrain pieces on top will be modular? Well, we all know how difficult it can be at time to keep the terrain pieces from getting bumped or moved around during a game so I wanted to find a way to magnetize the modular pieces to the board to reduce random movement.

To achieve this I decide to use metal washers. First I took the cutting tool for a dremel and very lightly I pressed it into the foam while the setting was on high speed so that it created a circular indentation into the foam. The cutting tools is the perfect size for the washer so if you do it just right the washer will sit into the foam, flush to the surface. (Again, do this step in a well ventilated area)

Here is how the board looks after all the washers are in place.

You will note that I placed the washers in a grid format since I will be creating some ruins than will be in various geometric angles. This should help cover most of the surface area. The magnets will be going onto the bases of the terrain pieces that I will be creating at a later date.

You will also notice that I glued some washers to the bottom of the areas that will soon be covered with Realistic Water. This is so that I can create some modular pieces that represent ruins, tree limbs, statues, etc... that look like they are jutting out of the water. This way I will be able to create different and unique terrain pieces that can be applied to various areas of the board and will not get knocked around or moved during game play but also will not be fixed to the board permanently.

Those washers in the bottom will soon be covered in a layer of sand to conceal them from view, keeping a natural look to the board.

Next week I will have more updates on the board as I add a fine layer of sand to the rest of the board and then start applying the cutout stone tiles I created from plastic card.


  1. Wow Grub, this is an awesome board. How long did this project take so far? Is it a full weekend or a 4-6 hour stint?

    The concept of the magnets is great and really lets you move terrain as needed and still get it back where it was.

    1. This has been pretty time consuming so far but that is due to waiting for things like the glue and compounds to dry. Right now my basement has damp air due to all the rain and snow melt so it takes longer for things to dry. But once the foundation of the board is complete, the modular pieces should go pretty fast.

  2. Wow! Can't wait to see where this goes. Be sure to keep us updated. :D

    1. @ Orzhova, thanks man... next week I should have the entire surface covered in sand and tiles. Plus I plan on adding debris to the low cut areas such as tree limbs, bigger rocks, etc... Glad you like it so far.