Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Its a jungle out there... or is it?

Hi, my name is Kevin (aka grubnards on various 40k boards) and Hyv3 asked if I would like to contribute to the Mandulian Chapel. Since I make a lot of terrain, tinker with conversions, and generally try to get creative with my models I figured I would write a series of article dealing with terrain.

Themed terrain can add new levels to your game.

I attended a local tournament a couple of weekends ago that was a dual 40k/WHFB event with 3 games of 40k on Saturday and 3 games of WHFB on Sunday. Needless to say I did not do that well at the event and when looking back and trying to breakdown what I could have done differently during each game or what I could have changed in my list; one thing stood out as I looked over the tables... the terrain. The terrain at this event was a mix-match of different collections and there was very little BLoS terrain. Now this is not about bashing this event for its terrain as there are definitely things I could have done with my list and different choices I could have made during the games that may have altered the outcome but what I want to talk about is terrain in general (or sometimes the lack of terrain) and the impact it has on the game.

Table view of one of my games that weekend.
When I attend events, whether they range from large scale national events to small local events, or if I am just playing at a friends house, one of the first things that I tend to look at is the terrain setup. More often than not this tends to set my mood for the event even before I have faced off against my first opponent. Luckily the events in the Western NY area are pretty well run and have a diverse terrain collection. The largest event in this area is the Da Boyz GT and most of the organizers have plenty of terrain that they bring to the events but they also encourage players to bring their own terrain boards and award prizes for the best tables.Not only does this guarantee that you will see some diverse and fantastic looking tables, but it also shows that anyone can create some great looking boards and terrain without having to invest hundreds of dollars in GW terrain and battle boards. Another store in the area also holds monthly events and while they have a large selection of terrain, they encourage players to bring their own as well.

Example of terrain with little BLoS
Example with plenty of BLoS and select fire lanes.

When Hyv3 asked me to contribute to the Mandulan Chapel, I figured I could contribute articles on making terrain, objectives, model conversions, and boards and show you the step by step processes along with a materials list and time involved. One of the most common comments I hear when I talk to people about terrain is "I wish I could make something like that." Well, truth is, anyone can make terrain with a little time, effort, and materials. That's my goal for writing these articles, to help inspire you to make terrain. Hopefully many of you will find these articles helpful and inspire you to create your own terrain and tables that you can use either at home or your FLGS. I'd like to see this page become a spring board of ideas for not only us to contribute to, but for you to contribute as well. If you have ideas, techniques, or samples of your work that you would like to share we would love to see them.

To get the ball rolling I'd like to show some examples of terrain features I have made in the past.

Train yard board I created for Da Boyz GT
4x4 City Terrain board
Ancient Ruins Board
One thing you will notice is that I like to make my terrain modular or movable. This makes it so that you can set up your board in a limitless variety of ways and it also allows you to try inventive and creative ideas as well. It also allows quick setup, take down, and transporting of terrain. This also allows you free reign over the type of terrain that you can make.

Modular 4x4 City board made of foam
Plenty of cover amongst the ruins
Custom and themed terrain can bring a level of realism to the game
The land raider has plenty of target options but most are in cover.
While GW offers a nice variety of (expensive) terrain that is centered around Imperial gothic look and feel, they lacked the foresight to provide terrain for those of us who play xenos races or want to play on something other than a gothic city board or a skull filled table with some skull filled hills. When I make terrain I try to invent a back story as to why these two foes are facing off over a certain piece of terrain. For example, I created this rail station board after reading a Gaunt's Ghost novel about when the Ghosts are caught behind enemy lines and discover a rail line that is a vital link for the enemy to move artillery shells to and from the front lines. The scences from the first Half-Life video game that take place in the rail tunnels also played a key role in making this board. Those elements helped inspire a purpose as to why two armies may be facing off against each other over this piece of terrain.
Lots of obstructions to limit LoS and create fire lanes
Custom terrain can help create a mood for the game
Half of this unit is hidden due to BLoS
The ancient ruins board was inspired by real life Mayan ruins and the scenes of Yavin 4 in Star Wars. It represents a bygone culture that may harbor ancient technologies. This reason alone creates a back story as to why two armies may be facing off against each other.

Are the Necrons guarding an ancient device in the ruins?
From above the Chaos player can see most of the scarabs...
However, from the model's eye you can only see 1 or 2 bases
The inspiration is out there in the movies we watch, the books we read, or just by looking at images from our own history. Before creating your terrain, take a few days and research your subject. For the ancient ruins board I searched for Mayan, Aztec, and Peruvian ruins on Google Images and noted down features and ideas that appealed to me.

Mayan Ruins
For city ruins I often look at images of WW2 ruins or watch movies like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.
City of Dresden, WW2
Even if you don't have a back story in mind, the 40k galaxy if filled with numerous worlds with different types of terrain and climates. Hyv3's snow, jungle, or crystal terrain is a perfect example of capturing the feel of these worlds. Calypso made a themed display board for his daemon army that could easily be a part of a twisted daemon world or a landscape that has been tainted by the warp. I'd love to try replicating his display board into a set of full blown modular terrain in the future. The key to all of the above examples is the ease in which to make and represent a galaxy full of different environments.

Winter themed table
Jungle theme
Crystal desert theme
So for the next few articles I'd like to do a step-by-step series on building a ruined city block. During the series I'll build a couple of ruined buildings and then show you how to build rubble mounds, pipe-works, and items such as crates and tank traps. By the end of the first series you should have enough terrain made to play a game on and proudly say that you made it. Until then, have fun gaming!

Look for unique ideas at local craft and toy stores


  1. Welcome to the fold Kevin and great article. I was hoping you'd show off some of your terrain and possibly Word Bearers, especially the conversion work with the scrolls.

    Glad to have you on board. I'm sure the readers can appreciate quality terrain and the depth and cinematic aspects it creates during the game.

    Can't wait for the next installment!

    1. Another request would be a tutorial for the crates on your train station table.

  2. Awesome article. I think terrain is the next most important aspect for 40k after our own models. Creates the right type of atmosphere and can really draw us into the games that we play. Looking forward to seeing the next article. A tutorial would be awesome.

  3. Back when I fell off the wagon and started playing 40k again after 13 years sober I knew terrain would be the number 1 thing I would need if I wanted to play with my '40k experimenting' eldest son [he's since kicked the habit :( ]. Anyway I used to really enjoy terrain buidling and also wanted to do it cheap. With a ready supply of foamboard and cereal boxes I spent many hours sticking and gluing for my own Red Planet terrain [and created the fluff to go with it].

    Having made all my plans in Illustrator and having a blog I thought why not share them with folk and they can build their own terrain and get to enjoy that side of the hobby. Some have taken it on board and even remixed my own designs, regardless I just want folk to have a little help with decent terrain - here's the link http://40kaddict.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/terrain-is-everything-standard-template.html

    1. Dwez, thanks for the link to your site. I particularly like the outpost and mecury plateau. I may have to make plans for trying some of these out as a summer project.

  4. Great stuff man, some really nice looking sets of terrain you have made. Looking forward to seeing more.