Saturday, 5 January 2019

Terrain Build Update - Modular Sloped Hills

A trial run with my new modular hill sections, all taped up and awaiting the plaster to finish off the slopes

Welcome to 2019 and JJ's Wargames picks up from where it left off with some more updates on progress with the 28mm terrain collection.

One consideration that any terrain collection needs to have built in is what sort of hills you intend using. This statement might at first seem a little strange, surely hills are hills, what do you mean 'sort'?

The first day of work with some sections of MDF cut to shape and with the white polystyrene affixed ready for sculpting

Well the scale of figures can make quite a difference on the type or sort of hill you should probably think of modelling as the difference in ground scale between my 18mm Napoleonic collection and my 28mm Ancients is dramatic when transferred to a 9' x 5' table.

That means I am quite able to model a two and a half by one and a quarter mile battlefield encompassing Talavera in the former scale and a lot less real estate in the latter.

Not only that but with a much lower centre of gravity with the seemingly diminutive but beautifully detailed 18mm I can put slopes under my mat with much steeper inclines that will still allow my figures to stand on them and give the impression of a major feature; whereas my 28mm figures will struggle to stay put on a slope incline greater that 1:3 i.e. for every one inch in vertical I need to have the slope climbing three inches horizontally, which means sloped hills in 28mm tend to have to be gently sloped and take up a lot of table space, but are not, unless you own an aircraft hangar, major features.

In addition the placing of the slope under the mat makes the likelihood of the figures staying put, once placed on any slope, highly unlikely due to the rather slippy texture of these new style synthetic materials that are tough, easily washed and ironed but quite slippery for figure bases to stand on with any slight incline.

Tom helped me saw up the MDF into 6" x 6", 9" x 6", 12" x 6" and 12" x 9" rectangles which were then shaped as seen by my drawing on slope number '7' above then I cut the shape and sanded it.

The other alternative is to dump the scale side of things and produce 'styalised' hills with two or three inch vertical cliffs and deem them passable to your metal warriors despite the eye querying such a possibility in reality. 

I don't dismiss the  'styalised' hill approach, only that I intend to capture some of that look by having free standing cliff sections, with suitable access points, that can sit another level up on top of my gentler slopes.

The other factor I wanted to include was the ability to create many different looking tables with one set of hills, hence the decision to build them in a modular style, tessellated to allow the different sized sections to be joined up in multiple different arrangements either along the table edge or in the centre of the table as a free standing feature.

I have worked in Lung Disease Centres and seen the results of damaged lungs so can't stress the importance of wearing a dust mask when cutting and sanding MDF. At this stage all the shapes are cut.

As with all my projects, I work in a similar fashion, i.e. 'Begin with the end in mind' to quote a very clever chap and the five 'P's' which another very clever man explained to me meant, 'Propper Preparation Prevents P..s-Poor Presentation', note that it is five words as one important word is hyphenated!

An example of the Five P's in action

So with those guiding principles in mind and having already explained what hills I was planning to model and why, the next stage was to draw out a plan on graph paper of my different sections working to a three inch plan that corresponded to the incline formula covered.

Cutting up my 3mm MDF board in this manner enabled me to take advantage of the straight edges to match my table edge and to use for a free standing hill, whilst cutting out the sections around the edge left me spare board for other projects in the pipeline, perhaps some of those cliff sections discussed.

Here all the slopes have been sculpted and now I am checking that I have managed to get them to meet!

Once the sections were cut and the white polystyrene affixed I then had to cut the slopes.

For that process I created a slope template from card from an old cereal box, that would allow me to duplicate the same twenty degree incline on each piece to allow the slopes to meet faithfully with another piece.

The test came as seen above when multiple sections are aliened in different combinations - phew, what did I say about 'The five P's'?

Examples of the different sized sections

The modular plan also started to reveal its possibilities as I started trying out different combinations of slopes along the table edges and, as seen in the picture at the top of the post, trying out slopes on top of slopes for added height.

As well as free standing hills the sections can be lined up on opposite sides of the table to create a valley, like the one at the Iron Gate of Tapae!

A lot of the scenarios in the Dacian campaign feature battles with slopes, hills and valleys due to the nature of the mountainous terrain and my new slopes once textured and adorned with other scatter pieces should help to capture that look.

The slopes are inclined enough to give a sense of a foot hill or ridge but they are not mountains. In addition I will keep them relatively flat on top so I can put other sections on them or plenty of scatter terrain or buildings and forts.

White Polystyrene is not the toughest of building materials and although fine for this kind of project still needs to be toughened up for handling by me and other wargamers, so a few added finishes in addition to the next stage of terrain covering were added.

The corners of each section on the slope side were cut with a template to make sure they would match another section

To further protect the slope edges, a likely weak point, and the rear straight edges that will be likely rubbing up against other sections and the table edge, I simply placed a section of masking tape to seal it. This in turn will get a coat of PVA and paint to bond it still further and having used the technique before with my Oporto table should give a long lasting protection.

The corner of one of the straights cut to meet the incline of two corresponding slope sections

One straight needed two sections of polystyrene which I taped the gap to ensure better coverage with the scatter.

These hill sections also need to be a combination of functional as well as easy on the eye, so although I plan to leave the surfaces fairly flat and free of terrain scatter such as grass clumps and rocks to enable other terrain to sit on them quite easily. I decided to put in a few indentations using the sand paper that finished of the slopes.

As stated I have designed the tops to be flat to allow items and other hills to be placed on them but have sanded in some slight indentations to give a more natural look rather than a golf course

On larger higher hills or cliff sections I would use the denser pink or extruded polystyrene used for wall insulation and much tougher than this white stuff, that is quite serviceable for these low sections

To make the sections more durable I have taped the straight edges with masking tape 

The slopes are also a potential weak point and so these were given a protective smear of plaster, that also smoothed off any unnatural groves or scrapes to complete the look before adding their terrain covering.

As well as taping the straight edges the slopes have all had a coat of plaster before being toughed still further with the PVA scatter and paint covering. 

One of the larger slopes with the plaster now dry and good to go

So that's it for this update and I now have a weekend to look forward to just getting these slopes finished off and 'terrained' up ready for a few table-top pictures to give you a final impression of how they will look during a game.

All the sections are now sculpted and prepared ready for a weekend of terrain scatter and painting to get this ready for table service.
Next up, Mr Steve and Steve L have been getting to grips with the new ACW rules from Stand to Games, 'Over Malvern Hill' and have put together an AAR of their first game, plus I will hope to get these there hills finished to show you followed up by a bit of a scratch build project that has been long in the 'gestation period' and now with materials ordered and on their way should be the next terrain build to feature.


  1. It all looks very well done and laid out. I chiefly rely on my Geohex for all but very long ridges!

  2. Very nicely done. I'm impressed by the care and forethought that has gone into this!

  3. Really interesting post and timely for me as I should embark on hills for 28mm soon having addressed rivers ,bridges and finishing up my trees, so thanks for lots of useful tips!
    Best Iain

  4. Thanks for your comments chaps.
    I am having a lot of fun putting this terrain collection together, and thought it might be of interest to others similarly starting out in a different scale or just looking to add pieces to what they already have.

    Cheers all