I have covered these techniques on this blog before, but had a request to publish the original articles as well so here goes. Again, I have added a specific tag, Modular Terrain Boards, to make it easy to pull up all of these posts at once...
My short article on the desert boards left a lot to be desired as far as a comprehensive "how to" feature so I'm going to try and do this one properly. This is only the first of many installments that will chronicle this project and I will attempt to detail not only how I go about things, but why!
The first thing to touch on is why bother? After all, we've all played enjoyable games on humble grass mats or the even less ostentatious green felt. For me there are two answers. The first is I simply enjoy building terrain. It is just another aspect of a hobby that takes up an obscene amount of my free time. It's actually much more relaxing than painstakingly painting buttons on a regiment of 30 infantry! The second answer is related to my models. I spend a lot of time painting and basing my armies to a decent standard and I want the battlefield to be part of the showcase when I host a game - my local players can stop laughing - we will get some games in soon... why do you think I'm building the boards (edit: I still rarely get the time to play these damn games - sigh)?
Anyway, the first step deciding on the battlefield you want to build and then create a plan to fulfill your vision! I want some boards that will represent a typical European countryside for my ECW and Napoleonic games (as well as Warhammer, etc). Besides grassy meadows, I want a couple of boards that have water features and modeled hills on them. I've also decided to model roads onto my board which will make designing them tricky since I want to maximize the number of layouts.
After scribbling pages of sketches, I have decided on the following six boards:
At first glance, this may seem restrictive because of the need for the roads and rivers to line up and the large hill on the bottom left board will always need to be on a table edge. This is where the scribbling paid off! Take a look at all of the possible combinations you can get by using three of these boards to make a 4x6' table!
To add further variety, rivers can either be classified as impassible and thus become the focus of the game as armies try to secure the bridges/fords to cross or they can be shallow streams that do little more than slow a unit down for a round as it crosses. Of course, I'll also be using loose terrain in conjunction with these boards so there will be forests, fields, villages, etc. Leaving some open areas on modular terrain is important to allow the inclusion of such features!
The next article will examine the process and materials I use to frame the boards and build the boring foundation for all of the creative work that follows.