Stalingrad Table Project – The Base Boards

If you read my last post you’ll know that one of my new years resolutions is to build an urban city terrain board. I started working on this right after the holidays, and intend to share all the various components that are being put together to make the board.

The board is primarily aimed at representing a bombed out Russian city like Stalingrad, with ruined building’s, rubble piles, a factory and so on, but ideally it will be generic enough to represent a European city involved in the war such as Carentan or Eindhoven. I’ll also be creating hills and a water feature, like a canal.

So where to begin? This is my fourth fully realized terrain table, so I’d like to think I’ve become something of a veteran. I find the first decision to be made when embarking on a project like this, is whether to go with a modular table, that is, a board with the terrain directly attached and blended together, or a table with movable terrain. The former is nearly always going to end up looking better visually, but in terms of practicality, especially for gaming, having movable terrain allows you to move everything around for a variety of gaming scenarios, and is also a lot easier to store and transport. My poor modular Bocage boards attest to this, having moved house 3 times, once from coast to coast.

I decided to go with movable terrain, firstly because on a table requiring so many static features like buildings, fighting over the same street repeatedly would get boring fast, and secondly because I have dual purpose in mind for this particular project.

While I primarily want a Russian city to fight over, I learned a large amount of the fighting on the Eastern Front happened in rural areas. Couple this with another long term intention to get involved with FoW’s battle of the bulge when it’s eventually released, meant that I factored in having part of the table less urban and more snowy. If I can manage to have the board blend from urban to rural, I could potentially continue to build further table sections purely covered in snow covered trees and fields.

Enough with the planning, lets start shopping! I always find this part of the project to be a mixture of detailed planning, where I go to Home Depot with strings of detailed measurements in my mind, combined with a mixture of giddy impulse buying at Michaels craft stores, and the local hobby shop. I won’t bore you with a big long list of what I bought, you’ll see everything as a I go, and besides, I might not have bought everything yet!

Let’s start with the most important part, the base boards themselves. There are so many options here, that I won’t list them all, but really you’ve got a choice between one massive sheet of wood or foam, or several sections which you can link up. Again, mainly for storage reasons, I chose separate boards. 3 sheets of 3/4 inch thick MDF, measuring 4’x6′ in total, a typical, and not unmanageable size, which can be easily expanded on.

Once I had the material chosen, the next thing is to figure out how to give the base some texture. To do this requires applying either paint or adhesive, and both options involve moisture – the arch nemesis of any self-respecting terrain guru. The worst thing in the world is a warped table… And I don’t mean the Warhammer Chaos kind of warp! It’s critical to prime the table, ideally with a few coats, lightly at first and then more substantially to truly seal the wood surface. I ended up sealing my boards with three decent coats. Don’t skimp on this stage,  it doesn’t take long to dry, I promise!

Three boards primed and ready
I wanted to give a rough texture effect to represent all the stone and concrete of a city, so once the primer was dry, I took the boards outside and sprayed them with a can of texture paint. I won’t make that mistake again. Not only did  it spray in huge globs, it also ran out less than halfway through the amount of surface I needed to cover. Back to the drawing board.
Not wanting to invest yet more time, energy and money into getting the right texture, I went ahead with the oldest method in the book – mixing sand into my paint. The result isn’t perfect, in fact if I did it again I’d use finer sand, but it worked out okay.
The boards with a sandy texture
With the boards primed and textured, I brought them back in the house and planned out my color scheme. Two of the boards would be predominantly grey, and one of them would be predominantly snow-colored. I separated my paints into groups of dark shades, mid-tones and highlights.

These are the colors I used for the two urban boards.

And the snow board… I’ll eventually get around to blending one edge of it with the urban boards, so that they merge together more seamlessly.

The boards with two coats of their respective base shade. I made sure if I watered the paint down that the color was consistent.

Once the base shade had dried, I gave everything a heavy dry-brush with the mid tone. You might even want to do this stage twice, but be careful not to overpower the base shade too much.

After the mid tone had dried, I applied the final dry brush of the lightest color.

And with that, the basic boards were finished. I’ll come back and add some blending to the snow board later, and probably add some kind of varnish to avoid too much wear and tear.
Next I’m going to move on to creating some terrain features, particularly buildings.
Stay tuned, Comrade!
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