Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Building a Simple Battlefild

Today I'll show you how to make a simple, flat battlefield that looks great and is easy to store when not in use, and easy to transport to a friend's house for a game.

If you are playing along with Wargame Hobby Bingo, this is a great way to check the "build a simple battlefield" box.




To build the game board panels, I recommend 1/2-inch thick MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard):



MDF has a nice, smooth finish as opposed to OSB (Oriented Strand Board):



The patchwork texture of the OSB can show through your sand and grass, and it has a rough surface that's more prone to scratching the table underneath, or giving you splinters. The trade off is that the MDF is a little heavier and more expensive (but not much, only a few dollars). Plywood is right out because it's more expensive and it weighs a ton. The 1/2-inch thickness resists warping better than the thinner sheets.

Most DIY home improvement stores carry the boards. They offer a variety of sizes– 2'x2' squares, 2'x4' panels, and 4' x 8' panels. The 4'x8' is the best value: 4'x8' 1/2-inch MDF is about $24, whereas a single piece of 2'x4' MDF is $12. (By comparison, 4'x8' 1/2-inch OSB is $19– a difference of only $5. So the MDF is well worth it in my opinion.)

If you don't have a truck or a panel saw, no worries– Most stores will cut it for you, usually at no additional cost. (assuming you can find anyone working in the lumber department!) Go for the 4'x8' board and have them make four vertical cuts to break it into four 2'x4' sections. The 2'x4' sections will fit in the back seat of a car, or in the trunk with the back seat folded down. You'll have the option to build two 4'x4' boards, a 4'x6' board, or a 4'x8' board.

Beside the boards you'll need a few more things:

Waterproof Wood Glue– Make sure it's waterproof; "regular" wood glue will reactivate when you start painting over it, and the sand will slide around.

Play Sand– Available at the home improvement store. You can get a 50 pound bag for about $4. One bag is more than enough for this project but you'll have matching sand for all of the terrain projects you'll ever build.

Paint– Using small paint pots to cover an entire battlefield is ridiculous, so pick up some similar colors from the hardware store. The colors I use are a dark umber brown, a reddish brown, yellow ochre, and bone, but you can adjust those to match your battlefield preferences. Have the paint department color match and mix a pint of each in matte latex paint. As with the sand, you'll have enough for many terrain projects to come.

Flock and Static Grass– For this project I'm using Woodland Scenics Burnt Grass Fine Turf and a mix of Light Green and Medium Green Static Grass. The combination provides a nice transition from the ground to the grass, and adds a little more depth to the scenery than a single flock color would.

Brushes– Pick up a 1-inch brush and a 3-inch brush at the hardware store. Get the cheap ones, because you'll be using them for spreading glue and drybrushing over large areas.




Sanding the Boards

Since the board will have a fair amount of grassy areas, there's no need to cover the entire board with sand. Reducing the amount of sand will cut down on the weight of the finished board significantly.

Use a Sharpie marker or pencil to lightly trace out some sandy patches. Make them irregular, organic shapes. Add some long patches to represent roads, and don't butt any of the sand against the long edges of the board; keep the edges open so the grass will line up neatly no matter how you set up the boards.

Put some of the wood glue in a paper cup and add a little water. Not too much, just enough so it's spreadable, like the consistency of melted ice cream. Use the 1-inch brush for this so you have a little more control with the shapes.



Do one board at a time. Paint the glue patches and sprinkle sand over top, making sure no wet spots show through. Don't let the glue dry or bead up. If it does you'll be left with "bald spots" once the glue dries. If you need to, reapply some glue to any dry spots before you add the sand as you work your way across the board.


Once the glue has dried, dump off the excess sand, and you'll be left with a nice, smooth sandy patch. Use a block of wood and an old brush to gently rub any loose sand off the surface. Don't use your hand, or you'll scrape the crap out of yourself!


Here's a shot of the boards side-by-side. You can see how the sandy patches look like they form a connecting pattern from one board onto the other, but they don't actually touch at the edges.


Painting the Boards

Start with the 3-inch brush, and paint the entire board with dark umber brown. Thin it just a bit with water so it penetrates into the sand and fully covers it. Paint the umber over the rest of the table to give it a base brown under what will become the grassy areas.



Next, drybrush the sand patches with a reddish brown.


Then, drybrush them with yellow ochre...


...and finally with the bone color.


Use a light touch, and brush evenly in all directions to avoid getting any streaks in the paint. If you do have a streak here and there (like that smear in the middle of my board), don't sweat it– You can cover them with flock and grass. Here's the entire battlefield, with the brown painted and the sandy areas drybrushed:


Flocking the Boards

With the sandy patches out of the way, it's time to add the grass over the remaining areas of the board. Use the 1-inch brush to apply glue (thinned with water, as before) around the sanded areas. Paint the glue so it overlaps the sand and extends out an inch or two. Use a stippling technique and drybrushing to achieve a ragged edge to the glue and to add blotches in the sandy area. You'll notice in this image, that I've painted glue over the unsightly smear from my drybrushing. Use the glue to cover any other errors in the painting, or irregular sand applications.



Then, sprinkle the fine turf flock over the glue. Do each patch one at a time. If you try to paint glue around all of the patches on the board, it will begin to dry before you can get the flock on it.


Try to thin out the flock on the outside of the glue to avoid creating a solid "line" where the flock ends.


Once the glue has thoroughly dried, dump off the excess flock.


Use a trash bag or newspaper to dump off the flock so you can collect it back up. Avoid sweeping it right off the floor, because you'll get dust and dirt mixed in with it. Using a bag or paper lets you funnel it right back into the container.



Here are the boards with the flock applied:


The final step is to add the static grass. Use the 3-inch brush to paint the glue in the large areas and the 1-inch brush to stipple a rough edge and small spots of glue around the sandy areas. Leave some of the flock showing, and try to vary the amount that's visible.


Work your away across each board, filling in the different grassy areas by painting the glue and then applying the grass, but don't sprinkle the grass all the way to the edge of the glue. Paint on more glue and follow it with grass. Continue in this manner until you finish the table to avoid having any lines in the grass fields. Be generous with the grass and after you apply it, gently press it down with your hand to make sure it thoroughly sets into the glue.


When the glue dries, dump off the excess grass and collect it back up. For a 4'x6' table, you'll need two full shakers of static grass to ensure proper coverage, but you'll collect most of it back up. After the table is finished, you'll find that you have only used about half of a shaker.

Tap the board and brush off the excess grass with your hand. Once you have brushed off as much as you can, and collected up the grass, thoroughly go over the whole table with a vacuum to suck up any loose grass bits. This will greatly cut down on the board shedding static grass as you move it around and play on it.


And there you have it! A nicely textured board that's fit for any game, and that you can add modular scenery to for a variety of different layouts. Use the same paint and flocks when you build your scenery to ensure that it matches the battlefield. You can adjust the color of the ground or the flock to suit your own aesthetic and preferred battlefield environment.


Here are all three of the boards I built. Some of the patches have been set up to look like the remains of a road by creating long swaths of sand and then adding a line of flock and grass down the center. I hope you've enjoyed following this tutorial, and will apply it to your own battlefields!



'Til next time!


  1. Nice work presenting a classic board design. What do you do with the fourth panel? Any chance of showing a more advanced project?

    1. Thanks! Use the 4th panel to build up to a 4'x8' or if you ever play smaller games, you can have two 4'x4' battlefields. Check out my terrain tutorials link at the top of the page for some other stuff.

  2. This looks really cool, I like the thin lines of flock that run down the centre of the bigger sandy areas. It's a nice touch, don't know if it happens in nature that way but it looks like it would.

    1. Thank you! Those lines are to indicate the remains of a road, where the wheel ruts would still be a little worn, but grass and weeds have begin growing between them. If you look at the overall boards, you can see the pattern where the roads run diagonally across the battlefield.


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