Terrain is the third army on the table, so why is it neglected?

Wargamers will spend days, weeks and months lovingly crafting an army for their game of choice. They will spend hours researching colour schemes, painting techniques, fluff and seek to get the best deal on miniatures they can. They will then spend many evenings stooped in front of the television applying layer after layer of paint on their miniatures until they have a collection that they are truly proud of.

When it comes time to pitch these miniatures in battle on the tabletop, their opponent will also whip out a beloved miniature collection. Equally as pristine and lovingly crafted.

They will whack out any old crap for terrain.

It seems to be an odd juxtaposition that players will spend so long perfecting their army, yet spend little to no time planning, building and painting the scenery that their army fights across. Imagine if players took the same approach to army building as they do terrain – units each from different manufacturers with vastly different sculpting styles and few of the units painted with the same colour scheme.

Imagine I built my terrain collection and ended up with 1/3 Games Workshop Cities of Death kits, 1/3 Mantic Battlezone kits and 1/3 Pegasus Hobbies Gothic Ruins kits. All collected at different times, all painted in a different colour scheme and based with different shades of flock. The uber detailed Cities of Death kits clashing with the low detail, more realistic Pegasus Hobbies kits. The two gothic kits clashing with the much more sci-fi Battlezones.

Wouldn’t look good now, would it?

Take the collection shown at the top of the page. That’s an entire terrain set that I built from scratch in a single go. It’s consistent, good quality and it all fits together properly. It’s a cinematic experience fighting across that terrain set.

Take the collection I’m playing on here, quite typical of most setups:

I was actually enjoying the game a lot more than this picture seems to show…

The terrain is haphazard. It’s built with different styles, not consistently based and screams “THIS IS A WARGAME”. There’s no cinema to be had here. It’s plainly obvious, and not just from the lime green boards, that we’re not playing on a proper landscape.

The Challenge

Next time you get that “new army” itch, stop. Don’t buy the new army. Build a terrain collection instead.

It will cost less than a new army and probably take less time. While entire wargaming armies tend, in my opinion, to fall around the £150-£200 mark, an entire terrain collection can be built for well under £100.

Research terrain, much like you would a new army. Look for inspiration on google, Pinterest, CoolMiniOrNot and project logs on forums. Watch videos by The Terrain Tutor or Luke Fellows to get a good grasp of skills and techniques.

Decide on the setting for your terrain – lush jungle, ruined city, ash waste, desert being the most common. You’ll probably choose one that matches your army since you’ll get more mileage out of a green grass fantasy set with a grass based Kings of War army than you would making a ruined cityscape for the same. Research that theme even more.

Create an “Inspiration” folder in your My Pictures and save a whole bunch of inspirational pictures (and even articles) there for future reference.

Then, when you have a good idea in your head of what you want to build, sit down and plan it out. Answer these questions on a piece of paper:

  • What theme is the set going to cover
  • How many pieces am I going to build (at least 2’x4’ worth recommended)
  • Store bought or scratch built?
  • What colour scheme will I use, including basing materials
  • What materials or kits will I need to complete the project

Even if you don’t have any artistic skills, I highly recommend making a few sketches of any particularly large centrepieces.

From here you can either go all-in, buying all the materials in one swoop, or do a single test piece to make sure you’re happy with what you’ve decided. If you’ve never made terrain before then definitely do a single test piece before taking the plunge.

Do it!

But do it. Next time you feel the urge to start your 27th army, build a set of terrain that you’re proud of instead. Take the same approach that you would to an army. Research it, research materials, come up with a colour scheme and then build and paint it in a consistent manner. Terrain doesn’t have to be shite.

2 Comments

  1. I build my own terrain, and I love it. I agree with this entire post. Only problem: Storage — especially when you include buildings. Most guys I know don’t have the room. And if you don’t store stuff properly, it starts to chip and break. Again, I love my terrain, but it’s a bit of a headache.

  2. Yup. Let’s face it, if it weren’t for the terrain we’d look pretty silly moving toy soldiers around on a table. It’s a double edged sword though. The time I take to make terrain is the time I’m not painting that army. However, making at least one table’s worth of terrain is so worthwhile both as a time and money thing. There is nothing more enjoyable than fighting it out over a really good looking table of terrain.

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