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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ice Ice Baby! (building Frostgrave terrain part two)

Back again! :)

In this post we will continue with our Frostgrave terrain making extravaganza!

Previously we had got to the stage of firing up the hot wire cutter and got stuck into some polystyrene foam to produce our first ruined wall section. We had sculpted in the detail and glued the foam wall to a piece of MDF.

While you were away I got a bit carried away with the wire cutter and this is what I produced...

Virtually all this terrain was built employing the same basic process we covered in part one. However there are a couple more tips you can use to add further complexity to the pieces. 

Some of my pieces have a second floor, or form right angles like the corner of some ruined building. To do this you will need to join pieces of polystyrene foam together. For this I normally use PVA glue or Liquid nails as before, but the most important addition is toothpicks. You take a standard toothpick (the slightly thicker type with a point at each end) and snap it in half. You now push the toothpick pointy end first into the foam to "pin" the two pieces together. I normally use several on each join. Once the toothpick is in the foam, use a tool like the reverse end of a pencil to push the end of the bit of toothpick still sticking out further into the foam to hide it.

Adding the toothpicks adds strength to the join and enables you to continue modelling without having to wait for the glue to dry.

Now we can move onto the next steps: applying texture to the base, painting, and finally applying the snow flock.

MDF is a wonderful material to use in your terrain making projects. Its quite cheap and easy to work with. However it can have some issues that you need to be aware of. The 3mm thick MDF board is very prone to warping when painted. I have had many terrain project ruined by the wood warping after applying PVA glue or paint.

So I have always been on the lookout for a texture medium that could be applied safely to MDF. The answer was... acrylic window caulking. This material is the wargamer's wonderstuff! You can use it for so many things. It is acrylic, so can be painted, or easily mixes with acrylic paints to make different colours. It is flexible (you can make excellent flexible roads with it) and because it's designed for sealing house windows it doesn't shrink. Because it doesn't shrink it won't cause the MDF board to warp.

For my texturing mix I take an old container (old ice cream tubs are good for this) and squeeze out a tube of caulking. I would normally use a brown coloured caulking but you can add acrylic craft paints to the mix to get the desired colour. I add a handful of fine sand and then some larger grit that I bought from a hobby store that sells model Railway terrain. Wooland Scenics is the brand and the product is called railway ballast. I then add a little water to make the mix a little bit more runny and to help with the mixing.  You can now apply this mixture to the base of your ruined wall section completely covering the MDF. You will now need to leave the mix to dry overnight.

A nice detail to add to your pieces is rubble. Earlier we used the left over pieces of foam to make larger pieces of rubble, but to make some general smaller rubble I use some cheap kitty litter. I mix some kitty litter with the texture paste and apply it next to the walls to simulate smaller rubble. This can then be handed painted grey after it's dry.

It's now time to paint our foam ruins. Now for painting all my terrain projects I use cheap acrylic artist paints. Sometimes, if I want to cover a very large area, I will go and get a cheap tin of acrylic paint from the hardware store tinted to the colour I need. To cover these ruins I would use this approach as we have a lot of ruins to paint!

The other option is to use spray paint. Spray painting polystyrene foam is a great way to destroy your foam! The solvents in spray paint will dissolve foam. Remember the acid eating through the floor scene in the film Aliens? That was done with polystyrene foam and acetone!

However I have recently come across a new spray paint that uses alcohol derived from sugarcane as the solvent. This paint does not dissolve the foam. In Australia the brand I found is called "Sugar". Google "Sugar spray paint" and you should find it. Not sure about an overseas supplier but some Google Fu may find a similar product. The colour range is pretty good and luckily they had both a darker and lighter shade of grey for my ruins.

If you are going to spray your foam I would apply the texture mix after spraying the foam otherwise it will also end up grey.

A gave all the foam a solid coating of dark grey and then after this was dry a light dusting with the light grey. If you are painting by hand I would start with a dark grey and then progressively lighten the stone work with dry brushing with lighter grey shades.

You can see the kitty litter rubble in this picture.

So after all this work we will have a series of nicely painted and textured terrain pieces ready for gaming. But wait! This is Frostgrave, and what do we need for Frostgrave? Snow of course!

The snow I use is made by Woodland Scenics and comes in one litre jars. It is not very expensive (it's amazing how much wargame companies charge for a small bit of snow flock!) , maybe $20-25 per jar which is just as well because we will use a lot of it!

The first thing I do when applying the snow is to make the snow drifts. These are the piles of snow that accumulate next to walls,on ledges, and in the corners of ruins. The snow needs to be thicker in these areas so I make up a paste consisting of undiluted PVA glue, white acrylic paint and the snow flock. You can add a little water to aid with the mixing. You want a mix that is the consistency of thick porridge. You can now apply this to the terrain pieces with an icy pole stick and then leave it to dry overnight. It will shrink a little once dry, but you can always add more to get the look you want.

We now reach the final step and this will take the longest time to finish. You need to buy a cheap spray water bottle (Cheap because you are probably going to ruin it when you're finished!) and then make up a dilute PVA/ water mix. It needs to be the consistency of thin milk. Spray your entire terrain piece. Really saturate the base area. Now sprinkle snow flock over the entire piece. Leave it for half an hour and then tap off the excess snow. Collect this snow to reuse. You now need to leave the piece to dry (normally overnight). 

The next day repeat the whole process but this time mainly concentrating on the base area. Keep repeating until you are satisfied with the final look. This may take several days. To finish give the whole piece one final coat of the PVA mix to seal the model.

After you are finished on each day, give your spray bottle a good rinse out with water and spray lots of water through the nozzle otherwise the glue will dry and block the nozzle.

So there you have it! Following this process you will quickly produce a great set of cheap Frostgrave terrain. You could easily use the same technique for Stalingrad ruins for WWII gaming or futuristic gothic terrain for 40K or Warmachine.

One final tip before I go. Woodland Scenics make a product called water effects. It's a thick white paste that you can apply using an old brush and with the brush you can tease out peaks to represent icicles. When dry the water effects dries clear and you have some cool looking icicles.

See you soon for the final chapter!

Bye for now.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Is it getting cold in here?? (building Frostgrave terrain part one)

Wow! two consecutive weeks with blog entries.

This will be the first of my dedicated Frostgrave posts. As mentioned in my last post, this game has really got the nostalgia bug going in me for D&D type warband gaming. It also helps a lot that the game is a lot of fun too!

I have had a lot of great comments in person or on Facebook about my Frostgrave terrain. Rather than just use what I had on hand I set out to make "proper" terrain i.e. snow covered ruins for the game.
I wanted a really cluttered table as a terrain dense table makes for better games because some spells have unlimited range (Bone dart! Man I hate Bone Dart!). You need to break up line of sight (LOS) as much as possible.

Explaining Frostgrave to a potential punter at Games Day 2016 - Nunawading Wargames Association

I also wanted to be able to make a lot of terrain quickly and not spend a lot of money. This post will outline how I went about making my terrain. What materials and tools I used and how I did it.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia so some of the materials and products may not be available in your area but you should be able to find something similar to what I use.

My basic idea was to use dense polystyrene foam to make the majority of the terrain. Its cheap. Its very light (which was important as I am not always gaming at home) and did I mention its cheap!
Polystyrene foam is a great terrain medium to work with but it can be very messy to work with if you have to carve/cut or sand the foam. You want to be able to cut and carve the foam without having a huge mess to clean up afterwards. This is where the most important tool comes into play...a hot wire cutter!

Now there are tutorials on the internet about how to make yourself a hot wire cutter with transformers and special wire but working with home made electrical stuff always scares the bejezzus out of me so I don't go near any of that. Especially when there are commercially available hotwire cutters that are not really expensive. Seriously you will be using this tool for years afterwards so get online and order a hot wire cutter!

The tool I use is just a straight piece of wire. There are other versions that are a kind of loop but I don't see the real benefit of that. The straight wire version is very easy to use and if you use it in conjunction with a metal ruler or straight piece of timber you can cut very straight long lines.
My cutter was purchased from Barnes in Richmond in Melbourne (for us Victorians) however the tool comes from the US and here is the website:

I purchased a sheet of 19mm dense white polystyrene foam (from Clark Rubber). The sheet cost me around about $20 or so and I think the dimensions were 900mm by 600mm. This one sheet of foam will easily make enough terrain for a 3 x 3 foot gaming board for Frostgrave. The polystyrene should be the dense stuff which cannot be easily broken into bits with your hands.

I also purchased a 900mm x 600mm sheet of 3mm MDF board which would form the bases for the polystyrene terrain pieces. If you cant get MDF then thin plywood or thick card will also work.

So plug in your hot wire cutter (you did buy one didn't you?) and wait five minutes for it to heat up.
We will start with something simple to start. Once you have the basics of cutting the foam sorted out you can scale up to bigger pieces and from then on you are only limited by your imagination.

One quick safety note: Cutting foam with a wire cutter produces some fumes as the foam burns so please do your cutting in a well ventilated area, preferably outside. You don't have to get sick for your hobby!

Starting at the edge of the foam sheet cut out an irregular shaped piece of foam maybe 15 centimeters long by about 10 centimeters high with one side being the flat edge of the sheet. As you slice through the foam move the wire back and forth so you are getting an irregular shaped cut. It is very easy as the hot wire goes through the foam like the proverbial knife through butter.

Once you have cut out your shape go back along the cut edge and with the wire slice off the squared edges and use the wire to put cracks and dents into the edge. You want the edge to look worn and crumbling.

Now we want to add a window in this ruined "wall". Push the wire point first into the foam and through the other side. With the wire still in the foam make a square or rectangle window shape. Pull the wire out of the foam and pop out the piece of foam with your finger. Don't throw that piece away as you can use it for rubble later. You now have your window. Don't be too precise with your cuts when doing this as we are trying to simulate ruins that are hundreds of years old. Messy is good!

Now we come to the slightly tricky part, putting in the brick pattern. To do this we will use the length of the wire but this time we will just lightly touch the surface of the foam to etch a straight line into the foam. Make a series of parallel lines evenly spaced along length of the wall and then do the same again at a right angle so you end up with a grid pattern on one side. Make sure you continue the brick pattern along the edges and inside the window. Try and line up these cuts with the grid pattern.

Now the technically minded will have observed that bricks are not laid like that. The brick layers are usually offset so they overlap each other. This gives the wall strength. Absolutely correct, but that is too much trouble! If you want to do that you can, it will just take a lot longer and the end result will not look that much better.

Now you can have some fun with the wire putting cracks into the foam and making pock marks, dents etc. This is the fun bit as the piece starts to take on some character. You will also by now be getting the hang of the wire cutter and what it can do for your terrain modeling.

The last thing I would do is take some aluminium foil and scrunch up a fist sized ball. Nice and densely packed. Now you can use this ball of foil to press into the foam and give the foam some texture. A nice piece of volcanic scoria rock also works well for this.

Congratulations you have made your first ruin!

Here is a picture of some of the first ruins I made with my cutter:

Now for the base. With a jig saw or fret saw cut out a piece of 3mm MDF board big enough to fit the ruined wall on it. Cut out an irregular shape and give yourself about a one or two inch wide border around the wall. Use some sand paper to remove the saw burrs and bevel the edge.

To glue the foam onto the MDF you could use PVA glue but I use a product called liquid nails (Selleys Liquid Nails). This is applied using a caulking gun. This glue is tacky enough to hold the foam in place so you can carry on with the next step. The liquid nails also gives a much stronger bond once cured.

Remember that piece of foam from the window? Use your cutter to put cracks etc. into that small piece of foam and then glue it to the base near your wall as a larger piece of rubble that has fallen to the ground.

Okay that is enough for today. Next up will be applying the basing texture, painting and applying the snow flock to finish.

Bye for now!

Monday, September 5, 2016

There's life in the Old dog yet!

Hello all,

Well it has been a while, January 2015 as I check my last posting. Wow how time flies!
I am hoping to get this blog up and going again so this post is to just give a quick update of what has been keeping me busy on the wargaming front for the past eighteen months or so.

When we last met I was suffering from the "Ooooh Shiny" curse that affects so many wargamers.
I was trying to keep focused on a few games to maximise my output. Well eighteen months on and this still remains a problem. I am still playing and painting my "core games" such as Chain of Command for WW2 (North Africa 28mm , Early war Eastern front 15mm) , ECW in 28mm, Empire of the Dead for my VSF fix but I have added some new games to my stable.

By far the biggest addition, and one that has caused a frenzy of minature painting and terrain building is  Frostgrave! When this game first appeared I thought "Nah! Not for me" but I got curious and then I listened to the Meeples and Miniatures podcast on Frostgrave and it sounded interesting enough for me to buy the rulebook and a box of Frostgrave soldiers. Well what happened next was I had a wargaming epiphany!

For gentlemen of a certain age who spent their youth battling dragons and bugbears playing Dungeon & Dragons, Frostgrave will have an immediate appeal. The game also has similarities to the GW game Mordheim but I never played that. The game only requires a maximum of ten figures to play so it's an easy in (although you can and will get carried away acquiring a heap of monsters for random encounters) and the D20 mechanic is elegant, quick and often quite deadly too!

The vast majority of 2016 has been taken up with terrain making, figure painting, and playing Frostgrave. I will post a few pictures now of my current setup and will also publish a tutorial on how I made my terrain for anyone else to follow.

Another new game that is proving popular at our local club is Lion Rampant ( and Dragon Rampant for the fantasy players). This is another game towards the smaller battle end of the genre where you only need around 40-60 figures to play. A lot of new games are pitched at this sort of commitment level (Saga immediately comes to mind). Lion Rampant focuses on battles between medieval retinues. No specific period is mentioned, but I think roughly the hundred years war period is most appropriate. I have seen Lion rampant being used to play War of the Roses and also Dark Ages games so the rules are quite flexible.

One of the nice appeals of this game is the potential for imagi-nations games. Several members of my gaming club have put together medieval retinues and created fictional personas for their commanding Lord. I have also put together an army made up from old GW Bretonnian knights and archers with foot sergeants from Fireforge games and Foot knights from Old Glory. My commander is "The Warden of the West Marches" a fictional barony somewhere along the border between Wales and England. We hope to kick off a Lion Rampant campaign later this year which should be a lot of fun.

The last new game that I have taken an interest in for 2016 is the latest edition of Sharp Practice by the Two Fat Lardies. I am already a fan of the Lardies with their excellent Chain of Command WW2 rules and Sharp Practice 2 doesn't disappoint. I have only played a couple of games but I can tell its going to be a lot of fun. Sharp Practice is also a nice way for me to finally get my Napoleonic Russians on the table top. I can play these rules while I slowly build up my army to eventually play Black Powder for Divisional Sized games.

And finally in an attempt to control my wargaming purchases and track my painting progress I have for the last two years kept a record of every figure purchased versus every figure painted. I am aiming to reach a target of 365 figures for the year and end up in the black with more painted than purchased.
I am currently sitting at 182 painted figures for the year. Its an improvement of nearly 40 figures on last year with four months still to go. I do have to put in a solid effort for the rest of the year to hit my 365 target though.

Bye for now.