I have been preparing tropical terrain for an upcoming 28mm Charlie Company campaign and needed a way to cheaply cover a 12 foot by 6 foot table with terrain from the ‘Nam.
Click this picture to open my FLICKR Vietnam album – lots more pictures!
The tropics are characterized by both wet Dry and Rain Forests with triple canopies, open areas covered with low and tall grasses, swamps, and agricultural areas. So here is my line up of terrain features:
- Waterfront – river, docks, and marina
- Sandy beach
- Rice Patties
- Low Grass
- Elephant Grass (high)
- Scattered Foliage
- Bamboo Groves
- Banana Groves
- Coconut palms
- Triple Canopy forest
You will need something to cover the table. I have three different types of mats that I use based on the predominant terrain.
- 6 foot by 12 foot desert mat made from a canvas drop cloth (that was unbleached linen color). I used light brown and tan spray paints to mottle it and I generally sprinkle a 2:1:1 mix of Woodland Scenic Fine Buff Ballast, Woodland Scenic Coarse Buff Ballast, and Woodland Scenic Burnt Grass on over it. Great for coastal shores, deserts, and desert isles.
- A pair of 4 foot by 6 foot OOP Games Workshop Battle Mats that have bright green static grass that I use for grass lands.
- An OOP 4 foot by 6 foot desert game mat from GeoHex that is flocked with yellow-green – good for sun-burnt grass lands.
I like to be able to clearly differentiate between the terrain types by placing smaller irregular mats or templates on top of the ground cloth to clearly define the terrain type’s edges. This lets you clearly determine if a minis is in the open or the woods, provides a crisp measurement from the mini to the wood edge for visibility purposes, etc. You end up with the board looking more like a golf course than may be desirable (Rough, Fairway, Green etc.), but it eases play. Additionally, except for structures I like to think of the vegetation as being notional instead of specific. This also clarifies things like line of sight. For structures I assume if 25% of more of a figure / vehicle is visible and in the shooters arc of fire then it can be targeted. Of course the target may get concealment or cover bonuses depending upon the rules. Last, unless a structure is hardened, I assume that shooters avail themselves of openings, battle damage, or make loopholes so that they can fire (assuming the rules do not detail this bit). I treat ruins the same as woods – with respect to providing cover and shooting from them.
- For my woodland bases, I paint the base with Delta Ceramcoat Autumn Brown, sprinkle some Woodland Scenic coarse Brown ballast here and there and then cover it with Woodland Scenic fine Brown ballast. I then dot some Autumn Brown in a few places and sprinkle it Italian seasoning (you can buy a big jar at the grocery store – it is a combo of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme) followed by a few more spots of Autumn Brown with some static grass. Last paint the rim of the base Autumn Brown. This is the scheme I used on the USMC and Vietnamese minis; plus I added some Army Painter “Jungle Tufts” to some of the bases.
- For my desert bases, I paint the base with Delta Ceramcoat Honeycomb, sprinkle some Woodland Scenic course Buff ballast here and there and then cover it with Woodland Scenic fine Buff ballast. I then dot some Honeycomb in a few places and sprinkle it green static grass. Last paint the rim of the base Honeycomb. I add Army Painter “Winter Tufts” to
- I use wooden plywood cut-outs to make most of my terrain bases. These are readily available in craft stores in a variety of shapes. Hot glue and super glue stick to them very well, they are easy to drill, and work very well with cheap craft paint. I use lots of the $0.30 3 inch diameter disks for small tree bases, $0.99 6-3/4 inch diameter disks for large trees and groves, and use a lot of the 3.5 inch x 4.5 inch rectangular pieces for fields, pens, orchards, etc.
- For my modern historical minis, I use ¾” washers for most minis. For Sci-fi, Ancients, and Fantasy I use GW 25mm slotted-bases.
Trees and Undergrowth
Large Jungle Trees
A triple canopy rain forest needs tall trees for the top canopy. Here is a cheap way to make them including Flets for the tree dwellers and wood elves.
You should be able to find the supplies at a craft store (something like $3 in supplies per large tree):
- 12 feet of heavy-duty paper wrapped Floral Wire – this stuff is basically a thick wire which is wrapped with a rough textured green or brown paper. It is also great to also use as vine. (It goes for $5 at a craft store for 50 feet – enough for 4 trees)
- a ~3 to ~4 inch diameter disk made from card-stock or wood for the flet base (I glued a double thickness of cereal box cardboard for these)
- ~15 Coffee Stirrers to form the planks of the flet (or alternatively card-stock strips)
- 6″ diameter disc for the base (mine was $1 at the craft store and made of very thin plywood)
- Woodland Scenic Light Green Clump Foliage
- small Rocks (gravel about 1/2 to 3/4 inches is fine – I used decorative gravel from the craft store – $5 for enough for 20 trees)
- Hot glue gun
- Matte “Mod Podge” decoupage glue and sealant (or watered down white glue)
- Ground cover:
- Woodland Scenic Fine Brown Ballast
- Woodland Scenic Coarse Brown Ballast
- Woodland Scenic static grass
- McCormick Italian Seasoning (or other old herbs that have lost their flavor) – this makes fantastic fallen woodland clutter
- Krylon Brown Spray Primer (red brown)
- Delta Ceramcoat Dark Brown (dark brown)
- Delta Ceramcoat Linen (parchment or ivory)
- Delta Ceramcoat Hippo Gray (dark gray)
- Delta Ceramcoat Quaker Gray (light gray)
- Delta Ceramcoat Ivy (medium green)
- Delta Ceramcoat Autumn Brown (medium brown)
- Scissors, Craft Knife, and Wire cutter
- Cut the wire for the stems – I cut four 12″ and twelve 8″ long pieces of the Paper Wrapped Floral Wire. Twist the four 12″ pieces together. Leave the last 3″ loose for the roots and the last 4″ loose for the crown. Now individually twist the twelve 8″ pieces around the trunk to make the trunk thicker (it should end up about 3/4″ thick) and end in limbs. Note that you want to twist these around each other in a fashion that does not untwist the floral wire covering and all the stems are going around the trunk in the same direction. You want the limbs to mostly sprout out about 4″ from the roots to form a crown (with maybe one or two higher or lower). For the limbs twist 2 or three pieces together where they exit the trunk leaving the last inch or two loose. At the root end, twist the various ends together to make three or four large roots with maybe one or two little roots. Once all the floral wire is twisted together bend the roots and limbs into aesthetically pleasing shapes.
- Cut a 3″ to 4″ diameter circle from the card stock. I traced mine around a Morton salt container. The finished platform can accommodate six minis on 25mm circular bases. Cut out a center hole that is the diameter of the 4 floral wires that form the center stem for the crown. Slide the circle down the stem for a test fit and bend the supporting limbs to a sturdy nest.
- Glue the coffee stirrers to the platform, trim the stirrers to match the card disc, and use a craft knife to cut out the center.
- Test fit it again. If all is well, then glue the platform from underneath to the main stem and to the supporting limbs with more hot glue.
- Hot glue the roots to the base – make sure your base is large and sturdy. I like very gnarly, exposed roots and bent some into arcs and others flat. Between the roots and under some of the roots, I glued rocks. Squirt hot glue under the roots to fill in the gaps and on top of the tips of the roots to make it look like the roots are headed into the earth. You can use the hot glue to make extra roots or form some more boulders.
- To improve the durability, brush “Mod Podge” over the entirety (tree, rocks, platform, and base) and allow it to dry. The “Mod Podge” will stick the paper from each stem together and provide any easy surface for painting.
- Now prime it, paint the tree and flet with the dark brown base coat, and paint the rocks a dark gray base coat. Once dry, dry-brush the rocks with light gray and the tree / platform with linen paint (ivory color). Then dry-brush a little green here and there for algae growing on the rocks, tree and platform.
- Next use hot glue to adhere clump foliage to the limbs. After I glue the foliage, I usually reposition some of the limbs to maximize the ability to put lots of minis on the Flets. I use a little bit of craft glue or hot glue to help hold the clumps together during assembly.
- Once you are done, paint all the clumps with “Mod Podge” (I slightly dilute it with water so it soaks in easier maybe a 3:1 ratio) – once this dries, the clumps will be much more durable.
- To finish the tree, base it per your usual method and then spray the entirety with Krylon Clear Matte sealant.
Buy deciduous trees from model railroad supplies to form the bulk of your jungle. These form the second canopy. I base these on 3” discs for larger trees and 50mm GW round bases for small trees using the woodlands technique.
Stealing and modifying the idea from TMP here is an easy way to make Palms (http://theminiaturespage.com/workbench/389056/). My variation was to buy cheap silk flowers and use the leaves to make palm leaves. I trimmed the leaves to palm frond shape and cut diagonal slashed to make them look the part. I glued a piece of floral wire (about 8 inches long) to each leaf. I bunched nine leaves together, twisted the floral wires together to form a trunk. I wrapped the trunk with one pipe cleaner per the TMP method to cover the top half of the trunk and then finished the bottom with a second pipe cleaner to continue down to the roots. I splayed the floral wire out at the bottom to make roots and hot glued it to an irregular base cut from card stock, slathered the trunk with Mod Podge, and once dry finished them using my desert basing technique. No need to paint unless you want darker trunks. An alternative, but OOP approach is to use the Palms from the Pressman Pirate Battle Game. If you need just a few palms, Pegasus makes a box with 3 large and a box with 5 small palms that are very nice. Here are the Pressman and Pegasus offerings:
Here are some other ideas from the defunct Major General Tremorden site:
Pegasus makes Banana trees. You have to assemble and paint them. They are a bit fragile, but definitely help set the stage. I assembled the trees; drilled five hole into a 3.5 inch by 4.5 inch plywood base and super-glued them in place to make regularly spaced stands typical of cultivation. They are molded in garish green and will need to be painted – I fixed mine with a base coat of Kyrolon Flat Camo Olive, a rough overcoat of GW Loren Forest, and another lighter overcoat of GW Snot Green. These come 18 trees to a box so you can make 3+ stands per box. I finished the groves using my woodlands basing technique.
Cheap Plastic Bamboo trees are available in bulk on e-bay for about $0.10 per stalk. Some of these have wire cores and are preferable for use. All come in an appropriate green color and do not require painting. I drilled holes and hot glued 4 to 5 stalks to a 3” diameter disk or 10 to 12 stalks to a 6” diameter disk to make bamboo groves. I finished the groves using my woodlands basing technique.
Woodland Scenic Clump Foliage, Lichen in various greens, and aquarium plants make for nice undergrowth for the bottom canopy. I generally hot glue these to 3” disks or smaller and finish using my woodlands basing technique.
I bought a couple of “grass mats” from Michaels. The tufts are arranged on a 1 inch grid. I cut these up into orthogonal shapes. Alternatively, you can pluck these off and mount them to bases. These also make good ground cover in the jungle and out in the grassy areas.
I bought Moss Mats to use as my jungle floor.
I bought rice patties from Total System Scenic – they are made of latex and somewhat translucent.
Cheap Jungle Shacks
There are a number of nice resin huts on the market, but they are a bit pricey. So I worked out a cheap alternate using stuff from a craft store, here is what you need:
- Small papier-mâché boxes – these are available at crafts stores like Michaels or AC Moore for a couple of dollars each. Pick some that are about 2 to 3 inches deep and whatever dimensions your want. I bought 6 that were 2.5 inches square by 1.5 inch tall, 2 that were 4 inches square by 2 inches tall, and 1 that was 7.5 inches square by 2.5 inches tall – all with lids. These range from $1 to $3 each.
- A roll of natural Burlap – I used a roll that was 4 inches by 6 feet and made by PANACEA (also called a “burlap garland”)
- ½-inch wood cubes – Darice 9112-47 Natural Unfinished Wood Cube, 1/2-Inch (or smaller if you can find something)Scrap Card stock (I use pizza boxes) for the eves and roof
- Craft glue – I use Aleene’s Tacky Glue
- Mod Podge – Matte Finish
- Cheap brush for slathering the glue and Mod Podge
- Craft Knife and a pair of Scissors
A few easy steps for the house:
- Cut out windows and doors with craft knife – I use a mini to scale the door and windows. Something like ¾ inch wide and 1-¼ inch high doors and either ½ inch by ½ inch windows or ½ inch by 1 to 2 inch long windows about a ½ inch from the floor should do.
- Glue some blocks to the bottom as a foundation – I put four on the small buildings and 8 on the large building. I originally planned to run supports down the outside walls to the ground and these were just for structure. That was too much like work so I just went with these. Small blocks would look better, but I could not find any – maybe balsa cut-offs would work as well.
- Slather the exterior with the craft glue, position one end of the burlap on a rear corner (trim it to fit), and wrap the burlap around the box, trim the other end and let dry
- Once dry, trim of the excess burlap from the top and cut out any burlap covering the windows and door openings. I fold down a little scrap at the bottom of the door as a door matt.
- At this point you could add some exterior trim in the form of balsa frames around the windows, doors, and corners. It would look better, but is not a requirement. In my buildings, I assume the frame is on the inside and the woven mats (burlap) are attached to the outside. You could also add solid doors or curtains – again I left off that detail.
- Slather with Mod Podge inside and outside and let dry overnight.
- They should take you about 10 minutes per building to do all this.
A little harder effort for the roof:
- Decide where the eaves go and cut off the end flaps from the box lid on those ends; trim the other two box flags to be about ¼ inch tall. This leaves you with a roof that is easy to slide over the burlap on the outside of the building.
- Cut a pair of triangle eave out of cardstock and glue it to the end of the lid where you cut off the flaps – I used some internal card stock to brace the eaves. You can go with 90 degree eaves for the smaller buildings. For the large building, I went with a complex roof that had about a 60 degree eave.
- Cut a roof and fold it over the top. Since I use Pizza Boxes, I used the fold in the cardboard to give me a strong, straight roofline. If you are cheap like me – either glue the roof with the inside up (no design), paint the decorations a neutral color, or use a double thickness of burlap to hide the pizza ads.
- Glue a triangle piece of burlap over each eave and then glue over-lapping 1” wide stripes of burlap to the roof making your way to the peak. Place final strip that overlaps the roof line.
- Slather it with Mod Podge and let it dry – Voila!
Waterfront – River Outpost
- 18 inch by 48 inch “ocean display mat” from Lemax (SKU: 14621).
- For the beach I used my burnt grass GeoHex game mat
- Ainsty (Riverfront, Trader Town and Trade Goods) – http://recreationalconflict.lusagi.com/ainsty/ainstyindex.html
- Wooden Jetty, Catwalk, Docks Gangway, Moorings Buoys, etc.
- River Launches (with binnacle controls or a cabin)
- Sampan Barge
- Various Trade Goods
- Corrugated Iron Shack
- Miniature Building Authority
- Jepson’s Hideaway Jungle Bar – just about perfect for after duty relaxing
- Grass Huts
- Guard Towers
- Colonial Riverboat
- Sand bag walls and emplacements
- Oil Drums
- Mine field
- Barbed Wire Obstacles
- Checkpoint Gate
- Old Glory
Putting it all Together
When I was doing the jungle part it was not looking right, so I brought in the wife for advice. She took one look and said I had the vegetation spread out too much (spaced like a gardener or a hobbit would do it) and too much local diversity. So we pushed everything about an inch apart and clustered the vegetation by type with several larger groves of each thing scattered about. She also had me move the grasses and the bamboo to the edges. Here’s what’s in the pictures:
- 2 Lemax Ocean Display Mats – 18”x48”
- 1 GeoHex desert mat (burnt yellow) – 4’x6’
- 2 GW Game Battle Mat (green) – 4’x6”
- 10 Moss Mats – 18”x24”
- 8 Custom Palm Tree stands –
- 12 Pressman Pirate Tree stands –
- 5 Grass Mats 12”x12” – separated into clusters
- 3 Large Custom Trees – 6 inch diameter
- 7 Medium Custom Trees – 3 inch diameter
- 12 Various Small Trees
- Various Shrubberies
- 22 Small Bamboo stands – 3” diameter
- 2 Large Bamboo stands – 6” diameter
- 10 Banana stands – 3.5” x 4.5”
- 8 Rice Patties – various sizes 2 – 3.25”x3.75”, 2 – 4”x4”, 3 – 6”x7”, and 1 – 6”x9” irregular
Stuff left to do:
- Lots more barbed wire – need three rows of wire
- Bunkers for US and opposition
- Tunnel openings
- Muddy brown water and shoreline
More to come on Vietnam minis and vehicles. See you back in the world.