Friday, 10 September 2010

Easy to build urban terrain

This is an article I wrote a few years back for Firebase magazine when my friend Brandon was the editor. Since it features some of my guardsmen on the pictures, and the colours of the terrain are similar to my camo scheme I think it could be featured here as well. Special thanks go to my good friend Chara Lasithiotaki for her invaluable help. So here it goes:

No one likes to play on an empty tabletop but commercial scenery is very expensive. The best solution is to make some of your own. This might seem a bit daunting at first, but taking it one step at a time it is very simple process and best of all it will only cost you pennies!


First of all make sure you are working in a suitable space. You will need a lot of room to move around and having a large area where all he cutting can be done is essential, such as a large desk or table. For this first stage the stuff you will need are:

• A pencil to draw on the boards

• hobby knives; a large one for basic cutting and ideally a smaller
knife for the details

• a pair of scissors to roughen up the building edges

• white glue to put everything together

• a large metal ruler, to guide your cutting 

• 2.5mm thick foam board to make the building walls

• hard board to make the base

• and optionally you can drink  plenty of coffee and have a friend help
out (while you take all the credit!)

You will now have to make the decision on what you want your building to look like. You can be creative about this and make all sorts of buildings using this method (ruined basilicas, tall office blocks etc.).
For this article though I wanted to create a ruined tank factory. As I had to go for a long and thin building I decided that the best dimensions would be 50cm long, 19cm wide and 15cm tall with a base that was 60cm long by 30cm wide. To make it more practical for table top gaming I only included two walls with no ceiling, as this makes it much easier when placing miniatures inside. Draw the outline of the building onto the foam board using the pencil and ruler. Carefully cut along these lines with the bigger hobby knife. When you have finished you should have two walls plus the base.

Add texture to the outside face of the walls and make it easier to manipulate the material by removing the outside layer of paper. Once you have done this you will have the inside layer of foam showing. Do this quite slowly and carefully as you risk breaking the wall and may have to start all over again.

Add windows and doors to the building. Use the guidelines on the template sketch to the windows and doors directly onto the foam board.

Carefully use the smaller hobby knife to cut them out. In the end you will have something looking like this.

Finally assemble the building using the white glue.


• white glue

• modelling sand

• some bigger pebbles

• static grass

• paints!

It is now time to add detail to the building. Since this is a very messy process it would be better if you did it somewhere outside of the house. Start by flocking the base. This is exactly the same as basing your models only on a much larger scale. Apply a thin layer of white glue all over the base and then start pouring sand from the container. Leave it to dry for a couple of hours. Mix some white glue with water inside a jar or a similar container (50/50 mix is about right). Apply this mixture on top of the sand and let it dry for another couple of hours. This is done to seal the sand in place, so that grains of sand do not come off while you are painting it. When this has dried you can add some bigger pebbles if you wish, to make it look more like fallen rubble.

Add some detail and more texture to the walls. If you have any leftover that look suitable for the building, e.g. Imperial or Space Marine iconography, you can put it on to the building using super glue.

When everything is all dry and settled its time to paint. Begin by undercoating it with a black spray (same as you would for a normal miniature). Leave to dry before using a brush to get to all the areas you have missed with the spray. Paint the base by gradually dry brushing with Scorched Brown, then with a Chaos Black and Codex Grey mix before a final highlight with a Codex Grey and Fortress Grey mix. Paint the building walls with Codex Grey and dry brush with Fortress Grey. Use a large brush for this or it will take ages. When it has dried completely glue static grass to finish off.

Voila! You now have a beautiful building to use on your table top without it costing more than 5 dollars to make.


  1. This would also be a good place to use all the left over sprue. Cut it up and use is as rubble. I hear wine corks make good rubble too.
    This really does look easy. I've got the foam board. I'll have to find some scrap hard board somewhere to make the base and have a go at it. Thanks!

  2. Thanks! It's really not hard at all, just a few hours of your time. Your imagination is the limit too. I've never used corks but it sounds like a good idea (if you have a fea lying around).

  3. Great stuff!! I would put some extra rubble too and make the walls more damaged cutting random bits with a sharp model knife but as you said, your imagination is the limit.

    You can make a whole city like this in notime!!

  4. Great tutorial -thanks! Sometimes foamcard can be daunting to ork with, but you make it look easy. It would also be easy to put on a few small 2nd level floors in the front corners for snipers.

    I've posted a link at my Blog to spread the word:

  5. Thank you for your contribution. I've made another building using this technique and it's much more elaborate than this one. I'll post pictures as soon as I paint it.

  6. leroyaumederedgo30 October 2011 at 00:01

    Good job!!

  7. very good article this time I saw a very good article like this.