Hills 2.0

28 07 2012

Early on in my blogging I posted an article on hills. In this blog I featured my GeoHex hill system which is really neat modular hill system that can be used to not just create hilltops but a very realistic undulating topography.


As cool as it is though, its a huge pain the butt to set up and tear down. It takes at least and hour to set up the hills and sometimes much longer to tear down. When returning them to their box they have to fit in just such a way. Ick. What I need is a set of hills I can just pull down of the shelf and plop on the table.

A more common hill solution involves making hill tops out of “blueboard”. Blueboard is a type of wall insolation that can be bought in 8” by 4” sheets at you your local handy dandy nifty neeto hardware store.


A sheet of blueboard costs about $10 a pop. There are a couple of funny things about blueboard; The only people that need a single sheet of it are wargamers. If you were building a house you’d use this stuff by the pallet. I have had the funniest interactions with people in hardware store when they apologize for how expensive it is or when I ask them if I can borrow a knife so I can cut it up to put it in my car.

To make a hill I start with a piece of blueboard (BTW…my blueboard is pink)


I then mark the shape of the hills on the blueboard using a sharpie. I want several hills to be of a manageable sizes ranging from about 1’ by 2’ down to small hills that are about 6” square.


I then cut out the hills using a hot wire. Hot wires (or foam cutters) are used by crafty types for sculpting.


First I cut the hills out making sure to leave a level edge.


Next I trim the edges do create as flat a slope as possible.


To create as gentle a slope for the hill as possible I continue slice off where the edge I cut intersects with top surface of the hill. This is a really inexact process. If it seems you are making a mess then relax… you are. The next set of steps are really forgiving and will make up for booboos you make here.


Next coat the hill in mod podge.


This is gooey and nasty. Do this in the garage.

Next I sprinkle Woodland Scenics blended grass everywhere and quickly. Once I get everything covered I shake off the excess. This makes a mess. Seriously. I do this over a box I keep on hand for this purpose. This is handy as it not only helps with the mess but it allows me to collect and reuse the droppings.


I let this dry and then apply a second coat.  Two coats should be enough to coat everything completely.


All this glue and grass creates a pretty thick layer and fills in the nicks and gaps I created when I haphazardly carved out the shape of the hill.

The next step is to coat the hills in a dilution of mod podge. If I don’t do this, the grass will come off to the touch.


I have a spray bottle I grabbed at my local hardware store for this purpose. I mix mod podge with water at about 3:1 ratio and spray it onto my hills 3 or 4 times. This is a really important step that makes the hill nice and hard to the touch.

Here is a finished hill.  As its covered in the same grass as my tiles it’ blends really well



Orchards and their Necessity to Society.

25 09 2011

Ok… I don’t know that orchards really are such a necessity but I was at a loss for a title  this week and Abigail seemed to think this would work.  Go Ab.

Orchards play a recurring role on the civil war battlefield (The Peach orchard at Gettysburg for instance).  Orchards provide opportunities for cover which soldiers like without all that nasty underbrush which makes movement such a chore.  And… if the battle wears on, and it’s the right time of year (or you don’t mind green fruit) you could have an apple or two during the fight.

In McPherson and Revenge, an orchard:

  • Provides +1 cover modifier for morale checks and being shot at.  Yeah! 
  • Has no impact on movement.
  • Is a a source for material used to create improvised cover

Creating Orchards

To make my life easier (and this blog entry shorter) I start with completed trees


Single tree stands of both the light and dark green variety are used to create peach and apple trees.

To create an apple tree I put drops of thinned glue onto the true using my glue applicator.


I then dunk the tree into a container of scenic forest’s “apples”.  This stuff is basically just tiny round pellets covered in (sadly) water soluble red paint.


This does not work well.  There is just enough a static charge to make the apples stick without actually being glued.  Really… this is a pain.  Please try a different method and let me know how it works.  Pretty please.

I “coated” my light green trees with apples and my dark green trees with peaches


There is a slight scale problem here as you can see.  As small as the fruit is, it looks like the tree is being pulled up by its roots by colorful helium filled balloons.  It looks better on the table than it does in a close up photo so I can live with it.

Next step… I spray matte finish on the trees in a vain effort to get the fruit to stay on the tree.


This doesn’t work of course but it makes me feel better and after an afternoon of mucking with tiny fruit spraying things with glue is very relaxing.

Here are some of these orchards in action!



Most projects I present in this blog are pretty much all successful.  I rarely feel like I finish with a compromised result.  This project is a sort of exception.  It was more work than it should have been and there was one really disappointing “gothcha” I ran across that I never found a work around for.

The fruit is covered is a really water soluble paint and the glue is water based.  This caused me no end of trouble as the red and orange paint came off the fruit and stained the trees.  A number of orchard tress had to be thrown out as I learned how to work with this material.  Were I to do this over again I would likely use the spray matte to attach the fruit.  I have doubts this would work but the fruit would at least not run onto the tree.

The final result is “good enough” but this is my least favorite project to date mostly because neither the process nor the finished result matched my expectation.  boo.

Crops and Fields

4 07 2011

Sometimes, to make a piece of terrain look the way you want it to, you have to really put in the time.  Fences and Trees are this way for me.  It takes me a good weekend in the garage to create about a 18 square inches of trees or 24” of fence.    Crops and fields on the other hand I literally can buy by the yard.  It’s embarrassing.

Because of fairly big ground scale of my game, I don’t need to see individual ears of corn on the battlefield.  Ideally crops would appear relatively flat, almost like carpet.  (Think of the way that farmland looks out of the window of an airplane.)  To give this effect I decided to use brown corduroy as a material for creating plowed fields.  This material is cheap, cuts into whatever shape I need and it does a shockingly good job of approximating tilled soil.


I need fields in patches shaped to be surrounded by my fences.  Four of my fences laid out in a square create a field that is just over 2 1/4  inches squared.  I happen to have 60mm square pieces lying around for just such an occasion so I use that as the basic template for cutting my fabric.  As long as I want square patches of  of crops I should stick with multiples of 60 mm for my cuts.  Later I will create some rhombus shapes with odd angles.


I could be done at this point.  I feel a little awkward  not doing  more so I added one of my patented extra steps of questionable value.  I border the fields with grass.  (For bonus points I use my handy dandy nifty neato one of kind glue applicator!)

I line the field with glue and coat it with grass flocking. (sorry for the pre-brushed off image>


This extra step makes the plowed surface appear lower than the surrounding grassy area and it helps with threads that get fraid from the cut fabric.

I am able make fields with planted crops as well by striping the cut fabric with close lines of glue and then adding grass flocking to that.


I also am able to create fields of wheat by using a different fabric.  <Wait for it…>  Teddy bear fur!

Somewhere in Kirkland Washington is a fabric store filled with helpful ladies that talk about the time that weird burly man shouted “yee haw” from the stuffed animal section.  Teddy bear fur is the bomb!  It comes in a variety of shades and plush.


Here are some action shots!



Crops have NO measurable effect on the play of McPherson and Revenge.  They neither inhibit movement nor do thy provide cover.  They are there merely to give the fences something to do.

Happy 4th!

Making good neighbors

30 05 2011

Fences make a huge difference on the battlefield.  Not the paper thin fences we have today but great big fences they used to make when lumber still grew on trees.  Many famous fights pivoted on the fact that one or another side held a position along a fence such as “the angle” at Gettysburg.

No fence says “I belong on a civil war battlefield” more than the snake rail fence. 


This guy is a monster.  It’s 100% wood.  As best I can tell it doesn’t even bother with nails.  If you were being shot at and you wanted to take cover behind something made of wood then you could do much worse than your standard issue snake rail fence.

In addition to stopping the odd bullet, a fence provides another stone cold value to the civil war soldier; It rarely runs away in panic.  Soldiers fought in lines.  They stayed in the fight so long as the soldier on either side of them stayed in the fight.  If a soldier lost the men around him then he is just standing there in a field being shot at.  In this way panic in battle is contagious.

A fence provides much better protection and survivability than running for your life over open ground.  Therefore soldier clung to fences in battle and stayed in the fight.

There are four principle effects of a fence on McPherson and Revenge.

  • Defense – Units in contact with a fence receive a +1 to be hit. (bad for the shooter)
  • Morale – Units in contact with a fence receive a –1 on morale checks (good for the fence sitter)
  • Movement – there is a 1” penalty for units crossing a fence (see movement)
  • Improvised Terrain – Split rail fences can be used to produce improvised terrain

Making fences

To make my snake rail fences, I start with 2.5” popsicle sticks and O scale lumber.  O scale lumber is just really small cut wood.  In this case I use 2” by 2” lumber in the O-scale.  This translates to 0.042” in reality…. small.


I spend some quality time cutting the lumber into about 3/4” pieces


It takes 15 pieces of lumber for each stand on fence and I make the fences five stands at a time.


I then glue the wood to the popsicle sticks in a hash pattern.  The bottom layer gets 3 pieces of lumber and the second layer gets two whole and two half pieces.


BTW… this is shockingly relaxing.

Next I spray paint the split rail fences a dark brown.


Then I paint the fences brown.


This seems like an extra step.  I do it because I don’t have brown spray paint that matches the color scheme I want to use and because pray paint just doesn’t go everywhere.

Next I dry brush the fences with lighter shades of brown (brown lightened with increasing amounts of white)


BTW… It has take YEARS of abuse to get this paint brush ready for this task.  This is where having painting daughters come in handy. 

Next I paint the edges of the stand black.  Again.. maybe a wasted step.  Not sure why I do this but I do.


Next I apply glue using the greatest glue applicator in the history of the world.


I then blow static grass onto the glue.


At this point the fence likes pretty done…


… but something is missing.  What we need now is standard issue weeds, bushes and rocks.

I glue pieces of flocking and rocks to the stand.


Here are a couple of action photos!



Anachronism Alert

Snake rail fences where old tech by the time of the Civil War.  They existed on the East coast from Savannah to DC because they where there since before the Revolution.  They liked the look of the fence and as this was an established and relatively wealthy stretch of land, they continued to build and maintain them.  Mississippi would not have had these types of fences however.  I like them and I couldn’t figure out how to make more conventional fences so this is what I am using.

The Road Less Traveled

24 04 2011

Roads are critical to the Civil War Battlefield.  Battles almost always occurred on terrain with road access and many famous battles were fought because of their proximity to a crossroads.  Antietam, Gettysburg and our very own Champion hill are but to name a few.

Roads had a number of notable impacts on the Civil War Battlefield:

  • Troops in column moved at a greatly accelerated speed along a road.
  • Roads were the principle means of access to the battlefield.  Once a battle was begun, troops that would join the battle would do so via a road.
  • Roads are easily navigated and orders involving roads are very easily understood.  Troops could make excellent progress on a road in part because no prior knowledge of the terrain was required to make progress.
  • Troops moving along a road are unbelievably vulnerable.  Formations for Moving are radically different than the formations for fighting.  Strategies for deploying troops often vacillate between getting the battle quickly or getting to the battle ready to fight.  Initial deployments of troops often occur not so much to engage the enemy but to provide cover for fresh troops entering the battle via a road that would otherwise be unusable because of enemy fire.
  • Roads were strategic in and of themselves.  This is particularly true of Champion hill where the two roads immediately behind the hill led to solid river crossings and had to be taken for the North to advance on Vicksburg and had to held by the South to allow for troops to withdraw to the city.

In McPherson and revenge roads will dramatically impact movement of virtually all troop types.  Troops will have to be arranged to make the most of roads; Infantry and Cav in column and artillery limbered.

Roads will also impact command and control in McPherson and Revenge.  Standing orders for troops to continue down a road can always be assumed given how easy it is to continue marching.  So long as troops are to move their full movement along a road as a general’s initial order, a general will not have to make a skill roll activate troops for road marching.

Scenarios will be massively impacted by roads.  They will be crafted to make the most of roads such that engaging troops and reinforcements will enter the battle via a road and holding roads and crossroads will be critical to winning battles.

Making the Roads

There are a few successful strategies for putting a road on a miniatures table, namely:

  • Have the roads as separate pieces that lay on top of a table surface.  Road pieces can include different lengths and shapes including forks.  This approach can be very versatile but requires set up and may not look 100% right.
  • Build the roads directly onto the battle surface and make the battle surface polymorphic.  This is the same approach I used with my rivers.  This looks like a million bucks but is not very versatile.  The upside here is that it sets up like a breeze.
  • Build the road out of something on the day of gaming.  I have seen this done in two ways.  One, using sand poured onto the table to look like a really rough dirt road.  Another approach I saw one I thought worked pretty good was 1” wide masking tape applied to green felt.  These are not overly attractive but masking tape is cheap.

Because I made the decision to put rivers directly into a polymorphic table system it would be REALLY limiting to do the same thing with my roads even though this would look the best.  I will go with the first approach, this is, creating separate road pieces that sit on top of the gaming surface.

In my previous adventures as miniatures terrain creator I once had a road system I built out of hardwood.  It looked pretty good and fit rather tidily under my bed in a box. It was versatile and attractive. The problem with this system was that hardwood roads didn’t go up and down hills worth a darn.  I found myself steering roads around hills as every time I hit a hill I had to find just the right length piece of road.

Rather than go with something firm like wood I have decided to create roads out of something really flexible… caulk. 

As I will be painting and gluing things to caulk I make sure that I uses a “paintable” silicon caulk.  Most caulk is either white or clear but some other colors are available.  As I will have to cut the caulk and invariable the base color of the caulk will poke through, I use brown caulk


Caulk sticks to damn near everything until its dry.  I have a couple of old pieces of silpat that I use for making the roads.  Silpat is a silicon based cookie sheet liner and is cools stuff.  On a side note, silpat is literally the only thing that I have seen with the words “Made in France” on it.

I lay a nice thin bead of caulk on the silpat


I then smooth this into the shape of the road.  One of my roads is about 1.5” wide and 12” long.


I also make curves and forks.


Once these are dry, I peal them off, trim them if needed.


I then spray them with matte finish and cover them in fine ballast.


At this point the ballast is “sort” glued to the roads pieces.  If I mess with it overly at this point the ballast comes right off.


Spray painting the roads, generously, with brown paint will not only provide a base color for the road but will make sure the ballast stays in place.


Next I paint the roads burnt siena.  Rather than paint off a palette, I think the paint in a squeeze jar and pour it directly onto the road pieces.  This is a messy process and is why my table is a shade of brown.


Once all the road pieces are painted brown, I then highlight them by dry brushing mixtures of Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna and white.  This step takes FOR. EV. ER.


At this point these roads are still really flexible. Glue will stiffen them up a bit but they will still drape very nicely.


Next I lay 20mm wide bases along the road to mark the area I intend to leave the painted surface exposed.


…and paint glue on everything else.


With the glue still wet I put Woodland Scenics Grass flocking onto the road. 100_3254

I have a box for doing this but some how I managed not to get a picture of it. 

Once this layer dries I apply another layer of thinned white glue (using may magic glue bottle!) and apply more grass.


Once dry I then cut the edges off all the road pieces using a craft knife and a strait edge.


To make sure I have a variety of lengths I cut some of the curves and straight pieces an number of times laterally.


Here are some road pieces on my table…




Improvised Cover

27 03 2011

The Civil War battlefield was a dangerous place.  This was partially due to the fact that there were tons of people with guns shooting at you and partially because the tactics of the day dictated that you should stand up and take it.  It did not take long for veterans of both armies to realize that cover improved during the fight improved survivability and if the battlefield did not provide you cover then you needed to make your own.

There was no “ideal” technology for creating cover in battle.  Soldier could get access to tools when entrenchment was a known strategic objective but during the battle shovels and picks would have been hard to come by.  Improvised cover appears to have come predominately in two types; digging and debris such as logs and rocks. 

Digging would be done with whatever was at hand including cups and plates.  This type of work could be time consuming.  If troops were able to stay in a single position  for a period of time they would invariably improve there position notably.  At the battle of Malvern hill the 22nd Massachusetts held a seemingly open position for well over an hour by lay flat in a field and alternating digging in using mess tins and firing at the enemy. 

Far preferable to digging was using available debris.  A position could be considerably improved by moving logs and rocks that might be available .  If the fight is within easy distance of a forest or close to split rail fence that could be disassembled then solders would take advantage and create a barrier that would provide measurable protection.  Though I call this type of cover “Improvised cover” throughout this blog other games would also refer to this type of feature as a “Hasty Work”.  Both are correct.

Factors that contribute to the amount of time it would take to produce effective cover would be determined by

  • Distance from debris
  • Skill of the soldiers
  • Condition of the soldiers
  • Luck

Improvised Cover rules

Orders can be given to create improvised cover to one or more infantry regiments (or dismounted cav) as an “order”.  Each regiment being ordered to create cover will make “rolls for effect” to accumulated enough successes to create cover.  The number of successes required depends on the distance to either a forest, fence or building.  In all cases this terrain feature must NOT be closer to an enemy than it is to the unit trying to dig in.

The number of successes needed to produce cover is indicated below along with a distance

Distance Successes
2” or less 2
4” or less 4
More than 4” 8

As usual, these distances and values come directly from my butt.  Play testing will bear these values out.  My inclination though is that nobody is going to go more than 200 yards to grab a log though.

Morale will modify these rolls. I haven’t explained morale yet so I don’t want to tip my hand here but units that are not ok are either shaken or routed.  Shaken units will have a –1 on each dice rolled making it harder to succeed.  Routed units can’t create cover.  They are to busy trying to create distance.

If a roll for effect does NOT generate enough successes then the number of success will be noted (by a dice most likely.  Haven’t made up my mind yet.)  Subsequent attempts to dig in will add to this accumulated total

If a unit moves before establishing cover then the accumulated successes are lost.

Once the number of successes indicated has been accumulated then the regiment is marked as being in cover and all rolls against it are modified as though the unit is in “light cover”.  I have NOT discussed the concept of cover yet.  Cover will be either light, heavy or entrenched.  More will be revealed once I get to “fire and morale” in a few weeks.

If a fence is the object the unit creates their cover from then the fences will be removed when the cover is added.  (It got moved!)

If a unit moves out of cover then the improvised cover remains on the table and can be assumed by a different unit later.

Creating Improvised Cover

I have become a big fan of using popsicle sticks.  Not sure when it happened.  They are absolutely the right price when it comes to buying a lot of stands.  I have created cover of this type before using metal bases but these had to be stored on magnets as the sharp heavy metal bases would have damaged each other had I placed them in a container.  Popsicle sticks are really light.

I start by painting short popsicle stick with raw umber paint


I then cover the popsicle stick in white glue…


and cover with static grass.


I am not wanting to limit the actual type of cover that can be used by soldiers but I do have to model something.  I have chosen to create long thin stands of fallen trees.

Next I take Woodland scenics plastic tree armatures…


… and paint them brown…


and drybrush them with a lighter color.


Now that I have painted tree branches I cut them up using a pair of wire cutters and bend them into more plausible shapes.  Where I cut I paint a light brown to look like cut wood.


I next glue the branches to my popsicle sticks along with some rocks.


I then finish up by gluing bits of clump foliage.


Here is a finished batch.


This project went really well and was a pleasant surprise.  It too very little time to create this.  Had a known this would have gone this well my first batch would have gone larger.

As an interesting aside I had an aborted prototype for this project using wires instead of tree armatures.  I had intended to glue small pieces of wire to the the popsicle stick, paint the branch brown and then glue on the grass.


My prototype ended up a train wreck.  I would have had better results if I started with brown wire but the glue and the grass just went wrong.  Applying glue to a surface with wire attached made for strange surface tension experiment.  The grass ended up everywhere.  Fail.

Into the Woods

27 02 2011


Let me start by saying that I am REALLY pleased with the ways my trees have turned out.  So much so, that I am reluctant to blog about them for fear that next weeks work will really seem lame by comparison.  Not everything turns out the way I hope and on more than one occasion I have “taken a C” on a particular element of my miniatures and moved on.  Trees I nailed though.

A number of years ago I created trees for my original miniatures project.  I made about 20 or 30 one inch square stand with three trees on it.  It took a while to do but I was generally pleased with the results.  I used really colorful fall foliage because I thought it looked really nice.  In retrospect not my best move as very few battles where fought in the fall.  Still, it was my forest and I wanted fall colors.  Nyaah.

The first time we played with my trees I received a rude awakening.  20 or 30 stands of trees on a 8 foot by 4 foot table looked pathetic.  I missed creating the correct number of trees by well over an order of magnitude.  In fact I needed to go into mass production on my trees if I wanted my trees to look… well like a forest.  Instead of representing trees on my table with trees, we instead used green felt cut into patterns.  I stored the better part of a bolt of green felt along with my hills and would cut new pieces as needed whenever we set up a new game.  It was a workable but unsatisfying solution.


When I revived the notion of having a Civil War table, I considered the trees to be a central part of the problem.  My forests WILL be made of trees.

Impact on Battle

Scarcely a single battle of the civil war lacked for trees.  Some battles, like the Wilderness or Shiloh could be said to have been fought in a forest.  Even in battles where there was much open terrain, stands of woods had a mighty impact on the battle.  Here are a few ways trees influenced the Civil War battlefield.

  • Reduced visibility – Troops in woods could become virtually invisible.  Troops within the woods themselves could vanish within just a few dozen yards of heavy forest and many impressive acts of deception where achieved by maneuvering just on the other side of a path of trees.  Jackson’s surprise flanking march at the battle of Chancellorsville was achieved largely by the presence of trees
  • Cover – There is lots of cover In a forest.  Holding a wooded area proved to be a successful tactic, particularly if a unit held the edge of a wooded area and fired at the enemy in the open. 
  • Building supplies for improvised cover – If troops did not have the great fortune to be positioned within a forest, being close to trees and having a few minutes to prepare was very nearly as good.  Confederated in particular seemed to be extremely skilled moving felled trees to where they could provide meaningful cover for crouching and firing.
  • Reduced movement – On the downside, movement through woods would occur at a much slower rate than in the open.  Potentially movement could be halved or even quartered based on the density of the woods.

Building Trees

In my original tree project I mounted trees on the same kind of bases I mounted my miniatures on, namely hand cut bass wood glued to a piece of metal.  My thought originally was that I could store them on magnets.  This is a deeply bad Idea.  Given that my scenario calls for at least 10 square feet of woods (and the more I think of it, more like 16) storage will be an issue.  16 square feet of storage space will be costly, especially if I have to cover it in sheet magnet which can be $10 or so a square foot.

If I make everything light, I could just chuck everything into a shoebox and fix battle damage as it occurs.  Also, I need something a little easier than hand cutting bases.  Don’t they make bits o’ wood already? 


Michaels, seller of cool stuff, has on their popsicle stick isle, bits of stunningly cheap round bits o’ wood for about $1.99 a bag.  Huzzah!  A single bag will cover about 9 square inches in two different sizes(about 1.5 inch and 3/4 inch diameter circles.


I start by gluing two layers of Fine ballast to the top of the disk.  This will make for the painted dirt service.


Once done I spray paint the bases, generously, with brown paint.


I then dry brush the bases with burnt sienna (a style of painting where only the raised areas are touched by the paint).


I then paint the edges of the base with black paint.


This finishes the painting of the bases.  Next step is to drill three different size holes in the base for tree trunks.  I do enough of this that I have a drilling station in my garage.



I then cut dowels to fit the two larger holes.  These will become tree trunks.


I then glue the two different size dowel bits to each of the bases.  (note:In the smaller bases, I either put a small or medium hole.)


I then use ink to dye the dowels a more trunk like color.


Once dry I apply glue and static grass.  This is a really bizzare process involving a blowing the grass using a large squeeze bottle.


This finishes the ground appearance of the tree stand.


Next I create trees.  To create conifer trees I use black bump chenille.  This is basically a pipe cleaner with alternating long and short hairs.


I cut the chenille so that I have about 3/4 inch tall bits that go from wide to skinny.  I pull the a little of the black fur out of the chenille bit on the wide end so that I can attach these guys to the bases later.


Next I put a “light” layer of glue on the chenille…


… and dip the chenille into a dark mix of forest scenics grass blend.


Once dry, I can glue the trees to the bases by taking the protruding wire coated in white glue…


…and slipping them into the small holes in my bases.


I finish the trees by super gluing different colored bits of clump foliage to the tree trunks.


This is the completed batch of trees…


… and this is about 4 completed batches of trees.


I expect I will have about 8-10 batches of these trees by the time I am done.  It’s slow work but it beats the bejesus out of felt.