Tables and Terrain: A ‘How To’ guide

Over the years I’ve played many a wargame against many a beautifully painted miniature. One thing that seems to be fairly common though is the lack of a decent playing surface or scatter terrain. Now there can be many reasons for this with a major point being “How do I go about getting started?” Miniatures can be expensive enough and terrain more so. Today I’m going to give you some tips for getting a table of terrain without breaking the bank.

basic green

To begin with, every wargame needs a decent playing surface. The wood grain of the kitchen table might be nice to dine off but it doesn’t quite set the scene of a post-apocalyptic warzone.

The simplest and most economical solution is to grab a couple of meters of a brown material from your local Spotlight or haberdasher. Not great but it’s a start.

A better, pricier alternative that I highly recommend is to shell out for a gaming mat.  Made from mousepad material and with a detailed landscape printed on the surface, they transform the play area in an instant. They are also durable and often come with a carry case that allows the mat to be rolled up and stored neatly while taking up minimal space.

In fact, they are so good, you could probably get away with rubbish for terrain as long as you’re using the gaming mat.

They come in a range of sizes depending on what game system you play and a range of settings, from galaxy star-scapes to cobblestone streets, to frozen wastelands. Here are a few online retailers who supply to Australia (as international postage can be a real kicker).

Vault Games located in Brisbane.

Campaign Books and Games Logistics (QLD based) supply Cigar Box Battle mats with a cloth, machine washable variant.

swamp mat and terrain

I’ll also quickly mention the high end war gaming surface option: Secret Weapon Tablescape Tiles. Coming in at about $330 for a full 6 x 4 board, these plastic tiles measure 1ft x 1ft each. They’ll need to be painted like the rest of your miniatures and then stored carefully as to not to damage said paint job. The results are pretty amazing though and the smaller tile footprint allows for variability for your games. They mostly come in the urban flavour with one or two fantasy settings to broaden the range.

An Aussie retailer The Combat Company stocks these.

foam before and after

Right, so now we have a good foundation it’s time to bring it to life. The easiest way to add depth to the board is to just place books underneath the mat, raising some sections. This creates a gentle slope for hills that should be okay for miniatures to stand on without toppling.

You can go a step further by creating actual hills using extruded closed cell foam. Grabbing a sheet or two from Make My Model will be enough to cover a table and then some, all for $9 a sheet. Extra work is a given: cutting, shaping, gluing, applying sand and flock, and painting.

Don’t have the room to store tubs of terrain? The 2D option might be your thing. Broken Egg Games create an assortment of neoprene scatter terrain. They look great, are durable and super easy to store.

Can’t justify the price of the neoprene prints? Why not print it yourself? DrivethruRPG offer a range of downloadable images (for a few dollarydoos) with a range of settings – especially useful for dungeon crawlers.


For me though, it just doesn’t feel the same as terrain with actual height… so if you have a 3D printer, perhaps printing your own scenery this way might be better. Designs can be purchased online from places like Printable Scenery. Although it doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway, 3D printing can be a pain to produce something of quality. It’s slow for high resolution prints and there is a lot of finger crossing that the actual print runs without errors or defects.

Once cleaned up though, they look the part and are very cost effective (not counting the price of the printer itself).

desert mat

Another economic choice for terrain is down the papercraft route.

Imperius Wargaming have a range of free to download PDF files of buildings which you can print out on some decent stock, cut out and assemble.

My personal favourite is Daves Games as they have a wide selection of both sci-fi and fantasy terrain, ruins and accessories. I recently made a Mordheim table out of Daves Games designs and it looks fantastic. The cost came mostly from printing at my local Officeworks as I haven’t easy access to a good colour printer. Time and patience are needed when assembling these kits so make sure you read the instructions very carefully. Learn from my mistakes.


Lastly, the cheapest option for decent looking terrain is found in nature itself! Take a stroll outside and look for any interesting looking rocks or large pieces of tree bark (don’t go ripping it off trees) – bark can be painted up quite quickly to resemble slate or rocky overhangs. All they need is a quick wash, dry, then seal with watered down PVA glue (most important). If you are using rocks, make sure to store them separately as their weight can crush your other bits of terrain.

There you have it, all you need to get started. I’ve only just scratched the surface on what’s available. There are countless ways you can create terrain with helpful YouTube videos and many places to buy DIY and ready-made kits, but I’ll stress the importance of a gaming mat. If you can only afford one thing make sure it’s the mat.



PS. Mantic Games currently have a Terrain Kickstarter with five days to go at the time of writing. This could be a good way to buy a bulk lot of pre-assembled pieces that just need some paint. Jump on now while they’re still at Kickstarter prices.

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One Comment
  1. May 10, 2017 | Reply

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