May 3, 2010

Terrain for Historicon - Part Four

We are going to start to make these things look more like terrain this time. There are lots of ways to add texture to your game boards, but the way that I have found to be the best and quickest (quick is big with me), is to glue a grass mat to the board. There are lots of different styles and you could use any one you choose, but you want one with a cloth or felt backing rather than a paper one, for reasons that will become obvious as we go through this article. The brand I use is from Monday Knight Productions and I get mine online from the Warstore in the USA.
You need to cut the mat into sections slightly larger than your boards. For the river sections, the cuts don't have to be perfect along the banks. Just make sure they come near the edge of the foam. We're going to trim to perfection later...

Ok, guys. This is an iron. Get your wife or girlfriend to show you how to use this, but be careful that you don't display too much proficiency this this thing or you might find yourself with new chores. If you are really smooth, you can get your wife to iron the mats for you... like I did. You can see above that the mat has lots of creases from it's packaging. If you manage to find a grass mat that comes rolled on a tube (lucky you) you can skip this step. Just choose a low setting and only iron the felt side. We're not going to get all of the creases out this way, but the main thing is to make them less noticeable.

Ok, the reason for the glue is obvious. White glue will work just as well, but I used the carpenter's glue because that's what I had on hand. A bucket with a little water. an old brush, and a spray bottle filled with water are the only other things we need to continue.

You're going to want to do this next step outside or in your garage. I suppose you could use your tub, but a new grass mat flakes quite a bit and you're going to end up with a mess! What I'm doing here is spraying the back of the mat (the felt side - same one we ironed) with water. We just want the material damp, not dripping. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, it will add weight to the material and help keep it tight against the board/foam. This is important since you can't set books or things on top of your terrain if you have hills or river beds. The water also makes the material stretch a little and it forms well to the prevoiusly mentioned hills, etc. Finally, it helps reduce the wrinkles we couldn't get out with the iron!

After wetting the mat, turn to your board. The mat won't dry out too quickly so you have time as long as you only work on one baord at a time. I start on the outside and place a thin bead of glue along the wood frame. It is important that the mat forms a solid bond around the edges. Then I basically lay out more glue in a spiral pattern and take a wet brush and smooth the glue as evenly as possible on the board.

On the river boards I don't try to put the glue all the way down the banks to the wood, because I'm going to trim the grass back as I mentioned before. Just leave an inch or two of foam glueless.

Place the damp mat onto the sticky foam and press it down. You should be able to smooth out any remaining wrinkles. If you build in slopes and hills on the board, you can use straight pins to help hold the mat tight against the foam while the glue dries.You can remove them later, or simply cover them with texture in a later step.

Fast forward... this is important... I let the board dry for three or four hours before moving to this next step. With a sharpe blade (I used a new blade for each board) trim away the extra mat. This is easier than it looks if you use the edge of the wood to guide your knife. Make sure to take you time to get neat edges and avoid losing a finger!

It took a week for me to get the grass glued down on all six boards, but I was able to only get in a few hours a night. You need to be patient during this stage to ensure a strong, permanent bond of your grass mat. 

The next installment will focus on adding roads, trimming up the river banks, and adding the next layer of texture. I'll try to get a shot of all six boards laid out on my garage floor (I don't have a table large enough to set up a 6x8' table at this time).


  1. Hi
    A great tutorial... I own a large rest of green matt, so I'll try to repeat your instructions on it. However, I'll try to work in the small hours or my wife will recruit me to ironing ;-p

  2. Ah Clarrie, its great to see a master craftsman at work... the felt-backed mat seems the way to go - I can't get the paper one to cover anything but the gentlest hills without wrinkling (and then the tedious scalpel work to even the wrinkles out!) You can iron it though - just don't let She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed catch you before its used on clothing or you'll be in the doghouse!

    Just an idea on the table required - I use a fold-up table-tennis table that can trundle away when not in use but provides a nice stable platform for gaming or terrain boards. My problem is finding a room in the house big enough - hence the car-free garage!

    Great to watch your progress on the boards and looking forward to your tute on doing the river section - that's the bit I find most challenging.


  3. So it appears that you cover the wood batten piece with the grass mat rather than having foam go to the edge of the board. So obviously there can't be any contour rise at the outer edge of the board, is this right?

  4. Actually, I continue to add wood if I want higher elevations that 'leave' the board. Where such heights meet the edge of the board, I carve them to 45-degree angles I just as I do for the river banks. If you have better woodworking tools than I, you could make the wood slope at a gentler angle, but the effect of the 45-degree slope is not a sever as it sounds since it's right at the edge.

    I have one board with a low hill on it and I'll make sure it gets into the next round of photos.