Saturday 22 February 2014

Something completely different: ModelRail Scotland 2014

Today I took time off from my own model-making and travelled in to Glasgow with my younger children.  There we visited the ModelRail Scotland 2014 show which is, funnily enough, centred around model railways.

Now I'm not a railroad modeller myself, despite having spent much of my childhood poring through Hornby catalogues and despite the large quantities of Brio and compatible wooden track & rolling stock currently to be found in my house.  However I do occasionally go to such shows to gain inspiration and materials for terrain-making.

I found that this year's show was not useful for me as a shopping trip and was a little disappointing in terms of the layouts on view (there were a huge number, but little that was truly unique or original).  However there were some scenes that made me think a bit harder...

I was particularly taken with the bushes on this layout, but I failed to ask how they was made (something to do with having 2 children in tow - they were a bit distracting at times!)  Clearly there is a lot of green foam involved and I'd even hazard a guess that it's Woodland Scenics Medium Green Clump-Foliage.  But there's more to it than that; there's some texture and colour variation that wouldn't come from using the foam on its own.

I've often felt that my own terrain efforts are just too clean; there aren't enough brambles, gorse, ragged grass or other invaders around the edges.  It's all very well for an inhabited, domestic building to have well-kept boundaries, but most industrial sites have quite a lot of growth around the lesser-used parts even if they're still in use.  Of course, if a site has been abandoned then there should generally be far more weeds!  I could also use some "bad going" scatter terrain like this - but how did they do it?

Here's another example of the difference between some railway models and wargames tables.  This is an otherwise quite ordinary layout, but look at the contours.  The landscape has height; there are rises and dips.  It's all very gentle, but nevertheless it adds considerably to the overall effect.  I'm not sure how this could be replicated on a game board - indeed I'm now wondering how & where most railway modellers store their layouts?

My final picture is also of a layout that has elevation.  In this case it's almost 2-dimensional again - but with length and height as the 2 dimensions.  It makes an excellent public display, since all of the terrain is at much the same distance from the viewer (you won't strain to see the further details!).

Initially I wondered how such a large rock-face had been modelled, until I realised that it was built from many separate pieces, each perhaps 6" or 9" across.  The joins between each part have been disguised with trees, waterfalls or scree - very clever!

It's got me thinking whether it would be possible to do a wargames table like this for a cliff assault - a board that is essentially flat, but which is propped up at 70 degrees or so when in use for a game.  I haven't got all the practicalities worked out yet, but I wonder if anyone else has attempted this already?  Hmm...


  1. An interesting post, there is an awful to to learn for the railway modelling community re terrain works.

    1. There is, as long as we also remember the differences. Wargames terrain has to be portable, durable and playable - but there's no reason why it shouldn't be well-made and interesting as well!

  2. The big difference with rail-modellers and wargames models is not just about the level of detail, but the fact that wargamers have to stand figures on their layouts and have the ability to move them about. - It's one of the difficulties with fighting up a cliff of course!
    Most rail layouts, once built stay that way, but we like to vary our battlefields too.
    For skirmish games we can of course add a lot more detail than we can for the big-battalions games.
    We can though learn a lot from the railway enthusiasts.

    1. That's certainly true, but I think my own terrain could be a great deal better than it is. In some cases it might be as simple as a little more detail. Perhaps a bit of scrub attached to an otherwise bare hill, or some litter on a pavement. I don't think it has to be much...

  3. As Joe said, the problem is, wargaming terrain and railroad terrain are two different things.
    They don't need it modular and above all, they do not need to place 25mm or bigger bases around. Bases would ruin much of your effort or limit the placement of your figures on what could be a stunningly beautiful terrain board.

    For bushes like that, I'd suggest you build up an armature (insulation foam or wire) and then you just glue the clump foliage on.
    We have great 15mm bocage in our club that was made this way. I can't find any photos of it, naturally, but here is one along those lines:

    So, make something that looks like a bush and cover it all in clump foliage. Twice, even. Then pain it with PVA for hardness and you got big bushes.

    For anything else, there is lots of different static grasses and all that could help you. Perhaps put some longer grass patches (or lichen, could work as well), on washers/bases and if you make enough of them, you can make a large area of "long grass" that would provide concealment. As (most of) it would be on small bases, you simply take it away and put miniature in its place.

    I was, of course, thinking of making a playable cliff. Again, it would need lots of large flat surfaces to put miniatures on and you'd need to solve the problem of climbing it (perhaps put a flat area for 1-2 miniatures every 3 inches and miniature has to "climb" them like in those old video games)

    Small slopes and ditches and all would look awesome, but you'd need a board where you could carve the depressions in. Closest you can get without making time consuming (awesome looking) boards is that you take a base and just add "dirt" on the outside, leaving small "ditch" indicated, that could be a "trench" if needed.

    This made any sense? :D

    1. I mean ditches the way, say, GW craters are done.

    2. Thanks, Mathyoo. You're right, I think, that these bushes have been built up in layers.

      The "playable cliff" would indeed need plenty of positions where models could be placed. I was thinking of one or two paths from top to bottom, possibly with short gaps where figures would have to jump across. Maybe there could be some cave entrances, or wider platforms that could hold more than 1 model, or the occasional gully where a heroic climber might ascend. Ah, it's not hard to come up with ideas...

  4. I have also considered the lack of height in wargames tables. And as you have said storage is a problem . Also as wargamers we tend towards versatility. So unless you are building specific terrain for a show I think we are going to be bound to flat table syndrome.

    On the plus side I do have a idea for a car race game around a rocky cliff coast. Or Maybe the skirmish in the Stalingrad grain elevator.

    1. It's not just about height though, is it? The best tables I've seen have a lot of detail as well.

    2. I agree height is but one aspect. The main difference I suspect is that of versatility. As wargamers we do not want to fight the same battle time and again so our terrain has to be more flexible. Even if we were to fight the same battle a lot of times our troops might well take different paths and routes. As such we tend to use the terrain in a different way. For rail enthusiasts the terrain is a back drop for the Trains. For us it is also a back drop but also a place to move figures through or over.

      Which still gives us lots to learn from rail modelers. But it is comparing apples to oranges in my opinion.

  5. Interesting thoughts. Maybe perhaps you should work on some layered hills some that you could increase in size up or down in sort of building blocks perhaps giving you more variety.

    It also depends on where you want most of your gaming to be set in. I think the trouble with fighting across hills and rocky mesa's is that you need need to have flat parts to it to put figures bases on and that in turn detracts from its look. With Railway modelling its about creating a visual delight and not so much having to have miniatures moved across it in a practical way.

    Perhaps adding foliage here and there on your buildings. Bags of Rubbish and other detritus may help with the illusion and add a bit more detail. I've seen a great tutorial for making bags of rubbish undecided on how I'm going to use it though yet. Whether as a static piece of terrain or small piles of 3-4 bags that I can place all over the table.

    Also been looking at rubble piles that although are 3d are still flat enough put miniatures on but makes the gaps between buildings more interesting but still with the option of having different layouts.

    Apologies rambling on a bit. Your post does indeed give you food for thought.

    1. I think you're right that more detritus is needed. Some people are very good at this, but I tend to concentrate on figures and don't often get round to the other stuff...

  6. Another approach to the cliff problem is to borrow from the old Adam West batman series.
    You may recall episodes where the caped crusader and boy wonder are rather obviously walking "up" a studio floor painted to look like the side of a skyscraper, while holding onto a rope.

    The problem then becomes sourcing figures in the classic "climbing batman" posture.
    I know of only one source:

    1. Another interesting notion. Such figures might be a bit hard to find in any great variety, though!