Well, one of the big expenses of the hobby is a decent table and terrain to play through, and if anything, its a lot more expensive than the early days of the hobby. In the past, it was pretty much expected to improvise terrain, or put it together yourself. Now, there are tons of fantastic but very expensive terrain you can walk into GW and buy, and honestly if you can throw money at it, its an absolutely fantastic option. But we can save huge amounts of money and still have some really, really good looking tables to play on.
There is a range of options at increasing cost:
- Build terrain in a Blue Peter style from household items. This used to be the main way, and its generally quite lost these days, but it can be pretty effective.
- Find or buy, then print out cardboard/paper scenery. This is actually really effective, easy to replace, and pretty cheap! It does take a chunk of time assembling, but then its usually ready to go. Its particularly good for RPG settings where you can tailor what you need for a particular session.
- Buy cheap scenery aimed for railway hobbying, kids toys or fish tanks. Often quite striking pieces can be picked up for very little money, and things like trees and flock are far cheaper if you look for railway hobby stuff than the 28mm stores. Generally in much larger quantities too!
- Look at custom scenery for gaming in cheaper materials. MDF scenery is increasingly available at affordable prices, and companies like Amera do a fantastic job casting cheap great scenery pieces in plastic.
- Buy amazing pieces of terrain at the top end of the scale!
- Hire in professionals to design whole tables from scratch for you to rival Warhammer World.
Now, I’m assuming option 6 isn’t really an option, or you probably aren’t going to be reading my cheap gamer articles! However, it is often useful to take bits from the various options to put together an overall table. Maybe buy a more expensive terrain option to use as a centrepiece. Add to home made terrain with a few railway style trees and flock to really bring it on. Reduce the cost of flocking a whole GW battleboard by buying a massive bag of flock for decorating a whole railway layout. Bear that in mind when we look at the options below!
The Blue Peter Approach!
I must confess, I love this option! It brings me back to the early days in the hobby, where frankly scenery wasn’t even thought of by GW, and they released guides on how to make your own.
There are two main styles you can take here. Use cheap parts, like lolly sticks or wooden stirrers, and put them together to create terrain (like this!). It looks great, particularly for fantasy and barbaric stuff like orks, but you do need to either find plans to follow or have a pretty creative outlook to visualise what you want. Polystyrene packing with a heat cutting wire can be fantastic for rock outcrops or hills. (like this!). Cardboard tubes sprayed silver can make fantastic oil pipes )and you could use wooden stirrers to build a frame!
The other approach is to find household items that look pretty much like an item of terrain to start with, spray them up, add some flock and basic drybrushing, and be ready to go! Easter Egg plastic packaging can look great as a generator – spray it silver, maybe touch up a power plant look, and flock the edge. Sorted! The cardboard packaging that comes in electrical goods boxes and the like is often perfect for this sort of ready to go terrain. Spray it white or grey, use some Army Painter Dip, and it looks pretty good from the start!
You can go a bit more expensive with the Blue Peter approach and start raiding hobby shops for things like foamboard and other parts. Definitely worth it if you have time and a creative bent.
Printing a building, folding it up and using it as scenery? Won’t that look rubbish and boxy?
Actually, not anymore! Things have moved a heck of a long way since the simple card sheets you may remember from the older GW games. Companies like Fat Dragon Games have absolutely amazing ranges of fantastic products you can use to knock up custom boards with all sorts of options. They use tools like Adobe layers to actually let you select styles of wall, adding creeping ivy and all sorts of brilliant tweaks. You can produce sci-fi bases, fantasy cities, underground caves and all.
It can be a bit fiddly to assemble, and you will be running through ink and paper/card in your printer. Depending on those resources, it can add up. Heck, these days if you have a 3D printer, you can take this to the next level and print out your own plastic walls and minis – again, you will be spending on the tech and resources!
Toys, Railways and Fishtanks
These are fantastic, cheap resources for quick, easy and unique looking scenery, that after some extra painting and tweaks can look utterly fantastic for a fraction of the price of official terrain. Toy castles when spraywed, washed and added effects like ivy can be a perfect scale and really cheap. rocks and little temples to look like undersea scapes for fish tanks can look fantastic on the battlefield.
fish tank plastic plants can look amazing as alien jungles, and cheap trees from railway hobby lines often look more realistic and far cheaper than 28mm gaming woods. And you can often pick up molds and casting stuff for railway scenery, as will as really cheap grass flock in bulk.
Just be careful when you look at this stuff about the scale!
MDF and cheaper Plastic terrain
I love this stuff. You can get all sorts of amazing scenery, it doesn’t feel too expensive, and its still really solid and durable. Terrific!
A fair few companies do MDF terrain these days. I can recommend TT Combat as a company – their Sheriff station for Malifaux or the Wild West is amazing. I also really like the Terrain Shed. There are lots of good alternatives out there, though. You can get buildings for £12, with amazing laser etched details. Superb stuff, especially if you cherrypick a few pieces to act as centrepieces.
Amera Plastic Mouldings do absolutely fantastic plastic wargaming terrain, as single cast. They look good, and are really cost effective. Unlike terrain kits in the top bracket, though, they are single use kits as a one piece ready to go bit of terrain – the top end normally has a lot more assembly and options within a single kit, and often a load of customisable little details. For me, though, that’s not a major drama – having 2 identical pyramids isn’t an issue if you want two big pyramids!
I’d recommend both of these options for gamers looking for awesome kits on a bit of a budget.
Top End GW and similar kits
Well, we’re Cheap Gamers! Why are we talking about the expensive stuff? Well, often it can pay to have a really nice piece of terrain to act as the focal point of the battle. MDF or Amera stuff can certainly work with enough time and effort on the paint job, but having a lovely centrepiece from GW will often draw the eye away from cheaper pieces through the rest of the tabletop, and be a great backdrop for photos and the like. Don’t go mad, but one or two key bits can really make a plain table feel like a cinematic experience.
The real key, though, is to pick a theme and stick with it across all the pieces you buy and put together, so they look good together on the table top.
You might have a couple of papercraft starships acting as drop points for the objective. You might have a load of colourful plastic plants for a fishtank acting as an alien jungle, and a selection of Eldar MDF kits scattered across the board, making it look like an overgrown exodite world.
What doesn’t work is having earth style trees from a raliway hobby shop next to bright pink fish shop plants, with a wild west sheriffs office and a scifi set of walkways from shadow war, and the whole thing flocked in autumn reds. Try to think how pieces will go together. Rocks, chaos temples and the like are nicely generic, particularly if all the stone is pretty consistent in colour across the pieces. Alien jungle or earth like looks for plants and trees can work, but stay a bit consistent. And try to have a consistent timezone for the pieces you’ll put on the table together – 40k models playing over a fantasy table and castle can look great. 40k models in a wild west town and a fantasy castle with futuristic cars just looks odd.