The Cheap Gamer – Terrain Part 2 – Picking a Theme

In the last Cheap Gamer article, we looked at loads of different options for building scenery with a whole range of different price points and effectiveness.  The last point we ended on was that we should really pick a theme, and build or buy parts to work together for that theme to maximise the effectiveness.

This article builds on that concept, together with some fantastic conversations I’ve had online with some of the top terrain guys (like the fantastic Ray Dranfield, head of terrain design at GW), and some of my own bonkers ideas.  It looks at some really good ways to pick a theme and colours to maximise your flexibility and options.

The Battle Board

Traditionally, the Battle Board would be painted brown, drybrushed ochre, and flocked green.  My Realm of Battle board from GW certainly is.  It does look pretty good, but its also pretty limiting to a green grass, mud and stone affair.

Chatting to Ray, he feels the best colours for a single board are probably a dusty grey with strong brown undertones.  It works for an industrial wasteland, a desert scape, or dusty churned up fields.  The very neutral colours let you get away with pretty much any scenery or play any sort of scenario without it feeling very out of place.

Obviously, if storage space and cost aren’t a major drama, you can have several, all themed in different ways.  That’s not really what the Cheap Gamer is about though – we’re all about maximising our fun and the effect of gaming without breaking the bank.

Those neutral colours are fantastic, and would work great with a wooden board prepped with a PVA and sand mix.  Paint it brown, heavy dry brush it grey, and maybe look for a darker grey slate effect or a lighter white rock on an odd flat patch.  Easy to paint, easy to make, easy to base models to match, and very very flexible.

Terrain Choices

Well, a great terrain choice in general is ruined gothic effect buildings.  There are some really neat tricks you can do with ruined buildings, as Ray pointed out.  If you plan out ruined corners and make sure the bases work together, you can deploy small compact ruined buildings, or spread them out to make the outline of big cathedrals with the same sort of corner pieces.  Unless you actually look for futuristic fortifications, the gothic grim dark and the ruined worlds of AoS can look pretty good with the same basic ruined buildings too, again, maximising that flexibility.

You can also, if careful in putting the ruins together, work out options for stacking ruined sections up as well.  if a base works as a ruined floor, your could stack two ruined corners up.  If you get the heights right, you can tie that into more unique pieces you might already have or pick up from games like Shadow War Armageddon.

These are great options for flexibility.  You can deploy ruined woods or alien jungles on this sort of a board, or chaos temples.  Its really easy to add to, and still keep a general feel of a ruined city.  Add some water effect areas and turn the dusty greys and browns into a miserable swamp – particularly fantastic with the new Death Guard minis.  The trick is that dusty grey and brown combo on the board.

One nice trick is to liven areas up with a few simple foam tiles, painted to match the terrain board but with some unique paint schemes.  Maybe a Mechanicus area with vehicle bays like a modern carpark?   or a mine entrance, with a elevator down sprayed on or added with a few bits of Plasticard.  You can really play with a few simple, easy to store tiles to add to the effects.  And hills (particularly cheap plastic ones from Amera) can be added with matching colours to really add to the effect.

Vehicles as Terrain

All too often, the only ruined vehicles that lurk on the board are our own casualties.  Well, thats definitely true of my armies anyway 😉  What we forget, particularly if we’ve been in the hobby for quite a while, is that we can pop vehicles on the  board as terrain pieces in their own right.

Playing as Marines against Eldar, but have an Imperial Guard army?  Field a few Leman Russ tanks or Chimera transports as ruins, or in neat rows awaiting repair on the Mechanicus Forgeworld you battle over.  Its even more effective with some of the new Genestealer cult stuff, as their vehicles are civilian machinery, and the dusty grey terrain will look fantastic as a mining area.

We can add some really effective line of sight blocking terrain with a smoking Landraider.   it just works, and we’re getting use out of those models rather than buying more terrain.  Terrific!

If you have some spare torso bits from boxes from your armies (and honestly, you probably have a few), think about creating a few set pieces matching your board with dead infantry half buried in there.  Combine that with “ruined” vehicles (maybe just adding smoke effects, and taking skimmers off flying bases), you can do some brilliant xenos battlegrounds – a few dead Eldar around the board and some burned out falcons and wave serpents makes a fantastic backdrop for a Deathwatch mission, for example.  This works particularly well over the dusty grey and brown of a torn up battlefield.  Add some cheap craters too, and it can look amazing.

It actually tends to work best when you aren’t using the fallen army at all.  Using “extra” tanks from the armies you’re actually fielding can cause confusion.  Was that tank a kill point, or scenery?  But Deathwatch vs Tau over fallen Eldar?  No worries.

Incidentally, blobs of cotton wool dyed with a brush of black ink  can make great quick smoke effects for almost no cost!  Just make sure they are dry before you pop them onto your lovely vehicles.

Summary

There aren’t any right or wrong choices, really!  If you want to do a red mars field, you certainly can.  That will limits you to fighting over mars or similar red terrain, though.  Dusty grey and brown is a fantastically flexible, neutral combination.

Try to keep rocks and building materials in a similar set of colours, whether thats lighter whites or dark slate greys.  It’ll unify temples with hills.

The real key is working out how you can get the best effect, and, for the Cheap Gamer, minimising the cost.  For terrain, you can minimise cost best with reusability and flexibility.  If you need two sets of terrain for AoS and 40k, for example, that’s twice as much cost as a more general set that works for both.  Try to differentiate more by eye catching centrepieces than having to retheme everything.