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Idiots Guide to Making Terrain #4: Ruined Urban Buildings

"Avoidance of built-up areas is no longer possible." – US Army Field Manual 100-5

From now until the end of modern civilization, fighting in cities of every stripe will become the norm. Cities provide a ready-made defense, and are painful in terms of time and manpower to conquer and then hold.

It is impractical at best to regularly play a miniature wargame in a "standing, civilian occupied" city (for modeling and play purposes) unless you are restricting your movement to outside of buildings. A city that is near ruin, however, is both realistic, much simpler to fabricate and is easier to play in.

These buildings are fun to make, and will add a wonderful dimension to any modern or futuristic battlefield. Materials:

1/2 inch thick "blue" or "pink" insulation foam 1/8 inch thick hardboard1" drywall screws white glue (I like Aleene's Tacky Glue) drywall spackle sharp modeling knife screwdrivers and paint posterboard

WARNINGS: Knives are sharp, blah blah blah. If you are only making a couple of these, you probably don't care where they will wind up when you are done playing with them. If you are making a whole cityfight table, you need to insure you have adequate storage space. These buildings are large, and don't stack well. Also, you will be doing lots of cutting. LOTS of cutting. Work on a surface you can cut and score on, not the kitchen table. An old piece of plywood is great. Foam insulation is shipped with a clear plastic wrap to help prevent damage. Be sure to peel off the plastic from both sides of the foam before you work with it.You are going to make an enourmous foam mess later in the project. You need to do this in a garage or other place you can clean up.

Get Started: Firstly, you need a plan. I wanted my buildings to have started their life roughly cubicle, with a flat roof. I wanted windows models could shoot and receive cover from. I also wanted to make sure that most models in the game could reasonably fit under any overhanging floors. once you have decided what the buildings should look like, make a template out of the posterboard. A good rule of thumb for dynamic 28mm figures is that the distance from floor to floor is 3". With 1/2 inch foam, this leaves 2.5" of playable space between floors, plenty of room for fat fingers.

I decided to make my buildings about 8" per side, and 9" tall, a large building per the scale, but since most of it would be "gone" it wasn't a big deal. For each ruined building, cut 2 pieces of foam, one 8X9, and one 7X9. The templates should fit perfectly on the 8X9, and hang over the edges of the 7X9. Trace these templates onto the foam pieces.

You can have the door be on one piece or the other, or neither, whatever floats your boat. After you are done, draw where the top of the building was destroyed. If you are happy, flip the pieces over and draw guidelines at 3" intervals. You will need these later when putting in the upper stories.

Now it is time to cut the foam. Use your hobby knife to "saw" through the foam, tracing your lines. Lay the foam flat on your cutting surface, and move the knife up and down, being careful not to cut off any fingers.

It wont be a perfect cut, so just pop the pieces apart when you are done. Be sure to save everything, you will need it later.

Optional StepYou can pretexture the building using a bumpy rock. Steal a rock from your neighbor's garden with lots of bumps and such, and press it into the "exterior" of our building over and over again like a stamp. This will look great later when we paint.

After you have cut out the windows, etc., stand the 2 pieces up to form an "L." Align the corners like so:

I chose this alignment to keep the building about 8 inches on a side, your resluts may vary. If you are happy with this, run a line of glue between the pieces, and insert a few of the drywall screws.

Try to use the screws where they can get the most anchor, between the windows. The screws should twist in easily with your fingers, but use the screwdriver to finish the job. Sink them a little below the surface of the foam, but don't go too far or you will tear up the soft foam. This gives us a structure that looks like this:

Floors:Take one of the cast off wall pieces and hold it up BELOW the first floor line. Find where it should meet the edges of the ruined building and make a mark.

Cut the floor so that it roughly fits, and when you are happy glue and screw it into place, again, BELOW the line.

You can do this again if you like for the 3rd story, etc. depending on your building. Generally, they will get smaller as they go up.Now the basic structure is done, it's time to wreck the place. Using your fingernails, a knife, pencils, etc, break up the rough edges of the building where it was torn asunder by war. Scrape and cut away the foam where the walls and then floor meet to make it look as though they are one solid piece. Blast holes can be created as such:

Make a star shaped cut in the foam. keep scoring the foam with the knife, and then swirl knife around to break out the smaller pieces. Do this in a spiral pattern towards the center, which should be deepest. If you go all the way through, repeat the pattern on the other side to represent and "exit wound" on the building.

There is no "wrong way" here. The more texture you give the structure, the more pleasing it will be to the eye when it is painted. Poke the structure with a pencil in a zig-zag pattern to show sprays of bullets that have torn up the walls and floors.

Now that you have ruined everything, it's time to clean up a bit. Use the drywall spackle to fill in the screwholes and the joins between the foam sections. Dab a bit around the bulding to look like broken plaster. Let everything dry. Cut and shape the base of your building from the hardboard, leaving about an inch around the whole structure, even the "missing" walls. This can represent rubble and such later, and gives the ground a nice even texture. My 8X8 building needs a 10X10 base.

Pre-painting:Before you glue your building to the base, paint all of the hard to reach areas with black housepaint, under floors, etc.

When you are done, glue the building to the base. I guess you dont have to wait for the paint to dry, but you can.

Optional step:You can use ground up bits of foam or plastic sprues to look like piles of rubble and bricks around the base of the building. Flock part of the upper floors with sand as well. The rest is elementary terrain construction. Flock the entire base with sand. Let dry. Paint EVERYTHING black, sand, walls, etc. Let dry. (see a pattern here?) Drybrush the walls grey and then white. Drybrush the ground to match your table, or brown/tan or grey/white, as you see fit.

Here is an example of what you can make in a weekend:

I wanted a couple of the buildings to be fairly complete, but inaccessable. Just repeat the pattern twice, but don't completely wreck the walls. Dont bother with "floors" but install a roof about 1/2" from the top. Flock the top with sand. Seal the windows with planks, fencing, metal plates, shutters – whatever people would have sealed the building with before they left.

Be sure to carefully paint the inside of the building (and the base!) before you seal it up. once you glue it down, there's no going back. Foamcore buildings:You can repeat the steps here practically verbatum with foamcore. Foamcore is thinner, and just about as strong as the 1/2" insulation foam, plus it is really cheap and much more scale realistic. Replace any steps with screws with little sewing pins, which can be removed after the glue dries. Seal the edges of the foamcore with spackle, and you can spraypaint the base paint on. Here are some buildings I made for a client:

Don't be afraid to try different techniques. Add ledges, balconies, windowsills, etc. Glue propaganda posters around the outside base of the structures. Make some small terrain pieces to represent rubble and wrecked vehicles to place inside your buildings as they are needed. People will appreciate your hard work and the compliments will more than pay for the time spent.


Posted in Terrain Building.

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