Sunday, April 10, 2011

Making Modular Forests.

File Under: Why didn't I think of this a few years ago...

I claim no credit for this was blatantly ripped off of this fine fellow's game table ideas. The Flickr photo tutorial gives a good idea of the technique.



I applied the basic idea of pinning things into interlocking foam tiles to trees only.

For years now I have been using the old wargaming standard single based trees placed on top of felt templates to create quick and modular forests. They were fast to set up, allowed trees to be moved around to accommodate miniatures, looked ok, yet still packed up easily into a box.

This did the job well enough for me for a long time. The trees looked decent enough. But the felt never looked like anything more than a bit of felt slapped on the table. Still, single basing trees was a pain in the butt and the base often took up a lot of room that limited where they could be placed.

I have considered various ways of doing trees that stand up well while taking up less space around the base. The problem is one of simple physics...a small base means the trees fall over easily. One idea would have been to take rare earth magnets in the tree trunks and stick them to sheet metal or sheet magnets under the game mat. But rare earth magnets aren't super cheap and I wouldn't be able to do contours like I could with the felt mats and based trees.

Then I saw the link above and thought it would be perfect for my purposes. I went to Lowes and grabbed two packs of gray 4'x4' interlocking foam tiles. This would allow the table to be easily put together, broken down, and then stored for trips to the game club. They come in a pack of four 2'x2' tiles that allows you to create a 4'x4' tile. They also come with an edge piece so you don't have the jigsaw sides sticking out.

I already use a variety of game mats, including Games Workshop's flexible grass mat (these things are awesome), and a short hair teddy bear fur mat spray painted with Design Master floral spray (Basil color) for a taller grass look. The spray fades a little when applied and blends well with the fur for a nice varied look.

For this modular forest technique, all you do is set down the interlocked foam tiles and then lay your grass mat over top like normal (add hills as needed).

Here are the foam tiles with the mat on top:

However, this project does require some work on the trees. The one thing that initially gave me pause about doing this was the thought of taking all of my trees with bases and then ripping the base off and drilling a hole to allow a sharp needles to be inserted into the trunk. Basing the trees initially was a pain in the butt and a lot of work. I didn't want to end up with a box full of trees with sharp needles sticking out and running the risk of not liking the idea or finding that it didn't work, only to have to do the basing all over again...

So I tested it on a few trees.

It worked great. The only real downside is the fact that now I have a box full of sharp objects. I worked around this by putting a base of double thick foam core in a box and then sticking the trees into that standing up. Maybe I should get a sharps box from the hospital...Hopefully no one ends up with puncture wounds. Though it is only a matter of time before I might regret the whole thing, knowing my luck.

Here is a finished tree ready to stick into the table or someone's hand:

Now...on to the forests! For the old boring green felt, I decided they needed some variety and texture. I also wanted to add some foliage and shrubbery around the edges to give my forests a more realistic appearance. So I took the felt piece, spray painted the center out to the edge with dark brown Krylon Camo flat spray paint (leaving a little edge of green), followed by a healthy spraying of dark brown textured spray paint. The neat happy accident was that the spray paint clung to the fiber of the felt and created what looks like small branches and twigs littering the forest floor. After gluing on some small shrubs and bushes around the edge using Woodland Scenics Foliage Clusters, they were done, ready to be slapped on the game table and trees pinned in place.

Here are the results for what I felt was an easy and fast technique.

Now with trees pinned in place and shrubs added.

They can probably be fancied up a little with some grass clumps or static grass here and there, but they are basically done. It was a very easy project to do overall.

One of the bonus benefits of taking the trees off their old bases was that they snapped off clean. This allowed me to reuse them for basing up some shrubs, small trees, and bushes to be scattered either on the forest base to fill it out and make it more dense or just to scatter around the table to break up open areas of terrain.

After testing out some placement on the table, I put down a felt road (also sprayed with textured spray paint) and added some trees along the edge. I kept thinking of this photo:

So I went and grabbed my 1/56th Char b1 from AGNM and took some shots of a little scene to see how the whole thing came together.

First the table with raised road section under the game mat with new trees pinned in place:

Here are a few shots with the Char:

So that's it. Overall, I am very happy with the result. I think that, despite risk of injury, this will prove to be a really versatile and modular set of scenery. I really like the way the tree trunks go right into the ground. They stand up well, can be moved easily, and can even be used on inclines (I use well sloped sanded foam hills under my game mat).

Maybe I need to make a waiver for people to sign when they use these trees...


  1. That is super awesome! When I eventually purchase stately Altland Manor, or ya know, a house with a basement, I am totally stealing this method. Your camera shots look all professional and junk!

  2. This looks like way too much work, the effect is gorgeous though.

  3. Thanks guys!

    @Jason: I just got lucky with the lighting coming through the window. I don't know what the hell I am doing with a camera beyond set it to macro and press the button :)

    @Mongo: It was actually pretty easy. Use a Dremel to drill the hole and stick in the pin. I set the bit to the depth I needed.

  4. The Forest is cool, but the raised road that is *actually* raised with trees immediately adjacent to it is even cooler!