Wednesday 26 July 2023

Why put a building on a base?

As a miniature gamer I've always loved the look of a table filled with great terrain, who doesn't? Over time I've focussed more and more on trying to create tables where the terrain looks seamless to the eye. 

I think the key is to focus on how the individual terrain pieces blend in with the table surface regardless of whether it's a textured board, a game mat or whatever other material you choose to use. When I first returned to miniature gaming I was placing the finished model directly onto a printed game mat. It wasn't a disaster but to my eyes this always looks like the model wasn't part of the landscape, it was just sitting on top of it.

The most obvious solution is to attach the building to a base and dress it with terrain. Some of my first attempts were simple and straightforward, like this 20mm barn from Charlie Foxtrot Models.

For these 20mm village houses for the Far East from Sarissa Precision I went for something a little larger and more elaborate.

You can follow the full build for these two buildings in this post.

I liked the larger bases because it allowed me to arrange them with other tropical terrain like these paddy fields in a way that made them all look like they belonged together. One of the keys to making this work effectively is to have the building base match the colour palette of the other terrain bases.

Sometimes I've been inclined to take things a step further. I had built a small workshop from Charlie Foxtrot Models and this worked well as a general industrial/agricultural building. However, as you can see below, without a base to integrate it into the ground it tends to look detached from its environment.

This led to a quite radical transformation that involved turning it into a French garage mounted on a base and with lots of added elements to make a more evocative piece (you can follow this build in more detail in this post). 

Yet it doesn't have to be that complex. I think the greenhouse project below shows what a difference a relatively small base can make. While I was writing up an AAR for one of the Chain of Command campaigns every time the greenhouse appeared in one of the pictures I couldn't help but notice how bare it looked.

Using odds and ends of spare terrain and scratch building with balsa wood I made up a simple interior on a textured base of MDF to bring it to life.

This type of basing works well, but it can restrict how versatile you can be with the buildings in different settings. One alternative is to make modular bases where the buildings are not attached permanently. I settled on this technique when creating front and backyards for houses in European villages. Where as French villages are often characterised by house fronts lining the street Dutch villages often feature front yards. To be able to make up both using the same buildings meant a more modular approach offered a solution.

Bases were made that could accomodate various combinations of model buildings.

In this case the buildings are not attached permanently, but space is created for them.

The houses can then be arranged onto the base as needed.

I took a similar approach with other urban features like a village square. The example below uses four separate pieces that can be placed in a number of combinations or used individually. 

A piece of MDF wrapped in embossed cobbled wallpaper.

Two sets of trees in ornamental settings. The enclosures for the trees is a base of MDF with cut cork floor tiles for the small retaining wall. The water fountain is a model railway scenic item.

All four can be combined together to make a single setting.

They can be used in various ways to combine with the houses and front yards.

I've done a very similar thing with backyards. In this instance they don't have an area for the model houses they are simply placed next to the model.

Here they are in place.

You'll notice these are the same model houses that I used with the front yards that I showed earlier.

The modular approach has much going for it and with a bit of thought pieces can me made that offer numerous different combinations with the same few elements. It was how I approached making my rural villages for the Eastern front. Individual building bases were made with fences.

The same piece could work with a completely different building in a different position within the fenced area.

I then made pieces that were fenced on only three sides. 

This allows me to join them together without doubling on the fence lines, like so:

The base with all four sides fenced can then butt up against the open end to make a row of three houses. As part of the same project I created several individual pieces of fence that can be used to close off one of the open sides should I want a different configuration.

This gives me scope to line up several together.

The house models can then be arranged in different combinations.

Having the open end on two of the bases allows me to use my other freestanding fences to make larger areas or different shapes.

Using modular components I've been able to make up quite large pieces which despite their footprint on a table break up into smaller components which makes for easier storage. As you can see below I've made use of the trees I showed earlier with other terrain elements to make up this town square.

I've found the key with all of these is to keep them as versatile as possible so that there is real flexibility in the way I can create the terrain for specific games. While storage is always an issue that doesn't mean I don't try the odd project that's a little more ambitious.

Having separate sections of wall serves many useful purposes but they don't always do a great job of creating the seamless look of a walled compound. I know it's probably just me but I can't help that my eye is drawn like a magnet to the joins, I can't seem to notice anything else. Give me a seamless set of walls any day. That's exactly what inspired these next two projects.

Below is a walled piece I made for use mainly in north west Europe. Here it is as part of a heavily fortified position in the Ardennes.

And here is the same piece but with a different building in Holland where it was bombed by Stukas in our Many Rivers to Cross campaign for Chain of Command.

It was also versatile enough to become the home of a rubber plantation owner in Singapore when we played the Last Stand on Opium Hill campaign. In this case I simply substituted a colonial style building from Sarissa Precision and added a couple of palm trees.

While this next project is not quite as versatile as the one above, I've always wanted to have a sturdy looking stone French farm compound but without losing the versatility of my farm buildings. In this instance the base is similar to the front and backyard project but it's designed around two very specific farm buildings.

As usual the base is a piece of MDF cut to size. The walls are cut from cork floor tiles and have been arranged to allow the positioning of a main farm building and a barn.

The main farm building is from Sarissa Precision and the barn is another from Charlie Foxtrot Models.

The buildings slot in quite tightly to the walls to give the whole piece a very unified look.

So while this allows me to use the buildings in other settings the base itself is exclusive to these two models. However this is a piece of terrain that crops up in many scenarios and campaigns set in Normandy and other European locations and so I expect I'll make good use of it.

Last but not least I need to mention the game mats themselves. As I mentioned earlier the key aim is to have the buildings blend in with the table and the challenge is to have a table surface or a mat that matches. For use at home I have mounted mats of static grass from railway supplier Noch onto MDF boards. 

These match the blend of static grass I use for my terrain perfectly (as you can see quite clearly with the Eastern front village pictured earlier) and these have seen use recently when I've been teaching a friend how to play Chain of Command.

As you'll notice from some of the other pictures in this post I haven't always been able to use a matching base mat when I travel to the club or a friend's places to game. Up until now I've been using a mat from Cigar Box Battle, which is in every other way an excellent mat but it doesn't match the building and terrain bases in the same way. However I think I now have the solution. I was fortunate to buy an old Citadel grass mat from someone at the club and as you can see below that does the job very well indeed.

Now it appears I have a solution for both games at home and away. Result.