Wargaming Tradecraft: Beginners Guide to Makeshift Terrain


Beginners Guide to Makeshift Terrain

vias: ork and trooper
So you've chosen a game system, picked your army and developed a few army lists, but now you're eager to try out some tactics and need somewhere to hold this battle.

Well, general rule of thumb is that a 4 foot by 4 foot table makes for a good gaming area - desks, dining room tables, folding tables or even hard floors (though it's hard on the back) or large pieces of cardboard on a bed.

This article's going to look at cheap ways to fill your battlefield with objects that block line of sight and force troops to move around them in various patterns. Mastercraft terrain in the form of detailed forests and rivers or abandoned buildings can come later - right now you want to play and the plan is to grab anything you've got sitting around the house.

I'm not going to cover the best way to set up terrain - generally you just take turns placing it around the battlefield without cluttering things up. If you get in the habit of placing it "too well" for your army, or too poorly for your opponent, they'll start doing the same to you. Alternatively, a friend and I created Rules for Random Terrain Placement that works quite well.

Using a binder as a hill...
If you've setup your battlefield without any terrain, that makes for a pretty empty space. Yes, many of histories battles were held in open fields... but many battles also took place in areas where the terrain plays a major factor on the battlefield.

Hills get troops out of sight or provide better firing lines. Towns allow hiding in or slow the enemy down, forests provide cover and slow troops down. Rivers drive the enemy through tight bridges, and so on.

While terrain that's too dense can cause problems for large armies, it can be pretty exciting to weave smaller armies in skirmishes through areas with lots of cover.

Kids, this is called a record...
it's like a big CD...
Y'know, the things that used to fit in  MP3 players?
Point being, makes for great area terrain, like a forest.

This whole process is actually pretty simple, and just involves using your imaginations.

  • Construction paper turns quickly in to rivers and forests.
  • Books, binders, cases and such make for great hills and mountains.
  • Toys can make for all sorts of terrain. Not really the figures, but any playsets - forts, houses, bases, etc.
  • Lego... well, the sky's the limit there. You can literally create any sort of terrain for your army that you might want to.
  • I remember using old computer parts that I had laying around.

Here are a few more pictures to get the creative juices flowing:

A lot of you probably have DVD cases around, which stack into hills and valleys well.

Just to show that if it fits on your battlefield and blocks line of sight, it can be turned into terrain.

Styrofoam is one of THE BEST ways to make terrain. Just plunk it down on the battlefield and you're ready to go.

Yup, just about anything makes for great terrain...


  1. Wow, takes me back to when I first started wargaming. Good advice for those not wanting to spend a lot on terrain, everyday household items tend to make for good starters for playing miniature games. And some of the items can become the basis for making more detailed terrain later on.

  2. The first picture reminds me of game of Necromunda from back when my buddies and I had to use this kinda of impromptu terrain. There was a major dispute over whether a soda can was "in play" or not. At the start of the game some of us thought it was a stand in for a chemical storage tank. The can's owner just thought it was his coke.


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