Rebuilding a 28mm Wilderness Fortification


The construction of 17th and 18th-century European fortifications were revolutionized by the writing of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, the French military engineer and author of A Manual of Siegecraft and Fortification. His formal star-shaped forts of the era defined military and city defensive architecture throughout Europe and in overseas colonies.

North American wilderness warfare of the French and Indian War often called for more hastily-built backcountry defenses. A paper by Military Architecture of the American Frontier, made available online by the National Park Service, provides an overview of how Vauban’s and other writings of the period influenced fort building in a very different environment. Blockhouses and stockades were common, and some reconstructed examples like Fort Necessity and Fort Ligonier can be visited today. Given even less time and planning, dirt, plentiful trees, and woven gabions filled with rocks could be used to create a somewhat formidable defensive position by throwing the strong backs of soldiers and hired civilians into the effort. While some Vauban-style grand forts of the period like Fort Niagara and Fort Ticonderoga still stand centuries later in the United States, countless small, temporary fortifications have been long lost to time.


A plan of Fort Ligonier, Pennsylvania from “A Set of Plans and Forts in America. Reduced from Actual Surveys” by John Rocque (c. 1750)

My local club Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY has hundreds of pieces of terrain in multiple scales spanning many historical eras. Some of these pieces are decades old, once belonging to members who have long since moved on. They reflect different wargaming modeling techniques of the past and some bear the markings of manufacturers long gone.

I’ve taken it upon myself recently to rebuild and refresh some of these pieces, particularly a number of 28mm buildings and scratch built terrain models appropriate to 18th-century scenarios of the French and Indian War era. With this in mind, a large, banged-up and dusty wilderness fortress piece recently caught my eye on the club’s shelf and I set to work making it usable again.


A decades-old scratchbuilt piece of terrain in need of repair

Mounted on a piece of quarter-inch plywood measuring about 8″ x 18″, this hefty model features three canon positions on a plaster raised earth mound surrounded by resin-cast wicker gabions and sharpened wooden stakes. The years had not been kind to the model. Original trees had snapped off long ago, several breaks in the plaster were evident, grass had worn off, fences were broken and overall, the whole model had taken on a drab appearance.


Some initial repairs and a fresh coat of paint

The first step was to clean the model of the layers of dust accumulated over the years, remove remnants of broken trees and trim off flaking and broken bits of plaster. Next, I filled cracks and missing areas of plaster with lightweight wood filler. All the earthen areas then received a fresh coat of dark brown paint over which I dry brushed varying layers of browns and gray paints.

With the base repainted, I made small glued repairs to broken fencing. I also added a few spare sticks and a barrel to bring some detail to the model as if repairs were an ongoing part of the fortification’s use. From there, the logs, fence, sharpened stakes and gabions were repainted and weathered using more dry brushed coats of browns and grays.


New trees are glued to the model

With most of the new painting done, I turned to adding new trees. I drilled and glued nails into the trunks of pre-made trees from Woodland Scenics which were then glued into holes in the base at the rear along the fence. The trees added textural and vertical interest to an otherwise flat model and also provided some additional color to the overall earthiness of the terrain.


A layer of new groundcover is applied over the model

Further texture and color was added with my favorite Adirondack Blend from Scenic Express. This material contains grass of varying color and texture along with other larger bits of scattered twigs and wood chips which give a highly detailed look that reflects the ground of the North American wilderness. To attach, I heavily brushed white glue on a section at a time all around the base of the fortification and then shook a thick layer of the grass over the glue. Some areas around the logs also received a bit of grass to break up the sameness of the main battery area. Once dry, I lightly tapped the excess grass off the model, carefully scooping up the extra for use again. Finally, a couple small bits of clump foliage were glued around the trees and in random areas along the model’s base. With everything dry, the model got a matte spray coat to hold on the grass and seal the new paint.

In less than a couple hours work, the whole model popped back to life after sitting unused for years. The fortress also has a look more consistent with some of my other terrain pieces, allowing for a more unified look on the table. The project has inspired me to have a look at rebuilding other long-ignored pieces of terrain at the club, bringing them into a new century of miniature wargaming for hopefully years to come.



Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: The DragonLords


As a young gamer in the 70s and 80s, I had an incredibly supportive mother. Our trips shopping always allowed for stops by local bookstores, five-and-dimes and hobby shops to check out the latest Dungeons & Dragons releases, metal miniatures, fan magazines or other gaming delights to add to my growing collection. My mother was also a big yard sale and flea market fan, dragging home all sorts of used games for my brothers and I to try out. One of those early-80s yard sale finds was an unopened copy of 1978’s The DragonLords from Fantasy Games Unlimited.

Founded in 1975, FGU is still in business as a publisher of a variety of board and role-playing games. Like many game companies in the mid-70s, FGU leapt into the D&D tidal wave and released a number of fantasy-themed games. The DragonLords followed the traditional hex map and cardboard counter game model well-established by such publishers as Avalon Hill. The box contained a map, simple rule book, reference sheets and over 600 tiny cardboard playing pieces. The artwork was second-tier generic fantasy illustration, the game map was outright bland and the printing looked like it was done on a typewriter. I loved this game.


In The DragonLords, each player took on the guise of a wizard ruling over their kingdom. Players chose to play as a Sorcerer, Conjurer, Enchanter, Necromancer or other type of specialized wizard, each with their own unique set of spells. Spells were acquired through turns “studying,” allowing for more advanced spellcraft in areas such as Siege, Hiring , Weather, Speed or Tactical. By casting their spells, wizards developed armies to fan out across the map to conquer the opposing kindgdom, hasten movement of their own horde or wreak horrible natural disasters on the enemy.

For someone well-steeped in D&D and Tolkienesque fantasy, a lot of The DragonLords felt very familiar. Tiny cardboard chips featured very basic line illustrations of elves, giants, trolls, ents, dragons and other creatures, each with values for combat and movement. The wizard spell study mechanic felt akin to the levels of advancement with magic-using characters through Experience points gained in D&D campaigns. Siege of cities and frontier keeps was a key part of the game, and building and attacking with catapults, siege towers and rams was a big component missing from a lot of smaller-scale D&D play.

What I loved about The DragonLords at the time was the mix of individual wizard character development and the grander scale of huge grotesque armies slugging it out across the mountains, swamps, forests, roads and waterways of the map. A game could be played satisfactorily in a few hours, also a nice change of pace from the long-term campaigning in D&D. The DragonLords certainly didn’t win any points for its graphics, but for straight fantasy gaming on an epic scale it definitely had its spell cast on me.

Collector’s Note: The Dragonlords is long out of print, but with a bit of online searching Iwas able to come across one bagged unpunched copy for over $100 on Clearly my mother’s yardsale find was quite a deal.