Flames of War: Modelling Western European Terrain in 15mm

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I’ve had a lot of great feedback from the past year of posting after action reports for Flames of War games. Fellow players have been universally complimentary on the layout of my terrain used in my scenarios. With that, I’m increasingly being asked questions about the make of my models, where I buy them and how I achieve some of the other rerrain modelled  in my games.

Modelling terrain, like any aspect of miniatures wargaming, has to take into account the three main factors of skill, budget and time commitment. I find myself somewhere in the middle of all three categories, and I feel my level of personal investment in my terrain modelling is reflective of this. One of the many benefits of belonging to a club like Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY is the opportunity to share in our massed collections of terrain and create some pretty impressive-looking games.

As a longtime miniatures hobbyist with a passion for scale modelling, I wanted to share a quick round up of the current state of my 15mm terrain collection I use for Flames of War. To date, my FOW gaming has focused on the European Western Front, so the vast majority of my terrain focuses on buildings and other features appropriate for France, the Low Countries and Western Germany. All that said, let’s take a European tour in miniature…

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Any small town or rural tabletop Western European battlefield needs buildings — barns, houses, shops and cafes — not only for visual appeal, but to provide covering positions and even possible objectives during game play. FOW offers a fine line of pre-painted buildings but I find them to be a bit on the expensive side and toy-like. I also like to paint, so breaking up modelling little tanks and soldiers with some miniature real estate projects makes for a nice change to hobbying routine.

Last year I discovered the cast resin terrain produced by Mark IV Miniatures. As a second-generation wargamer, the owner of Mark IV obviously invests a great deal of care to his Western and Eastern front models. All the buildings come with removable multiple stories and roofs, making their use in FOW gaming a breeze. I just acquired my second set of models from Mark IV (ordered from Musket Miniatures), giving me a number of houses, barns and shops which I set close together as a village center or spread out for use in the countryside. For my towns, I also have a set of Mark IV  walls, a cobblestone courtyard and nifty fountain monument model. At about $18-24 per model, Mark IV’s offerings are my hands-down favorite in miniature buildings.

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With so many Mark IV models on my shelf, I wanted to add in a few more commercial structures representing stores or cafes common to European towns small and large. The excellent Model Dads UK blog recently reviewed the 15mm town shop models from Games of War. Based on a shop in Caen, the GOW shops come in three different pre-painted varieties for about $24 each shipped from the UK.

The GOW buildings scale nicely with my Mark IV models, and just a little work weathering the existing paint blends them nicely into the streetscape. I also added some signage and posters to the exterior walls, bringing a bit more sense of liveliness to the townscape.

IMG_3111Painting Mark IV and Games of War buildings

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The first 15mm buildings I ever bought were from JR Miniatures. An old standby in the hobby, JR offers a wide variety of scales and themes for eveything from Ancients to Historicals to Sci Fi. I have a small, roughly-cast farmhouse and outbuildings from JR which I use as area terrain. Overall, I find JR’s buildings to be a bit less crisp in detail than those from Mark IV and GOW, and many buildings don’t open for placement of figures.

Last year, I picked up a basic JR European stone bridge at a convention for about $14. The simplicity of the model made it easy to paint with a few stone-colored dry-brushed layers of paint. The model stretches over just about every river running through my gaming tables, and I may very well pick up another bridge in a different design from them soon.

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On the higher end of the terrain options, I’ve always had a thing for the Miniature Building Authority. MBA’s extensive 15mm European line comes pre-painted with lift-off sections to place units in the buildings or model them as destroyed structures. They also carry some rather unique structures and large set-pieces like a multiple-model farm complex or full train depot set-piece.

My brother and his gaming friends have been collecting MBA buildings for years, buying a few buildings a year and sharing in their collection. Taking their gradual approach, I recently started small and ordered a couple of their shops and a large, beautiful hotel model for my collection. Over time, I hope to add more from MBA and grow toward larger, more urban scenarios.

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Laying out a gaming table almost always necessitates having roads. I bought some rubberized roads years ago at a convention which suit rural unpaved areas well. A small town or rural setting requires having paved streets, and cobblestones provide a suitable road surface for Western Europe at the time of WWII.

I experimented with stone-textured papers and looked at rubberized stone streets, but none of them provided the depth or the solidity inherent in a stone road. Finally, I’ve bitten the bullet and invested in a set of the FOW cobblestone roads  at a slight discount from a seller on eBay. With a total of more than 6-feet of pre-painted cast resin roads, the box has given me what I think to be plenty roadway for my tanks to rumble down.

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Trees are one of the standard needs for any miniatures wargaming table in any era. Several wargaming manufacturers offer boxes of pre-made tree stands and bases for around $35-40 for maybe a dozen trees. I choose to go the economic bulk route and make my own using trees, flocking and modelling details from Woodland Scenics. For about $75 I’ve been able to make more than enough to fill even the largest battlefields.

IMG_3040Tree-making assembly line

Using two different sized trees from the WS Ready Made Trees Value Pack line, I first glued groups of 2-3 trees to cork coasters picked up at a craft store. On top of the spray-painted green coaster bases, I apply white glue and sprinkles of gravel of varying sizes in random places. After dry, another coat of glue to the remainder of the bases is then flocked with a basic green grass flocking. A few twigs and larger rocks glued here and there add some more depth to the little mini-scenes on each base.

IMG_3041Applying white glue to the tree bases before flocking

Bases are finished off with coarse clumped foliage to represent bushes and undergrowth. Mixing colors of the trees and foliage provides a realistic look. Gravel and larger rocks get hit with some brown washes to tone down the glaring brightness of the paths and piles on each base. All my work is done assembly line style in stages over an old baking sheet so excess flock and gravel shaken from the bases can go back in their containers to use again. When finished, I hit the bases with a matte spray to hold everything in place. In just a few hours time, my model forest on some 30 bases is ready to provide cover for any troops seeking concealment from enemy fire.

IMG_3156Completed homemade trees

Putting it all together, a dozen buildings, cobblestone roads, a bridge and a bunch of my homemade trees gives me more than enough terrain to present rural and town landscapes in Western Europe. Adding in some river sections, dirt roads and fields from fellow club members completes the look of just about any inland battle scenario in Normandy. Check out the pictures below of the results, and keep an eye on my after action reports for future glimpses into my tiny tabletop fields of battle.

IMG_3161Farm complex with Mark IV buildings and walls, JR Mini bridge and FOW fields and river

IMG_3159Games of War shops with added weathering and signage

IMG_3162Row of Mark IV buildings

IMG_3160Mark IV buildings and monument

IMG_3158Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

IMG_3157Town set-up with terrain from Mark IV, JR Mini, FOW, Games of War and my homemade trees

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Flames of War: Modelling European Western Front Buildings

153770I got into miniatures wargaming through a combined set of interests I developed as a kid: history, role-playing and scale modelling. One of the aspects of gaming I enjoy is setting up a realistic and engaging tabletop battlefield, both for the visual effect but also to reproduce the playable advantages and challenges found in waging scenarios within scenery.

I’ve been searching high and low for an affordable and well-made set of buildings to add to my 15mm Flames of War World War II gaming set in the post D-Day Western Front. Battlefront Miniatures, the makers of Flames of War, launched their own series of buildings last year. The pre-painted buildings are beautiful, albeit a bit too perfect and pretty expensive at $40-50 each. Miniature Building Authority (MBA) has been a long-time producer of fine pre-painted buildings. Like the structures from Battlefront, MBA models feature removable roofs but also convert into ruined bombed-out versions. At $40-50 for single large buildings or for pairs of smaller ones, the MBA buildings are also pretty pricey. MBA keeps a small line in stock, but they have dozens of out-of-production models which you can also find at conventions and occasionally online. JR Miniatures is another standby in the industry, but I find their relatively low-priced line of buildings is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of casting and playability.

markivWith building up my gaming real estate on my mind, I posted to the message boards at The Miniatures Page. Some suggestions pointed to the above manufacturers, but several posters also mentioned Mark IV Miniatures. The company is run by Jeff McCarron, a second-generation gaming modeller out of Colorado who obviously puts great care and passion into his work. McCarron sells his models directly and distributes them through Musket Miniatures, and I found him to be incredibly responsive to a couple questions I had before ordering. As it turned out, a fellow member of Metropolitan Wargamers had recently picked up the large church model and a couple houses from Mark IV. After playing with his models during our big Summer FOW event and Barkmann’s Corner scenario at the club, I decided these were the buildings to sink an investment into.

1148873_10201247963855523_305675209_nI decided to go with several two and three-story buildings, a barn, a courtyard and some walls, all ordered from Musket Miniatures. With all these models, I’d have the flexibility to set up a fairly decent-sized town or play with them as a separate farm estates. The castings arrived clean and required little tidying-up of residual flash with a knife.

20130830-233936.jpgI did have to put in a bit of work gluing plastic tabs to the undersides of the floors and roofs to provide a snug fit for each story of the buildings. The larger one-story bank building also required a wall and metal cast windows to be glued in place.

20130830-234253.jpgFor painting reference, I searched online for photos of European villages. After a light grey spray basecoat, the stucco walls of the buildings were dabbed with a bit of foam sponge in sandy gray-brown stucco and then dry-brushed with an off-white paint to add variety to the wall surfaces. Exposed stonework, the courtyard cobbles and masonry details at the corners, doors and windows all got combinations of varying shades of grays, browns and whites to create some depth.

IMG_2115Shutters, doors and windows were painted with dull blue, white, green and red trim, mimicking some of the variety in paint schemes I had found in photos online. For the roofs, a black undercoat was dry brushed in a couple shades of grey with a bit of browns and dark green shades mixed in. On the barn model I glued on some thin pieces of lichen to add the look of vines covering part of the walls.

IMG_2117The walled courtyard and modular wall sections got a two-part paint scheme over the gray primer. A watered-down brown-black wash over the bricks and cobbles filled the cracks with a dark shading finished-off with an off-white dry-brushed highlighting coat. The courtyard and wall gates started with a dark brown base with a lighter brown adding aged detail to the wood. Iron hinges got a black undercoat with some rusty metal dabbed over it. The result was some very realistic stone and brickwork walls.

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IMG_2125I couldn’t be more pleased with the buildings. They’ve already seen some action on the tabletop in my recent Singling ’44 game and combining them with my existing trees, roads and lichen hedgerows really brings the battlefield to life. I’m already eying a few of the other models offered by Mark IV, including some ruined versions of the same buildings which come cast in some exciting bombed-out interior detail.

At Metropolitan Wargamers, there’s some early plans being laid for another big day of gaming to coincide with the fall’s Flames of War Tanksgiving 2013 event and there’s certain to be plenty of WWII action before then. With my new buildings from Mark IV on the table, these miniature landmarks are certain to add even more depth an interest to all out future games.