Sunday, January 30, 2011

Classic Wargames Building Tutorial

One of the many delights that comes from "Classic Wargaming" (or "old school" if you will...) is the feeling that there's nothing that cannot be produced easily and inexpensively for the sake of a good game. The appeal for me is not only the masses of shiny soldiers and the straightforward rules, but it is also the "look of the thing". In a classic game the abstraction of the game carries a beauty that is really a thing to behold...especially after having spent years in the "model railroad layout" style of gaming that admittedly also produces some amazing game experiences but sometimes is an expensive and time consuming direction to take in the hobby.

So for this post I thought it might be a nice break from AARs to post some basic ideas for producing "classic" wargaming buildings in short order with a minimum of headaches and a maximum of fun!

For this building project I decided to keep it simple with a basic building made of almost entirely of 3/16" thick balsa with all the details drawn on in a loose-but-convincing "old school" way. The resulting structure will work for both classic games as well as more detailed table set ups.

OK so here goes:

First, the base is cut from a 1/8" masonite (mdf) scrap that I had laying around. (my wife calls me a hoarder, but I think it's just a wargamer habit to be alert to that "hey I can use that" moment. The building I'm making here is going to be about 3"x5" so I'll cut this masonite scrap down a bit leaving a margin a bit larger than 3"x5" for some ground detail. The stuff is hard so a multi-pass cut with the knife will eventually do the trick.

The next step is to cut the four walls out of 3/16" balsa. I use a cheap metal square (available from "Micromark" online) to make the cuts precise. Essentially the two 5 inch sides are cut first with a height of 3". This will make a pretty good sized building and actually a bit larger than my usual buildings, but I'm planning on making this structure a row of town houses to represent  building block in a bigger city. In determining sizes I always assume figures will fit inside a lift-off building (a la Charles Grant) so I always plan the inside space carefully.

Next the gable ends pieces are laid out on a sheet cut to a 3" width. I learned a trick long ago in architecture school to lay the gables out so that you only have two cuts to make...(an "X") and the leftover triangles will be used as well.

OK so that's simple enough, and we have all the basic elements already cut and it's only been a few minutes of construction time!
Next we glue all the sides together...(I use "Weldbond" ...the very best white PVA glue...accept no substitutes...really... life will be much easier...:)... Glue the sides together off of the base so you don't get anything stuck to the base...and I use the metal square to keep everything squared up during the first few minutes of drying. Weldbond sets up to an initial strong tack really quickly so it makes the entire process more easy but it allows repositioning for a good while.

While the walls set up, I lay them over the base and mark out the line of the inside walls so I can then glue up some "ruined walls" in the interior. I normally use HO scale cork roadbed for the ruined walls but I was out of the stuff so I just randomly cut some more of the balsa and stuck it down.  I set the inside walls a bit off center so I could leave some base area for building entrances.

After that I cut two roof pieces of the same balsa (again normally I might use a thinner basswood for the roof...but for this project there was none on hand) and glued them to the angles of the gable ends. I also took the two extra triangular pieces leftover from the gable cuts and added them on the outside to beef up the gable profile on each end. Finally I took some think basswood and "edged" the roofline to get a bit more cleanness on the gable end.

Then for a bit more detail I decided to add some chimneys to the roofline to give the building a townhouse scale. These were done in the same 3/16" balsa by cutting a strip about 1" wide and cutting 1-1/4" sections for the chimneys. between each two laid out on the strip I laid out a square to be cut out so the "chimneys" would fit on the angle of the roof.

So in this pic you can see the nearly complete construction of the townhouses. Still simple and ready for paint.

Here is the raw building next to some hussars escorting a coach and four...(the hussars are still in the painting stage)

Next is a coat of white acrylic paint to set the painting in motion....

The next stage involves drawing on the details/windows of the structure. In a classic wargaming manner, the drawing is purposely kept loose and is done with a fine waterproof marker (MICRON or UNIBALL pens are a good choice for this step). The waterproof part is important because you will be adding a few washes of color so you don't want that to kill your outlines.  Since I'm going for a townhouse, the building is divided into three sections to make the structure look like three townhouses.

 The gable ends are this stage some period images are helpful to get the windows and details right...I used some tourist images of Prague to help dial it in...

One the outlines of the windows and such are drawn, shadows are indicated with a heavier line (I used a Sharpie pen)...check out my tutorial HERE on how that's done. Basically the technique makes the drawn building appear more three dimensional.

 Then thin washes of color define the roof, details and windows...and the building entrances on the bases are picked out with a tan color.

It's rough, but it looks right for a "Classic" wargame.

 The roof shingles are done with a Micron pen by first drawing the horizontal courses with a kind of "back and forth" motion of the pen so the line is a rough and varied.

 Then that is followed by the vertical lines of the shingles quickly "flicked' with the pen in alternating seems like a lot of work but it actually takes only about 20 minutes...

 I like to add some age to the buildings by showing spots where the plaster has flaked off...

...and finally after only a few hours of work, another building to add to the table!


Bluebear Jeff said...

Very nice, sir. A good tutorial and very nice building.

-- Jeff

Pjotr said...

Superb tutorial, thank you.
I've taken the liberty of adding a link to this post in the "How to" section of the Chronicles.


WSTKS-FM Worldwide said...

Yes, an impressive structure. Nice work!

Best Regards,


littlejohn said...

Pjotr, Great! glad you liked it.

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Paul´s Bods said...

That looks very effective...a nice 3D effect.

Fitz-Badger said...

Well done on both the tutorial and the building itself!

Gene said...

Wonderful work! So simple and so effective! Thanks for sharing.

A J said...

Very nice work sir!

ColCampbell50 said...

I also think this is an very detailed but simple to follow tutorial. I've not only added the link to my favorites on my blog, but also wrote a short paragraph about it.



Chris Gregg said...

Thanks for this really clear guide. I too have added it to favourites for future reference.

littlejohn said...

Chris, Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

JOHNBOND said...

WoW, like the way you measure up and cut the wood, should have found your site earlier,
cheers John