Saturday, November 6, 2010

Modular Post Apocalypse Terrain - City Street Grid

It seems like I've been working on near future and post apocalypse gaming projects forever, but I really don't have a set of basic terrain for games set in the post apocalyptic world. I've been designing and redesigning various concepts for years as I slowly built up figs. With hundreds of figs waiting for a decimated, plague infested, radiated, de-civilized world to enjoy, it is now time to get serious about the terrain.

I've had hundreds of terrain ideas (I keep a list) for things to include in a PA world, and over the last year, went on a PA reading binge to steal as many more ideas as possible. After agonizing about how to include every possible feature in a 9'x6' table top, I decided to take a different approach. I will start with an idea that I mentioned in a post sometime back on The Miniatures Page. I am simply going to adapt a piece of my hometown to the table top and build it as it might appear if the future went badly.

Though I've always been a fan of 28mm sci-fi, I seriously considered the 15mm option due to the explosion of great 15mm figs and vehicles that has appeared over the last couple of years. Though I intend to use armored vehicles, flying craft, etc in some of my games, I really want my PA gaming to center around smaller skirmishes, focusing on of the struggle of small groups of survivors. To really exploit this, I want extremely detailed terrain, which is easier to build and manipulate if it is in a larger scale. So 28mm it remains, at least for now.

I tried modular roadway/city-scape terrain that consists of thin road/sidewalk sections that lay on top of basic terrain/table cover sometime back, and just wasn't completely happy with it. I really like completely 3-D modular terrain that allows a rolling effect and various depressions for things like stream beds, shell craters, ditches, etc.

So I hopped on Google Earth, and looked at areas in my town near my home, and created a basic design as a starting point for my modular terrain. I will use a 1 foot square grid system, similar to my terrain for historical gaming, made from 1 inch thick extruded polystyrene insulation board, or blue foam. A sketch of the basic roadway tile is shown below.

Tiles will tend to be in three sizes, 1 foot squares, 1'x2', and 2'x2'. The tile above is the typical roadway cross-section, this one a 1'x1', though most roadway tiles will be 1'x2'. It allows for two travel lanes 2.5 inches wide, parking spaces along the curbs of 1.75 inches, and 1/8" high raised sidewalks of 1.75" width. All of the tiles will be designed to mate into these "standard" city street widths and will accommodate most 1/43 and smaller scale die-cast cars that I might use in my games. The lanes would be really tight for semi-tractor trailers rigs, but most of the trucks that I have found are actually smaller than 1/43 even if marketed as such, and I don't expect to use too many trucks.

With the basic roadway width settled upon, I went to work laying out the street grid below.

This is roughly a scale sketch designed to fit my 6'x9' game table. The blue squares are 3 inches on a side. Basically, the grid consists of 2 foot square city block panels surrounded by 1 foot wide street/sidewalk panels. I had previously adopted the standard of using the 2 foot square city block footprint with the habit of making buildings no deeper than about 10-11 inches to permit alley-ways between commercial buildings in a city block. The raised sidewalks will act to capture the buildings, and the foam terrain panels will in turn be kept in place by a felt sheet on the tabletop.

To the left in the drawing above are blocks for commercial buildings, the center will have residential structures, and to the right will be a raised 4 lane divided highway with an underpass and an off-ramp to the left of the highway. All of the features of this terrain are designed to fit into modules that will allow new modules to readily mate to the them as I add more terrain.

The basic modules for the above terrain include:

1'x1' 4-Way intersections with raised sidewalks sections at each corner
1'x2' roadway sections with raised sidewalk on either side
1'x2' roadway sections with raised sidewalk on both sides and cutouts for alley ways
2'x2' city block panels for buildings or other features to rest on.
1'x2' city block panel as above

The highway will consist of the following type of modules:
1'x1' 3-way intersection to accommodate the off-ramp
1'x2' off-ramp panel
1'x1' off-ramp panel
1'x2' underpass roadway module.
1x2' 4-lane highway module
2'x2' 4-lane highway modules
18"x24" removable 4-lane highway bridge

Side and end elevation views are provided below to help visualize the highway. The highway will consist of four 2.5" wide travel lanes, two outside shoulders of 2" width, interior shoulders of 1.5" each separated by a raised concrete barrier, and the the outside shoulders will be lined with guardrails. Grassy areas will slope away from both sides of the highway, and the terrain module will end with a concrete (or maybe steel) retaining wall on either side of the highway.

Aside from the raised highway, the terrain will be pretty flat with only minor depressions due to erosion or damage from battle or disaster.

It looks like I will need to pick up three sheets of foam (4'x8'), and probably a couple cans of spray adhesive to build up the highway panels. The road surface will consist of gravel glued to the foam with artist's matte medium, coated with a layer of acrylic paste, smoothed (maybe sanded) and painted, all other surfaces will get a coat of acrylic paste, and be painted with artists acrylics, sprayed with Testor's Dullcoat, and flocked with woodland Scenics materials.

I expect to start on this project during a week of vacation later in the month. I will have to finish my Vietnam terrain in the meantime to get my table cleared off, so this might turn into a December project. I'm going to go out later today or tomorrow and take pics of the highway bridge and some of the buildings that I intend to model. All of the structures will be adapted to fit my modular terrain design. My hope to to make a flexible, highly detailed and very realistic PA terrain set. We'll see how it goes.


  1. I'll be very interested in how this turns out as making a bombed-out city setup would be handy for a bunch of games I play.

  2. I have decided that for general terrain I can make a modular system that is pretty flexible in how you lay it down on the table.

    However, like you, for towns I think boards with embedded building look better.