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2015/02/26

Journal #5 - or, Into the Dark Forest

Ready to see more of my prototype tiles for Pedion™? It's time to show you what I have in mind for my Forests - and I think you will find it pretty ambitious.

A short recap: as mentioned in my previous posts, I intent each and every one of my 30x30 cm (1'x1') tiles to represent a unique feature, to act as a special battlefield characteristic. This will add variation to your terrain, and allow you to add or subtract tiles depending on your battle scenario layout (or your wargaming whim!). Terrain features are not intended to be placed upon Pedion tiles (not that you could not do this with terrain you may already own), but are actually part of the tile itself. This allows  for better and realistically looking terrain, not to mention some specific capabilities built into the tiles. On post #4 I started presenting these particular tile categories by showing the simpler and more numerous Plain Grass and Broken Ground Tiles.

Now we move on to what I call Forest Tiles.
Heracles fighting the centaur Nessus in a Pedion Forest - minis are actually 32mm toy figures stolen from my son

The concept of "Forest" tiles is really simple but innovative: dedicate an area on a tile (covering most of its surface) as forest/difficult terrain. This area is not only painted differently but will also be magnetically enabled, to add trees and other forest features on top. The main characteristics of the Forest tiles are:

  • The players may place the Forest tiles anywhere in a Pedion™ battlefield, or adjacent to each other, creating a larger forest: the "forest" borders are drawn in such a way to connect on one side!
  • The "forest"area on each tile is defined by color and textures, and can be declared by the players to act as Forest, Difficult Terrain, or Cover Terrain, depending on their wargaming rules. The "forest" area DOES NOT PROTRUDE from the neighboring terrain, but feels completely as a part of it. Therefore, miniatures and Unit bases do not have to "climb" when entering the forest, as is the case with most forest pieces in the market.
  • The defined area is also magnetically enabled (either by metal "hard-points" either painted with magnetic primer). Thus, the player can place on top any kind of terrain feature -like trees, bushes, logs, rocks- with magnetic bases. The tiles are designed this way in order to allow for a) aesthetic placement, b) different sizes of trees in case of smaller scales, and mainly c) enable the players to remove only the trees that are in the way of their units movement or placement, without either ruining the whole forest nor trying to fit the miniatures in the spaces among the trees. The magnetic connections is strong enough to protect the trees from scattering when the tile is moved accidentally.
  • The metal hard-points allow for declaring the Forest tiles as other kinds of terrain, depending on your rules. For instance, by placing rock formations or bushes with magnetic bases, you can declare the tile as Cover terrain.



The borders of the forested area on the tiles are not randomly drawn but are digitized from real forests' borders near rural areas, as shown on satellite images. Two main Forest tiles are designed, which can either be used independently, or -as mentioned- can be combined into a larger forest.

To create the magnetically enabled area, I tried two methods: placing metal hardpoints (coins) in various places and painting the whole area with magnetic primer. I used one method on the first tile and the other on the second type of tile. After caulking, painting, flocking etc, it seems that placing some kind of metal produces a better, more stable method, as the hardpoints remain strong enough for the magnet bases to snap unto.

Let me show you the development of the tiles themselves over some photos:

The two types of forest tiles, with the adjoining forest shapes - one has the metal coins to attract the magnet bases
Basecoating - the grey on the left is the magnetic primer

Texturing - tree bark and filler are combined for the larger rock foramtions
Drybrushing and Flocking - you can glimpse the metal circular areas for the trees to snap onto.
The second tile is ready - it looks great but the magnetic primer does react that strongly to magnets under all the paint layers and flocking



The two prototypes look good, much better actually than what you can see in the pictures. However, I would try to define the border of the magnetized area more strongly, as now it seems to blend with the surrounding grass. Though is looks amazing and realistic, these tiles will be used for wargaming and the players must know exactly when the forest/cover area stops.

After the tiles, it was time to create overhead forest features, like trees. As I said above, the forest tiles can be used for a variety of tree scales and even for non-forest features like rock formations. For my prototype I created mostly trees, of different sizes, and some extra forest floor features, like bushes, rocks, fallen logs etc, if the players want to add variety and some rise and falls to the forest floor.


The trees are ready made, mostly from Noch. I sculpted polystyrene foam bases for them, to fit the rear earth magnets underneath, which were painted, dry-brushed and flocked. Check my efforts in the pictures:

The tree trunks are inserted and glued to sculpted  foam bases 
Preparing some trees for smaller scale (15mm or less) games
Inserting and gluing rear earth magnets
Preparing forest floor decoration pieces
Texturing
Finished trees and forest features - goblin warrior for scale!

The trees also came out great. Their only problem is that sometimes the magnet may come off when attracted to the metal forest floor - so I will probably keep it in place by covering the whole base with tape.

If anything, the trees and forest stuff come too good - that is, they take too long to make. Since the each tile sports quite a large forest area, it needs a lot of trees to look realistic. Six (6) trees would be the absolute medium, and only for scales like 20mm to 28mm. Therefore, I have to take note and accelerate the tree-making process, or the forest tile cost will rise disproportionately.

Check out some photos of how the Forest tiles look populated with trees and bushes, especially when the two tiles are joined next to each other.





So, let's suppose that you are using the beautiful Pedion™ Forest Tiles, full of trees, for your battle. In the pictures below a sample unit of goblin archers reaches on its round the forest...

(just some old Games Workshop goblins)
On its round, the unit moves 6" into the forest - no problem! No climbing, and all the player has to do is remove for a bit any trees or features in the way.
Next round, and the unit left the forest. Putting the trees back is no fuss
Forest tiles are good terrain features, and those tiles cover all the requirements I had for Pedion. However, I am not sure every battlefield commander will want forest tiles - so I will probably not add them into basic Pedion™ configurations. This will help to keep the overall cost low.

When adding a forest tile, it will include at least six tree stands - and you can always add more trees or different features in the future, even ones you already own.

As always, I do want your opinions, comments and ideas. And more tile categories will be presented in future blog posts - stay tuned. Till then, good gaming all!

2015/02/16

Journal #4 - or, Time to show them Grass Tiles!

I feel that the time has come to -drum roll- stop bombarding you with walls of text and show you some actual Pedion tiles! Keep in mind: everything you will see in this and future relative posts are prototypes, what you would call a "Work in Progress" (or WIP). But they come quite close with what I envision the final product will be, so you will get the idea, and see more of my progress.

Adventurers ambushed by Goblins on Plain Grass and Broken Ground Pedion Tiles
(miniatures included for show only, manufactured by Reaper and WotC, painted by me and +Tasos Leontarakis
As established in all previous posts, Pedion tiles will be 30x30cm squares. My approach towards Modularity is that each Tile will fulfill a Specific Battlefield Role. While Pedion can act as a battle mat where players put terrain objects on top, its design is such that each tile will include specific terrain features as its integral part - at least, natural terrain features like rivers, rocks, forests, hills etc.

Therefore, each Pedion Tile will have a base Use declaration, and an appropriate design. Expect to see Hill Tiles, Forest Tiles, Road Tiles, River Tiles, Difficult ground Tiles, Orchard Tiles, Plain Tiles, Elevation change Tiles and so on!

With this blog post, I start a series of presentations of the Tile types which will be available for Pedion. And I will begin by describing two of the most commonly found kinds: what I call Plain Grass Tiles and Broken Ground Tiles. Fear not, it will be more "photo gallery" than "text description" ;)

A Plain Grass & Broken Ground tile layout in 3' x 4' formation
These tiles will consist, as you may imagine, the bulk of any Pedion configuration, and will cover most of your table. They are also quite straightforward to produce, so I will be showing them together.

Plain (Grass) Tiles

The so-called plain tile will be the most common type of them all, lacking any complex terrain features. Its purpose is to represent open ground, which usually imposes no penalties or modifiers to unit movement. It can also act as a base for any extra terrain pieces (like buildings) the players already have and want to include in their game.

Plain Tiles will vary depending on the prevailing terrain and weather conditions of the battlefield - they can be snowy plains, sandy deserts, urban concrete flats or exotic grey sci-fi valleys. However, I believe that most gamers, myself included, usually find their armies in grassy plains, and this is the design I started from. The main characteristic all the Plain Tiles will share is their flat surface. Not the most realistic state, but suitable for miniature movement in wargaming!

The Plain Grass Tiles are designed to be quite straightforward to make (ie not much to show you here). After prepping the tiles, a neutral earth basecoat will be applied, and they will be generously flocked with grass. I prefer the Spring Meadow tone of static grass from Noch for its natural looking color. Choosing the flocking type of the plain grass mats is important: this static grass will need to be present in every other kind of tile, especially at the tile borders, in order to achieve an unified look when interconnecting them together.


As an alternative to earn some production time (while it costs more) I decided to cover Plain Grass Tiles with 30 x 30 cm sheets of pre-flocked static grass mat. Again, Spring Meadow grass mats from Noch look and behave great. One of the advantages of gluing pre-cut grass mats (aside from it being much quicker) is the fact that I plan to cut the grass sheets with a few (1-2) mms extra on each side. The extra ribbon of grass can be used to cover the seam between the grass tile and neighboring tiles.



By the way - even premade grass mats shed an enormous amount of static grass! I found out that I could collect bags of the stuff that just fell off. This also meant I should seal the the grass tiles, probably with watered down PVA, to stop it from continuously shedding in your houses...

Broken Ground Tiles

Plain grass tiles put next to each other produce a single, solid green plain area... also known as a "golf course". Each battlefield will need some more variety, and thus I created the Broken Ground tiles.

These Pedion tiles can be used in a variety of ways. You can use them just to provide aesthetic variation between plain tiles. But they can offer much more: they can be declared as broken/difficult ground in the battlefield, imposing any special modifiers and penalties your game system associate with this type of ground. Players can decided to declare as difficult ground the whole of the 30x30 tile, or just inside the parts painted with a more earthen appearance.

Broken Ground tiles are again mostly flat -with the exception of some low rock features- to allow unit movement and any additional terrain object placement. They will be flocked/painted to correspond and blend with the rest of the battlefield type. For instance, my prototype Broken terrain tiles where painted to combine with the Plain Grass tiles.

Broken Ground Tiles require more involvement in their preparation, as well as multiple waiting periods for the various paint layers to fully dry. Check these images for a step-by-step presentation:

Texturing
Flocking
Checking layout configurations
Detail: checking ribbon overlay to hide seam
Basecoating
Drybrushing
Low rocky features
More flocking - details, to make tile look realistic
Combining with plain grass tiles
Next to some Road tiles

Hope you like the result. My aim is to create a number of varied "Broken Ground" tiles to recreate an interesting -albeit flat- looking battlefield.

During the above procedure I learned some valuable lessons, sometimes the hard way (unfortunately). Suffice it to say, I can now make broken ground tiles in a more efficient and time-saving way, which does not include multiple flockings, and it certainly does not involve instant coffee powder to resemble gravel (don't ask...).

Plain Grass and Broken Ground Tiles will be a major part in every Pedion configuration. I would include about 6 Plain Tiles to every 4' x 4' or 4' x 6' battlefield, and probably the same number of Broken Ground tiles. However, I would like to hear/read your opinions on the matter!

Please do comment, the whole purpose of this blog is to get your feedback and build a better Pedion. Also, share these posts with people who you think could also help. And of course stay tuned, for more tile-showing posts, like my Road Tiles.

Good Gaming All!

2015/02/06

Journal #3 - or, Choosing materials for Pedion Modular Terrain Tiles

Here I am, back to my blog, to ramble on about the materials I will use on Pedion tiles. I know, I know; the last blog post was not too impressive, lots of talk, and no "real" terrain progress showing. But it was an important part of developing Pedion, and I feel I should share it with anyone interested. However, I WILL try to by "less text wall, more to the point" in this third blog post, to make it an easier read.

So, as finalized in my previous (#2) post, I decided to go with Square tiles, each measuring 30x30x1(thickness) cm. The next step was to decide a) which materials to use and b) how to keep the modules connected to each other - both points I will be tackling here.

Choice of Materials

Before describing my process, let me remind  -once more- my Requirements which apply to the Tiles, as presented in post #1ModularityEfficient Storage, Lightweight, Economical, Durable, Appearance, Level surfaced, Seamless and Connectivity - all these under the perspective of mass producing Pedion, not just making a home-brewed terrain table.

Most of these Requirement play a major part in selecting construction materials. Efficient Storage is quite covered by the selected tile size and depth. Seamless and Connectivity we will cover further below. All the others are crucial, especially the difficult combination of Lightweight/Durability/Economy! Also, regarding Appearance: I wanted the Pedion tiles to be made from something to allow me to work with and create depressions on the terrain. That meant that a simple, hard basing material was not enough, but a more malleable material (like foam) was needed.

My first effort, as shown in the pictures, was the use of Foam Board, also known as Foam Core, the material most Architects use for modeling (told you I'm an engineer, didn't I?). For those of you who have not heard of it, it's a combination of solid foam sandwiched between two layers of strong cardboard (we call it "maquette paper" in Greece). I used 1 cm thick foamboard (about 0.4 of an inch) and cut it into my 30x30cm (~1x1ft) squares. Foamboard has a variety of great advantages: it is strong, yet extremely lightweight. It can be cut by normal craft tools, like a hobby knife, although it requires a proper method to do so (watch Mel's great video tutorial). And it combines the rigid cardboard with the foam in its core, so I could just "dig" into the stuff and create anything I wanted (up to 1 cm deep), and still have a base underneath. It also allowed me to keep a small (2-3 mm) cardboard "edge" on each tile, so they could overlap and cover the seams a bit. Finally, while not as cheap as pure foam sheets, it is not to expensive either (even at the 1 cm thickness) so I could keep the project cost low.

That's aprox. 1' x 1' x 0.4" for those of you challenged by metric figures :) 


You can see the small edge left when cutting, to allow overlap between tiles
So, why I keep using the past tense? What went wrong with foamboard? Well... it wraps, as many people using it will tell you! To be more precise: it does not always wrap, and you can minimize/avoid warping with proper preparation. You see, what happens is this: when you apply to much liquid on one side, say watered-down PVA glue (as it is bound to happen in terrain making), the water shrinks the cardboard on this side. The shrinked cardboard then pulls the foam core and the other side, and the sides and corners of the tile are raised. How to avoid this effect? you can put duct tape on the under-side, even "paint" it with watered-down PVA as well, to refute the warping effect when the upper-side will start shrinking. However, this is something you can try for a homemade terrain, not as standing method in consistent-quality mass production. Oh, and there were also Durability issues: much use would start to fray the edges of the cardboard. All in all, I had to abandon foamboard for my tiles, although I will be using it for smaller terrain pieces - and I still find it a good solution for something a home user could make.

I moved on to my final (so far) solution: the combination of solid foam sheets with a basing material underneath.

I wanted the foam part, since it will allow me to sculpt it into depressions, rivers etc. So I will be using polystyrene foam sheets, 1 cm thick, cut into 30x30 cm pieces. I tried both kinds of polystyrene foam available in the mass market, the expanded foam (called felizol in Greece) and the extruded foam (XPS, also known as DOW or styrofoam). Both have pros and cons, with the extruded sheets obviously more durable and rigid, but more expensive. Cutting them in shape is a wife's nightmare, but for mass production I would have to use a professional solution, involving heated blades or wire cutters. I will probably use both in Pedion, with expanded foam the most likely candidate due to cost (and it will be protected from its basing material anyway). Both solutions are extremely lightweight and quite economical.

My XPS (extruded polystyrene) foam tiles
As mentioned above, the foam tiles will be attached on some sort of base. Why the base?
First, from experts on the field, I have heard than even XPS, can wrap a little, or fray, however rigid and durable it may seem. A 2 mm rise on the corners could well spell disaster for my modular tiles - so better safe than sorry. Secondly, as I mentioned, I want to dig into the 1 cm thick foam, and still have a solid surface underneath, to act as, eg, the river bed. Thirdly, the base can be shaped to help with connectivity options.

Many materials could be used for a hard base under the foam sheet. Of those, I did not choose the most obvious and popular solution: wood, in the form of MDF. MDF sheets are a) too heavy b) too pricey, and c) still difficult too cut, compared with my other solutions. Do not get me wrong - MDF would have been my choice if I made Pedion just for myself . But in terms of mass production other materials are available: die-cut metal and plastic PVC sheets.

So far my tiles are produced with a basing of a thin sheet of aluminum (I tried steel - durable but heavy, you have no idea how heavy...). I chose aluminum 'cause it is a) Durable, b) Rigid, c) Light, d) Thin - I have used 1 mm (0.04") thick sheets, but will probably go for even thinner, at 0.5 mm (0.02"), d) Cheap, at these lightweight thicknesses. Obviously you do not cut it at home, but I have secured access to industrial die-cutters.


Expanded polystyrene Pedion tiles, with an aluminum base
Right now I'm experimenting on plastic (PVC foam) sheets - they seem equally lightweight and durable, not to mention low-cost.  Both solutions seem valid, and my final selection will come after some extensive cost-analysis.

Here is the form of the tiles so far - XPS foam sheet mounted on thin aluminum basing:

Notice those small, round thingies on the tile corners? these are small magnets, and if you like, I'll tell you below why I mounted them there...

Connectivity issues

Still reading? great - let me talk a bit about another requirement I have had. This is something that many manufacturers of modular terrain do not necessary tackle: keeping the tiles connected to each other. It is an issue for me and my Pedion tiles; you see, in many modular solutions the tiles are just too heavy to easily move around, or the manufacturer simply does not think this is an issue. However, Pedion tiles are lightweight to better carry them. And I wanted my tiles to keep together, even if somebody accidentally pushes one of them. On the same time I did not want a connectivity solution that would sacrifice Modularity and the ability to easily interchange and rotate terrain pieces on the table.

The first solution I came up with was to drill small wholes on specific distances from each tile corner. Each hole would be by the middle (thick wise) of the foam sheet, and there would be 8 holes total. Then each tile would slide to connect to the surrounding ones be using small, round pins - in my prototype I used common round toothpicks and they worked remarkably well. They maintain a strong grip among the tiles - so strong in fact, that you could lift 6 (2x3) interconnected tiles and they would keep together. One did not even have to join all the tiles, as you could just connect the framing tiles of your gaming area and they would keep the rest in place.

See the toothpick pins between the tiles?
It was (and is) a good, solid solution, and I would recommend it to anyone thinking about connecting foam tiles he/she has at home (post a comment below or join me in google+ if you need to know the details). However, the toothpick pins pose some minor disadvantages. It is not an easy solution to implement in mass production quantities of tiles. Also, it requires some extra effort when placing the tiles, in order to slide them carefully together, in a particular order, so that the pins enter correctly (not to mention some pricked fingertips). Then, the foam hole starts to get wider after a while, as the pins enter and exit repeatedly, enlarging it in the process. And finally, I had a small gameplay issue: when the tiles are fixed together, it is not easy to un-pin them and reconnect them, something that some games (like the Field of Glory Napoleonic ruleset) require for their terrain pieces (eg in FoG one player places and the other can rotate or move). All minor points, but I wanted something better for Pedion.

So I designed my current solution: magnet connectivity. Instead of small holes, strong magnets are mounted on each tile corner, eight magnets total. Their polarity is aligned so that they can easily snap together.  This solution works like a charm: the tiles snap and unsnap to each other without effort, and the tiles are truly interchangeable but still keep solidly connected.


In case you want to see how they connect for yourself, here is a short video:



By the way, this is not exactly an economical solution - magnets are cheap, but this is a LOT of magnets. If thing go well for Pedion, and we enter actual mass production, I have even better connectivity solutions in mind. But these require die-cutting of the base in a specific and complex way, that requires expensive matrices. Therefore, I will stick with my magnets for now.

If I managed to interest you so far, thank you. Trust me; the boring posts are over, and the next ones will more about the terrain itself. I NEED your comments and ideas, to improve Pedion even more, so do not be shy. And stay tuned!

Good gaming all