It's been something of a nightmare, but I've finally finished my gaming table, and I'm really happy with how it came out.
The whole process started back when I started getting into Age of Sigmar - upon deciding to take the plunge and jump right back into miniature wargaming again, I decided I didn't want to half ass anything this time around; if I was going to play with miniatures, then they'd have to be painted, and I'd have to have a proper surface to play on, scenery and all. One of the first things I looked at were GW's Realm of Battle boards; I liked the idea of something prefabricated, but that I could tear down for storage and transport and build up and I saw fit.. but I didn't really like how expensive they were, I heard awkward things about the hills on the original Realm of Battle and I didn't like how setting-specific near enough all of them were; I have neither the money, free time or storage space to make more than one gaming table, and so I wanted mine to be fairly setting agnostic - while I'm not particularly expecting to be playing any historicals any time soon, it would have to at least work with Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000, but it'd be nice if it could be used in some capacity for GW's specialist games such as Lord of the Rings, Mordheim and Necromunda as well. To that end, crazy clockwork gears, Imperial Aquilas and skull pits were a bit much for me. I also found out that 'mousemat' style printed mats were very popular - they'd certainly be more storable and transportable, but I couldn't guarantee anywhere I'd play would have a full 6'x4' surface to play on, and I didn't like comitting to the full 6'x4' size either.
And then I discovered this range called 'Tablescapes' by a company called 'Secret Weapon Miniatures'. They're 1'x1' injection moulded plastic tiles in a number of styles that come in sets of size 4'x4' and 6'x4' (and 2'x4' expansion sets if you order directly) and can be tore down and rearranged in any order you like. The underside is reinforced with a solid circular and cross pattern that keeps them very durable and unmalleable, and they hold together with a really robust set of compression clips at the corners. They come in X and V shapes for connecting 4 corners, or two edges together, and once everything is locked together, is holds tight. I haven't done much stress testing because I had no plans to review them as such, but for my needs, the hold is perfect. The table we lay them on is (very roughly) 3' x 7', so we have a 6" overhang on each side of the table when everything is set up. Even with a little bit of gentle leaning, there is no give and everything feels safe and secure. Here's an overview of the finished product:
Bottom line? I really like these tiles. They're well built and well designed, richly detailled without becoming cluttered or tacky, and many of the sets are generic enough to work as a nice foundation for a specific project, or repurposable for fantasy, sci-fi, historicals, and so on. As my primary interest was playing Age of Sigmar, but with a mind to 40K, Necromunda (or Shadow War: Armageddon), Mordheim and LOTR, I eventually decided on a combination of the Rolling Fields and Forgotten City tilesets, painted up to be like the edge of a temple aside a more of a volcanic/mountainous/ash wastleland. I figure that this works equally well at full size as the Realm of Aqshy for AoS or a volcanic 40K planet, the Mines of Moria or the wastelands of Mordor or Angmar, and dialling back to a 4x4, it could either focus on the Fields/Lava tiles and be an industrial underhive (Necromunda) or focus on the stone and concrete tiles and be a ruined city (Mordheim/Frostgrave). This is another reason I like these tiles so much - the Rolling Fields is so versatile that you could paint it as concrete, mud, grasslands, or a desert and it wouldn't look off. For my money, I opted to go the concrete route because it seemed more versatile in the long run - green grasslands seems the obvious candidate at first, but it looks a lot less strange to put a the ruined city of Mordheim or the opressive underhives of Necromunda/Armageddon on concrete with patches of overgrown weeds than it does a big green field. In retrospect, maybe using green tinted Vallejo Still Water for a slimy/polluted river might've been a little more reusable (I wouldn't have to exclude this tiles in Mordheim, for example), but the fiery orange and yellow lava really brings some colour to the otherwise drab and oppressive monochrome colour palette I used on the rest of the tiles.
Back to the tiles themselves, I'm really happy with the overall finished result and I'd recommend Secret Weapon Tablescapes as an option to consider for anyone looking to build a gaming table who might not have the space or resources to scratch build. With that said, they're not without their flaws. Let's get them out of the way now.
- The 'Rolling Fields' set's river is a little unnatural looking with it's right angle corner pieces. I'd almost have rathered an option with just a 4 tile straight river. I've considered buying a 4 tile 'display board' pack just to have the option not to use them.
The more three dimensional 'hilly' tiles on the rolling fields can occasionally be problematic for miniature balance
- I've encountered this a surprisingly small amount of times in play, to be fair. Far fewer balancing problems than expected. The only times I've had real issues with sliding is, somewhat ironically, when using Secret Weapon's resin moulded bases (which are flat bottomed, rather than the usual hollow kind). This was resolved by putting some felt over the bottoms of any resin bases I use, which is kinder on surfaces too.
- 1'x1' tiles mean more configurability, and arguably easier storage, but they also mean more gridlines. I didn't bother clipping the tiles together properly for these photographs, so they're a little more noticable in these pictures than they are in actual play, but you can see them. For some, I could imagine that being a dealbreaker.
I've read people on the internet complain about plastic tiles - either Tablescapes or GWs - and not liking the sound dice make when rolled on them, especially compared to the silence of a neoprene mat.
- Personally, this isn't an issue to me. In fact, I quite like it.
These tiles don't ship with any good system for storage or transport. AFAIK, the Games Workshop tiles come with a fitted bag - I have no personal experience with this, but I've heard it does the job okay. The best thing these tiles get is a kinda ill fitting cardboard box, which did the job for a couple of trips and would probably be fine for storage only, but it's not great. When these things were originally on Kickstarter, there was talk of storage spacers that clipped into the compression clip corners, or of Battlefoam producing a proper insert for them; as far as I can tell, neither came to fruition.
- Personally, I ended up investing in a Battlefoam Pack 1520XL. I store each tile vertically back to back, with a thin sheet of foam between each tile on either side, and it fills up the full width of a BFL tray, leaving 10" of space above for storing my scenery and terrain. With a PACK Plus strapped to the top of the 1520XL, I can carry the full board and more than enough terrain to cover the board pretty safe and securely, along with rulebooks, rulers, dice, etc. It can withstand pressure, sharp knocks or rolls or jabs or any other punishment it might endure in the boot of a car. But it was not cheap. I spent about as much on all of this as I did the tiles themselves, and we'll get onto that shortly. There is not a doubt in my mind that there is a less expensive solution to all of this, but the thought of damaging these tiles after the hours of my life that went into producing them worried me too much to cheap out at this stage, and having everything together in one easily stored and transported box is a lifesaver. If you already have transportation/storage for your terrain though, you could probably fit a full 6'x4' set of tiles in a PACK 720, which is something to think about I suppose.
- They weren't cheap, and they're getting harder to find in Europe. I had originally forked out for the 4'x4' Rolling Fields section, expecting to really only be playing around 1000pts games of AoS and maybe some Skirmish games like Kill Team, Necromunda, etc. Obsession took over and I found myself needing that extra 2'x4' section. In an ideal world - if you're an American customer, and buying the 6'x4' option in a single go, it'll cost you less than GW's plastic Realm of Battle boards, even from a 3rd party retailler, but not much as much less as you'd hope and those RoB boards aren't considered cheap as it is. But that won't get you any storage/travel packaging other than the cardboard box it comes in, which won't last. But if you're a European customer, they're getting harder to find without getting them direct from Secret Weapon themselves, which means importing, which means dealing with customs/import tax and the not-so-great conversion rate at the moment - I got my first 4'x'4' section from Wayland Games a year ago for £100, which is 2/3rd the size of a Realm of Battle Board and half the RRP, but the 2'x'4' extention that I bought direct from Secret Weapon ended up costing more thanks to (in SW's defence, fairly reasonable for it's size/weight) international delivery and customs charges, making the whole thing more expensive than a Realm of Battle board - but my tale was a particularly woeful one. Not everyone will incur the costs I did, especially if they just bought a 6'x4' outright from Mantic or whatever. I could've paid half what I paid if I just bought a 6'x4' Rolling Fields set from Wayland when I did. But there will be people who have built a comparable, possibly much nicer board from scratch who would feint at the price I ended up paying for mine, but thems the breaks.
But enough negativity. Here's some closer shots of the table with a little commentary on my process.
Above is a closer shot of the Rolling Fields section. The paint job on this section is incredibly simple, in fact, it's pretty much just a drybrush of Vallejo Heavy Bluegrey over a black rattle can primer. I don't own an airbrush, and that's never been more of a problem to me than on this step. I think I applied the drybrush using a Citadel Medium Scenery brush, which accounts for the streakiness in parts - you live, you learn. I'd figured out how to get an even drybrush by the time I moved onto the Forgotten City tiles (with a flat brush it turns out, who knew other than everyone?).
The next step was the lava. This was done by first painting the riverbed a dark red and building up layers of Vallejo Water Texture, some layers mixed in with a bit of ink/wash to slightly colour/tint the whole layer, where other layers I would lay down untinted, then put a couple drops of red/orange/yellow on top and brushing it through. Each of the layers took overnight to dry, so this step easily took the most amount of time from start to finish to complete, and getting the right streak to tint to clear ratio for each layer was a bit of a learning curve. The end result was a thick, textured blend from dark red to yellow with thick marbling in places and a little transparency. Overall, I'm pretty happy with how close the lava turned out to the image I had of it in my head.
After painting, I sealed everything with brush on Vallejo Polyeurethane Matt varnish. Again, this was before I discovered the slightly better and slightly more matt Vallejo Matt varnish, although it was a little cheaper which was pleasant. Everything has a very slight sheen (kinda like I imagine a 'satin' varnish would look like), but I will say it's done a damn fine job of protecting the paint job. As far as I can tell, I've had no paint rubbing off or chipping despite going in and out of it's foam sealed case and having all manner of plastic, metal and resin miniatures tossed over it.
The final step was flocking. I didn't want a grasslands so much as blasted wasteland, but I also wanted to have a few very grassy tiles that if I wanted, I could clump together to create more fieldy section of the board if the need arose. I used four different types of flock/static grass, and mostly stuck with wasteland/marsh/dead/winter oriented products to keep things wastelandy. I also made sure to only use the torched brown flock and very sparingly on any tiles with lava itself. There's also a whole bunch of Highland and Wasteland grassy tufts from Army Painter on there.
Several months later and the need arose to get the table up to a full 6'x4' for full 2000pts games of Age of Sigmar. I was always going to be paying a premium to buy a 4'x4' and a 2'x4' rather than everything in one go, so I thought I'd take advantage of my situation and mix and match my Tablescapes - enter, Forgotten City.
This section eventually turned out about as well as I could've hoped for, but it wasn't without it's share of problems. The lack of lava meant that I could get all 8 of these tiles finished in under a week, though it was tedious going at times. To begin, I primed it with rattle can black, and drybrushed all the dirt patches with Vallejo Heavy Bluegrey like I did on the Rolling Fields to tie the tiles together. Next, I whipped out all my paints that advertise themselves as 'Grey'.
I'm a dropper bottle kinda guy. I use a wet palette and almost all my paints are Vallejo or Army Painter, with the occasional Citadel Texture paint or effect like Blood for the Blood God or Typhus Corrosion or whatever. I have recently branched out and bought the must-have Citadel washes though, as I like how they go on and I like being able to dip from the pot when it comes to washes. But a little while back when following the Baleful Realmgate painting tutorial on Warhammer TV, it ocurred to me that I don't own a real straight up 'grey', nothing that really hit that Mechanicus Standard Grey black/white midpoint grey. Just Vallejo Heavy Bluegrey. So, I bought a few Vallejo greys online - Stonewall Grey, Heavy Charcoal (which is weirdly glossy, by the way), Cold Grey, Heavy Grey.. man, none of them is even close. I swear, whoever wrote VGC Heavy Grey is a colour match to Mechanicus Standard Grey on the DakkaDakka Paint Compatibility Chart was either colourblind or trolling - or maybe even the person who named that paint. That colour is a freaking Green. 100%, no doubt about it. It's like a pale camo green/olive. The base coat of any of the lighter green looking stones are courtesy of Heavy Grey. Go figure. Eventually, I bought myself a pot of Mechanicus Standard Grey because I GIVE UP.
Aaaanyway, to get back on subject, for each batch (I batched them in groups of 4 to preserve sanity), I'd pick a 'grey' and colour in a few clusters of tiles in some random spaced out spots, repeat for each tile in the batch, and then switch to a new grey. Once the whole thing was coloured in this way, it got a massive wash of Army Painter Strong/Dark, and drybrushed over with VGC Khaki to pull all the different tones together. And then the whole thing was varnished.
And man, what a pain in the ass that was. As always, I was using brush on Vallejo Polyurethane Matt. I'd like to say that was that, but in the process of varnishing it the brush strokes and moisture of the varnish caused some of the khaki drybrushing to melt and move around. My guess is that the wash didn't bond so well to the massive expanse of flat paint - the actual base layer of paint had no problems sticking to the primer, after all. After I realised this was happening on the first set of tiles, I left the rest for 48-72 hours, hoping that maybe with time the paint would cure better and the bond would be stronger.. no dice. In the end, I basically had to try and cover it with as few brush strokes as possible, cleaning the brush throughly as often as I could, and making sure that as little varnish as possible pooled in the dark recesses - the varnish had a tendency to go cloudy with the khaki paint and lighten up my darks. After the first coat, I'd touch up with another drybrush, redarken some of the recesses, and seal the whole thing again. It's times like this that I'd probably benefit from owning a rattlecan can of some kinda matt varnish. I wish Testors wasn't so hard to find in the UK, because I've heard too many mixed things about Army Painter and Citadel rattle can varnish to risk it. Oh well, chalk up another lesson learned.
Finally, I applied some static grass and tufts - in smaller areas and patches, mostly focussed around the ash/dirt mounds and cracks, which also helped with covering up any glaring blending issues or notable khaki rub off, and the job was done. Again, I'm happy with the overall turnout of it, and hope you liked reading my rambling account of the journey to get here! I can't wait to play my first full size game on the 6'x4' table and see what the extra room for maneuvering brings to the game!
But wait.. there's more! There's BONUS DUARDIN!
Something I've been working on as a side project along with my two main armies is a truckload of 6th Edition era Warhammer Fantasy Dwarfs from my youth. There's around 2500pts of stuff here in various states of completion, including but not limited to several heroes, 40 Warriors, 20 Quarrellers, 20 Longbeards, 20 Ironbreakers, 2 Bolt Throwers, a Cannon and a Stone Thrower, much of it only primed and some just clean metal, with about 1000pts of it sloppily painted for the tabletop by a younger, more careless me. Starting with the prepainted stuff, it's been my plan to rebase it all to rounds and improve the most unacceptable paint jobs to something closer resembling my current tabletop standard.
For starters, here's a group shot of my Great Weapon Warriors (top) and Ironbreakers (bottom). These guys were built and painted back in the day, but I've given them a bit of a new lease of life by trying out a can of Army Painter Quickshade on them, as well as repainting their shield designs from a lazy flat gold from back in the to a new orange and black split, which I think makes them look a little more striking en masse.
You can also spot a Stone Thrower in the back from the days when a Dwarfs Warmachines came in a blister pack.
I'm not going to bother with individual shots, because they don't particularly hold up to scrutiny, but I think they look good in a pack! There's something really gratifying about a fistful of these small, really lightweight little blobs of painted plastic on a 25mm base after the smallest things I've worked on in AoS being Bloodreavers and Stormvermin on 32mm bases. I'm also feeling pretty good about using my new tiles with a black background for photography.
Here's the Ironbreakers below.
If you look even a little carefully, you'll notice the Quickshade has pooled a bit on the bottoms of the Ironbreakers shields, obscuring detail. It's a bummer, but harder to notice with the added edge highlighting. It could've been avoided by brushing on the dip, but at that point I don't really see the advantage in dip over an all over brush on from a pot of Nuln Oil - although, the built-in layer of varnish, I will concede, is pretty handy on these metal miniatures.
Even moreso than the Dwarf Warriors, who were at least multi-part plastics, I'm actually quite surpirsed with how much I still like these mono pose sculpts on round bases. They look unified, disciplined, dignified.. and I will admit, there is a certain charm to handling a finished metal miniature - the weight of the item really gives it a great feel in the hand. I'm certainly looking forward to getting around to the 20 strong unit of Longbeards I've got ready and waiting for a paint job now!
But finally, the main event.. my Dwarf Lord and Shieldbearers, King Ragnar Herk.
This model is something of a re-conversion. Back when I was building my Dwarfs army, I needed a character to represent my Dwarf Lord/General Thane/whatever, and I absolutely loved the King Alrik miniature - not for stature and his shieldbearers though so much as I loved that big winged helmet and big bushy face, and I loved that his face was obscured enough by it all that he had a level of anonymity that made him a great choice of mini for a generic Dwarf Lord. So, I stuck him on a rock, changed out his axe for a hammer and stuck his big awesome shield to his back, because why throw away such a great looking shield?!
Anyway, when I started re-purposing my Dwarfs, I noticed the 'Dwarf Lord and Shieldbearers' warscroll before I encountered the 'Warden King', and when I saw you got those two free wounds for adding shieldbearers, I figured 'why not?'. My lord was already converted off the Shield though, so I scratched my head about what to do and looked in my box of Dwarfs. Shortly after, I encountered two miniatures I thought were perfect - one of Alrik's old shieldbearers that I'd converted into a very awkward Thane with a great weapon, and an amazingly old Citadel 'Dead Drunk Dwarf' that a friend of mine had ordered from our local GWs mail order catalogue for me as a birthday present over a decade ago. The Thane, in practice, kind of looked like he was struggling with the axe, possibly even offering it up, which made him a great dutiful squier-esque kind of companion, which in turn worked well for the Dead Drunk Dwarf who uh, wasn't much use to anyone.
As a model, this didn't take an awful long time to complete. I just CA glued the three of them (Lord on his rock and all) onto a 60mm round base, textured it with some Vallejo Black Lava (an absolute godsend for fast textured basing when you're not priming black, and a zillion times cheaper than any GW texture paint), applied some brush-on primer to the two 'shieldbearers', touched up the Lord's paintjob (adding some orange for the new colour scheme where appropriate), and painted up the two shieldbearers, then put some brush on matt varnish over the lot. I will say I was happy with a couple of details I might normally pick out - I used a little Bloodletter Glaze on the Dead Drunks nose to give him that boozy look, and I actually bothered to paint the pupils. They're not the cleanest job I've ever seen, and could maybe do with being a little subtler, but they give him a sort of "I've seen too much" dead eyed stare at the clouds, which I enjoyed.
For a final touch, I used a few types of flock and static grass to give the rocky area a more opressive feel like on my Skin Wolves as the base was too big for just a couple of tufts, but not big enough to justify some lava cracks. Then, I added some spilled ale from my Dead Drunk Dwarfs flagon with a few layers of Vallejo Water Effects with some brown and yellow ink tinting it. Around the top of the flagon, I also added a few particles of Army Painter 'snow' effect and a tiny bit of white paint to make it look just a little bit frothier where it's thickest, although I'm not sure how visible it ended up being.
Well, that's what I've been up to since finishing The Wolf and the Rat! Expanding my game board to a full 6'x4' became a bigger and more apparent priority than finishing up my 2000pts of The Azure Tempest this month, which is why my Dwarfs ended up getting some time in the sun. As it stands, I could take a Warden King, ten Warriors and ten Ironbreakers and give my Chaos forces something of a reasonable fight (and certainly adds more miniatures to the table than the additional four Stormcast I had planned!), although more likely that I'll paint up my Cannon and Stone Thrower and add a little long ranged punch into the army instead of the Ironbreakers.
To throw a curveball into the mix, I've also received a bunch of miniatures for my birthday that are demanding my attention. A friend of mine gifted me a Warhammer Games Day/Golden Daemon event Daemon Slayer miniature that is just way too bad as to leave unpainted in a box, and my ever lovely better half had bought me a box of Putrid Blightkings and a Daemons of Nurgle Start Collecting! box, having noted that I once rambled to her that I'd have picked Nurgle as my Chaos Diety of choice, had the starter box for AoS not come with a bunch of Khorne stuff. She's not wrong, and I'm really stoked to start painting these guys, just as soon as I pick up some rust and Nurgles Rot effects. I'm going to have to start taking some serious consideration into the Nurgle/Khorne lists I've been playing about with under the name The Red Plague. I'm already thinking of the Pestillens Skaven I could justify adding now, and with all my Chaos Daemons I've managed to amass, it could be a lot easier than expected to jump back into the new edition of 40K when it launches. Sigmar can wait.. I can hear Grandfather calling.