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Criteria for Tabletop Built-up Areas. . .

Here's a shot of the old town square at the center of Riga, Latvia. . . an old Hanseatic town, featuring some of the delightful North German gothic architecture that you'll find in cities and towns scattered throughout the Baltic region from Bremen to Gdansk, Stockholm, Tallin, and Hamburg. I've used buildings like these as inspiration for the many I've made for my Stollenian and Zichenauer troops to contest.

The last few weeks have seen painfully little time for wargaming related activities. Oh sure, a tiny bit of painting here, a tiny bit of gaming there, and some work on finishing a few buildings for the tabletop. But by and large, nothing of any real consequence sadly. We're almost a month into the fall term (Week Four starts tomorrow!!!), and the days just seem to fly by. All of the sudden, it's 10:45pm, and, to be honest, I just don't feel like sitting down to paint by that point in the evening. Much nicer to retire to bed with a book or magazine and some quiet jazz on the radio. But I digress!

However, I have been thinking about wargaming real estate -- built-up areas in military parlance -- the last several days, chiefly the requirements for tabletop buildings. Here's a short list of points important to me that I've been mulling over in no particular order:

1) Scratch-built -- I've always liked to make my own stuff. Commercially made houses, etc. are too pricey and never look right to my eyes. . . unless we're talking about the custom/bespoke work of Ian Weekley and/or Herb Gundt that is! And I've always preferred to spend available funds on figures, paints, brushes, and books.

2) Distinct Appearance -- I prefer tabletop buildings that don't look like those seen anywhere else, hence my use of North German Hanseatic merchant townhouses, churches, and so forth as models on which to base my own wargaming structures, which pop up now and then here on the Grand Duchy of Stollen blog.

3) Readily Available Materials -- I like to use easily obtained materials for constructing my tabletop BUA's. . . so, heavy cardboard scavanged from writing pads, balsa wood from the local model railway shop, white glue, acrylic craft paints, black Sharpie permanent magic marker pens. Add a cutting mat, a metal edged ruler, and a new X-acto hobby blade, and away we go!

4) Small Dimensions -- While I like buildings that are taller than my 25/30mm figures, I don't want them to take up too much room on the table, so I make everything underscale. That way, I can still group my buildings into several small farms, villages, or towns of between three-six buildings without taking up valuable room for maneuver.

5) Interior Ruins -- In the fine tradition of Charles Grant and Charles S. Grant, I like interior ruins which can be occupied by eight figures (half a company according to the rules outlined in Young and Lawford's Charge!), so my houses and other buildings fit over an unobtrusive base onto which I glue balsa "ruins", which I whittle away at which the X-acto knife to approximate stone or brick rubble. These are painted gray and a few stones or bricks are picked out here and there with the Sharpie marker.

6) Ease of Construction -- With the exception of some odd, complimentary angles where roofs and steeples are concerned, I produce buildings that are easy to construct, requiring little more than imagination, some time, and a few materials to make. And, to my eyes, the result is attractive, durable, and looks like what it purports to be. . . a house or other structure in the Baltic region of Europe. . . where the Grand Duchy of Stollen is located.

7) Unfussy Appearance -- I want tabletop buildings that look like buildings, but in a stylized way, emphasizing function and durability rather than minutely detailed, highly realistic structures that are scaled accurately with the figures. The photographs of Charles Grant Sr.'s buildings, which I first saw in old issues of Military Modeling and Miniature Wargames back in the early 1980s, have always stayed with me as THE ideal for wargame structures. . . although I went through a rather long stage of emulating Ian Weekley's work during the 1990s, creating highly detail, laborious "models" of actual buildings, which had only limited application.

8) Troops Can Occupy Them -- I've always liked the idea of being able to place occupying troops inside the houses and other structures on the tabletop, something that's not always possible with commercially produced buildings, to say nothing of resin casts. I've never cared for the idea of keeping track of the number of occupants in a structure on paper. Yet another reason for constructing basic hollow shells that can be placed over ruined bases, which will hold seven-eight 25mm figures.

9) Rapid Assembly -- Time is the enemy of wargamers! We NEVER seem to have enough of it, so tabletop buildings and scenery must be relatively fast to design, assemble, and paint. While a few of my buildings are somewhat complex, for example churches, must of the others are simple 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" shells (or there abouts) with steeply gabled end walls. If everything goes as planned, I'm able to cut out, assemble, and paint two or three of these in an afternoon. . . enough buildings to represent a village on the tabletop.

10) Lots of Buildings -- Ever have a look at the Tabletop Teasers featured in Battlegames or elsewhere? Then, you'll have noticed that many of those scenarios feature quite a few buildings, maybe a larger town with an outlying village, a farm, or two. Unless you are in the enviable position of being able to spend a lot on ready-made buildings, you'll need to make your own. . . unless you don't mind representing a village with a single house, but I've never really liked the look of that.

There must be other things I haven't thought of yet, but these are the main ideas behind the built-up areas I've made for the Grand Duchy of Stollen project. Everything is still very random and undeveloped, but there you are. In any case, you can see several examples of my houses at the top of this blog and elsewhere in previous posts from the last four years. Now, what are YOUR criteria for tabletop buildings? Leave a comment or two detailing your preferences for wargaming real estate.


Fitz-Badger said…
I like small building footprints as well.
I have gone back and forth on more or less realistic buildings (and other terrain) - the last few years that's meant a swing towards more "toy-like" buildings.
I think it depends to some extent on the style of the miniatures/painting. The more "shiny toy soldier-y" the minis are the better the more stylized buildings go with them.
The more realistic buildings can look great with more relaistic-looking minis, but I think smaller footprints can work fine with those, too.
Your notions of what you require from wargames buildings are very close to my own: simplicity, speed of cobstruction, scale, plenitude... Possibly where we might differ is that I have no problem with commercial buildings, having a few plastic (all second hand) and quite a lot of commercial card buildings.

Of the latter, I found the Usborne historical series (build a Viking Village, Roman Fort, Mediaeval seaport etc) very handy.

For extra character and variety, I have scratchbuilt several buildings of my own out of brick paper and other oddments. You can't have too many buildings.
Bluebear Jeff said…
So far all of the buildings which I've constructed have been for Colonial gaming . . . a frontier fort and the "traditional" adobe-box style building with a flat roof.

For all of these, the "footprint" (or more correctly "roofprint") was designed to comfortably hold various numbers of troops.

I also liked to make these rectangular as opposed to square . . . to me this gives more interesting looks and the "same pattern" looks to be a different building if set at a different angle.

As for patterns, I would make any particular pattern in a slight variety of heights . . . the length of walls would be the same, but the height of the walls would give me noticeably "different" buildings.

As for painting, I would use a variety of shades of off-white . . . but I would be careful to paint the smaller buildings that would "nest" on the roofs of larger buildings to be painted the same, so that I could use them separately or as two-storey structures.

And, following the wise counsel of Major General Tremoreden Rederring (and yourself), I try to limit the footprints to no more than necessary because table space (even with a large table) is too valuable to waste on buildings that are too large.

-- Jeff
Giles said…
Hi Stokes

I completely agree with you on (2). I think one of the things that really brings a game to life is the sense of location (and time) that having the correct buildings brings - generic "European" or "North American" models are fine, but it's when you drill down into regional variations that you begin re-creating history.

Best wishes


PS Riga looks lovely!
tidders said…
Having to maintain buildings for my 25/28mm and 40mm figs gives me some problems - especially with storage. Main principle I follow is - generic type buildings that can work over a time period 1600s-1800; plus some specific buildings where needed. Buy stuff as cheap as possible that does the job and make special buildings myself. I like 2 or 3 buildings for a village; 6 or so for a town.

-- Allan
Jiminho said…
This is an interesting question and I am generally in line with your Building Code. In my limited experience, buildings are the hardest things to get right. The nicest buildings I have seen are scratch-built affairs made by Gundt or Weekley or other talented people. I gamed with a few such people way back when (lucky me), it was fun to play on a beautiful table and I learned a little bit about how I might make my own buildings and terrain. Work by the likes of these people is dear and it is hard to match for normal mortals! I like some of the commercial lines of buildings (especially their durability) though I would’t touch most of what is on the market, too big or just too ugly.

I started making my own in order to have buildings that looked like I thought they should and that worked better with the scale (basing) of my battalions. I am totally in agreement with you on #2 and 4, under-scale is essential and very effective in combination with big battalions. It seems essential to bring the buildings to life in the game, it is much cooler to occupy them one way or another or burn them to the ground!

It is a real trick to strike a balance between scale, ease of construction and the detail that gives the right touch. I can’t say that I am satisfied with my own efforts, though my buildings suit me better than most of what is on the market. In trying to come up with something that looked good and was durable, I experimented with a bunch of different materials (sculpey, resins, foam core, hydrocal and LINKA molds) all of which were more fiddly than your Readily Available Materials. I can’t say that I have got it right just yet. My own efforts are without doubt on the fussy side but they fit what is in my minds eye (does that make me Felix Unger?) and my figures as well. They aren’t nearly so stylized as the Old School look of Charles Grant, or those of Stollen, or many of the other EvE sites. I’m coming to like that too, however, just I am now steering toward the rules of Grant and Young. It is a zen thing : with buildings, less is more..., with the figures themselves, more is always more!

guy said…
I think I have to start from the premise that my own modelling attempts have been pretty feeble. I would also prefer the more realistic looking models rather than stylised simplified buildings specifically for the Southern German area. I am also using the Revell troops so the buildings have to be on the smaller side rather than 28mm models from companies such as Steve Barber.

I have therefore followed the route of some Germanic cardboard buildings from companies such as Schreiber(you can see on Nigel Billington's Painting Wargames site how good these can work), some of the Byzantium German model building range(they do have interiors)and some odds and ends from model railway companies such as Faller and Hornby. Faller for example do a traditional Saxon farm building complex. They also do building suitable for N Germany but they are not exactly cheap.

I agree on the footprint area but have added bases with small fences, trees etc to hopefully add to the visual effect.

Big Andy said…
I have recently discoverd a range a really nice card building under the trade name of March Attck. The printing is cracking nice colours and clear instructions they are available in "28mm" or "15mm" some have destroyrd interiors and the are both paricular- eg La Haye Saint La Belle Allince and generic models . I have 2 or 3 I just need to build 'em.

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