Gaming on a Budget: In the Flat Fields

Sorry kids, I can never resist the urge to drop a Bauhaus reference on you…

Today, moving along with the budget gaming table project, we’ll be looking modelling fields.  This is entirely appropriate since I’m building a table based on the Villers-Bocage area of Northern France.  The area, along with most of the Northeastern bits around Normandy, are heavy agricultural communities, producing mostly cattle, fruits, and a few grains.  The pastures between hedgerows are perfect for creating grazing areas for cattle and planting various types of crops.

The final table will have some open pastures between the hedgerows, but to create a nice, visually appealing table with lots of cover, it will also be heavily planted.  With fields being among the cheapest and easiest types of terrain to create, we’re going to be making a lot of board coverage for next to nothing, giving us more money within our $200 budget to work with for other things.

fields of huit

Grain/Wheat Fields

This is easily the most common types of fields you’ll see in gaming and model railroad setups.  The reason is simple:  these are easy to make, with just a doormat and a utility knife required.

Unfortunately, the doormat required for this was the absolute most difficult thing to find.  It took me visits to 10+ store and 2 Amazon purchases (the first of which was returned) to get it right.  What you’re looking for is a plain Coco Coir doormat with a vinyl backing that stands roughly 1/2″ tall (good for 6mm, 15mm, or 25mm although you could go taller for 28mm+ scales).  The mats are made from biodegradable coconut fibers and appeal to the Green crowd, who prefer woven coconut fiber backings, so good luck finding one with a vinyl back.  Make absolutely sure that you don’t get one with a braided backing, though, as it will begin to fall apart the second you cut into it.  Adding to the difficulty of finding an appropriate mat, nearly all of the vinyl backed ones have shit like “welcome” or tacky beach scenes printed on them.  Not cool….

Coco Coir Doormat

To save you all the hassle I had to go through to track one of these fuckers down, click here to order the exact same mat I got.  Just under $12 gets you 19.5″ x 21.5″ worth of table coverage!  I used less than half of the mat in the end and still have more fields than I’ll ever need, so feel free to split this with a friend, donate the leftovers to your FLGS, or use any remaining mat for very tiny doors.

To begin construction, lay down old newspapers or a drop cloth over your work area- this is going to get messy.  Then, flip the mat over so that the backing is facing you.  Mark out the area of your field.  I found that a sharpie marker works better than pencils or pens on a glossy vinyl surface.

Using a very sharp utility knife, cut through the backing and pull your field off.

You could very easily stop here, with a pretty realistic field, but I’ll take it one step further.

In my research for building fields, I found that to get a more realistic look out of them, you’ll want to rough up the edges.  Big Lee recommends using a pair of scissors to do this. 

Seriously, be careful

After roughly 2 minutes of this, my destroyed drummer hands couldn’t take it anymore.  Instead, I got my utility knife out and cut along the edges with the blade parallel to the ground, using several knife strokes to clear each area.  This is a lot more dangerous than scissors, but ultimately faster and easier on the hands- just take care not to wind up in a hospital.

To add a little more detail and clean up some long strands in the middle of the field, I used a wire brush to rough up the field.  This cleared most of the debris that had previously been bugging me.

Now look down at your drop cloth and behold the mighty pile of coconut fibers you’ve created!  Save that shit for later, trust me.  Do not throw it away.

finished field

Berries, Cabbage, Etc

To add further scope to my agricultural lineup, I also made some green fields, suitable for representing vegetables, berry bushes, lettuces, and many other things. 

another doormat

As with the previous tutorial, this starts with a doormat, but a much easier to find one.  Not sure that this has a really cool, esoteric name like the coco coir one, but you’ll need a fabric topped mat with rows patterned on it that has a rubber or vinyl backing.  Brown or Green are ideal for this, but any color will do.  I bought the one in the picture for $4 at WalMart and used less than half of it and have way more fields than I’ll ever know what to do with.

Big Lee has another useful tutorial that I used as a starting point, but I did make several changes of my own.

I chose a green mat largely because that was what was available.  After contemplating painting it brown, I decided no to after using the intro to Parks and Recreations and various aerial crop shots for reference. 

The cutting process isn’t too messy, but you may want to lay out some newspapers just the same.

Mark out the area of your field.  I did many different sizes for this (some as small as 2″x1.5″) to represent anything from large commercial fields to small backyard victory gardens. 

Use your trusty utility knife to cut out your marked area. 

power grab: almost ruining terrain since 2011

Here is where I tried and failed at being innovative.  In general you want to now apply clump foliage, turf, or static grass to your field to represent crops.  White glue is commonly used for this, but I wanted to try a caulk adhesive that bends, unlike brittle white glue, and clings very strongly to clump foliage right away.  Here’s where I fucked up:

  • cut the tip too far down, making an overly large bead of caulk
  • got caulk that dries white, not clear
caulk applied, bead too thick

I quickly realized that while this was, in theory, a great idea, it wasn’t going to work with the materials I had.  After doing 1 and a half fields in this manner, I switched to white glue.  Fear not though, there’s a fix for the caulk ones which actually wound up looking kind of cool.

Apply a thick bead of glue long one of the ridges of your mat.  Make this heavy as it soaks into the mat and you need lots for the clump foliage to cling to.  If your field is particularly long, you may want work in half rows to avoid too much glue soaking into your mat.

foliage over white glue: much better

With the glue on, press clump foliage into it.  For more modern, pesticide driven crops, using a single color is appropriate.  For more primitive fields, using a mix of colors would be appropriate. 

pressing down foliage

Now put a heavy object (books, mini boxes, naughty children on time-out) on top of the field to make sure the glue really holds on. 

Wait 4+ hours for drying and shake any excess foliage off and save it for future projects.

As a final touch and for better hold (starting to sound like a Garnier commercial in here…) I then put on a heavy coat of spray varnish.  Since doing that, not a single piece of foliage has fallen off. 

a finished field
stupid dry caulk

Now back to the caulked fields.  You’ll see lots of white caulk peeking through the crops.  Grab some brown paint and apply it to any white you see, et voila!  Now you can see some dirt through your fields of green.  Sort of a pain in the ass, but doesn’t look half bad in the end.

they’re fixed!  mostly….

Feel free to get weird with it and experiment with different materials for your plants.  I used different colors of clump foliage, coarse turf, and static grass to represent different kinds of plants, but I’m sure there are hundreds of other materials (mosses and lichens spring immediately to mind) that could also be used.  Just build something appropriate to what you’re trying to do.  Remember that large, commercial farms will normally only grow a single crop in any given field, so keeping the same color and material is quite appropriate.  Smaller subsistence farms or ones who only supply locally, however, might vary crops from row to row, so mixing materials would be fine in your own project.

assortment of fields

That’s it for today folks.  Don’t forget to drop a comment if you have a tip for making fields or like what you see here.  If you’ve got an idea for a future article, hit us up at [email protected]  I’ll be back for more on the table this weekend, so until then….

You may also like...