Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Scratch building gaming terrain for Wild West board game

The laser cutting to make linka-like moulds at BuildBrighton was a bit of a failure last night. The laser cutter is, once again, out of action. We really need to spend some time down at our new unit getting our laser cutter up and running, so we can just crank this sort of stuff out!

In the meantime, after seeking some advice, we tried scratch building some Wild West style buildings. There are a number of companies online selling laser-cut buildings, which are great for modern games, or near-future type boards - but for old Western type games, they all look a little bit "regular".

This is a typical Wild West type building. It's weather bleached and a little bit higgledy-piggledy. The board planks are warped and all over the place. This is quite difficult to recreate with a sheet of uniform, laser cut, 2mm or 3mm mdf.

Someone at our local model store suggested coffee stirrers as planks.
It seemed like a good idea, so we set about making a wooden shack from actual wood

We started out making a basic framework for our building using some 3mm foamcore board. Then stuck a load of coffee stirrers to the front side and cut them to length. We deliberately cut them off the board, then placed the shorter lengths onto the foamcore. This helped to create the slightly wobbly, less-than-perfect edges along the sides of the building

It would have been easier to glue all the planks in place, then just run a knife blade along the edges, but because our wood is still quite regular (and a bit chunkier than the thin planks used in the building in the photo) we tried to emphasise the rough look of the building by making the edges irregular and a bit out-of-alignment.

Making the building was actually quite a nice process - far more "art-and-crafty" than the usual "engineering and construction" approach used (when building rooms from the Hirst Art moulds). While the glue dried, we taped the sides together and checked the overall size against one of our 28mm Wild West miniatures.

The front of the building was extended beyond the roof level, as was common with commercial buildings in Old West towns. The building is 3 squares wide and 2 squares deep. It's a little on the small side for an actual, to-scale building (but a bit too large to be an outhouse) but it looks fine against the miniature as a generic wooden building. Maybe a simple sign on the top part of the front would make this look like a believable "general stores" or something?

The roof for the building could be made from a number of materials.
A lot of buildings had simple wooden shingles, many had corrugated tin roofs, and occasionally a brick/stone building might have a slate/tiled roof. We couldn't  decide which to go with, and eventually settled on shingles.

Our local model shop has sheets of plasticard for a quid a pop which was perfect for trying out a few ideas. Before we actually started on our roof, we looked again at the reference photo and decided that our coffee stirrer building still looked a little regular. What we needed was an overlapping plank built building.

We cut some of the plasticard into strips. Luckily we didn't have a steel ruler to hand, and pressed just a little too hard with the knife blade, which created the exaggerated, wobbly edges. Horrible for a cut plastic edge, but perfect as some rough-cut wooden planks.

Along the length of each plank we ran the tip of a craft knife, to create a wood grain effect.
Although it's not easy to see this on the white plastic surface, once it's painted and drybrushed, the deep cut, along with the slightly raised edges on each side of the cut, will give a really strong, visible wood grain.

Perhaps it was the solvent fumes from our plastic cement, but once we had a decent stretch of "planked wall section" from plasticard strips, we had a crazy idea about using the same technique for our shingle roof. Except instead of using strips, we'd cut each strip into individual shingles, and glue them together to make a roof. What a bonkers idea!

We took some of the left-over strips from the wall section, and cut a few more, then sliced them into roughly rectangular shapes. Luckily everything in our Wild West reference picture was made from rough-hewn wood - slightly dodgy shingles with uneven sizes and wobbly edges are just what we need!

Making the roof was a slow, tedious job. Every layer or two we had to wait for the plastic cement to dry enough to make the previous row secure (it works by melting the plastics together, so the shingles are really fragile on the roof, until the glue has dried fully). But after a little while, the roof was complete.

In place it looks ok. The whole building looks fine. It needs a layer of paint and maybe it'll start to come to life. We're really pleased with the (painstakingly built) roof and the rest of the building looks not to bad - it certainly has more character than some of the rather flat, laser-cut western buildings available online.

Our plasticard isn't really thick enough to make the awning frame from, so perhaps some laser cut mdf just for that would suffice - then we can stick a rough-cut planked roof, or maybe some corrugated metal on top to finish the model. A large sign for the top part of the frontage, perhaps with a thin wooden frame would be more inkeeping with our slightly more regular house-build than a hand-painted sign (as per the reference photo) and that's our first western building done!

We'd like to have another go at making some more western style buildings, using the plasticard strips, as well as trying the odd brick building (maybe a bank or a hotel). But the thought of making more of those roof sections is a bit daunting.

So before we go sticking everything together, we might just dig out some silicone and have a go at making a mould of this roof section. If it's thick enough (our current roof section is at least as thick as the Linka wall pieces we made the other day, but much larger) it'd be far easier to just pour some (dental) plaster into a mould in a few minutes, than spend two hours or more gluing each individual roof tile in place!