Making Fantasy City Board Tiles

My main motivation for this project was to make a modular 3 foot by 3 foot board for Frostgrave. I’ve played plenty of Frostgrave in the past but I have never had the feeling of fighting in the streets of a fantasy city with the usual gaming mats I use. So this project was aimed at giving me a game board that provides more definition in how we arrange our terrain to give a more city feel to our adventures.

For modularity, I decided on creating nine 1′ by 1′ tiles. Although there won’t by much variety in how I can lay out the original nine pieces, I am hoping to make a few more tiles in the future to provide more options. I would start off by making 3 straight road pieces, 1 T intersection piece, 4 open pieces, and 1 park piece. Each tile would be made from a rigid base board material, with a layer of XPS foam on top which I will imprint a cobblestone and pavement texture.

For the base board, my usual weapon of choice in MDF, but I just could not find anyone who sold 1′ x 1′ foot pieces at 3mm thickness. And cutting MDF can be a pain, even though I later found out that it is indeed possible to cut MDF with a utility knife. So this time around I chose PVC foam board, which is dead easy to cut with a utility or hobby knife, is rigid, and doesn’t warp (doesn’t absorb moisture). I get this stuff from my local hardware store in sheets that are 1200mm x 900mm.

For the top layer, I chose XPS foam, which I often use for my terrain projects because it is light, easy to cut, and takes texture really well. It is the main component of regular foam board, but I found that the common craft store foam board, if you are able to peel back the paper layer, doesn’t take texturing very well no matter how much pressure I applied with my rollers. So in the end, I used Woodland Scenics 1/8 inch (3mm) Modelling Sheets for the road parts (kindly donated by MilSims Games), and I cut 5mm slices of insulation XPS foam for the open areas. The difference in height between the road and open areas would help give more definition to the terrain.

After cutting out the nine PVC foam board pieces I laid out my measurements for the width of the roads. I decided on 10cm wide roads, with a 5mm brick border on each side. So I cut my 3mm thick road pieces to shape and used a pavement texture roller on them. For the open areas, I textured the 5mm XPS with a cobblestone texture roller. The brick pieces in between are 10mm x 5mm x 5mm pieces of XPS textured with the traditional method of throwing them into a can with a whole lot of small stones and giving it all a good shake.

I tried my best to align the cobblestone pattern across each section of XPS foam, but it was nearly impossible without guides on my rollers.

The textured XPS sheets were glued down with PVA, which doesn’t give the strongest bond with these non-absorbent materials, but its good enough. It turned out to be a blessing later on when I wasn’t happy with a couple of pieces and I tore off some XPS layers so I could redo them. It didn’t take too much effort to pull the XPS off, and the PVA came away cleanly. When I glued the XPS onto the baseboard, I let the XPS overlap and then cut away the excess once the glue had dried.

For the park piece, I bordered the entire section with bricks, and then applied joint compound haphazardly to give it a dirt texture. I then layed down fine ballast for the gravel pathway, though fine grained sand would’ve worked just as well.

Painting was straight forward. I started with two thin coats of Mod Podge mixed with black paint to help stiffen the XPS foam. This was followed by a base coat of grey. The road is a slightly bluer grey than the cobblestone to provide more distinction. I then picked out a number of cobblestones and pavement stones with lighter greys, and browner greys. This just provides a slight variety to the monotone. Next was a drybrush of cream/off white, followed by a drowning of home made black wash. The dirt sections of the park are simply a base of brown / burnt umber and a drybrush of tan. The sand/gravel paths are a base of golden yellow, a drybrush of off-white, and a wash of brown. The park tile was finished off with static grass.

I’m happy with the process and materials I used to create these tiles, they came together very quickly and easily. Some PVC pieces do have a slight bend, but I’m not certain if that is just a natural bend of the board I used, or if gluing the XPS foam on top had a bending effect because after applying the textured rollers, the XPS sheets did come off with a slight bend along their length. Either way it is very slight, and next time I will just pay more attention on which side of the bend I attach the XPS foam to so that I get an up bend in the middle (convex), rather than the raised edges.

As far as the painting goes, I was a little inconsistent. Even though I used the same colours and process for every piece, I completed them all individually. If I had have base coated all of them, and then detailed all of them, then dry brushed all of them, and then washed all of them, I would’ve achieved a more consistent look. I should have also chosen lighter shades of grey for the base coat, even though the greys look good by themselves, the black wash does darken them quite a bit.

Overall, I’m happy with the result and plan to make a few more pieces, to allow more variety in the way we can lay out a 3′ x 3′ board.

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Crudboy's initiation into war gaming was with Battletech way back in high school, where he spent more time creating 'mechs with his friends, and not nearly enough time actually playing the game. Since then, Crudboy has dabbled in so many different tabletop games that he no longer remembers which rule goes with which game. His latest loves include, but aren't confined to, Frostgrave, Gloomhaven, and Gaslands.

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The Monday Knights are a gaming group based in Melbourne Australia.  We are happy to play just about any game at any time.

We meet every Monday night at the Auburn Bowls club in Hawthorn East, Victoria, from 6pm onwards.

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