Making DBA Terrain Squares
A DBA battlefield for 15mm scale is 24" square. The rulebook sets
some limits on what is appropriate terrain as follows:
That is nearly the whole description of terrain in the DBA rulebook.
At least three of the battlefield's quarters must contain at least one
At least two of the battlefield's quarters must contain a river or bad
going or impassable terrain.
Bad going must be easily recognizable, and
can represent steep slopes, rough or boggy ground, sand dunes, woods, a
village or town (a built up area, or BUA), or small enclosed
fields. Gentle slopes confer combat advantage to troops upslope, but are
not bad going.
Rivers must flow between two different board edges.
The majority of the playing surface must be flat good going.
Sea, lakes and cliffs are impassable terrain. Although it is not mentioned
in the rulebook, it seems reasonable that impassable terrain might
also represent the wall of a large city (Byzantium, Rome), dense
woods, deep swamps, or similar terrain.
Perhaps the most common DBA Terrain is made out of felt. A 24"
square groundcloth of green felt for the base covered with cutout
shapes of different colours of felt to mark rivers, roads, towns,
marshes, woods, lakes and the like.
This article describes an alternative that is nearly as inexpensive and
much more attractive. Few tools are necessary, and no great artistic
skill is required. The result is a set of 12" squares that can be
combined in a modular fashion to make a wide variety of different terrain.
Using 12" squares with permanently attached asymmetric terrain features
is one method mentioned (and supported) in the DBA rules.
The basic idea is to make a relatively small number of geomorphic 12" square
boards. Any four of them can be fitted together to construct a DBA map.
This accords well with the description of choosing map terrain in the
DBA rulebook, and allows an appropriate battlefield to be chosen very
On the one hand you wish to be able to play in a very wide variety of
battlefield terrain. On the other hand you haven't got infinite time and
money to devote to making terrain boards, and they can't require a dedicated
truck to bring them to where you choose to wargame.
The boards below allow a reasonable compromise between the desire for
variety and the constraints of expense, portability, and manufacture.
Terrain features are positioned asymmetrically on the boards. This
means that rotating a given 12" map quarter 90 degrees and leaving it
in the same position will change the board, perhaps in a very important
way (e.g., positioning a ridgeline across the center of the board, or
with a simple rotation, the ridge becomes a much less important feature
along one board edge).
There are 12 boards described below. Using only those 12 boards,
a player will still be able to generate approximately 800,000 different
legal 24" square map combinations of clear, hills, and bad going. With
the addition of rivers and roads, the possibilities are infinite.
The following boards are required:
3 clear boards
3 forest boards
1 almost clear (a small patch of woods)
1 with two patches or a medium-sized woods
1 fairly densely wooded (at least half covered by woods)
3 gently hilled boards
1 with a small hill
1 with a ridge (large thin hill)
1 with a plateau (large wide hill occupying at least half the board)
3 wooded hill boards
1 with a small hill and small (separate) patch of woods
1 with a wooded ridge (large thin hill with a couple of patches of woods)
1 with mixed woods and hills covering at least half the board
To reduce the number of boards that need to be constructed, roads, towns,
and rivers are not part of the boards above. After the boards are positioned,
the player creating the terrain can easily add a river, town or village, and
any roads desired. For this purpose the player will need a couple of linear
terrain features made up for roads and rivers.
Here are some images of finished boards, with brief descriptions. The
pictures are taken in direct sunlight, so the contrast is a little low.
Three forest boards (and one clear board).
The top left board is "heavily forested" (one large and one small patch
of woods or other bad going). The bottom left board has a medium-sized
patch of woods, and the bottom right has a smallish patch of woods.
Three hill boards (and one clear board).
The top left board has an asymmetrical ridge. The bottom left board
has a large flat hill, all good going, and the bottom right board has
a single smallish hill.
Four wooded hill boards. Note that there
are many possible combinations of woods and hills; these are the ones
I chose, and I may eventually build more. The board on the top left is
a long asymmetrical ridge with associated patches of bad going. The board
on the top right, in contrast, is a smallish hill (all good going) and
a separate medium-sized patch of bad going. The board on the bottom right
is a largish hill with two small patches of bad going (one on the hill
that could represent a wooded hill crest, and one below the hill). And
the board on the bottom left was an afterthought, but quite interesting --
it has two small hills and two small asymmetrically distributed patches of
12 squares of 1/4" plywood, pressboard, 3/16" foamcore, or other stable
Each piece should be 12" square. A 4' square of 1/4" plywood or pressboard
will be less than $10 in most places. You may have to cut it yourself; having
someone with good powertools (a tablesaw, for example) here is an advantage
but not necessary. Foamcore can be marked with a ruler and cut with a hobby
knife. Another possibility is to buy cheap 12" square linoleum tiles. My
squares are on plywood because I had it in the basement already.
Some more of the same material as above for making hills.
A small (5lb) box of sanded, coloured grout. This is the stuff that you mix
up to put between ceramic tiles. Any respectable DIY or Home Depot equivalent
will have it. It comes in lots of designer colours these days -- choose any
relatively dark earthy colour. I used "Nutmeg", which gave me a good
reddish-clay colour. A 5lb box cost me $4 or so, and goes quite a long
way -- I've made more than a dozen squares and used less than half of it.
A trowel for mixing and spreading the grout. You can use a scrap piece of
plywood if you like, although it will be more messy. A cheap trowel is $5
or less. I already owned one, so it cost me nothing.
White glue. Lots of it. I used a sturdy carpenter's glue because I had a
gallon of it in the basement.
Flocking material. Used by railroad hobbyists and miniature wargames.
Most hobby stores will have some. I bought a big bag of it for $5 and
used about half of it flocking 12 squares. I also bought a smaller bag
of some darker green flocking that I used for the forest areas.
Some craft or miniature paints. Not a lot, and if a miniature wargamer
doesn't have these hang around, something's very wrong. I also used some
green craft paint (Liquitex acrylic). Any cheap medium or dark green craft
paint would be fine.
Matte spray sealer, satin-finish spray polyurethane, or some such thing.
Appropriate flexible stuff for roads and rivers. They'll need to be
relatively thin and long; flexible and durable. Check out a couple of
fabric or craft stores for blue or tan naugahyde, shower curtain plastic,
and the like. Textured vinyl upholstry material is great. If you are
truly desperate you can use tan or blue felt; with a bit of paint to add
ruts in the road or a shore and surface irregularity to the river it won't
look too bad.
Decide upon your hill and forest shapes for each terrain board, and mark
the terrain on the board with magic marker/pen/pencil whatever.
Cut appropriate-shaped hills out of your base material. Don't do multiple
levels -- these would be steep hills, which are bad going.
Glue your hills down in the right place with your white glue. You may want
to use small nails (in plywood or pressboard) or tacks (in foamcore) to
hold the hill down while the glue dries; alternatively you could just put a
couple of books on top of it.
After the glue has dried, mix up a batch of your grout, following the
directions on the box. When it is ready use a trowel to spread a thin,
fairly even layer on the squares. Don't try to make a smooth hill slope
out of your hills -- put a layer on the hill top, and a layer on the ground
level, and make sure the transition between the two is clear and abrupt.
This whole step will be messy; do it outside or in your basement, or
use a dropcloth.
Follow the instructions on the grout to smooth it out -- for my brand this
meant letting it dry for 15 minutes or so, then taking a slightly damp
sponge and smoothing the surface. Or you can let it dry entirely and then
sand it, which works also. You don't want it too smooth -- just get rid of
any ridges you created when trowelling it on.
Let the grout dry for a day or so, then mix up some diluted white glue. Make
this about 50/50 glue and water, and mix until it is smooth, about the
thickness of heavy cream. Take your cheap brush and paint the whole surface
of the squares with the dilute glue. This gives the grout much more durability
against impact and long-term use, binding down the surface. Acrylic paint
would have the same effect -- if you aren't satisfied with your grout colour,
slap on some acrylic paint here.
Let it dry, then slap some green paint on all the areas that will be forest.
The darker undercolour will show through the the flocking.
Now flock it. The basic technique is simple: slap some more diluted white
glue on the board wherever you want flocking, then sift a bunch of flocking
wherever you glued. Let it dry completely (1 day) and then turn the board
upside down (over newspaper or some clean surface), shake and smack it, and
recover any unused flocking. You can
combine this step with the gluing or painting steps before if you wish (I
didn't, as I figured that more glue holding down the grout surface was a
good thing). I put glue on all the non-forest areas and flocked them in
a mixed green, then the next day I reclaimed that flocking, slapped some
glue on the forest areas only, and used the darker green flocking.
After the squares are all done and the glue is completely dry, spray
the surface with a coat or two of matte sealer or satin-finish spray
polyurethane (whichever is cheapest)
The squares are now done; all that remains is to make rivers and roads
out of the vinyl or naugahyde you've salvaged from second-hand furniture.
Cut some straight sections and curves that you can put together, and
maybe some Y-sections. Get creative with drybrushing and detailing to
hide the tawdry origins of your river/road material. If you have a nice
textured surface you can dry-brush waves. If you have a clear or
translucent blue plastic river material (shower curtain?) you can
paint the underside with very good results, as well as
painting or flocking the river's edge. Roads can be given wheel ruts as
well as drybrushing slight colour irregularities, and flocking the edge
of the material to smooth the transition can be very effective.
These techniques can be easily used to generate other types of
terrain. Suppose you like to play Arab Conquest, you don't want all
that silly grass all over your terrain? Nothing is easier. Use a sandy
colour of grout as your base, dry-brush some lighter colours over the
surface after applying the layer of diluted glue, and you are done!
Behold desert terrain that any Arab could be proud of.
Similarly, there are some occasions where you might wish for a beach,
perhaps a view of the Adriatic, or Lake Trasimene. Special-purpose terrain
can be easily added and integrated in a modular fashion with
your basic 12 squares. Use the techniques described above to create a
12" by 24" rectangle, with the shores of Lake Trasimene on one edge.
Combine it with two of your basic squares and you have a nice battlefield
on the edge of a major waterway. You can subsequently use your Lake
Trasimene double-sized segment to recreate a Viking invasion, a battle
along the side of the Black Sea, and so on.
Flock will gradually be worn away if you stack these boards on each other,
so I built a carrying case of plywood I had laying around, plus a flap-down
handle and a couple of hinges. This case will store up to 16 boards (I only
have 13 at the moment). A picture of the case is available
Last modified September 5, 1998. Added images.
Page created September 1, 1998.
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