Saturday, 29 February 2020

Pocket Armies- Terrain integration

Roads, Rivers, Bridges and Rail track. With the Pocket Armies project looking at putting around 6 - 9 units per side into a 4’ x 3’ space, it has seemed sensible to also consider having a more integrated road, river and rail system, that would also look comfortable sitting in that same space.
Russian Windmill - Ironclad Miniatures

Our battlefield may well have a waterway, a couple of linked roads, a bridge and / or a rail track all at the same time and if the width of each of those is too great, then their collective presence overwhelms the small table.

This was already quite noticeable with my 80mm wide roads (especially with 30mm wide hedge or fencing to either side) for the 28mm figures and the resin rivers that were also 80mm Wide. The bridging point where one of these big roads meets one of these rivers, with a large bridge added, is quite imposing on a table that is less than 4’ deep, it just seems to dominate the table, so here are some changes.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for a description of the new terrain pieces.

With part of the intention of the Pocket Armies project being to work towards a single scale, particularly for terrain, then a re-shaping of this tabletop battlefield to work with 15mm (and smaller) figures has been a necessary step to take at the very outset of the project. 

I already have some home made roads that are 30mm wide and a commercial set that are 40mm. These slimmer versions though immediately helpful, brought some additional thinking about my smaller scale basing.

I have been using 40mm (and 80mm!) basing for my 10mm and 12mm figures, but have been feeling an urge to drop to a standard 30mm base frontage, simply because it looks better in march formation, is easier to reflect various other formations (especially for napoleonics) and I could see some advantages to pocket army management in terms of flexible unit size. Also moving multi based units is not that onerous when working with small armies.

An important aspect of the Pocket Armies project is that I do not want to use the smaller scale to simply give me bigger armies. I am happy with more, smaller and hopefully better painted armies, so that the 1 - 2 hour type game can be better realised and that the collecting, painting and storage aspects are somewhat liberated.

Briefly, I could use three 30mm x 30mm bases per unit to build up the pocket army to its 12 or so core units, but if all the units in the collection are not called upon to fight! then those left behind in the drawer could instead be inserted to make the on table regiments up to four bases each. So in effect bigger battles would get more smaller units of three bases, which would help stretch the economy of the unit and also be a better fit on the busy table, while smaller games could enjoy the better visual of four bases making a 120mm frontage, which also happens to be half the size that Black Powder uses, which in turn then makes the halving of Black Powder’s standard measurement of inches converted to half inches, a better fit.

It also still allows the versatility for three 30mm bases to be used on my Kallistra 100mm Hex terrain when needed to better visual effect than an 80mm frontage (that extra 10mm makes a surprising difference for linear effect). So win-win for 30mm bases, but boo - hiss for any rebasing!

Anyway, that minor but essential distraction made me look at a road system that would look right for a 30mm based travelling in march column and I have found two that I like.
A Fat Frank 'dirt track' section.

I have decided to use two road systems. Fat Frank on E-Bay sells a variety of road types (see above photo). I went for the 30mm dirt track, which has a really nice gritty texture with cartwheel marks and is on a thin, slightly flexible backing.

The big advantage with these roads is that they are ready to go, fully dressed and can just be plonked down from new without any prep. I ordered twice from him and the second order exactly matched the first in look, colour and texture. I am going to use these for my secondary roads or when a game demands a bigger road net that might get a bit too much for the table. They will also make a great dirt trail or a track through woodland.

For main routes, I have chosen Timecast, who sell a flexible latex rubber product in various widths. For roads I have settled on their ‘medium dirt’ roads, which have a 32mm road surface and then raised roadside embankments for a total width of 47mm. I took their river system classed as ‘Wide’, which including the banks is 62mm wide in total. 

Together with 30mm basing and the smaller figure (15mm or less), these seem a good combination visually for the table. They come in the raw, so need painting up and the coloiur ‘recipe’ recorded, so that I can add to what I have, making sure they match. I am a bit late to the latex party (there must be a song or a joke in there somewhere), but I am an instant fan. They are cleanly cut, so butt-up together nicely, there is some good quality control going on here.
Timecast road / river / bridge system.

Timecast also sell associated bridges to integrate with their road / river sizes, so I got a couple of nice fine plaster bridges that match the ‘wide’ river the ‘medium’ width road, but now realise that one is for 6mm and the other 10mm, but the 10mm will be fine. The latex rubber material is pliable enough to drape roads over some of my smaller S&A Scenics smooth sided hills.

I already own a few resin bridges that I like, that make a good fit with the table, so I thought I would model them out with a plasticard base, so that they fully mate with the waterway.
Timecast latex fields

Timecast also sell a variety of fields made from the same material. Again these need painting up / flocking, but have the advantage of hugging the table nice and low, making any in scale fencing look suitably better. Above left is a 5½” x 5½’ field in the raw, to the right, a 4” x 3” painted and flocked.
TimeCast fields

- they do look very good when grouped and blend well with the overall look of the table. Here is a shot of a scene that was part of a 12mm ACW game that was posted here a few weeks ago,

Finally, what of railway? I already have ‘N’ gauge (for 10mm) and HO/OO gauge (for 20mm and bigger) track with associated wagons and plenty of buildings in those standard rail scales, but 15mm sits between the two. A quick consultation with my (not so local these days) model shop, advised that 15mm (1/100 scale) would look better with TT gauge track and rolling stock (1/120 scale) .... but they sold neither and thought it was hard to get hold of.

The thing with model rail shops is that they assume that you want a running train set with nice shiny looking gear - I don’t, it just needs to look right and the stock doesn’t need a working engine etc, but carriages and wagons need to look good (read - well used) just sitting on the track.

I remembered that Ironclad Miniatures did a resin rail set that was intended to work with 15mm, so a quick phone call to the owner confirmed that TT scale would suit me and that his resin tracks had the rails at 12mm apart, which is exactly right. 
Ironclad Miniatures resin tracks

So ..... a visit to e-bay saw a small clutch of TT wagons on auction and due to end within the hour. I got 4 wagons and 1 carriage for around £4 each. 

Then a visit to Ironclad Miniatures web page resulted in a purchase of resin TT track. Now that I have them in my hands, they are lovely, well defined, flat, clean and visually spot on.

I had mounted my current two ‘N’ and HO/OO track systems on balsa and cork bases respectfully and applied stone ballast, they look a bit scruffy, so are totally outclassed by the smart Ironclad stuff. I have yet to paint them, but the texture is very obvious and looks very painter friendly.

The wagons on arrival looked a bit, well, old and unloved. So I cleaned them up with a cotton bud, re-painted one of them and the applied washes generously to them, followed by gloss and then mat varnish. The result is quite a nice set.
TT gauge is around 1:120

Above, On the right, this was a dreadful 70’s creamy yellow plasicky colour. A bit of research allowed me to paint it grey with an off-white roof. The rest of the effect comes from washes, with a gritty wash added to the roof. It looks like a 'working' model now.

Above, On the left I couldn’t get the inside of this trailer stain free, so added some cargo. The tarpaulin is made from a dice glued to the wagon and then a PVA soaked piece of paper draped over it and folded into form and then carefully painted up and highlighted. I was going to glue a couple of rail workers sitting on the edge with their feet in the wagon, but thought they might look strange just sitting there having a break as T-34 tanks rumbled by with guns blazing :-). 
A lovely TT gauge carriage by Triang

Above, This is a nice item and having seen the same thing in HO/OO scale, it becomes obvious how useful the TT 1:120 scale is for the smaller table. You can go smaller with 'N' scale which is suited to 10mm figures. Here, i just used inks toget a worn look and reduce the plastic effect.
TT gauge wagons

Above - Finally, a couple of wagons. On the left, the container just needed a thickish wash to help it 'calm down'. On the right, the wagon looked a bit grim inside, so Idropped in some balls of kitchen roll soaked in PVA as filler and once dry, put in a mix of medium sized stone balast and PVA, levelled it off and left it to dry. You can click on all of these images for a closer look.

As I delved into the Ironclad Miniatures website, I also ordered some buildings, but was particularly taken by this windmill (below), which has gone together very nicely and painted up well.
So nice, here it is a second time :-)

As these things have started to arrive through the post, it feels like an important sub-structure of the project now exists and that my table is well on the way to fulfilling it’s part of the deal in me getting the look and feel that I want for these games.

Things are moving ever onwards .... but no dedicated project armies have yet left the painting table. Further orders have gone in to suppliers (pre-paint stone walls arrived today from Coritani, who have the fastest turnaround that I have ever come across) and painting and modelling to get some suitable troops, buildings and accessories has started - so hopefully more project updates to come soon!

My sister web space (COMMANDERS) is more snippet based than here and will be getting Pocket Army updates. LINK

Ironclad Miniatures website is here LINK

Coritani website is here LINK

TimeCast webpage is here LINK

Fat Frank on E-Bay - search under Fat Frank 15mm terrain (or roads)


  1. Great job on the windmill! Terrain and battlefield accoutrements tend to take a backseat to painting and fielding armies. I ought to pick up my game a bit and focus on terrain.

  2. I'm still enjoying the church that you did, that needs to make an early return :-)

    This is a great hobby, we are lucky, lucky people,

    1. You may be in luck! I have an order for a few Spanish buildings arriving from Brigade Games on Monday.

    2. Very nice and Spanish buildings make such an impactive on the table.

    3. Treat Day, I love Saturday deliveries, in the UK (at least for me), once it gets to around 11 am, if it hasn’t arrived by Royal Mail, then it ain’t coming before Monday!

      Have a good ‘out of the box’ experience.

  3. A wise move Norm to go for 30mm square bases, for the reasons stated. I've gone down the 1" square route, purely because it works better for Bloody Big Battles. My default units are of 4 bases, which works over a variety of rulesets. As you mention, you can add or subtract bases to make large or small units for Black Powder.

    For a long time my terrain has been geared towards 10mm, with roads being around 32mm wide, rivers roughly the same, which seems to work well visually.

    Having seen the Ironclad stuff in this post I'm off to check their website out as they look like they do some good stuff!

  4. Hi steve, I had a variety of Ironclad stuff in my order and all are nice and cleanly cast. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to ‘click’ onto 30mm, perhaps because the Kallistra 12mm blisters come with 40mm and 40mm has been a WRG standard since the year dot! I am promising myself no more re-basing!!!! So we shall see :-)

    1. A vigorous rebasing exercise is good for the soul!

  5. Amazing at how much the terrain can influence the enjoyment of the game and even compliment the minis. Your pieces look wonderful, Norm. Can't wait to see them on the table as part of the action.

  6. Thanks Steve, I am quite taken by all of this, I know you make good use of the visuals of the terrain / figure combo from the nice thoughtfully done shots that grace your reports.

  7. Interesting reading your thinking on terrain for your pocket armies, as it is often an after thought. One challenge with terrain I find is keeping a consistent look and feel to the features which are often created years apart.

  8. Thanks Peter, It is interesting doing a 'from scratch' project, leaving me a 'one moment in time' approach, so I should get some consistency. I am also going to try and get the trees to have a relationship size-wise with the buildings.

  9. This looks like its coming together nicely. The individual items look great but more important they look like they will work well to present a consistent look.

    1. Thanks Ross, there are two interesting things at play here. Firstly as a 'from scratch' project I have a lot of freedom and it is easier to get a 'one time' single look. Secondly, I am not confining myself to a grid, so the 4" grid is not driving the terrain choice and this makes a subtle but surprising difference.

  10. Replies
    1. Thanks Michal, If I can come even close to some of your work, I will be pleased.

  11. Cracking job on htis windmill, looks great!

    1. Thanks Phil, it my favourite piece at the moment ...... and in your own scale too :-)

  12. Looking good Norm a whole wealth of new terrain 👍

    1. Thanks Matt - there is certainly a chunk of work to do, but the direction is satisfying.

  13. There's some good links there.. been meaning to expand my river/stream options for a while so I must check them out.. I also aplaud your 30x30 approach.. I've standardised on it for about 10+ years now for the 15's.. just the optimal size for two ranks of three.. :o)

  14. Hi Steve, I have been pusuaded somewhat by your NT table and like your ECW project, I have gone to Peter Pig for some ACW, which are taking my painting style well .... apart from my horses all being the same colour!

  15. Hi Norm, another great post that sits right in the space I also currently occupy, the creation of tabletop terrain that looks 'right' without going OTT. I must take another look at Timecast, those latex river sections look excellent. I also like the 'TT' scale railway bits, especially that beautiful little carriage. I think that I have confessed here before to having had a strong interest in railway modelling in the distant past? The two hobbies are in many ways interlinked. Funny enough my youngest daughters partner (who currently resides with us) came back the other day with a large box of steam and diesel locos which he had brought from his parents house, As we sat and went through it I was astonished to see that it included many collectable Hornby tank and tender engines, all in perfect condition, as well as some beautiful Maroon LMS carriages.

    Anyway, back to subject, I look forward to seeing this project further develop and the concept of numerous periods within a single scale is a good one.

  16. Thanks Lee, I have just seen your latest post on the 6mm and was wowed by the look and speed of what you have done. Our projects are travelling a similar journey, yours somewhat faster, with similar goals and an eagerness to get to the game. I think over he course of the year, we will be rich in blogging material and the enthusiasm and dare I say excitement that falls out of a new project.

    I have been doing a big clear out today, physically necessary and mentally very cathartic, with everything being separated out into various ‘organised’ stacks. I had bought some resin Airfix 1/72 buildings (which are really 1/76) and thought they would all go into the weeping bye-bye pile ....... but! They are not a million miles away from what would be acceptable for the 15mm, so a saving there at least and some of my other small footprint HO/OO rail scale resin buildings look like they can be absorbed in this project (I do like resin).

    In any case, a re-jiggling that has taken all afternoon to get the 15mm friendly stuff into ‘frontline’ positions in the storage hierarchy, has been a big step forward in re-organisation plans.

    The TT scale is lovely, though I have only just found out that TT stands for Table-Top, so that tells it’s own tale about suitability for the wargames table.

  17. Very cool terrain, Norm. I've been wanting a windmill for the battlefield.

  18. Thanks Dean - they sure make for good eye candy.

  19. The rolling stock have come out really well, love the windmill, I'd just assumed you'd used the manufactures photo as something you were going to get,lovely work!
    Best Iain

  20. Thanks Iain, I am enjoying the modelling / aesthetic side of this project. A Die Cast steam engine has just arrived, it is a non-working model on a plastic presentation track ...... but the train wheels are around half a mil too tight to fit onto my resin track! so I am trying to get the track that comes with the train, built up, so that it will site side-by-side with the resin and not look too obvious ... it may or may not work, I like all that kind of stuff!

  21. Nice post Norm. Would rebasing to 30mm be a ton of work? I don’t mind small rebase projects but avoid big ones.
    That’s a nice collection of terrain. I agree that you shouldn’t move to a smaller scale in order to fit more on the table, because the pocket size army is working for you already. I have some of those timecast fields and they are pretty cool. 😀

  22. Thanks Stew, yep, I will try and avoid re-basing whenever possible and in the first instance will have the new stuff go onto 30's.

    Hopefully the 'pocket size' idea will give some good and interesting battles, while staying within the confines of 12 elements and a 4' x 3' table.



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