Introduction: Warmachine Gaming Table for Penny Arcade

About: We are three guys in Boston interested in all kinds of games, and in this case miniature based wargames. We are fascinated by technology and a question in our minds was "How can we innovate wargaming terrain a…

Our Background:
We are three guys in Boston interested in all kinds of games, and in this case miniature based wargames.
We are fascinated by technology and a question in our minds was "How can we innovate wargaming terrain and table design to make a more immersive and interactive gaming experience?"

Our answer to this is what we call 'Augmented Terrain'.

Meeting Penny Arcade at PAX EAST:
For PAX East in March 2011 we built a dock table for Warmachine called 'Clockwork Cove' that included smoke effects, RGB LED lighting in buildings and terrain, LED searchlight pieces, with RFID cards & scanner to trigger all of these effects using an Arduino Microcontroller in a central building. In our group we have collectively over 15 years of model making experience, so it also fit into an aesthetically pleasing Steampunk Harbor theme very well.

When Penny Arcade Mike saw the display, he asked how he can go about commissioning a project for his gaming group. 
After some discussions, the plan was to build a table, ship it out to Seattle in August, then fly out to PAX Prime with the terrain to complete the delivery. This is the story of how we built (and delivered) it.

Project Requirements:
Modular Board: 2' x 2' squares that can be reoriented and rearranged for many combinations
Modular Terrain Height: They wanted a way to change the terrain height. We came up with an approach not tried before in wargaming.
Corvis-Themed: Mike's gaming group was playing through a Privateer Press RPG set in a city called Corvis. They liked the theming and used this was the compass for art direction. Corvis is at the junction of three rivers and used to be a farming city. It is famous for a large University and has been at the center of many conflicts when different armies occupy the territory. Over time the city has fallen into great disrepair and depression, especially since the wet, unstable ground has allowed many buildings to become unstable and slowly sink into the ground. There is a vast underground network of tunnels and chambers of the old city.
Lights: We knew we wanted to include LEDs in the terrain  and buildings, in a modular way so that each feature can operate independently of the table configuration for the scenario.

Even if the undercity was not a playable part of the board it needed to have the feeling that something was lurking under the streets
We wanted to create a sense of depth. Although the playable surface can be flat, we wanted to add a 3D effect. We found images which were representative of the look and feel of Corvis. These guided many of our decisions.

Concept Generation:
We started by sketching and brainstorming. We made scale index cards with the terrain drawn on it to see how it works when they are shuffled and rearranged. After we came up with the terrain inserts idea we made a Solidworks CAD assembly. 

Dont forget that your local gaming store is still one of the best places to present and discuss ideas. Carry around a small notepad in case you ever get an inspired idea and dont feel silly about considering the 'wrong idea' because you never know when that thought process may lead to the 'right idea'.

Extra Links:
Mike was so happy with how the table turned out that he posted a feature on the Penny Arcade Homepage.
Also feel free to check out our facebook page
For information on what other members of the warmachine community thought check out our thread on Privateer Press

Step 1: Base Table Board Quarters

The base design is centered around floorboards. These are pressed cardboard with some wood pattern coating

These are relatively inexpensive, extremely stiff and do not warp. They are also very light, easy to cut with a circular saw, and very thin.

MDF (medium density fiberboard) is a common material people use but is not any cheaper, extremely heavy, the dust from cutting can be cancerous to inhale, and the porous nature of the material means that if it gets wet it will cultivate mold. Simply put, the floorboards are a great balance of all of these requirements.

Tools Used:
Power Drill (preferably 2)
Circular Saw
Power Sander

Step 2: Foam Shaping and Detailing

Box cutter, Hot wire cutter, and power sander to shape the foam. Wear a mask and be outside when you are doing this.

Basswood tiles for the cobblestones, rough out the terrain features

Step 3: Detailing 2

Pipes and grey plastic pieces come for the Chemical plant kit, built by Pegasus Hobbies.

Its worth its weight in gold and comes with a ton of useful parts of all kinds of modeling projects.

Step 4: Rapid Prototyping & Molding

The rapid prototyped pieces were designed in Solidworks CAD and fabricated in a stereolithography machine.

Whatever you are going to cast, glue them to a flat surface so they dont move around when you pour the silicone.

Follow instructions and do this in a well-ventilated area.
You can also use legos to build a chamber rather than using a cardboard box like we did here.

Step 5: Sand

Sand from a garden center is fine. You can reuse the extra.

Just make sure that it is as dry as possible before you apply it

Step 6: Priming

Pink foam is an amazing material but it has a fatal weakness.
It will melt from the acetone found in crazy glue, spray paints, and many other solvents.


Instead we used a latex-based outdoor houspaint (primer and paint in the same mix) from home depot and a Wagner paint gun.

Its annoying to clean, but pays for itself with a clean, even coat (painting the primer on would be a huge pain in the neck), its very very fast to paint and can be used on any terrain you build

Step 7: Drybrushing

Total paints from Home Depot for drybrushing: 10 colors of the 7 ounce samplers: $25 and we still have enough leftovers for the terrain pieces.

Each colored feature has two colors on top of the primer: the base color (apply more liberally over the primer) and then mix this base color with a tan/creme/light grey and apply that mix as a drybrush.

All painting for the 4 quarters took under an hour and at this point its already playable.

Important: when it comes to drybrushing, there is no such thing as too little paint on the brush. Its better to have too little paint and slowly add more to the brush as you get used to the feel. If you have too much paint it cakes on and you have to reapply the base color and start again.

Step 8: Detail Painting and Flock

Adding some small tufts of grass and detail painting of the bottles and small features.
Adding metal grating for sewer covers and storm drain

Step 9: LED Lighting

The white plastic Battery Cradles were built Rapid Prototyping Fused Deposition Modeling. This is extruded ABS plastic and dirt cheap material. We used 7 lighting assemblies.

Each lighting assembly used 2 x super bright blue LEDs in series with a 100 kOhm resistor soldered to the anode (long end of the LED)

Step 10: Forge

Since the forge is made primarily from pink foam, it was primed using the Wagner paint gun rather than spray paint.
Design sketches prior to building was very important. 

Step 11: Statue

The Courtyard statue is surprisingly quick and easy to build.
The key is to find the right places for component suppliers.

4" tall Wedding Cake Stand
Square Tiles
Figure for the top
Garden Sand
Black Spray Primer

By drybrushing the figures the same grey tones as the column the effect is complete. A good way of enhancing the look is to put contrasting colors on the base to emphasize the stone regions are together

Step 12: Academic Building

Pink foam leftovers cut to size, and glued using elmer's and liquid nails. Stonework bricks were carved out the same way as the hill sides.

Additional features were watch pieces glued onto the outside and painted the same as the stone to blend in (see statue tutorial).
Everything glued using the elmers wood glue

A soldering iron was used to carve the curves in to the front and side reliefs.

Step 13: Dice Tower - Water Tower

Water Tower Terrain that doubles as a Dice tower

Large Cardboard Poster tube for the main feature. Holes drilled through it and acrylic rods glued in place. The holes were patched with the plastruct diamondplate.

The gantryways were built with the chemical plant kit as the foundation, then metal mesh across the top.

Balsawood and basswood framework for the foundation and a cardboard trough to spit out the dice when the roll down

Step 14: Small Obstacles

The small obstacles are built on pallets. The pallets are popsicle sticks trimmed to size and glued onto square rods of balsa wood.

These items have huge options for customizing to the board and forces battling over it.

Step 15: Hill Inserts

The hills are two layers of pink foam glued together and the top layer carved/sculpted.

The smaller inner piece fits easily in the insert cavities. All hills have stairs, grills and self-contained LED modules

Step 16: Flat Inserts

The Flat inserts has a 7.5" square pink foam to fit inside the 8" square cutout. The gap is needed to account for variability in the dimensions and straightness of the cut.

The black cardboard overhangs to hide the gap between the pieces, then the top can be textured the same way at the table quarters

Step 17: Recessed Inserts

Step 18: Water Effects

The water effects were achieved with a 2 part clear casting resin.

We mixed ink and some watered down paint into different batches to achieve different color results.

Always make sure you thoroughly test the effect on something else before trying it on your table project, once its there the only way to cover it up is to completely paint over it.

Step 19: Penny Arcade Easter Eggs

For this kind of project we wanted to add character and a sense of humor to the terrain and objectives, so we hid as many Penny Arcade Easter eggs as we had time for.

The posters and comics had several places they were hidden

Step 20: Trees

Tree armatures from Plastruct online
The expanding foam (single time usage btw) is dead cheap and creates a great look. Takes a bit of time to set though so make sure you can clamp the trees while they are setting.

Prime with a spray can (it doesnt melt this type of expanding foam)
The base of the tree is then flocked with static grass.

Step 21: Wooden Shipping Crate

The whole crate was built using 1/2" plywood reinforced with 1" x 3"  beams and at the corners with steel brackets. Liquid nails between all wooden pieces and along all edges inside and out.

1" x 2" wooden rods were positioned to align the quarters when they slide in.
Aluminum angle was fastened like a shelf in the front to support the upper level of quarters

We used a planer and sander to get the door to align and fit closely.

Steel hinges and locks keep it safe for when its sitting at the PAX convention hall.

Yes, this was painted in the alleyway behind my apartment building.
No excuses, gotta be ready for the shipping deadline.

A couple of custom stencils and a can of white spray paint completes the crate.

Step 22: Complete Project PAX Prime

Gallery of complete pictures.

At the end are photos with Penny Arcade Mike, as well as his gaming group.

Mike was so happy with how the table turned out that he posted a feature on the Penny Arcade homepage.
For information on what other members of the warmachine community thought check out our thread on Privateer Press.

Step 23: 4th Epilog Challenge Design Contest

By the way!!!

We are entering into the "4th Epilog Challenge" to Win a Laser cutter

Can you imaging how much more cool stuff we could build with one of those?
Buildings, Origami, Spaceships?!?!... origami buildings inside spaceships?

The sky is the limit, please vote for our project so that we can continue making awsome Terrain.


4th Epilog Challenge

Second Prize in the
4th Epilog Challenge