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Friday, October 2, 2015

Making Spain: Arid Terrain Mat

 Any new period or game needs its own feel, and much of that comes from the terrain. I thought I'd share my progress as I "make Spain" for my upcoming Spanish Civil War games for Chain of Command.  I fully acknowledge that my inspiration to up my terrain game is at least partially due to the excellent work of Paul Scivens-Smith over at Scrivland.  His Spanish Civil War tables (let alone figures) are just amazing, not to mention the incredible set up for Verdun. Paul, if it weren't for the whole Atlantic Ocean between us, I'd totally be stalking you.

While many areas of Spain are green and grassy, that's not the image I have of the country. I imagine it a bit drier, a bit more arid. Not a desert by any stretch, but dry. I felt it was time for something a little more like this:

Time to make a battle mat. My goal is to make it flexible enough to make hills (by placing things underneath) and roll up, but sturdy enough to stand up to hard gaming.  There are several tutorials out there, but I followed this one pretty closely - although I changed a few steps.

Step One: spreading quick-drying caulk in sections, then liberally pouring sand over it.

Rapid progress would have been made, except I ran out of both caulk and sand. One day turned into two days, and my wife's good humor at me taking over the dining room table for this begins to decline like a militia unit's force morale.

There was no brown caulk available, so I used a sort of beige color.

And made good use of an old empty as a rolling pin to press the sand and cat litter (unevenly distributed) into the caulk.

A fully sanded mat.

The texture looks good and uneven, as it should be.

While that dried I painted a T-26...

The next day, I took it outside to spray paint it. Gave it two heavy coats of brown, but this didn't quite bind the sand as much as I hoped it would. Still, it helped some I'm sure.  Also ran out of brown spray paint, making this drag out a little longer. Ended up putting 3 cans onto it.

Once the spray paint was dry (late that evening) I heavily brushed on a coat of watered down white glue which firmed up the sand adhesion nicely.

Even with the glue I knew I needed a really heavy base coat of paint to permently fix the sand in place. I'd been using three colors of super-cheap ($0.69) craft paint for my bases, and I wanted the mat to match so I had my local Home Depot color match the darkest of the three and get me a quart. It was almost enough to cover the mat with a very thick coat. I ended up using another two containers of craft paint to make up the difference. I should point out thought that if you try this, the house paint is definitely higher quality (and more expensive) and gave much better coverage. The color was "Craft Smart" brand Golden Brown.

With the base coat applied.

A detail. The texture remains, but is slightly smoothed by the heavy coat in some places. It's an effect I like a lot.

Time to start drybrushing...

Two different colors (Craft Smart Fawn and Desert Sand) are drybrushed pretty heavily, and a bit of pale sand (Vallejo) color at the very and in specific places.

It looks remarkably different in sunlight.

The final product.  I should note that this thing rolls up nice, and while a bit stiff, makes nice hills (as seen in the background) and rolls up without a problem. All in all, a success!  It ended up taking two days longer than the 3 I'd promised my wife, but she's a great sport (thankfully).

The mat rolls very tight (about 4" diameter, and is larger than me 4'x6' table by a about a foot or more on each side. So far, no sand shedding!


  1. Great job! Looking forward to rolling some dice on it in the future.

  2. Great job! Looking forward to rolling some dice on it in the future.

  3. Thanks man! You're going to love it.

  4. I would not have thought sand on a fabric would turn out so well! Great job.

    1. Thanks! Surprisingly, even after 5 uses (w/travel), the mat has seen zero shedding. I'm very satisfied with the method.