There’s foam in them thar hills

One of the problems with my set of modular desert boards was that it was really much too flat. Even though generally in 15mm scale the boards are smaller, the third dimension was really lacking.

While ideally I would have liked to make hills as found in this very nice tutorial, I was bound by a few constraints.

  • They had to be somewhat stepped, so that the miniatures wouldn’t fall over. There has to be a bit of compromise between ultra realistic and hills that can be easily stored
  • They had to be modular, so that I could make a variety of different layouts without any pain.
  • They had to be easily stored.
  • Arguably the most important: they couldn’t shed random crap all over the apartment.

Luckily, the hard work had already been done to me thanks to Matakishi’s Teahouse. Specifically, this fantastic piece on modular hills.

Cork wasn’t an easy commodity to come by in my neighbourhood, as trips to the various hardware and building supply shops showed. I fell back on the old standby, blue styrofoam insulation.

To help me in my largish endeavour, I bought a hot wire cutter with a built in table (kind of like a table saw) to help me out. Unfortunately, I can’t find it online so you can see what a useless piece of shit it was. The cutter was horribly designed, and the nichrome wire was so ductile that it stretched while heated. So much so that it actually melted the table itself. I think I still have it, but I’m not sure why I kept it.

Ultimately, I ended up cutting all the styrofoam with a knife, which worked well despite being squeaky and irritating. I sliced it into 25cm squares, then divided up as per the Matakishi article above. Then, unlike the cork, I distressed the edges with a knife to make it more terrain like. In addition, I tried to make some sloped areas so that it looked at least somewhat less horribly stepped and more natural.

Afterwards, I filled in some roughly carved areas with Polyfilla, then sanded them to give a sense of eroded terrain.

The tops of the hills are covered in a thick mix of acrylic gesso mixed with model railroad ballast and paint. At this stage they look like this:

Do not fall into the ice chasm.

Afterwards, I gave it some base coating with an airbrush. Reddish rocks and brownish sand fit in almost everywhere, so that’s what I chose. There’s a big contrast between the sand and the rocks that’s perhaps not the most realistic ever, but I’m not building a model railroad layout.

Subtlety is not strong here.

The rest was dirt simple, and consisted of drybrushing various lighter colours over the basecoats to make it more, well, hill-like. This has the bonus of reducing the contrast somewhat.

It took less than a week to make about 20 hill sections. They all fit together admirably, and (by no coincidence) easily slide into an IKEA basket which goes on the shelf.

While they’re not the most realistic, the modular nature makes setup and takedown a breeze. This took about five minutes to set up.

Keep running up that hill

Always attack from from an exposed, downhill position if you enjoy losing.



  • What do you mean by ‘defilade’? I looked it up and it seems only to be a fortification against flanking fire.

  • Kashirigi wrote:

    One of the military history books I read defined it as the act of firing from downhill, which is clearly not the correct definition.

    I will now edit the post so that I don’t look like an illiterate tool.

  • Maybe it used to mean that. Kind of makes sense – “de”.

    I wonder what the word is for firing uphill?

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