Look to the hills

The header image is my marked-up topographical map of the Benburb battlefield.

“Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” – Cressida in Act I – Scene II, Troilus and Cressida

I wrote recently that, “After much fiddling, side excursions, and general laziness, I have run out of excuses NOT to next fight the Battle of Benburb.” Well – almost! Although I did manage to illustrate the historic battle (previous post), I was again seduced away from the wargame which would complete the Benburb saga. I was seduced by flimsy hills!

As I worked through the historic battle I became increasingly unhappy with the method I was using to make the battlefield topology. For a couple of years I’ve used terrycloth squares and triangles to build up the hills and then covered them with large pieces of terrycloth to get a rolling or sloping appearance. Part of the problem with this approach was  my tabletop often looked like a a pile of towels on a locker room floor. To improve the look I recently switched to a single large piece of dense green felt to cover the whole table. To me this looked much better but now there was a new problem. With the recently introduced heavy steel move stands it was readily noticeable that they compressed and deformed the stack of cloth squares underneath. This effect became more and more displeasing to me.

I may have dealt with this (OK, probably not) but a long term problem was now made more obvious by not using a terrycloth surface, the felt collects lint like a bird feeder collects squirrels! As it happens the greatest single source of lint (my wife thinks the ONLY source) are the piles of terrycloth shapes used in hill building. They shed lint everywhere! I constantly have to use a sweeper and lint roller to keep thing under control. I love the wide range of shades available in terrycloth but the mess in the end isn’t worth it (and yes for a day or so I actually considered having all 500 some pieces hemmed – but that impulse passed).

I finally decided to take a completely different approach, basically to start over entirely and I was going to need to clear the decks to do it.

First I disassembled the soldiers and surface details of  Benburb onto large trays so it can be reassembled quickly:

The next decision was almost painfull. I use a series of folding foamcore sheets to extend the table surface dimensions to 80″ x 60″ (or 40″ x 120″ if I choose) and they have served rather well for nearly four years. They fold up into 30″ x 20″ packages about 3″ thick and they are light and easy to store. Unfortunately I will occasionally forget and put weight on the unsupported corners, causing them to crease. Once creased they inevitably start sagging more and more. If this weren’t bad enough they are also covered with green terrycloth, yet another source of lint storms.

After pondering it for the better part of a day I decided to make a clean sweep and get rid of them for good. It was an emotional farewell:

These will be replaced by four 20″ by 60″ by 1/4″  birch planks which will provide a much more stable playing surface.

So, I am now back to where I started four years ago, a table with a white quilted cover:

To replace the terrycloth shapes, I started making fractal-like polygons out my favorite hobby material – foamcore. Ok, these sets of polygons do not quite meet the mathematical definition of fractals but in each set the dimensions are successively reduced by half. For simplicity I’m going to refer to them as “fractals”:

The fractals are made of 1/2″ foamcore which will maintain the lightness but provide a rigid surface for my move stands. Also, they do not shed! The large hexagons are 250mm face-to-face, the medium hexagons 125mm and the small hexagons (pictured below), 62.5mm. These dimensions determine the cuts in the rectangular pieces which are 10″ or 20″ in length but match the various hexagons in face-to-face width and act as extenders and connectors for the hexagons. All the sets represented in the picture above amount to an inventory of 126 pieces.

They can be pieced together and placed on top of one another to produce a framework for the terrain and make possible a wide variety of topology:

To make the framework less regular in appearance, The smallest set of hexes (74 in total) are then laid down giving a much more fractal-like apearence. Because of their size they can be placed side-to-side or point-to-point leaving only small gaps between. The felt cover will hide the gaps maximizing the utility of the small hexes:

When the framework is completed the green felt is laid over top and molded to the fractal framework:

While not quite as rolling as the previous terrycloth framework, the heavy move stands no longer deform the surface. From a wargame standpoint, as can be seen in the edge-on view below, it is now very easy to determine where slopes begin and end as well as the relative elevation of any unit:

All-in-all I’m happy with this new approach and when the custom birch planking arrives I’ll set up Benburb once again. Joy continues to reside in the doing (although completing a thing is not to be sneezed at either).

5 thoughts on “Look to the hills

  1. I’ll bet you were smart enough not to ask your wife to hem 500 pieces of terrycloth! I always enjoy hearing about the process you use to produce your materials. You enjoy the process in the same way children enjoy art, and that’s good! It will keep you young at heart!


  2. You might like to try laying a rug gripper over the fractals- these only cost £10 or so on Amazon and help soften things- also a cloth on top doesn’t bunch up or slip. Best, Simon


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