Monday, February 13, 2012

To the Blue Foam Beyond.....World War One trenches in 20mm UPDATED

     Have you ever had one of the those moments when you say something and then think twice as soon as the words leave your mouth?  That sort of thing happens to me more than I would care to admit. My current situation is the result of one such moment; during a game Joe and I were talking about one of my favorite periods, The First World War, he stated that he was currently painting 20mm figures for the war and, aware that I had quite a collection of First War minis in 20mm, asked about a certain model. At that point I said that if he was going to paint the minis Iwould build the terrain (I very much prefer building terrain to painting). I had made many similar offers in the past (even going so far as to give the  minis to other players if they would undertake to paint them and bring to games) with very few takers. I thought I was safe.

      Well, in a few weeks Joe showed up at another game with a box of painted British soldiers and four Mark IV tanks. I knew I was had and the next day went to Lowes and bought a couple of pack of foam insulation to start on the terrain. The very next day Joe showed up again with a pile of blue polyfoam insulation off-cuts from a job that his company is working on, these were destined for the dumpster when Joe rescued them. Swiftly casting aside the white styrofoam I began to arrange the peices on my game table to see how they fit. I quickly found an arrangement that covered the table but still allowed for some variety, the stage was set.

there really is quite a lot of the foam

quite a lot

this nicely covers the table, split down the middle,
 with 15"x24" sections on both ends
 while there are two 24"x48" sections of "No Man's Land" in between

the dreaded hot wire cutter (I often get burned playing with this thing)

from past experience I have learned to practice on a bit of scrap
 rather than diving into the work right off

the Russian Revolutionaries seemed to like test model

the odd sizes of the off-cuts made making the panels geo-morphic a little tricky

but my math skills were up to it

I quickly laid out a German style trench line,
those drafting classes in high school are finally paying dividends

but the problem was how to cut  the trench profile with my cutter,
I had run into problems making the test sample as the tip of the cutter is rounded

so I made my own out of a large paperclip

it took a bit of work to get it to fit the openings in the cutter head

but in the end things turned out OK

I made a clean-up tool the same way to tidy up some of the narrow places

as I wanted the trench panels to be fully interchangeable I was faced
with the problem of making sure that all the trenches would line-up properly

after thinking about it a bit it occurred to me that by cutting out of one board
and into the next I would be assured that they would line up correctly later

a third panel quickly was sketched out, layout got easier with practice

communication trenches had no firing step

four panels laid out together,
I will probably make at least two more to add variety

I made an MG pit and added more communication trenches

step one finished, now I need to get started on the shell holes


I had some extra time this afternoon so I made two more panels,
one has a deep bunker the other is just a section of trench

the bunker passageways go entirely through the panel

the new panel also got the shell hole treatment, no quite happy with it yet,
needs more holes but I have to leave the surface playable
       All-in-all this was easier than I had thought it would be. I am now faced with cutting several dozen shell holes into the foam. I am certain that the harder task will be to figure out how to make the shells holes line up in a way that leaves the panels geomorphic without having odd empty strips along the join lines. I also need to get some good shots of British First War trenches, I understand they were far less formal than the German ones. If anyone knows of good pictoral sources please add it in the comments section.


  1. Finding pictures on the net is very hit and miss. However, there are a number of excellent books that have pictures of both Allied and German Trenches; Trench by Stephen Bull (Osprey), Fortifications of the Western Front by Paddy Griffith (Osprey)and The Great War: Hell's Last Horror by Neil DeMarco (this is more like a school primer but has some excellent photos and diagrams in it, just be careful the same book has two titles in print).

  2. For fantastic trench-making goodness (and reference), see past entries in Sid's blog: Roundwood's World:

    Thanks to Sid (and a sale at Brigade Games), I finally broke down and bought more than $350 of Great War Miniatures. And that's just British and Germans. Unfortunately they're 28mm, so too large for your trenches.

    Guess you'll have to make two sets to accommodate both scales.


    1. I could make a set for you as much of it do you want?

  3. Looks great so far,

    I always find a good looking board very inspiring


  4. Excellent article. If I had a foam cutter like that that's how I would have done it. I instead used a router bit on a drill press. Worked well too but very messy.

  5. I don't know if they make foam cutters like this one anymore, I got it a garage sale years ago. It used DC electricty and drives it through the wire to heat it. I don't have any of the original resistance wire (it was a lot thinner and cut much better but didn't survive much bending) so I use paper clips, probably not a great idea come to think of it, but it works.

    Thanks Kris, Ben and Schogun.

  6. Madness! they said it was madness!!!... but we'll show them...BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!! Yesss... everything is going according to plan....
    *AHEM* sorry,... back to painting up the Boche I go.............. mind not the ramblings on the precious....


    PS: oh yeah, looks friggen great man!
    through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond... or just die on the parapet cause I roll a 1

  7. These will look fantastic. I want to make some myself this year, all going to plan. Looking forward to seeing your results.

  8. Link to WW1 British trenches

  9. woot woot to playing 40k on those boards!

    It would work because Orks and Space Marines can take a couple of bullets before being killed, while WW1 casualty reports would kind of dictate the frailty of normal human attempts to rush emplaced machine guns.

    That being said, I'm off to the store to pick up the new Beach Head game.

  10. Yeah, I wish I lived near you guys. 40k would look great on those boards. Tyranids rushing feeble Guard hiding in trenches!

  11. You guys hit it on the head. 40k would rock those boards!

    Plus, WW1 figures are soooooo expensive. I'm against WW1 as it is, but those figures cost too much. I buy them when they get released, but the expense...

  12. @Anton Ryzbak

    It'd be so much better because there are so many more elements to add in. Imagine some Steel Legion/Stormtroopers and Marines holding the line while Orks toss everything they have at it. Not only would you get infantry, but Ork Choppas flying overhead to hit Heavy Bolter pits, Stormboyz deep-striking in to try and take out strong points, and a Stompa lumbering across the whole thing.

    On the other side, Space Marines are doing their own lightning strikes, the Guard are getting support from tanks and perhaps a Valkyrie or two, and whatever else we can think up. There's so much more than just masses of infantry rushing each other that you can toss into a 40K game to make it interesting and fun.

    I daresay you may have resparked our interest in 40K. I think it should be the game to break in those boards.

  13. Heck, if I had known that a few trenches in some styrofoam would get you guys to dust off the 40K stuff I would have made them AGES ago.

    Now what do I have to do to get ya'll excited about Gorka-Morka?

    Ork Choppas = Spads or DR-VII
    Heavy Bolter= HMG
    deep striking is the only thing different and you could add that by saying that there are troops appearing in your rear as the result of a more successful attack on another part of the line.

    Just not seeing that much difference, a frontal assault on a prepared, defended position in any remotely balanced rules should give the defender significant advantages,this should be offset by scenario design.

  14. BTW Steel Legion is the coolest Guards unit. I was thinking of them when I was finishing up the panels.

    But -then again- they, and the Death Korps of Kreig, are drawn directly from WW1 ideas and motifs so that should be natural. In fact one could argue that the main idea behind the Guard, and its emphasis on positional warfare, heavy weapons as the main striking arm and reliance on tanks for assaults, comes from the British Army on the Western Front in WW1.

  15. Just found this over at TMP, it seems the French have found a nearly intact bunker and trench interesting indeed!