Building a skirmish table (Part 2)


Lots of details are what make a skirmish table so fun for gaming.

A Desert Look

The next step was to hide the joint lines where one foam sheet was glued atop the other, as well as to blend in the the edges of the plastic details I’d glued down.

I used DAP chalk, a form of household sealant that dries to a flexible, slightly rubbery texture that won’t crack or flake off as your terrain tiles are moved about.

(Two tips:

• Always buy DAP painter’s chalk, as other chalks (such as window chalk) are water resistant, and your paint won’t stick. That’s very annoying.

• Also, use a wet finger to smooth out the chalk as you apply it. Once the chalk dries, you can’t sand or fix any imperfections. So, get it right while the chalk is still pliable.)

With the chalking complete, it was time to make the table look like a desert. And what’s the overriding feature of an arid landscape? Lots of sand. So, I smeared watered down Elmer’s glue over the entire table and sprinkled sand everywhere


More details are added to the table. In the lower left corner, you can see rock castings and small stones being glued down. In the center, a broken-up street has been added,

After waiting a day for the glue to dry, I brushed off any loose sand (capturing it for future use) and began the job of painting. I used regular household latex paint, beginning with a mid-tone gray, followed by lighter tones of tan and eggshell dry-brushed onto the sand with ever-lighter brush strokes.

After that, I applied washes of diluted black and raw sienna before finishing off the sand with a very light dry-brush of a tan/slightly orange paint.

I’m no artist, and I have no sense of color, but I find that if you put enough layers of dry-brushed paints and washes, you can achieve a very subtle and nuanced mix of colors that provide the contrasts and shadows you see in real life. For me, the final result was highly successful.


Can you see the seams where the buildings fit inside the foam indentions? No? I used colored sand and plaster to match the table color and sprinkled it over the seams between building base and surface. I didn’t “build in” the rubble, though, as I thought players would need to move it out of the way to keep their models erect. Players, however, never seemed to feel the need, so I wish I’d gone for built-in ruins to heighten the diorama effect.

Yet More Details

What helps make a table special are the little details. To create a plasteel landing pad, I cut an octagonal shape out of 1/8th-inch-thick insulation, scored it with a pencil to create the joint lines between poured-concrete slabs, and glued the foam to the table. Grey paint and some washes created the desired effect.

Rock outcroppings were cast using dental cement and Woodland Scenics molds and glued down in appropriate places. I also  added some tufts of dried grass here and there. I also used plastic rods and plastic window screen to create chain-link fences.


A building is on fire. Red blinking lights and spray-painted pillow filler creates an inferno in this ruin.

I also built two billboards out of rods and Styrene sheets and printed out color copies of propaganda posters I found online.

My final little detail–and one that was much commented upon–was a clothes line hanging between two shanties. I find that it’s the little details that people find particularly fun to discover. That’s why I intend to add a bunch of funny details (perhaps an outhouse, bird poop on a roof, an abandoned toilet amidst the rubble) to my future tables.

If you can get a smile or chuckle out of a table, why wouldn’t you want that?


A marketplace created from the scatter terrain of various manufacturers. Some scatter terrain, including some buildings, were moved around to fit each scenario.

Final Thoughts

This was one of the most ambitious terrain projects I’ve ever attempted. Two things made it worthwhile: One, all the new buildings and scatter terrain gives me everything—absolutely everything—I’ll ever need in desert terrain for my regular gaming.

Two, the response I received from attendees at Shorehammer, in itself, made the effort worthwhile.

It was a very satisfying artistic effort. I may be deficient in my artistic abilities, but the desert landscape had the “look” I was seeking. The buildings looked good, and the design—including a curved street, carefully placed buildings, sloping ground, retaining walls, and other details—created a complex battlefield that really forced players to think about where they sent their troops.

I couldn’t ask for much more and, I’ve already starting planning an insane table for Shorehammer 2020.

Click here to return to Part 1 of this article.

The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi universe of Games Workshop.

Categories: Shorehammer, Terrain

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