Terrain: Asphalt Roads

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A biker squad of the Knights of Altair Space Marine Chapter form a drill-parade formation as they roar down my new asphalt roads.

TheGM: For a number of years, I’ve pondered how to construct asphalt roads for my game table. But I could never settle on a material for the project.

Should I make my roads out of roof shingles? MDF board covered in sandpaper? Or just pick up a commercial road system?

A visit to my local home improvement store, Lowes, provided me with the answer. Resting on a back-of-the-store shelf was a box of Precision Interlock Tiles.

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This 20-inch-by-20-inch floor tile is very thin, has a nice surface texture, is easy to work with, and relatively inexpensive. (My store had an open box on the shelf, so they were selling them for almost half price.)

Priced on the website  at $65 for a six-tile box (I got mine for only $6 a mat in the store), these five-millimeter-thick, polyvinyl sheets can be cut with a sharp utility knife into three 18-inch-long road sections (assuming a 5-1/4-inch-wide road).

In addition to the price and the thin material, one important feature I liked about the product was the very subtle stone texture on the mats. The tiles come in a variety of surface textures, but tiles with the very faint stone texture do an excellent job of suggesting the roughness of asphalt without being out of scale.

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The stone texture is less than a millimeter tall, which makes it just enough to give the impression of asphalt but subtle enough that it doesn’t look out of scale.

I bought the color, Dark Gray Slate, which is the perfect color for asphalt. It’s kinda black, with a touch of gray, and with a very faint misting of a lighter gray (from a Rust-Oleum spray can) to provide some variation in color across the surface, you could call it quits right there.

For less than $40, I was able to build 18 road sections: straight sections of various lengths, T-shaped intersections, and some angled sections that allow my roads to be set up at a 45-degree angle to the table edge.

Construction is a snap. I cut the mats with a utility knife, then sloped the edges to 45 degrees.

There’s a trick, though, to these cuts., The bottom of the mats are crisscrossed with thin ribbing (see photo below). It’s important to base your road width on a specific number of ribs, and then you must cut on the outside of these ribs.

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You always want to cut the roads from the outer edges of the ribs on the bottom of the mats. (A) My roads were nine ribs wide (the photo shows only three ribs as an example (B). The reason you want ribs on the outer edges is that you will slope the road edges by cutting through the outer rib at a 45-degree angle (C).

The reason is simple: You’ll want to slope your road edges. I mean, who wants a 5mm vertical drop from the road edge to the tabletop? A slope makes the road blend better with the surrounding terrain. But you must cut that slope through one of the ribs.

(See those squares inset between the ribs in the photo above? If you cut through those squares, then turn over the tile, the bottom of the polyvinyl won’t reach to the tabletop. There will be a series of 2mm gaps on the bottom of the road edge, and as the human eye can distinguish a hair-length flaw, a player’s eye will be drawn to those gaps—and the “reality” of your roads will suffer. Carefully cut your slope through the outer rib, however, and you get a flawless edge.)

I thought about putting down flock on the sloped edges, either grass or gravel flocking, but chose to do without. I have temperate grassland, desert, and industrial terrain tiles, and I want the roads to work for all of them.

So, I simply sanded the slopes with fine sandpaper, which smoothed the rough-cut edges and slightly changed the surface color, and it turns out that this is sufficient for the road to blend into any terrain. In fact, it may help the transition, as flocking would be yet another detail that would draw the eye to the edge of the road, whereas the center traffic lines draw the eye to the middle of the road.

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Some of my finished road pieces, with a light gray misted atop with spray paint. I included a center line to delineate the car lanes. I could have added shoulder lines and other details, but I decided to go for a “country road” look. Note the road sections with an angled cut (right foreground). These pieces allow me to run my roads at a 45-degree angle on my game table, yet have the end of the road fit snugly at the table edge.

Other than cutting the tiles, giving the edges a  slight sanding, and a mist of gray spray paint, the roads were nearly done. In my case, of course, I went a bit further. I created a template for  traffic lines and intersection stop bars. Attaching those over the road sections, I created faded traffic lines with a very light misting of white spray paint.

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A view of the road running to the horizon. The texture of the road can be seen, and as far as I’m concerned, it looks like an asphalt road.

This was an easy, fast terrain project, but I’m very happy with the results. The asphalt roads really make a difference on the table. They “bring down” the scale of the table, allowing players to  see trees, fences, and buildings as part of a realistic landscape—and not just a collection of isolated terrain features designed to break up line of sight or serve as an obstacle to movement.

Indeed, in the photo below, you can see the edge of a building in the lower-left corner, near the intersection. With the stone wall lining the other side of the road, doesn’t it look like a country road intersection? This might not be a diorama-quality setting, but the human brain “fills in” the details, and the more details you add to a battlefield, the more “real” the battlefield seems. I find that makes my gaming a lot more fun.

I do suggest creating a few pieces with a 45-degree angle on one end. Too many warmers line up their roads perpendicular or parallel to the table edges, and that frames the terrain poorly. It is much more visually engaging to set your roads at an angle.

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My road edges aren’t flocked, so they can be used on temperate, desert, or any other terrain tiles. A player’s eye really doesn’t notice the lack of detail. They’re far more drawn to the white stop line at the intersection.

What I’d suggest is design a road pattern for your roads that are parallel/perpendicular to the table edge and cut those road sections out. I did mostly 18-inch-long road sections, but I needed a few slightly shorter sections as my table is 60 inches wide. (Three x 18 inch is 54 inches, so I needed at least one 6″ section to get the road to cross the entire table width-wise.)

Once that’s done,  I’d lay out those sections at a 45-degree angle and, as necessary to fit, I’d cut some road sections to fit with a 45-degree angle, so you can create road systems at an angle to the table.

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This is nearly 18 feet of asphalt roads, but it doesn’t take up much storage space.

I encourage you to consider this material if you need black-top roads. The material looks wonderful, is easy to work with, and you really don’t have to worry about the material curling at the edges or bowing in the middle. If a road section gets crushed under a box overnight, it might have a slight bend to it, but simply put some weights on it. It’ll flatten right up by the next day.

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

Categories: Terrain

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2 replies »

  1. That looks great! I’m impressed with all aspects of this project. I’ll have to keep an eye out for some of those tiles next time I’m at the hardware store.


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