Albuera – Making the terrain board.
For the Albanich 2016 show (Dumfries) we, and by ‘we’ I mean Nigel…decided that doing a re-fight of the battle of Albuera from the Peninsular War would be a good idea. The theme at Albanich was horse and musket to celebrate the 200yr anniversary of Waterloo. The scenario details and OOB will be in another post.
I am writing this about a year after the event. At the time I did a lot of research into the battle and the layout of the key features on the battlefield. It was my original intention to write a detailed account of what I concluded and include links to where I got the information from and arguments as to why I concluded certain things. However, I have left it too long and now I can’t remember, and I have put my notes in a safe place that I now can’t find :(. So apologies to all those excellent web resources I found and also if you have stumbled upon this looking for more, all I can do is tell you that Google is your friend and there is a wealth of material that is easily found on this battle. Nevertheless I hope this will be of some use regardless.
Our initial thoughts were to use a published scenario from Fields of Glory scenario book for Shako rules, and for me to build a suitable terrain board. We already had a good amount of 15mm Napoleonic miniatures between us and to keep the cost down we would use that (even if the uniforms were not quite accurate). The rule system of choice for us is Black Powder so we would need to adjust the scenario to fit but it had a modest number of battalions in the scenario so all seemed very doable, with little headache / expense. At least that was the plan…but then I got a bit carried away.
The initial scenario required modelling both sides of the valley and began at the opening of Soult’s feint towards Albuera and after Blake’s Spanish have moved into position to oppose them. This sets the scene for Soult’s impressive flanking attack.
Here is my first sketch of how the terrain board was going to be laid out. It’s a bit hard to make out because the text has not scanned too well (and I have compressed the image), but the general gist is that it will require a 9ft x 5ft table. The terrain around Albuera is gentle rolling hills so contours were to be ~10mm in height
It was all looking very straightforward and then this happened… http://www.peninsularwar.org/albuera.htm
I discovered a very detailed map and as a result of doing more research I also learned a lot more about the battle, the initial movements of the various armies beforehand, and the soldiers involved.
So…I started again. This time using the more detailed map from the web page above, the one that shows the initial starting dispositions I changed the area of the battlefield that we would fight over.
For Black Powder we use four bases of 30mm x 30mm to represent a Battalion. This gives a frontage of 120mm on the table-top, which is roughly equivalent to 150yds. Now, I can’t find any of my previous notes or the sketches of the terrain board I made before making it, but I used this as a basis to determine how much of the battlefield to model and what ground scale to use. It won’t have been precise though as there needed to be some compromise to make the game/scenario playable. Also it was fixed to be no more than 9ft x 6ft as we had a 10ft x 6ft table at the show, and you need a little bit of space each side for keeping rubbish (and drinks) off the battlefield.
I also changed the scenario…more on this later.
The table was to be made up of 3ftx2ft boards for ease of carrying and fitting in my van. Previously (River Bug game) I had made 5ft x 2ft sections but this then needed me to make a frame for transport which was something I was keen to avoid this time. The boards were made from 6mm ply wood using 2″x 1″ planed wood, frame and strengthened with a central batten. Raw materials awaiting attention.
This is where I made my first mistake…I measured to the wrong side of the circular saw blade and made all the boards 2mm shorter than intended!
I then arranged all the boards and drew out the terrain in pencil. I coloured the features so that I could make sense of it but really there was little point in doing this as it was all going to be covered. It felt good to stand back and look at it though :). I couldn’t resist putting a few minis on the board and some 6mm scale buildings just because they were all I had. This is actually Godinot’s Division in its starting position, for a sense of scale.
Although I have not been able to share my planning stages, you can hopefully now see that the battlefield is quite different to that in the original scenario. It is a bit easier to see later on when the boards are built but just in case you are wondering, the battlefield has moved significantly West to cover the shallow valley behind Albuera where the Allied armies initially deployed. This was at the expense of covering all of the valley to the East of Albuera, but it was a wooded area that concealed Soult’s movements anyway so I considered making this bit ‘off table’ would have little impact on the scenario.
My second mistake though…If I had extended just 6″ further North (so that Albuera moved 6″ towards the centre of the board) it would have taken the battlefield to the natural edge formed by the woods to the North, giving enough ground for Hamilton’s Portuguese to deploy on table :(.
The next stage was to glue blue foam onto each board and shape the contours. Unfortunately you have to buy the blue craft foam by the box. So to save money I bought a box of 5mm thick foam in 600mm x 600mm sheets. This gave me a 5mm base layer all of the boards so that I could cut out the river with shallow banks but meant I would have to laminate the sheets for all the other contours. It is a bit of a pain doing this as when sticking the sheets together with PVA glue it doesn’t set very well in the centre of the sheets and you end up faffing on with pulling them apart in some areas, or cutting out the middle that has not set and then re-gluing them. Using 10mm thickness sheets would have saved a lot of heartache but also doubled the cost for the craft foam.
There was a decision to be made of which of Nigel’s bridges to use for the main bridge. After positioning them each on the developing terrain it was decided that the bigger bridge would be better, even if it was a little out of the ground scale.
Next stage was to draw out all the roads and other features.
Third mistake… I thought I was using a permanent marker. It turned out to be a water based marker that then bled through when I got to the painting stage :(. Should have just used pencil.
The next stage was to put some texture on the boards.
I used polyfiller for the roads, this was painted on with a 1″ brush in the direction of the road to give an impression of cart wheel ruts.
The rest of the board was coated with PVA and then sprinkled with dried sieved sand. I also mixed up a paste of sand/PVA and this was then pushed into the gaps between the craft foam sheets to hide the joins between contours. Second photo shows the boards at the back being weighted down while the glue dries (after afore mentioned patching of un-set areas). Incidentally – the bottle of beer is mine, the crap larger was left at our house following a party by somebody to embarrassed to come back and collect it afterwards…
Once dry, the boards were all painted with emulsion paint. I used ‘Dancing Bear’ from the B&Q range, followed by a dry-brush with ‘Lions Slumber’. Everything was painted the same, then the river was painted with several coats of a very dark green called ‘evergreen’ (rivers are either brown or green in my experience…even though it looks a bit blue in the photos). The white roads are where I have gone over them again with the polyfiller. I was relying on the change in texture between the sand and polyfiller to provide a good differentiation between the road and other ground so that I would not have to ‘sink’ them into the terrain.
Although these boards were being made for a specific event IP wanted them to have a bit of longevity and flexibility for use in other games. Therefore the terrain elements other than the main contours were all modelled separately. To the East of Albuera there were olive groves. These were made in the same way as the boards using 3mm ply cut and shaped as required. I chamfered the edges and added some stone walls made from strips of cork wall tiles. These were a pale brown colour so I didn’t even need to paint them, I was not very careful about painting the ground around the walls as this helped tie them into the ground.
For olive trees I picked up some cheap trees from e-bay and mounted them on washers using hot glue. They were also based using the sand/PVA paste that was used to hide gaps between the craft foam sheets. A tip here is to mix a bit of paint in with the sand/PVA it makes painting the bases a lot easier.
Next, the entire board was given a dry brush with ‘Moroccan Sand’ emulsion from B&Q. This was applied heavily on the roads and other contour areas where I wanted the contour to stand out, for example the river cliffs below Albuera. The walls of the olive groves were also picked out with this.
The River was given several good coats of the ‘evergreen’ paint. When dry brushing the roads I allowed the brush to lightly go over the river to give an impression that the water was shallow at the fords. The river was then coated several times with clear nail polish that I ‘borrowed’ from my eldest daughter – thanks Bridget…to give the water a shine and a transparent film to give the impression that the colour came from depth.
Stone chippings were glued along the banks of the river, these were also dry brushed with ‘Moroccan Sand’. Finally, some foam flock was glued along the banks to represent increased vegetation. I was considering using lichen to show small trees/unruly bushes but I decided this would be better as scatter rather than a fixed part of the boards.
Albuera was not intended to be a representation of the town itself and was based on buildings that Grahkam already had in his collection. The base was made in exactly the same way as the olive groves. It did initially start off as very regular looking but ended up a bit more interesting.
The main elements of the boards were now completed and all that was left to do was the addition of flock. Now was the time to make sure that I had made something that would fulfil its purpose and accommodate the necessary battalions included in the revised scenario. So I made cardboard counters for each unit of the Allied armies and positioned them on the developing board in their starting positions, luckily everything fitted. Or at least it did more or less, this was when I realised my mistake with not allowing enough space for Hamilton to deploy. I did consider making an additional board, but in the end decided to just go with what we had. Hamilton would just have to ‘enter’ the battlefield…(You can see Hamilton as the column of bases on the right of the photo…it should be a line extending to the edge of the wood 6″ off the board edge).
The big flock was next… I used a mix of all kinds to give greener more fertile looking valleys and parched looking hills. Especially the area to the top left of the photo. I added some flock around the base of the walls in the olive groves and also some to the walled areas in the town to give an impression of gardens.
The area around the town of Albuera has fields but these do not have hedges/fences around their borders. The borders would be made up of the stones that have been removed from the ground during ploughing. So I made up some fields using the same principals as used for the olive groves but using the PVA/sand paste to build up the edges.
I also made up a separate piece of terrapin to show a marshy/boggy area that was shown on some of the maps I had seen.
And here are the completed boards:
EDIT: The white dots beside the road (upper right) are tents of the British encampment. They were made using folded paper…very simple.
This was the last photo before they were packed for transport to the show. On the day we added scattered lichen to show scrubland, but you can see that in a separate post that will include details of the scenario/OOB and some photos taken on the day.
Thanks to Nigel for the enthusiasm that sparked mine, the bridge and to Graham for the buildings.
Also thanks to Chris for the moral support and air-brushing the trees to make them look a bit more like olive trees.