Friday, May 19, 2017

How to make proper Wargame Trees - Quest for a Shrubbery Part 2

Last year I posted all about my quest for proper wargame trees in my post about "The quest for shrubbery".   I got lots of positive feedback from our local group about them, and several questions about how to do them online through here and facebook messages.  So, since I needed to make more anyway, I decided to create a how to article on how I did it.

A few words of warning though, while none of this is hard to do, it is time consuming.  Especially the first few times you do it.  I think the first tree I made took me almost 5 hours to figure everything out, that's a lot of time for 1 tree.  Now that I know what I am doing and have a system its probably around an hour or two per tree (for 5-6" tall ones), but that's still not insignificant.  There is a reason that trees like this commonly sell to model railroaders for between $60 and $200 US each (for 5" through 12" tall), there is a lot of time investment to make them look good.  Also the materials to make them are not cheap so the base manufacturing price can stack up quickly too, my current estimate is between $15 and $20 Canadian per tree.


So let's start with a materials list:
  • Sagebrush tree armatures (real sagebrush clippings from http://modeltreestore.com/)
  • Super Leaf flock (realistic leaves from http://www.sceneryexpress.com/)
  • Static Grass tufts (pre-made tufts from  http://www.tajima1.co.uk/)
  • Static Grass
  • Green Poly fiber
  • 50mm - 80mm wood bases
  • Washers for weight
  • Brass rod
  • Liquitex Resin or Natural Sand medium
  • Zap (super glue) and White glue
  • Spray Adhesive (3m 777 spray glue or Elmer's Spray Adhesive)
Step 1 - Prepping Sagebrush Armatures

Sagebrush makes the perfect armatures for model trees as it grows like a full size tree, but in miniature.  The structure of the bark and limbs mimics full size trees almost exactly.  You can create trees using any twigs you want, but look closely at the pictures of sagebrush then at the twigs you generally find, if your going to spend your time making something, do it right and start with something that will look real.

Sagebrush is extremely common across the USA, however does not grow near me in Canada so I had to get a hold of some. I came across a website that supplies Sagebrush for model railroaders called Modeltreestore.com.   The operator Mike is extremely easy to deal with and will even find branches that look similar to specific real life trees if you send photos!  I have dealt with him several times already and he is awesome to deal with.  This however is the biggest part of the expense, due in most part to shipping and exchange.  It ends up costing about $65 CND to get 10 armatures here, so almost $7 a tree.

Anyway, onto prep.  The armatures come from Mike in a large bag in a box as shown above, and should be baked to sterilize them before use.  Just through them on a cookie sheet and onto the BBQ on low for a few hours and you should be good to go. You could use the stove but Sagebrush has a strong aroma and most of our wives wouldn't appreciate baking trees in the oven (or at least mine wouldn't, so I didn't even try).

Once baked and dried, you start to work the armatures to clean them up.  Just pull all the leaves off and slide your fingers down each branch and pull off all the tiny branches that are loose.  You want them all off now, rather than later after everything is together and then starts to fall apart when bumped!

Step 2 - Basing

Now that the branches are prepped it's time to base them.  Cut the branch to have a flat surface at the angle and location you want (if not happy with how it came cut) and then drill a small hole in the bottom.  Super glue a short length of brass rod into the tree leaving about 2.5 - 3mm sticking out (longer if you are going to use thicker bases or if you are inserting into a foam table).

Next drill a hole in a wooden base (I used 60mm round 3mm thick MDF bases) wherever works best for the tree placement on the base. At this point for any tree over about 4" tall I also glue a heavy and thick washer around the hole on the base (but one that the tree will still fit through the inner diameter of so that it sits flat on the base) to provide weight so it doesn't tip easily when done.

Super glue the tree to the base and let it dry. Then use liquitex to build up the base around the tree and washer and to blend everything together while adding texture all at once.

Step 3 - Poly Fiber

Once everything is dried you can move onto stretching poly fiber over the trees.  This is the most time consuming part and needs to be done right to look correct in the end. It will take you a few hours a tree at the start but get significantly faster once you get the hang of it. Take small pieces of poly fiber (I mean really small, like the size of a marble) and start pulling it apart and stretching it. Take a few threads from this clump and twist them around a branch several times.  Most of the time if you do this with tension the bark with grab the fiber and hold it tight, if not apply a drop of super glue to secure it.  Take another few threads and to it again on another area of the same branch.  Once done stretch and pull the poly fiber around that branch until you can barely see it.  It should look like a spider web and like it is way to thinned out.  Don't worry it will fill in once you flock it, it will amaze you.

I played with the contrast on the pictures so that you can see the poly easily, but its really not that dense.  A marble sized clump gets expanded to about 2" cubed.

Continue this process on each little branch or tight cluster of branch ends.  You may be tempted to use one big piece and stretch it all over the whole tree at once.... DON'T!  It will not look right, it will look like exactly that, one big clump.  Doing it one branch at a time takes longer, but looks significantly better.  If your in this to do it, do it right.

I also chose to paint the base a basic brown at this point.

Step 4 - Super Leaf 

The Super Leaf product is the other big part of what makes these trees look real.  Rather than the typical clump foliage or powdery flock this stuff looks like leaf bits.  No one around here carries it though so again I had to order.  To do it right I got a large container of medium green and a small container of light and dark green.  That is enough to do about 20 trees.

Setup an area to spray the trees with the spray adhesive (not watered down glue and a sprayer, this is aerosol based glue and can be found at any fabric shop, Canadian tire, Walmart, etc). and an area to flock the trees (using several sheets of paper to collect the excess flock to return to the container.  Start by spraying from the underside of the tree trying to only hit the poly fiber then rotate the tree to get the sides and top of the poly fiber. The poly will turn white once enough glue is on it.

Next flock the poly fiber with the medium green Super Leaf to build the basic bulk of leaf structure for the tree.  Simple use the Super Leaf shaker to sprinkle it onto the poly fiber and the glue will hold most of it there.  Shake the tree and tap the base to knock off the loose particles and then collect the excess from the paper and put it back in the shaker. If the tree does not look full enough you can play repeat this process a second time.


Time to do that again but this time only spray the poly (and medium green foliage) from the underside of the tree and only lightly.  Use the dark green Super Leaf to flock the underside of the branches to provide a shaded look.  Again shake the tree and knock of excess and collect it to use again.

One more time, this time only spray the top of the tree lightly and then apply the light green Super Leaf to provide a look of sunlight hitting the tops of the trees.

I chose to do these trees as a normal green shade, but you can just as easily do them in autumn colours or add some light sprinkles of a flower type colour to represent fruit trees in bloom.  There are lots of options.

Step 5 - Finishing work

You are almost done now.  It is time to paint the base (if you didn't earlier) and then dry brush it so that all the texture from the liquitex shows.

Once that is done I put white glue onto the base in various areas and flock it with normal static grass.  If this is good enough for you, you can skip the next paragraph.

Once the static grass has dried I go back and add some more interest to the base with various clumps of flowers and grass from http://www.tajima1.co.uk/, which makes some amazing tufts that add a lot of realism to any project.  I added a few bits of heather to each tree base and a few clumps of various sizes and colours of grass as well.  Something like 8 - 12 clumps per tree looks about right to me, but you can do more or less as you choose.

Last step here is to clear coat the trees with a satin or flat clear coat spray. Apply a few thin layers allowing each to dry before applying the next.  This adds some additional bonding to help keep the foliage on the tree.  You can use a few thin layers of the spay adhesive before clear coating them to further strengthen it, but you need to be extremely careful as if put on to thick it will produce a haze effect on the leaves, so while I have tried it, its hard to pull off, so I just use a few thin coats of clear coat.

FINISHED!!!

See, I did warn you that it would take a while.  Now you are done though, and have some of the best looking trees for wargaming out there (at least in my not so humble opinion)!  While they look better than almost everything else out there, they are NOT super durable.  You will need to be careful with them and pack them gently and upright.  They are not meant to be used for wargames at all but more for permanent railroad setups. After seeing them done this way though and having looked so long for realistic looking trees, I was willing to deal with that for my own personal use.

As a disclaimer, I can not take credit for coming up with this methodology.  This is all based on the work of model railroaders and pulled together from various forums and posts around the internet.  I just organized bits and pieces into my own workflow, there are many other smart people that came up with the method that deserve all the credit (I just never kept track of the forums I visited last year doing research so can't provide names, sorry).


The above image shows the scale of these trees, which is what really led me to doing them this way.  I got tired of all the store bought model trees which end up being about 3-4 times the height of a model and not really looking like trees in a forest which are huge compared to a normal person.  These I think give the right feel for a forest.  What is shown are 5 of the smallest trees I did, there are some almost 2x that height and I now have almost 20 complete.

All the trees I have done now are shown here filling a 3'x3' space far denser than you are likely to game with.  A lot of work, but I am really happy with the results.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Battlestar Galactica Fleet-Scale Project and Starfighter Shipyards Review

Cylon fleet
So... this is the kind of project that starts off with a vague idea and quickly gathers momentum. For a long time, I've been a fan of "fleet scale" space gaming. Massive space cruisers, snub fighters darting everywhere, laser bolts creasing the blackness of space, etc. Battlefleet Gothic, Full Thrust, and latterly Star Wars Starship Battles have been the rulesets of choice.

So after having amassed reasonably sized fleets of ships from the Star Wars universe, I thought it might be fun to give another milieu a go. When a chance came up to acquire some metal and resin Battlestar Galactica ships in a trade I jumped at it. And they sat in a box for a year.

However, the spirit recently moved me to get at this project, and so orders were duly placed to Starfighter Shipyards and Studio Bergstrom to get the fleets into fighting trim. Models arrived quickly and were painted even more quickly, so we're ready to go!

Raiders!! These little beauties came from Studio Bergstrom and like all of Andrew's models, come out of the bag perfectly formed and ready for the paintbrush - no flash and zero defects.

The models were primed with black spray, grey parts were basecoated Mechanicus Standard Grey and heavily highlighted with Administratum Grey. The whole model was washed with Nuln Oil, then the black parts drybrushed with Mechanicus. Engines were lit up with Temple Guard Blue and they are ready for the table!

There were a few "Nu-Raiders" included with the trade. I'm not a huge fan of the look but in my "First Cylon War" battles they may appear as prototype interceptors. They were painted Leadbelcher and washed with Nuln Oil.

The heavy Raiders (Bergstrom calls them "Tarantulas" I think) were painted in the same fashion as the regular Raiders.

The fighters were based on standard GW 25mm slotless round bases. I drilled two small holes in each base, then inserted a dressmaker's pin (cut to length) up through from below. The head of the pin gives the superglue something to "bite" on under the base, and the sharp end of the pin is superglued to the underside of the fighter. Bergstrom's models have a relief cast in the bottom for this purpose. They're actually reasonably sturdy on the bases :-)

On to the capital ships... as noted above, I got these from an outfit in British Columbia called Starfighter Shipyards. Their website states that they've acquired Ravenstar Studios' line of BSG models and will also be re-releasing Hangar 18's range once they've been remastered. Obviously good news for BSG fans who have been looking for the Ravenstar models!

My entire collection of Cylon capital ships are from Starfighter so this will also serve as a mini-review of part of the range :-) First off, this is the "Hydra Light Cruiser". An OK ship but not my favorite from their range as the surface detailing is not quite as cool as the other ships (you'll see).


They were kinda crusty around the edges and I was too lazy/impatient to do a ton of cleanup work. I like them but there are way better Cylons in the Starfighter range. Grade: C+


Now THIS is more like it... the Cylon "War Destroyer". Note the surface detailing is way more intricate than the Hydra's. Each model comes in two parts - the main saucer and a tri-form piece that slots in the bottom.

This ship really fits my idea of the Cylon aesthetic. Casting is a bit manky but ehhhh... it's an unlicensed resin model so whaddaya expect? Grade: A.

Cylon "Medusa Destroyer". Another one-piece casting with excellent detailing and a very Cylon look.

Grade: A.

This is the Chimera Command Ship. Even though it's not as super-detailed as the Medusa and the War Destroyer, the slightly cleaner look works for me on this ship. It's a two-piece model with the saucer and "mushroom cap" cast separately.

Grade: B+

Here's the "Terror-Class Battleship". It's a large six-piece model: the "arms are all cast separately. This example wasn't an amazing casting and the resin was quite brittle, the arms needed some carving to fit as well. Still, it looks pretty cool and that's all that matters in fleet scale ;-)

Grade: B

Finally, we have the Basestars... the iconic piece of Cylon hardware. The BSG version of the Imperial Star Destroyer!

(Traditionally the Basestars were deployed in squadrons of three, so of course I had to get three!)


The Basestars, as well as all the other Cylon capital ships, were basecoated Mechanicus Standard Grey (are you sensing a theme here?) and drybrushed Administratum Grey, then washed with Nuln Oil.

The Basestars look great - easily the best models in the Cylon fleet. Superdetailing on the hull and all over really translate well on the model. In fact, I suspect that the master may well be a commercial model from Konami as this is suspiciously well-done...

In any case, the Starfighter/Ravenstar ones are just outstanding and really capture the essence of the Cylon empire. Grade: A+

Of course there's no point painting a bunch of Cylons if they don't have a rag-tag fleet to chase around the galaxy! So I added a few smaller ships from Starfighter Shipyards (noted below) and painted the capital ships that I suspect are Ravenstar but whose provenance is really unknown. On to the ships...

The Vipers are again from Studio Bergstrom and they are great. I went heavy on the Mark I's as to me, they are the iconic BSG Vipers and as noted, I'm representing the "Thousand Yahren"/First Cylon War, mostly.



The paint formula is a basecoat of Mechanicus Standard Grey, highlighted with Pallid Wych Flesh and White Scar. The stripes are applied with Mephiston Red, then the ship is washed with Nuln Oil. Finally, cockpit and thrusters are picked out with Temple Guard Blue.


Here are some Mark II Vipers that we'll say would appear near the end of the TY War. I'm not as big a fan of this design but they're still pretty neat.

Raptors are included in the fleet too - regular (left) and missile (right) variants. These are basecoated with Steel Legion Drab, highlighted Zandri Dust and washed with Agrax Earthshade. Cockpit and thrusters again Temple Guard Blue.


Capital ships! This is a Hunter-Class Lightstar. I left off the dorsal pod as I thought it looked silly. Painted, as all the other Colonial capital ships, with a Mechanicus Standard Grey basecoat and gradual highlights of Administratum Grey and AG mixed with White Scar. No washes on these ones :-)

Thrusters are Temple Guard Blue. Grade: B+



These are two of Starfighter's Mebd-Class Escorts. Four-piece models (hull and three drive pods), they were decent castings that assembled easily. Grade: B+

Oooooh, here we go! This is a large Battlestar (I think it's a "Bane-Class"), distinguishable from the others in my fleet by its double-stacked hangar bays. This will give some substantial in-game effects regarding fighter launches (of which more later...)


Really quite a nice model, all resin and very crisp.

I also have three of these - Titanium Series die-cast "Pegasus" models. These will represent the "line" Battlestars of the Colonial Fleet. They're great models - mostly metal and quite heavy and well-detailed.

Here's a resin ship of some kind. Can't find it on the Starfighter website but it looks like it could be a Ravenstar sculpt.


Some rag-tag ships along for the ride. At top and left are Goliath-Class refinery ships from Starfighter. The others are from Ground Zero Games and come from my Star Wars collection.


Here's a handy size comparison of all the ships in this post.

And finally, top-down views of the fleets in all their glory:

Cylons - by your command

Colonials - by the Lords of Kobol!
Now, I have to figure out what rules to use for these ships in a game. I'm thinking of our old standby, Star Wars Starship Battles, as they're familiar to the guys and with our house modifications, give a fast-playing and enjoyable game.

The ship stats should be relatively straightforward. I'll treat Vipers like X-Wings, Mark II (heavier) Vipers as Y-Wings, and the Mark VIIs as A-Wings. Cylon Raiders will be TIE Fighters, Heavy Raiders will be TIE Bombers, and the Nu-Raiders will be TIE Interceptors. The capital ships I'll work out as I go, although Basestars and the Bane-Class Battlestar will have Fighters 4 (meaning they can launch 4 squadrons (bases) of fighters per turn) and regular Battlestars Fighters 2.

The only thing that's missing are rules for the missiles which seem to fly everywhere in BSG battles. However, I reckon I should be able to puzzle something out for that.

In any event, stay tuned for the eventual battle report and thanks for persevering to the end of this post :-)