Polystyrene Terrain Boards for 1/72 scale infantry/armoured games

- Aaron Longbottom

This is a write up how I made my terrain during a long weekend in May. This was for 1/72 scale infantry/armoured games set in this century, but also hopefully for some other historical periods. I had previously (about 2 years ago) made some 2' terrain boards for desert fighting out of polystyrene insulation boards. Being pleased with the results I decided to do my "European" (well anywhere with grass & rivers really!) terrain in a similar way.


  • 1 8'x4'x2" Polystyrene insulation board
  • 1 8'x4'x1" Polystyrene insulation board
  • 1 6'x4'x1" Polystyrene insulation board
  • 1 pack of thin polystyrene ceiling tiles
  • Cans of matt paint: Green, Grey, Brown
  • Cans of gloss paint: Black, Blue, polyurathane varnish
  • Poster paint: Bright green, Brown, Yellow
  • Enamels: Earth, Sand, Stone, White
  • Fine sand
  • Powder filler (Polyfiller etc)
  • Liquid wood glue Got the Polystyrene from Jewsons (a builders merchants that very kindly delivered my 3 sheets to my front door), The matt & gloss paints along with the ceiling tiles, Polyfiller & wood glue from a DIY shop. Had some sand left over from somewhere (!?). The modelling stuff I had anyway.


  • 1.5-2" paint brush
  • #3 modellers paint brush
  • Hacksaw
  • Small electric Polystyrene wire cutter (really useful & available from DIY shops)
  • Soldering iron
  • Craft knife


    First take a piece of card cut it in to 3' squares and plan you boards. This is real important as making a mistake on a sheet of card costs nothing, making a mistake on your polystyrene boards cost more! The plan I went for is below. The boards were to contain a road/river net with some indentations. This would allow them to stack nicely on top of one another in a 2' cube. Hills were to be created with a series of 6.5" hexagons (the maximum my electric wire cutter could manage). Roads were about 3-3.5" wide the river 5-7" wide. One word of warning. Don't try to put too much detail on one individual board. When you get a few 1/72 tanks on them they look silly!

             2'                  2'                  2'
    |                   |                   |         |         |
    |                   |        ===========|===================|
    |                   |       ============|===================|
    |                   |       ===         |         |         |
    |                   |       ===         |         |         |
    |                   |         ==        |         |         | 2'
    |   river           |         ===       |         |         |
    |===================|=============      |         |         |
    |===================|============       |         |         |
    |                   |                   |         |         |
    |                   |                   |         |         |
    |                   |                   |         |         |
    |                   |                   |        -\-  sunken|
    |    ____           |                   |         -|- road  |
    |___/    \          |                   |         -|-       |
    |         \         |                   |         -|-       | 2'
    |         /         |                   |         -|-       |
    |         |         |                   |         -|-       |
    |         |         |                   |        -/-        |
    |         |         |                   |         |         |
    |         |         |                   |        _/\        |
    |         |         | pond              |      _/   \       |
    |         |         |                   |    _/      \      |
    |         |         | OO                |   /         \_    |
    |_________|_________|___________________|__/            \___| 
    |         |         |     road          |                   | 2'
    |         |         |                   |                   |
    |         |         |                   |                   |
    |         |         |                   |                   |
    |         |         |                   |                   |
    |         |_        |                   |                   |
    |           \_      |                   |                   |
    |             \__   |                   |                   |
    |                \_ |                   |                   |
    |                  \|                   |                   |
    |              D  _/|                   |                   | 2'
    |   ditch    DD _/  |                   |                   |
    |          DD _/    |                   |                   |
    |         D _/      |                   |                   |
    |        D /        |                   |                   |
    Next I cut the 2 8'x6' boards in to 2' squares using initially the fine hacksaw & then the electric wire cutter to trim them to fit together. This is relatively easy if you measure & mark the boards accurately & are careful. It does however create a lot of fine balls of polystyrene that stick to everything! I then took the 8 1" thick boards (these were to form the river & sunken road) and drew out on 4 of them the paths of the roads & rivers. These were then cut with the electric wire cutter making sure all matched one another. The 4 cut boards were then pasted using the wood glue on to the 4 uncut boards, stacked on one another and weighted down with some cans of paints to avoid warping as they dryed overnight.

    Meantime, I drew out the roads, pond etc on the 2" boards, again making sure they were interchangable & cut out the pond ditch and a few shallow "gouges" with a mix of a craft knife & soldering iron (this really works well, but creates tons of fumes, so was done outside).

    When all were ready I started with the river sections and pond. The bed of the river I covered in a THICK coat of wood glue. As this drys you can use a small paint brush to draw out ripples as necessary. A few stones, sand & twigs were added & "stream-lines" drawn out around them. This was left to dry while I tackled the roads. For these I got an old ice cream tub & mixed up a thick "mud" of water, filler, wood glue, brown & grey matt paint, brown poster paint & a SMALL handful of fine sand. It's a good idea to add the coloured paint even if you are going to paint/spray over it as there's nothing worse than white patches showing through if the final boards get banged about. This was applied to the roads and, again, as it dried I used a nail to scratch out wheel ruts.

    For the remainder of the terrain another mix of "mud' was made identical to the above except a lot more sand was added to give some texture. This was applied over the remaining parts of the boards. The whole lot was left to dry.

    Now to the painting. I like to build up the colours over a number of coats. First I used a earth/stone mix of the matt paints to seal the whole surface. Then starting with a red/brown I gradually built up an "earth" colour I liked, by progressively lighter dry brushing with lighter shades. Once this was done I gave a heavy dry brushing with the matt green over about 75-80% of the boards, to represent grass land. This was followed by a light dry brushing with a thick mix of the bright green poster paint (dulled with some brown if you like), then a very light brushing of yellow poster paint.

    By using filler & sand you not only get a general texturing of the boards but also larger lumps of 2-3mm that can be highlighted with enamels of greys through to whites. These take a fair while to do but look real good when finished.

    The river and pond bed was sealed with gloss black, then a mixture of gloss black, blue with some matt brown & a touch of gray where blended (thickly) over the top. The best effect is gained by starting at the centre of the river with black and gradually adding the lighter colours towards the bank. When dry 3-4 coats of gloss varnish were applied.

    To finish off the boards. a small amount of gloss varnish as painted into the bottom of the ditch & a few of the gouged out dips, to give the effect of lying water. 1-2cm lengths of sisal string were glued along the banks of the river & around the pond. Painted a mix of brown/green/yellow. This gives a very effective representation of grass & rushes.

    Finally I painted the edges of the boards matt green (gloss black at the river junctions) so that you don't see any of the white polystyrene sides if the boards don't fit exactly together.

    The hills were formed from the 6'x4'x1" polystyrene and the ceiling tiles. I made a hexagon template out of card & used the electric wire cutter to cut a number of hill-hexagons. These were treated in exactly the same way as the main boards.

    So there you have it. It probably took me about 3-4 full days to complete and cost around 50-60 pounds sterling. Next project is some WW1 trench systems and maybe some coastal/large river bank boards.

    Desert Terrain:

    For those interested a note on my desert terrain. This was done in the same way as above. With a basic road net, a few wadis (cut out of the polystyrene boards), & dips in the land. As the desert is more barren it's a good idea to dig out more gauges then before to give your poor figures some cover. I found a base colour of red-brown, followed by varying shades of sand, and finished with a light dry brushing of white to give an effective result. Again picking out individual stones with enamels is a good touch. I also added some small (1/4") ripped up bits of plastic pan-scrub. Painted green/brown and dry brushed sand/white they form effective desert brush/bushes.

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