With the ability to play games rather hindered these days, we’re all looking for new hobby projects to keep us busy; what better time for Terrain Essentials to thud onto Wi’s review desk?
The text below is a transcript of the video, for those who prefer to read rather than watch.
Behind the rather unassuming hardback cover are 192-pages and a lifetime’s worth of in-depth terrain building advice, across great looking full-colour pages. It’s written by Mel Bose, who is also known as the Terrain Tutor, and the cover bears sub-title “A book about making wargaming terrain”. That’s exactly what it is, but if Mel, or publisher Dave Taylor Miniatures, were more prone to promotional hyperbole that subtitle could easily be “The must-have terrain making bible you’ve been waiting for!” We reckon that this book’s going to find a prominent place on your shelf or by your side as you work on projects.
This book does everything a hobby guide should, and it truly excels in the ways it does it. The layout’s clean from the outset and the short introduction features many of the elements that are to come – sharp photos and equally sharp writing, which strikes a balance between entertaining and informative.
Past the Contents it’s into the Essentials Glossary, where really nice illustrations join the list of positives. The characterful illustrations of Mel, that draw attention to areas of interest, are rather charming and serve three main purposes – highlighting ‘Top Tips’ (of which there are plenty), giving a safety warning, and introducing us to ‘Mel’s Rules’.
Pages 8 to 9 are a section called Time and Attention – the pages here are used to advise that although this book will give you the skills to complete impressive projects, what’s actually in the book are the foundations – the Terrain Essentials – rather than lengthy step-by-steps on specific gaming boards, full landscapes, or cities. That’s no bad thing. It’s also a chance for Mel to show off some of his bigger bits of work and let us know that we’re in capable hands. He knows what he’s doing and hopefully soon we will too!
Pages 10 to 17 go over planning – a part of terrain making Mel sees as rather important, with his triad system applied to builds, balancing projects between Durability, Realism, and Functionality. You instantly get a feel for the clean, sharp layout of the book here, and it’s an easy read too. A good amount of sub-sections break up the lengthier flows of text in these sections and the visual stimulus is varied, with most concepts illustrated by pictures, diagrams, photos, lists, and more.
Watchamacallits – pages 18 to 43 – is a comprehensive look at the hundreds of different tools and materials Mel uses in his builds and he offers advice on them all. A lot of his ‘Top Tips’ here are based around money saving options, which is nice in a section packed with sometimes expensive hobby gear accumulated through Mel’s many years in his workshop.
If, like us, you saw that there were safety warnings ahead, you might have “Pshaw!”ed! However, some is not only good advice, but really interesting. We read Mel’s warning about mixing hot glue and superglue with curiosity. We hope Mel isn’t speaking from too brutal a personal experience here in the description of the pain the fumes here can cause.
If we have any criticism of the book so far it’s that the whatchamacallits shown in pictures don’t get captions – the text on the pages relates to them, but it’d be nice to be able to see specifics at a glance. There’s a lack of picture captions throughout – probably a design choice and one that’s most often absolutely fine, but here, a key to things shown would have been nice.
The Practicals chapter takes us to page 67 and moves us from the tools of the trade to the tricks of the trade, or to be more precise, common methods and techniques. There’s workflow in general before elements such as sticking, cutting, glooping, and painting get the full treatment.
So, at page 68, we finally get to a specific terrain element and look at making the gaming board itself, along with the shapes to go on it. Great stuff again but we quickly slip our way into Mel’s Deep Thoughts, with a section on warping parts from page 74 to 77 and Modularity from page 78 to 81. Not only is this all incredibly useful, but it also keeps the book very fresh and entertaining as a general read. You will, probably, be flipping back and forth through it for years to come, as you work on various projects, but the book is interesting enough that you could treat it as some heavy (in weight at least) bed time reading.
By now you may have noticed that unlike many books out there, and as Mel himself says early on, the aim of the book is to equip the reader with the fundamentals. Where another guide might give the reader a series of steps to end up with a fine-looking bunker, Mel’s guide gives the reader the confidence and skills to create their own different approaches and build not just a fine-looking bunker but embed it into a fine looking-gaming board, and surround it with rock outcrops, rivers, hills, trees, and more. There’s a proverb that comes to mind – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man from Terrain Essentials and he’ll still be peckish but he can feast metaphorically on the board building knowledge he is imbued with … well, it goes something like that, we think.
Groundwork is covered through pages 82 to 91 with some far more specific step-by-step approaches, but ones that can be used on many projects. There’s layered aggregates, bonded aggregates, texture gloop, filler stipple, and a follow up from Mel that lets us know when and where each can be best applied. With those basics established he moves to the landscaping, bringing more height to groundwork, before providing some painting techniques for parched, dry, damp, and soaked earth. More specialist techniques, such as cracked earth, are not overlooked – they get included once the basics have been established.
Pages 92 to 95 cover an incredibly important area of the hobby – colour – and in another of Mel’s Deep Thoughts sections he gets into it, nicely summarising a complex area in four pages, with advice that can serve you well. And it’s here that we had placed one of the two ribbon bookmarks attached to the book. One is black, one is green, and they are great for keeping tabs of the sections relevant to your current project.
Grasswork is a sizable section, from page 96 to 105, covering all your flocking needs (and more) and finishing up with Mel’s Deep Thoughts on making your own bulk quantities of the materials.
Rocks and Hills is where more landscaping gets explained, with a focus on painting techniques at the start before moving to tips on building with various materials.
At page 124 we get to the section on Trees & Hedges – Mel seems to really know his stuff here. The end results look totally ‘pro’, but, thanks to Mel’s guidance, they all feel remarkably achievable. With such fantastic tree advice springing up over the place we wonder if Mel might be part Ent.
And now, at page 140, it’s time to get wet. Not just in rivers and lakes, but mud and puddles too. Again, a whole toolkit of techniques that we’ll be able to call upon in future projects. There are various cracked water features in the Wargames Illustrated terrain collection right now, so the section on Mistakes and Fixes will be getting marked by another of the ribbons for our future reference. Winter Has Come is another of Mel’s Deep Thoughts sections and includes snow and ice, finishing up the ‘wet’ stuff.
The guide finishes with advice on making your own buildings – perhaps where many other guides might begin their step-by-steps – but here we’re on page 166. We’re already past bursting point with techniques, though, and can now take on these non-natural forms with ease. Mel covers a wooden shack, an urban ruin, and a historical roundhouse. This section rounds out with a great looking fantasy ruined inn and sci-fi ruined city that get a closer focus and a final Deep Thoughts on getting the most out of commercial kits
Last in the book is a thank you from publisher Dave, to the Kickstarter backers who … well, kick-started this whole project by crowd-funding it in 2019.
And thanks to them indeed, their backing has led to a book that will serve us all well, even those with just the vaguest interest in making scenery. We suspect that it’ll become a bit of a classic in hobby circles and will be as ageless as one of Mel’s own beautiful scratch-built trees.