Giant robots are terrifying, regardless of their lavenderness.
So, anyway, Heroclix maps. The first thing I started customizing in miniature gaming was the boards they’re played on. Little plastic army men running around textured 3-D terrain is a lot more fun than flat 2-D paper maps…
The first ‘Clix map I cobbled together was a modular board with tiles that could be rearranged to offer different battlefields with every game. It was fun, but a random comment from one of the goons in my gaming group about tearing up manhole covers and using ‘em as weapons got me thinking about a two-tier map…
My second foray into terrain modding produced a two-tier map. I wasn’t sure how stable the top level would be so I played it overly cautious, limiting the underground levels to a few small self-contained pockets in an effort to make it as sturdy as possible. The map was fun but flawed: those self-contained levels were dead ends and, unlike your mom, didn’t see much action. A successful failure, that project taught me more about board-building but didn’t provide the type of multi-level battlefield I was looking for…
This, my third stab at ‘Clix map-making, is a two-tier battlefield framed by a series of subterranean interconnected environments. Go underground and you can do laps around this sucker without ever poking your melon above ground…
Built from sheets of foam board (or foam core) 30″ x 19 1/2″. The top and bottom “bread” layers of this map sandwich are five sheets thick. That makes ‘em good and sturdy for the inevitable wear and tear (note the patches of white in some of the pics…dings from lugging this badboy around).
The top and bottom layers were made first: I penciled a grid on what would end up being the surface layer of each level and made whatever modifications needed to be made (holes for manholes, sidewalk outlines, etc.). Once that was done, a thin layer of Elmer’s was brushed between the sheets, they were carefully lined up and then laid one on top of another. A scrap piece of foam board was placed on top with a few heavy books to add pressure.
The “meat” of this sandwich is more foam core, twenty-one sheets to be exact. Yikes. Same gluing procedure with this middle section. When dry, all the exposed edges–wherever you could see the “foam” part of the board–were paint brushed with Elmer’s. That acts as a sealant against the corrosive next step: hitting this monster with some speckle paint for a nice grainy texture.
That speckle paint can be a bit sloppy, so let the board dry thoroughly before going any further. Get the board too wet and it’ll start warping. When it dries, spray paint can give you a good base coat to work from before going in with acrylics for fine-tuning. When all that’s wrapped, get ready for the second worst part of making these things: drawing the 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ movement square grid. About halfway through that process I wanted to bring the board down to the shoreline, paddle it out to the middle of the lake and set it and me on fire.
But I didn’t. Here’s what else went into this beast…
Water sections were marked off and cut one layer-deep into the top section of the map before the gluing process. A flat drop off between layers seemed unnatural, so I whittled the edge of the shoreline, cutting it at an angle with an x-acto. After painting the rest of the map, I used a hot glue gun to create the water texture. I’d add a blob of hot glue, shape a rough surface with modeling tools, let (mostly) dry, add another blob, repeat, then finish it off with acrylics.
Sidewalks, curbs…raised sections of the map were added after the board was assembled but before the painting process. Raised sections were glued in place with Elmer’s, a scrap sheet of foam core placed on top with some heavy books for pressure and left to dry overnight. If the sidewalks are the only thing supporting the weight of the books when drying, they’ll get scrunched. Use a few small scraps of foam board underneath the weighted foam board to help distribute the pressure.
As a side note, the flames sprouting up around the police car are some custom flame barriers I whipped up. You can check those and other barrier types out here (and an earlier attempt at barrier-makin’ here).
I tried to balance the urban sprawl of the map with some wooded areas. Here the Avengers crash the Masters of Evil picnic and take turns spitting into Zemo’s potato salad. The Avengers are dicks.
The sewer pipe is index card paper three sheets thick, Elmer’d together and, while still wet, rounded against a glass. The “lip” of the pipe is an extra six sheets thick. Speckle paint & acrylics when dry.
The bridge is more of that index card trick but shaped with an x-acto to look like planks of wood. You can’t see ‘em, but ten bucks says there’s wicked large crayfish under that thing.
Eh, more like a big hill than a mountain, but don’t tell that to Cap. Look how proud he is to have climbed to the top. Wait, he’s not at the top, this whole thing is a sham…!
Anyway, more sheets of foam core stacked and glued, then the same hot glue trick I used to make the water was replayed here. Just drag a modeling tool over the still-warm glue to create the ragged cliff face. Acrylic paint, some model train moss to spruce things up and it’s a wrap.
FUN FACT: You know what’s worse than a million of the glue “spider webs” you get when using a hot glue gun? A million hot glue spider webs littered with crumbs of modeling moss. It’s killed two of my vacuums.
The stream flows under the mountain and becomes a waterfall entrance to the subterranean levels. And yep, figures can jump in, ride the water down and take no damage when landing in the pool below. More on the underground layers in a bit, let’s finish the ground level stuff…
Map Items & Terrain
Mailboxes, telephone poles, cars…the random stuff on the board was collected over the years through hobby shops, toy stores and online retailers. While most are off-scale by a small bit, they’re close enough. Who’s gonna notice? And if someone does call you on that scale difference after you’ve spent weeks building them a 3-D map to play on, it’s perfectly acceptable to beat them to death with it.
Trees, streetlights, even statues can be “unplugged” from the board and — uh-oh, looks like the notoriously self-medicating Mr. Hyde is hallucinating again and seeing cat-people. I wonder what he’s gonna do…
Aw, man, Tigra’s one of my favorite Avengers. Her superhero costume is a bikini.
The base of the statue is more foam core/glue/speckle/yadda yadda yadda, with a “plaque” courtesy of my printer, a piece of index card paper two sheets thick and some Elmer’s. The statue is a modified Blockbuster Heroclix (Legacy) with long plastic pegs Krazy Glued to the soles of its feet so I could sink it deep into the base.
The statue–as well as the trees and telephone poles–were built into the board. Before the initial gluing process, the top two layers of the map had holes cut into them. Instead of tossing the cut-outs, they were used as pegs for the assorted upright items. To help make sure the right cut-outs plug into the corresponding hole, I labeled each. If you squint, you can make out a small green speck at the bottom of the statue. All the upright items have one of those, a small numbered label that matches up with a corresponding hole.
That all said, I don’t think it was a good idea making the board so predetermined. By having the trees, poles and statue plug into the same section every game, the map gets a bit repetitive. I should have made items like that with a free standing base so they could be placed anywhere.
Not until after I uploaded that photo did I realize it looks like Mockingbird and the Controller are having a dance-off. “CAN’T…STOP…DOING…THE MONKEY!”
Anyway, Mocky looks short in that pic because she’s standing in hindering terrain. Those gullies were built into the map before the layers were glued together. After marking where I wanted the hindering terrain to go, I cut holes in the top three sheets. The edges of the top hole were x-acto’d at an angle so the terrain had a natural looking slope instead of a man-made straight edge.
The bushy bits of grass are clumps of modeling moss I randomly glued all over the board. The good: it gave the map one more small touch that made it look snazzy. The bad: it made balancing tall figures or flight stands f*cking impossible.
Whoa, looks like Black Knights’ a little camera shy. I guess I’d be too if I wore one of those stupid Avengers jackets in the ’90s.
Buildings are one sheet-thick with window frames made from index cards three sheets-thick and applied before assembly. Hot glue connected the walls and a thin coat of Elmer’s paint brushed onto the exposed foam edges. Speckle paint for texture, spray paint for a base coat and acrylics for fine-tuning.
A 3-D map needs to have a way for flyers to do their thing, so a friend of mine whipped up those triple-spiffy clear plastic flight stands. The full poop on them here.
Interiors are left wide open to provide players plenty of hand room. An interior ledge allows figures to run around and snipe from windows while ladders (model train tracks with sniped edges) allow non-flyers to move between floors.
Playing interior decorator, I two-toned the insides and added small, photoshopped photos of members from my gaming group. Small clock faces lifted from the web added variety, as did Heroclix-sized arcade games.
When experimenting in painting the building interiors, I learned that foam core can only take so much paint before the paper peels off the foam interior. Keep that in mind if you try your hand at it: less is more.
Variety in building deign helps boost property value. Here Ka-Zar–after a hard night partying–wakes up in an abandoned warehouse to find his credit cards maxed out and car keys missing. “Damn you, Zabuuuu…!” I wish fanfic paid more.
So, a broken ledge, boarded up (balsa wood) windows and a worn, dirty interior gives the joint a nice run down look. Graffiti is hand painted acrylics and they’re not going to make sense to anybody; they’re all inside jokes. That “no mayonnaise” line…? A deli by where my group once played ‘Clix was notorious for screwing up orders. One day we called in an order and a friend asked for a sub: hold the mayo. “They’re gonna screw this up, I know they’re gonna screw this up.” No matter how we tried to allay his fears and get him to concentrate on the game, our words of encouragement were drowned out by his rumbling stomach. A hundred years later the delivery guy showed, we paid the bill, sat down to eat and my buddy unwrapped his tin foiled sub to reveal what can only be described as a mayonnaise crime scene. It was awful, like a 70/30 mayo-to-bread ratio. He ranted, we all ended up sharing some of our food with him and that nightmarish sandwich was shot-putted *SPLORCH* into the neighbor’s yard.
The buildings, like the trees and telephone poles, are rooted in place. Two of those buildings have walls that face the edge of the board. Since figures can’t move through those sections, those walls are considered dead space. Not wanting to let it go to waste, I hung in-joke billboards on ‘em. One (above) features quotes from one of the goons in my gaming group. Now, everyone knows someone who mispronounces quirky names like “Magneto” or “adamantium,” but my buddy Dawson takes it to a new level. He absolutely murders superhero names whenever he gets worked up in a comic book rant. The most egregious examples are listed in the billboard above and, in this blog’s first interactive game, you can test your code-cracking skills by trying to figure out who the hell he’s talking about. Click a name for the answer.
The other in-house billboard makes one of my friends very, very stabby. See, my buddy Davis plays his turns meticulously, placing his figures like pieces on a chessboard, second-guessing enemy attacks, making sure his team can respond to any opportunity or threat. And yeah, sometimes his turns can drag. Whenever that happens, someone in my group is always at the ready and–in a James Earl Jones voice–recites the narrative from that other billboard…
The Day the Earth Stood Still
The seconds turned to minutes,
the minutes ticked into hours
and Davis’ turn marched on.
The hours stretched to days,
the days into weeks and
Davis’ voice rang out:
“What does a yellow defense mean?”
The weeks melted to months,
the months blurred to years,
the years became decades
and Davis gave pause:
“How does line of sight work for barriers again…?”
The decades fell into centuries,
the centuries spilled into millennia,
millennia gave way to eternity
and still Davis’ turn proved unrelenting.
Eternity stretched as the Earth crumbled,
the dead orb that was once the sun grew cold
and all the stars twinkled their last.
The universe gave one final shudder
before succumbing to oblivion and
all that was became dust.
As a new universe was born
from the darkness and chaos,
a familiar voice cried out from the abyss:
“I still have to roll for leadership.”
He’s gonna be thrilled I printed that.
One last bit about the buildings…
Every wall, ceiling and interior ledge features pre-punched sections. The pieces were then pushed out to make sure the cuts went all the way through, then replaced before the building was assembled. I mentioned before how drawing the movement grid on the map was the second-worst part of building this map. This–cutting all those holes–was the worst. Sitting there, hour after hour, your finger sore from pressing down on the x-acto, an endless pile of walls that need cutting…it broke me mentally and physically. It’s how Frodo must have felt at the end of The Lord of the Rings.
So these pre-punched sections allow for battle damage when a building is blasted or when a drunk Olympian decides using the door is too much trouble. Super strong types can smash through walls without movement penalty or, when walking by a wall, simply reach out, grab a chunk and TA-DA, light projectile.
And that’s the grand tour of the upscale real estate. Ready to go slumming in the basement…?
There’s multiple ways to access the lower levels. The most obvious is the corner of the map where the top layer of the board ends prematurely in a cliff face. Using the same texture trick as described in the “Mountain” section of this post, the cliff has a craggy appearance doted with modeling moss.
The cliff offers staggered levels before depositing you on the ground floor. Here we’re faced with the entrances to two subterranean entrances…should we go left into the cavern or turn right into the sewer pipe?
*flips a coin*
Put on yer waddin’ boots boys and girls, looks like we’re headed fer the sewers…
The sewer runs the entire length of the board and, like all the underground sections, is over 4 1/2″ tall to accommodate oversized and flying figures. The rounded sewer pipe entrance is a section of poster tube cut to shape and hit with speckle paint for texture.
Ladders come courtesy of model train tracks and connect the upper and lower levels via open manholes (in the street) and to open hatches (in the buildings). These entrances may be treated as a standard ground section in addition to an underground entrance/exit. One thing I learned from the original two-tier map I built was that the underground sections need multiple access points to be a viable play area. Otherwise they become dead ends.
The sewage terrain (which acts as hindering terrain) is hot glue shaped while hot and–when dry–drips of hot glue were added and left to sit on top for a “bubbling” effect.
Run the length of the sewer, round the corner and you’ll find yourself at one of the two airlocks leading to the underwater section of the map. Figures may not make a ranged attack from the sewer portion of the map into the submerged water area (and vice-versa). And no tapping on the glass. The fish hate that.
Unlike the sewer section, players don’t need ladders to access the underground levels of the lake. Every section of surface water corresponds with the section below it so figures can just pinch their nose and jump in.
Figures with the fish movement symbol move at +50% speed in water. Those without the symbol move at -50% speed and receive a -50% range penalty. The biggest whammy for submerged non-fish types is that they receive a six-sided die (set at 6) as soon as they go under. At the start of each of that player’s turns it counts backwards and, if they ever start a turn at “1,” it’s an instant KO.
To create an uneven, less “man made” floor, I randomly placed 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ squares of foam core with the top edges cut at a sloped angle. Lots of hot glue was then added and shaped while warm for the…the…uh, I’m not entirely sure what I was going for, I just wanted it to look “underwatery.”
The plants are index cards four sheets-thick, hit with speckle paint and–like the entire underwater section–was then painted with acrylics. Modeling moss was added when that mess dried and the stage was set for Stingray to trade his voice for a pair of legs so he can woo Prince Eric. *sigh* So romantic…!
Opposite the sewer airlock is the bunker airlock. Here the Hulk takes off his shirt before going for a swim.
Turn the corner and we’re in the creamsicle-colored underground bunker…
The bunker, like the sewer, runs the length of the board. For purely aesthetic purposes, I staggered the floor by lowering some areas by a sheet or two of foam core.
Ladders connect the bunker to the upper levels via open manholes and floor hatches. The Scorpion (topside) is justifiably shocked that someone painted a red room with purple trim. Madness!
While the long hallway design of the sewer was fine, I didn’t want to repeat that for the bunker layout. To avoid it becoming one long firing range, cover was added for figures to duck behind. Here Union Jack takes shelter behind a corner while the Constrictor hangs out on an elevated platform and watches Lucha Libre. That monitor–along with items like the fire alarm in the below pic–were added simply to spruce things up and don’t affect gameplay.
Travel to the far end of the bunker and WHOOP, the wall’s been torn down. What’s shocking isn’t that the Wrecking Crew busted up the joint–those a**holes break everything–but seriously, how does Piledriver get his whites so white?
Whatever. Grab a flashlight, turn the corner and you’ll find yourself in the final underground complex…
A big honkin’ cavern. The how-to behind this section of the map is similar to the underwater notes: an uneven floor for a more natural look and loads of hot glue shaped while warm for that rough-hewn texture.
Hmmm…well, I didn’t pose the Hulk to look like he’s washing his ass in a waterfall, but that’s kinda how the picture came out. Eh, what can you do, he’s the Hulk. He can wash his ass wherever he wants. I wish I was the Hulk.
So earlier in this write up–in the “Mountain” section–we covered the top portion of the waterfall. This is where it empties out. Topside figures can jump in, slide down and land safely in the section right behind the Hulkster. It’s a neat way to escape overwhelming enemy forces above or to get the drop on opponents skulking underground.
Continue past the subterranean waterfall, step out of the cave and walk blinking into the sunshine…
…we’re at the cavern entrance first spotted back when this underground tour began. That’ll be ten bucks.
One last thing about this board:
To help make it a bit more practical to store and carry around, it’s broken into two sections.
Cut into the middle section of each board is a hole in the shape of a “T,” though the horizontal portions of that “T’ aren’t visible due to the top and bottom layers of the map.
Placed into the horizontal “T” slot and secured with hot glue and scraps of foam core is a piece of rounded wood. It extends about four inches more in either direction than you can see in the above photo.
Those rods act as handles and lets you carry each half of the board around like a suitcase. Having the handles extend over four inches in both directions helps distribute the weight and prevents them from tearing out of the board.
And, well…that’s it. I’m happy with this board, but there is a downside: it’s too static. While you can rearrange car placement and minor board elements, everything else is locked in place. While fun, I prefer maps that allow players to rearrange the battlefield with every game.
That said, lots of good memories on this sucker. The different terrains always seemed to nudge players into sending troops into “home territory.” Solomon Grundy would inevitably make his way into the sewers, the Mole Man would rally Moloid his troops in the cavern while Namor and Marinna got busy in the underwater section and made the tap water taste funny. Yuck.