“You done with your cardboard village yet?”
I straighten up, my back aching from hunching over and working on the game board, my fingers riddled with x-acto nicks and hot glue burns, my hands stained with a half dozen kinds of paint. That “cardboard village” remark—made by a friend anxious to start playing—was the first comment ever directed towards my HeroClix handiwork and it made me laugh at how neatly it dismissed both the time that went into the board and what I hoped was a cool looking final product. It also made me want to stab that friend with a hot glue gun and pull the trigger.
So this cardboard village was cobbled together when HeroClix debuted in ’04. I grew up building similar landscapes for D&D miniatures, though they were scraped together with whatever I could find around the house. Those early boards were plywood draped with white sheets, movement squares scribbled in magic marker. Wobbly cardboard castles dotted the landscape, forests were branches snipped from a plastic Christmas tree. Not much to look at, but it provided a summer’s worth of orc-stomping fun for twelve year-old me and my friends. Less fun was trying to find ways to protect the board from being used as a scratching post/chew toy by my cat. I proved less capable at cat proofing than I did board building.
My late teens came, I got back into D&D and tried my hand at building a new board, this time financed by my emotionally scarring job as a Ponderosa fry cook. The base of this new board was again plywood, but now draped in sheets of fake grass sprouting fancy model train trees. Lego castles coated in granite speckle paint replaced cardboard buildings and the fumes from liquid “Pour-a-Lake” resin almost killed everyone in the house. They aint kiddin’ when they recommend using that murderous goop in a well-ventilated room. “Death by D&D landscaping” would have made for a spectacularly sad tombstone. This new board proved cooler looking than my earlier attempts, but didn’t travel well. When I moved, it ended up be the weirdest thing the garbage man picked up that day.
A couple decades later HeroClix hit. I thought it was a good game, though didn’t consider building another board until a handful of friends became hooked. We played a couple of times but—while fun—the map/board included with the game detracted from the experience. It fit in artistically with the comic book feel of the game, but using neat little 3-D figures on a flat sheet of paper left me…um, flat. I don’t mean that as a knock against the WizKids crew; I’ve met and worked with them a few times and aside from being a good bunch of folks, they sweat the details of making the game as fun as possible. The paper HeroClix maps are what the budget allowed, and the 3-D items WizKids cooked up for HeroClix (and sister game Mage Knight) didn’t sell terribly well. If the demand existed to support a more bells & whistles HeroClix board, you would have seen WizKids branded “cardboard villages” for sale. But you didn’t. So I built one.
Pieces of foam core (or foam board) three-sheets-thick, glued together with a light brushing of Elmer’s glue. Put an extra sheet of scrap foam core on top, then a few heavy books to keep it flat (the scrap foam core will take whatever dents the books give, keeping the pieces underneath safe). Twenty-four hours later it should be dry, then paintbrush any exposed parts of the interior foam (mostly the edges) with some Elmer’s to keep it safe from corrosive paints. That’ll dry inside an hour or so, then some speckle paint for texture, spray paint for broad coats, hand-painted acrylics for touch-ups and then a spritz of matte to help keep it safe.
EARTHQUAKE! Instead of one massive board, lots of smaller pieces let you rearrange the battlefield with every game. Makes storage less of a hassle, too.
Awww, Robotman looks so lonely. To get the most bang for your buck, double-side your board sections. Just be sure that each can lay flat when deciding what goes on each side.
See…? Flip that asphalt tile over and PRESTO!, a grassy piece of map complete with a bottomless pit for when the crushing loneliness gets too much for Cliff Steele. Wave “bye,” Robotman!
Sections of road can be made crazy versatile with a simple trick; just glue the corner tiles in place, make the rest of the sidewalk removable.
That way one piece of road can link up to any other section at any angle. FUN FACT: More thought was put into building this HeroClix street corner than went into New Jersey’s entire highway system.
Sheets of model train water give Aquaman something to do. The shoreline is a thin coat of Elmer’s with sand sprinkled on top. Multiple layers might be needed, just let it dry between coats.
Squares of foam core cut to the measurements of one section of movement, then paint ’em to match the color of the board. Some store-bought model trees were hot glued to ’em, some bits of modeling moss to hide my screw-ups and that’s that. If you wanna get fancy, paint the edges of those squares.
Mmm, inedible s’mores. Foam board squares one section wide, a darker shade of green than the standard board and peppered with bits of twig and model train landscape moss.
Gotta love that foam board stuff. The buildings are based on the measurement of the board: with this board, I made movement squares 2″ x 2″. So every story of my buildings (for this board anyway) are 2″ high. When measuring out the sections of your building, keeping in mind that when corners meet, most foam board is ¼” thick. When two sections meet, make sure you take that into account.
Similar steps that went into making the boards went into making the buildings. Once the pieces were cut I hot glued ’em together and coated any of the exposed interior foam edges with a thin coat of Elmer’s. Once that was dry I hit the sucker with some speckle paint, then some spray paint for broad strokes and hand painted acrylics for touch-ups.
The building backs are left open for easy access, small holes & ladders in the floor indicate how the lil’ buggers move between levels. Those ladders are just small railroad tracks, something I picked up at the hobby store. Wanna know the one thing about these buildings that is both the coolest thing AND the worst thing about ’em? Yeah…? We’ll get to that in a minute. First, the FantastiCar…
I’ll chalk this one up as a failed experiment. The FantastiCar–like pretty much everything here–is foam core with a Heroclix dial built into the bottom (with only a defense stat). Figures could hop into the car and zoom around at an accelerated speed AND–if you had more than one figure in the car (it held four)–the non-drivers could attack on the same turn they were carried. It was fun but clunky…I was never happy with what I came up with for how fast it could go, how much damage it could take, what happens if you landed it on an opponent, etc. I’d print all that info here but it’s been years since my group used I have no idea where it ended up. Ah well.
Back to the buildings and the worst job when modding those buggers…
Every section of the buildings—walls, floors, ceilings, every single possible f*cking area a figure can touch—has a pre-punched hole that can be smashed out and used as a light item. It makes for some fun gameplay, but holy sh*t, carefully cutting out all those sections, popping them out to make sure they work, then popping them back in…it’s the most time consuming, finger cramping pain in the butt. I’d rather breath my body weight in paint fumes than build another building.
When wandering hobby stores for trees, moss and whatnot, keep your eyes peeled for other items you can snag. The above tower was some model train thingie, but I thought it’d be a fun addition to my board. Plus it let Batman play peeping tom. Close them curtains, Babs!
To make the tower breakable (everything should be breakable), I gave it a Heroclix dial that only has a defense stat. That way figures can pummel it to KO any snipers OR it can be knocked over onto an unsuspecting target(s).
Remember how I said “everything should be breakable?” Ignore that.
Mountains: same basic idea as the buildings, but here I cut jagged slivers of foam core and glued them to the sides to mimic the ragged cliff face.
As for them nifty flight stands the flying characters are using, you can check them out here.
To offer different battlefield conditions, I tried making each side of the mountain unique. Here Ollie scrambles to reach the high ground while Count Vertigo hails a cab.
What self-respecting mountain doesn’t have a cave? I made the roof inside the cave higher than the cliff face hints at to accommodate taller figures. Twigs and pebbles were randomly glued here & there to pretty things up, ladders are model train tracks made vertical.
More caves. Nothing fancy, just the most easily defended spot on the board. Top hats optional.
…and that’s the poop. After playing on this board for a couple of years I tried my hand at building a double-deck Heroclix map, one with subterranean levels. You can check that sucker out here and my second attempt–one with larger underground levels–here. But wait, there’s more! Some custom D&D terrain I built for a buddy here (video of the D&D stuff here).
In some of the gallery shots below you’ll spot fiery explosions, walls of ice and a few other odds and ends. Those are custom barriers I whipped up and you can check ’em out–along with force fields, webs and a bunch of others–by clicking here.
Special thanks to Doc Schrute for making all these pics possible, and special apologies to Mrs. Doc Schrute for making such a huge mess in her kitchen while setting this crap up.
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