Part of the appeal of HeroClix, for me, is that you can get away playing with toys without acknowledging you’re playing with toys. “It’s not dolls, I’m rolling dice! This is strategy…SERIOUS BUSINESS!” My life is a lie.
Anyway, the first project I tackled when I was bitten by the HeroClix bug was to build a custom map. That first board was fun, but a random comment from one of my friends—“Can I rip up and throw a manhole cover?”—got me thinking. Why not build a layered battlefield, one with subterranean levels? First step: buy stock in foam core…
Starting with a pad of graph paper, I kick back on the couch and sketch out what I want the map to look like. It’s based on movement squares, here being 2” x 2” instead of the standard 1 ½” x 1 ½” HeroClix grid. Why? Because I’m lazy. Sheets of foam core (or foam board) are available in a ten-by-fifteen square ratio without having to do any cutting. Good news for me since both halves of the board are twenty-two sheets thick. This board will also run me about forty bucks worth of x-acto blades and band-aids.
I tried to balance the terrain: lots of rooftops for Daredevil and Elektra to make out on and plenty of roads & forest for Foggy Nelson to sit alone and eat sandwiches while watching couples walk by. : (
A 2” x 2” grid is drawn on the top sheet of foam core and that’s used as a cutting guide for every layer beneath. Pits, manholes, raised sidewalks…everything gets cut before the sheets are glued together. A thin layer of Elmer’s between individual sheets—go slow, make sure every piece of foam core lines up—then weights (stacks of books) are put on top before being left to dry overnight. To prevent the weights from denting the board, put a piece of foam scrap on top of the board and place the weights on top of that.
When using foam core to build a board, I’d recommend making it at least three sheets thick (as you can see above, I made the top layer of this board four sheets thick, just to be safe). The thinner your board, the more risk you run of it warping when applying glue or paint.
When the board is glued together I paint all exposed edges of foam core with a light coat of Elmer’s. That’ll protect it from the next two corrosive steps: a coat of speckle paint for texture and spray paint for base colors. Detail work is done by hand with acrylic paint; the whole mess then gets a coat of matte sealant.
Water terrain pretties up the board, but man, no section of map is used less than the aqua fresca. Maybe Tiger Shark peed in the pool? Hey, check it out, I just wrote Tiger Shark fanfic! And it had pee in it!
Anyway, I created the water with hot glue and, while still warm, shaped the surface texture with modeling tools. Some coats of acrylic paint took it home.
This is also where we take out first trip underground…
…the underwater cave is accessible only through the surface water and allows figures to take a dip. The bubbles at the bottom of the pond are hot glue and in an attempt to achieve a feeling of depth I used darkening shades of blue and aqua marine the deeper I went. All underground levels are built two sections high (four inches) to accommodate both flyers and oversized figs.
House Rule: Figures without a fish icon get a six-sided die set at ‘6’ when they go under the waves. Every round that die counts down and if that figure is still under when it hits zero, the fig takes KO damage. GLUB! GLUB! GLUB!
Who DOESN’T want to put on a cape and chase badguys into a sewer? In addition to the submerged sections of the board, I wanted subterranean dry land for my guys to run around in. One way into the sewers in the discharge pipe (made from a cardboard tube hit with speckle paint)…
…while open manholes and ladders dot the board. The goopy raw sewage–like the water detailed above–is hot glue shaped while warm.
In an effort to make the terrain look somewhat seamless, the trees and telephone poles are all built into the board during the initial gluing stage…
…but a gentle tug and *POP*, they come right out when they take battle damage or when some super strength type yanks ‘em out to use as a weapon. While the “seamless” look is pretty to look at, it sacrifices gameplay variety when the trees are in the same spot every game. If you’re just building a display for your figures, great, fine, make it seamless. But for a board that’s gonna host multiple games, you’re better off making items like trees a self-standing object.
Trees, telephone poles and assorted items can be picked up from any hobby store. I tried finding those that fit into the 2” x 2” theme of the board (items that are two inches high, four inches high, etc.). To make sure they stayed put when plugged in the board, the bases of those items were hot glued to “plugs” of foam core two sheets thick.
Man…Canadians are short. Woop, my bad, he’s just standing in a ditch. When designing the board, I marked where I wanted the hindering terrain to be and cut the ditches–the hindering terrain–at that stage and made ’em three sheets deep.
Like the trees and telephone poles, having patches of hindering terrain built into the board may look pretty, but it sacrifices battlefield variety from game to game. Better to make this stuff some type of self-standing terrain that can change location every time you play.
And now, we pause for a giant f*cking hamburger…
My buddy Doc Schrute helped set up and take all these shots and, a few hours into the shoot, tried to kill me by treating me to dinner. On his urging I got the sandwich pictured above–a “da Hora” burger–and I’ve never had to eat again. Check this: It’s the size of a cantaloupe and dense like a white dwarf star. It’s a big fat burger topped with chicken breast, steak, mozzarella, fried egg, potato sticks, lettuce, bacon, ham, tomatoes, mayo and corn. Get that? CHICKEN BREAST IS A TOPPING! It was tasty, I couldn’t finish it and my heart stopped twice while eating.
A’ight, back to the ‘Clix stuff…
Buildings follow a recipe similar to making the board: map the foam core, cut it, glue it together with hot glue, coat exposed foam core with Elmer’s, a coat of speckle paint, a coat of spray paint, some hand painted detailing and a final coat of sealant. They’re all built at varying degrees of two-inch increments to fit the map grid.
Enough closed walls to create a boxed-in battle field inside the building, but enough doors to allow entry from all sides. BONUS: Plenty of windows for snipers to make mischief.
That fire thingie next to Dr. Doom is a flame wall, part of a larger set of custom barriers I whipped up awhile back. You can check ’em out–along with ice barriers, force fields and a few others–by clicking here. Get a better look at the flight stands the flying figures are using by clicking here.
Indoors are large enough to allow players to get their hands in the mix while an interior ledge allows figures to run around a second level. Cardboard ladders connect all floors (including the roof).
Every section of the wall has a pre-cut section that–thanks to its irregular shape–stays in place until a bit of pressure is applied…
…*POP*, super strong mooks can walk through it, energy-type guys can blast through it, etc.
And, well, that’s the poop. This was my second stab at a Heroclix board. Some improvements over my first attempt, other elements–like the static terrain items–I’m not thrilled with. Regardless, lots of good memories on this sucker, especially maneuvering forgotten figures through the sewer and popping up through a manhole to JUMANJI!, catch an enemy unawares. This map led me to build a second two-tier map, one with an interconnected series of underground levels (caverns, sewers, fallout shelter, etc.). You can check that sucker out here.
Before I wrap up, lemme link over to my buddy Splith’s Flickr account where he’s posted some custom D&D terrain I put together for him. It follows the customizable mix-and-match tile system from my first HeroClix board and is built at the 1” x 1” D&D Miniatures scale. He even put together a video tour of it. Madness!