Sunday 23 July 2023

Pizza Box Challenge: Cheap Medieval Terrain

The nearest foamboard supplier is 30min away, and it's $10 an A2 sheet. The actual pink foam other modellers seem to effortlessly obtain for sculpting cliffs etc - well here in a rural Aussie town, I've never even seen it in person.

Enter the humble pizza box.

Relatively heat and water resistant, and comes in convenient sheets with a rip-on-the-dotted-line. A quick visit to the local dollar shop and I had obtained a few packets of coffee-stirrer thingies - you know, the better option than paddle pop sticks for doing wargaming boards for a dollar each. My biggest expense - 3x $5 balsa sticks in 5mm. One I got for $2 as it was broken. Yay! I was intending on breaking them anyway... OK to work...


My initial challenge: Any pizza bought, the boxes have to be turned into terrain, of a sort I can use for more than one project.

Unfortunately I hit a snag. My son keeps winning pizza vouchers from coach awards at hockey. He's not the best player, but that mix of industrious and well-mannered that attracts awards. Normally these awards are shared around a bit; but the lad has a new coach each week lately and thus picked up about 3 in a row. So I am waaay busier than expected and my paint projects have been put on hold as I deal with the pizza box onslaught...

I decided on some medieval terrain - ruined towns a la Mordhiem (or more strictly speaking, Vermintide 2 on PC). For a non-stickler for detail like myself, it can be "European" from any era from medieval to modern day - so I should get some use out of it.

Next, I decided to use a uniform base size. This is so I can use it for experimenting with terrain rules - which probably will feature in a game design post soon (#remindme) -  allowing consistent coverage within grid squares. I kind had a 6x6 or 4x4" in mind but ended up with these 90c Bunnings coasters cos I'm lazy. So far I've spent $6 on stirrers, $12 on balsa wood, $10 on coasters and $5 on black spray paint. So my terrain isn't free - but it should be only a few dollars per terrain piece.

I got quite a bit of terrain made. Obviously this is not finished - but the all-black board is going to feature in an experiment with LED lights.

I've also involved my children.* *(well, they invited themselves)

This tends to triple the work time and also will reduce my available materials as my daughter will inevitably hijack some of my stuff for side projects (I predict she will also make her own houses and terrain according to her own specifications and it won't match my intended table at all.)

                                Wood Elf sentinels. More 3D print goodness....

On the other hand, it IS just pizza boxes. Not like it's foamboard - which conceivably could be worth it's weight in gold. Also, with my kids involved, precision is impossible which kinda removes the onus of doing a careful job.  So some time will be regained there...


not-Galadhrim guard. In hindsight I'd have liked different proxies as they give Hobbit/Mirkwood vibes...

 1. I cut the pizza boxes using templates I found on "Devs and Dice" Youtube, and just cut extra holes/access points. I probably should have glued the boxes back-to-back to add thickness but I'm working with kids. We ain't waiting around for glue to dry!

2. Hot glue to the bases. Foamboard would definitely work better here as it's easier to hide drips. If so, I'd probably wrap the walls around the coaster instead of sitting it on top. 

3. PVA internal balsa beams to support floorboards. My daughter is 'queen of floorboards' and enjoyed artistically arranging coffee stirrer 'planks' atop the balsa beams in a manner that met my "wrecked with gaps but can hold a mini, must be able to put a ladder to the next level" guidelines.

 4. Back to dad then for external scaffolding and wood bits. The most annoying and fiddly stage. Foamboard would have been much easier. You could just drop a 5mm balsa in the corners of the building rather than using two coffee stirrers like I did to be the 'corner posts.'

5. Some PVA and sand for the outside of the base. I'll probably do some bits of scattered boards/junk/rubble inside the buildings but right now my aim is to use up the pizza boxes, not win an award for most detailed terrain. 

6. Spray with el cheapo black spraypaint.

What? No further work? Well there will probably be a second post where I pretty them up, but right now it's all I need for night scenarios.  I'm experimenting with light/darkness/vision mechanics for my horror homebrew rules and a night board just seems apt. It'll get coloured down the track.

Anyway, might as well show my latest painted LoTR. Like the terrain, they need a touch-up down the track.

Black-Guard of Barad-dur - again 3D proxies. 
Dual-wielding corsair reavers aren't even available from Gee-Dub.
Arbalesters and various heroes/command, again 3D printed.

The arbalesters had no pavises but as usual Perry WoTR plastics save the day. 
I don't think Dalymyr/captain/bosun are available for GW either... it's insane how understocked MESBG is... many factions missing important units....

Still more buildings to make but tis a freezing 13 degree celsius night here in Queensland. I am driven inside! 

My LoTR models painted is now 331 done in 2023. Only a few more to eclipse my total of 335 in 2022. I tend to spend 15-20min each night as my kids are in bed, applying a single colour to a dozen or so minis. It's pretty unsatisfying for a week or so then *boom* all of a sudden another unit is ready...

It's a far cry from when LoTR was my "Moby Dick" - a project which headlined my lead pile of shame... Now my secret shame is Infinity* - I have probably 200 models bought back when I loved the game in 1st ed - back before 'rule bloat' killed it.

*Random thought: Infinity seems to do OK - has it weathered the new "Dark Age" brought on by the resurgence of GW - that is (in my opinion) in the process of killing off bigger games like Warmachine, or Malifaux or X-Wing? Maybe it's just quietly puttered along, having never overrreached itself like Warmachine or rebooted itself quite so often as Malifaux? Also I notice X-Wing seems to have died off - has the SW:Legion etc killed it or was it the publisher change?


  1. That is impressive. I so prefer your "it's playable and decent" approach to the hobby side over the prevailing view that models and terrain have to reach be works of high art. You and I probably play a hundred more games a year with our rough and ready terrain and I'm in the hobby for the games! Keep up the good work.

    1. On the internet, everything is a detailed masterpiece, made by either Youtubers whose job it is or some sort of independently wealthy man of leisure.

      In real life, half the people I met play with undercoated/4-colour-basecoated/bare metal minis, with 'masterwork' minis making up about 5-10%. And those masterwork ones are usually by folk without kids/fulltime jobs or content with doing 1 model per fortnight....

      My wife this afternoon helpfully showed me a video "Only 8 hours to make a wargame house!" and I laughed. I'd expect to make a whole TABLE of terrain in a lot less than that. If a single building took 8hrs - a whole working day - then why not buy one off the shelf...


    2. Haha, true! All those "how to paint this mini in 4 hours using only 30 paints". Inspiring, certainly, but not practical for the married parent with a day job. 4 hours of uninterrupted hobby time is a dream to me; 1 hour is more realistic. And all those paints and layers -- have you noticed how all those videos take layers and glazes and whatnot to produce a result which, at tabletop distances, is hard to tell from just base colors and wash? We're not talking Golden Demon here, where such attention is justified, but wargaming toy soldiers for crying out loud.

  2. Fantastic modelling, thanks for sharing.
    I use estate agent (realtor) for sale signs to make 19th century onward buildings, it gives a good brick look for damaged buildings.


  3. I've never been able to get that insulation foam in my corner of the world either. But you found the most important secret: cardboard of any kind is enough! I use a mix of cereal box and thicker cardboard, and it works like a charm. Another secret weapon: wooden coffee stirrers. PVA glue, superglue and hot glue and you're set. After priming black, everything looks awesome. I've built great looking terrain this way.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't find insulation foam (well, I CAN order it online... ....for about the price of buying a premade piece of terrain....)

  4. Your buildings look great - you can tell what it is, it creates the right atmosphere, it's inexpensive to make, and you can get it on the table without fearing a piece of your precious creation will be knocked off by overeager players. Also love the idea of black buildings and LED lights -might have to steal that for my annual family Halloween-themed game.

  5. Awesome work eM!. Well done on the offspring earning the pizza vouchers.
    About 10 years ago I found the rigid insulation foam at Bunnings but it soon disappeared. I bought a few 25mm sheets. I have seen it maybe once or twice since. Might be worth the occasional look.

  6. I recall a very old Black Gobbo e-zine article from GW called Cardboard City. It was basically what you just described here.

    Also, X-wing died in edition change but was killed off completely with the publisher change. The new design group has no interest in anything that came before them so X-wing, Armada, and Legion are all pretty much dead.

  7. Loving those Mordheim templates from Leif at Devs & Dice! I'm in the middle of wrangling about 14 of them myself.
    Here in NZ, I was able to find foam board at the local Emporium (read: cheap craft shop) for $6 /A2 sheet 5mm thick, and dense modelling foam from AliExpress at about $15 shipped for 4 A4 blocks 25mm thick.
    And yeah, while getting the sprog involved DOES horribly decrease efficiency, she's come up with some amazing tie-dye style colour schemes for my Infinity models. Too bad I've also fallen out of love with it. And Malifaux (change to M3e just didn't work for me). Mordheim is the mainline right now, sand I want to try a few indies like Zone Raiders and Dracula's America.