Friday 14 October 2011

The Resin Alternative - Superior Skirmish Terrain on the Cheap

Terrain can make or break a game, and for those of us not blessed with unlimited scratch-building time, cost is a big factor. 

I spent a bit of time researching terrain last month, and one that caught my eye was Sarissa Precision - a company makes terrain from laser-cut 2mm mdf.  Mdf is the fibreboard common in hardware stores - an engineered wood product made from compressed wood fibres - it is used a bit like plywood. A lot of people use them for gaming surfaces... but...

A building made from thin wood, glorified particle board? Can it be any good, you ask?

The answer: Very, very, good.   And pretty darn cheap, too. 

The first thing I noticed was the precision and detail. My wife (generally indifferent to my 'toy' collection) was fascinated by the intricate detail laser-cut into the surface.  The pieces fit perfectly together and display a level of detail easily equal to any resin terrain.  The mdf is lighter than resin and considerably thinner, with a superior strength-to weight ratio.  Unlike resin, there are no rough edges. The terrain is perfect out of the box.

Although naturally a little 'boxy', the building detail is very good, even unpainted 

The second thing I noticed was the wood smell.  So unusual when handling minis, the wooden feel felt so 'right' for a western board.  In fact, I am unsure if I will paint my western houses, or instead play around with oils and stains to emphasize the 'natural' feel.  If I do decide to paint, the raised laser etching will lend itself well to drybrushing and I am considering using the 'distressed wood' look - there are a few tutorials about

The kits fit so prefectly they require no gluing and simply clip together. Furthermore, the lift-off roofs are perfect for skirmish gaming. Usually something you 'pay extra' for, they are part and parcel of the mdf approach. 

Although they work from a uniform template (small, medium and large buildings) there is good variety in the building fronts with 4-5 designs in each category.  A few extra dollars bought me some sloped roof conversion kits, which gives the 'roofline' some variety as well and made buildings a bit more obviously different. 

The company, Sarissa, impressed me a lot. I had excellent communication with them (and free delivery for all orders over 30 pounds/approx $50).  They also listen to customers.  For example, my Black Scorpion gunslingers are 'heroic' (32mm-ish) and dwarf many other 28mm lines like Foundry etc.  However, in response to customer feedback, Sarissa recently released a 'heroic 28mm' building series with resized windows and doors etc. As a result, I have the option of buildings perfectly scaled for the size of my miniatures. Very nice!

 Some of the buildings with unpainted Black Scorpion minis to show scale

They are diligently adding to their range and they have a railway station,  livery stables, a church, and a saloon straight out of Deadwood.  I bought a 'box set' of more boring modular buildings but the specialty stuff has some really nice interior detail.

Many buildings like this adobe jail have significant interior detail.

I felt the buildings were priced very attractively and I feel they give excellent 'bang for the buck' - $100 for enough buildings to make a western cowtown is quite appealing.  Hovels are the only resin buildings I found as comparetively cheap and they lack the lift off roof feature essential to skirmish gaming.

In resin, Hovels are compeititvely priced, but I feel Sarissa's lift-off roofs and interior detail wins out

Storage. Despite the space advantages of storing the the terrain flat (the buildings pictured fit in a box the size of two hardback A4 rulebooks)  I will probably be keeping my buildings assembled for 2 reasons.  

Assembly time.  This utube example shows someone from Sarissa assembling a building in 22sec.  For the rest of us mortals, it is a bit slower and more fiddly. However, unlike Terraclips, you actually could take a dozen  buildings to a mate's place and easily assemble them in 15-20 minutes before a game.

My main reason not to disassemble/store the buildings flat is the apparent fragility of the joins.  The tabs that slot the buildings together are quite thin. I am scared I will break off the tabs with repeated assembly/disassembly.  Some of the porch posts are painfully thin and I would prefer them to be in metal instead as I can see the matchstick-like pieces of wood breaking rather easily.

I noticed the two-story building tended to have the top story fall apart when removing it the top floor to get at models on the ground floor inside.  I ended up glueing the top story together with PVA to prevent this - but permanently lost the ability to store it flat. Annoying.

 Here is an example of the very thin porch posts, and the offending 'top floor'. 
Overall - I think these buildings are great value for money. I was very impressed by the quality and detail of possible with the laser-cut mdf. The lift-off roofs are perfect for skirmish gaming.  Sarissa has a growing European and WW2 line (28mm AND in 15mm) and I will be definitely checking out the European townhouses, which will have a wide range of uses for more modern scenarios.
 These also come in 15mm scales and there are designs for WW2 gaming


  1. Good review of a very good product.

  2. Thanks. I can wholeheartedly recommend these, as unlike Terraclips I have no issues with pricing/contents.

    They are actually portable as well, as assembly time is a LOT faster.