Thinking about buildings

Buildings are always problematic for wargamers.

If they are in scale with the figures, then they take up too much room (unless – of course – you are fighting a skirmish-level game). If they are not in scale with the figures, then they can look out of place alongside the figures being used. A lot of wargamers – myself included – have compromised by using buildings that are one scale down from the figures. For example, I have commonly used 15mm-scale and N-gauge buildings with 20mm-scale figures and 1:200th-scale buildings with 15mm-scale figures. Not a perfect solution … but it does not jar on the eye too much.

A model building’s footprint is also a problem. One solution that is commonly used is to make the buildings taller and thinner than they would be in real life. The resulting models are then in vertical scale with the figures, but the base area they occupy is closer to half what it should be. It is yet another compromise … and one that some wargamers prefer to the ‘one scale down’ solution outlined above.

A further problem is whether or not it should be possible to put one’s figures into the model building. If the model is solid, this is not possible … and the sight of figures placed onto of a model building just does not look right in the eyes of many wargamers. Charles Grant Senior advocated a solution that many wargamers find appealing, namely having buildings that were hollow and that could be taken off their bases so that the figures could be put inside. The buildings were built ‘one scale down’, but because they were representative rather than representational, they looked right.

Joseph Morschauser proposed a different method, and that was to make buildings skeletal rather than solid. When seen from the side, the buildings had the correct silhouette, but when seen from above they were formed from two interlocking pieces that formed a cross.

Some years ago I designed a hollow square-style of built-up area where the walls of the square was made up of photographs of suitable buildings. When seen from the side, the built-up areas looked like a town, but figures could easily be placed inside them.

This led to a triangular design, where only two sides of the triangle had walls with buildings represented on them. These were a better design because they took up less space than the square version and were easier to store.

I am giving serious thought to revisiting this idea again as I think that it will allow me to create buildings and/or built-up areas that will look all right, allow figures to be placed inside them, will have virtually no footprint, and will be easy to store.

28 Comments on “Thinking about buildings”

  1. Steven Page says:

    I have been having this “internal dialogue” for about forty-eight years.

    My current favorites are, for smaller scale figures, a few buildings, in the figures' scale, equals a larger group of buildings( a manor, barn and a few walls=Hougomont, while ten small houses =Wavre)

    Most of my 28mm games are English Civil War, where only a small number of structures are needed. I like for them to be close to correct scale, with removable roofs.

    The nightmare begins when someone says, “Let's fight Arnhem or Stalingrad……” I've tried everything, without finding an ideal solution. The L-shaped “movie backdrop” you showed looks very promising, to me.

  2. Fitz-Badger says:

    I've been thinking about silhouette buildings myself; like the silhouette hills and mountains I and others have made. I do have several of the small footprint/tall buildings I have made over the last few years, in a very simple (one might even say “cartoonish”) style. I think a combination of the 2 might work, depending on the game. Some silhouettes (like Hollywood flats), or a scenic backdrop like many model railroads have, around the edges, and small footprint buildings with a little depth for areas away from the edges of the game. I've also been thinking along similar lines for woods, too. Model railroading is also a good source of ideas for compression of ground scale, with distances between points of interest compressed into small footprint transition zones or features like a bit of mountain.
    You could have a rule that specifies crossing through or around an area or feature takes so many moves (randomized more or less to taste), for example.
    Your L-shaped building piece looks like a good choice for gridded games. (gaming in L-space!)

  3. I have long come to the conclusion that buildings (like other terrain pieses) look better 'down' a scale from the gigures. In my view buildings and aircraft look better that way as well.

    But the 2D building idea, though oneI'll probably not adopt, I can see great merit in it. The triangular system looks pretty compact for storgae – probably more so than the single face method.

    But the single face method might have its upsides as well. Instead of the silhouette and stand being in one piece, why not in two, with holding slots/brackets build into the latter? These need not be so tall, just enough to hold the the silhouette securely.

    The bracketed stand could equally well hold hedgerows, walls, fences – any sort of human made linear obstacle.

    But id you are using a painted gridded playing surface, why not gauge the along the square edges?
    Then the BUAs can simply be made from sheets of card and slotted into the board.

    You could then use suitable card profiles to represent not only the aforementioned linear features and BUAs, but also forests, plantations, swamps… simply by appropriately illustrating them.

  4. Strangely enough I had been thinking about this too recently.This was in light of using the the wee wooden houses in my last gridded game.
    I had been looking at Joe's skeletal buildings the other week and wondered if it was the way to go…
    I think both your ideas are worth a try in a game Bob.
    Thought provoking post and comments gentlemen.

  5. David Crook says:

    Hi Bob,

    I rather like the Morschauser idea – in fact I have considered the same approach for wooded areas based on some trees I acquired from a board game some years ago.

    I have seen a version where the cross section is designed to work with hexes i.e. with three 'sides' when viewed from above. It looked very nice but I would have reservations about how easy it would be to make something similar! The straight cross section would be much easier to construct.

    I will be interested to see how your ideas develop although the Solferino option (sounds like the title of a bad spy story!)looks a very attractive one.

    All the best,


  6. That triangular 'silhouette' is really clever!

    In general I baulk at mixing scales, so I'm always on the lookout for buildings that are in scale vertically but have a small footprint.

    It's a bit Disneyland, I suppose, but I find it the most convenient and convincing solution.

  7. Nigel Drury says:

    We also compromise a lot with trees, which should generally be about 10 to 15 times the height of a figure to be in scale.

  8. Ian Dury says:

    I struggled with this when I built my “portable wargame” board – then hit on the idea of using Monopoly hotels slightly converted (extra chimneys, houses stuck on the side as outbuildings) stuck onto squares of plastic card that fitted into my terrain square sizing – so I can fit a “village” of four houses on to one of my 3 inch square terrain tiles

  9. Dick Bryant says:

    Great idea! In Cross Fire games, the WWI game I play exclusively, there are often a lot of buildings of which to keep track of their occupants. See my Blog for my solution:
    No troops on the table but they are easily kept track of.

  10. Mike Taber says:

    I've been going down the same path recently. I've been doing individual buildings with just two walls. Making for simple ” L ” shaped pieces. These will fit along the edge of my grid squares or simply sit on the unguided table. They look great when viewed from across thse table.

    Mine are cut from balsa wood, glued together with the details painted on. I've been planning on an update to out TTT posting 'FLAT TERRAIN' from last year, just need to finish up a couple more pieces and shoot some photos.

  11. I have done L shaped ruins in the past but have been contemplating trying intact buildings, just haven't made the jump yet. I also have some 3/4 flat trees and bushes to paint up once I get there.

  12. Steven Page,

    I suspect that quite a lot of wargamers have thought about this problem over the years, and have made compromises that work for them.

    Over recent years I have tended to do what you have done … but as I now have a hankering to fight some more operational-level wargames, I need to find myself a solution that allows me to have quite large built-up areas on the tabletop without them imposing too many limitations with regard to fitting my toy soldiers into them.

    I hope that what your termed my ‘L-shaped “movie backdrop”’ built-up areas will work … and with luck I should be able to see if I can make some prototypes in the very near future.

    All the best,


  13. Fitz-Badger,

    I think that you and I are thinking along very similar lines. I always thought that the Profile Mountains that Major General Tremorden Rederring featured on his website (and which I copied shamelessly!) were a great idea, and doing something similar for buildings – and possible woods as well – could solve a lot of space problems both on the tabletop and in the storage cupboard.

    I often read model railway books and articles that deal with landscape modelling techniques, and I think that wargamers could learn a lot from the way that railway modellers approach creating the terrain in which their railways ‘sit’.

    All the best,


  14. Archduke Piccolo,

    I don’t know whether my ideas will actually work in practice, but it will be fun trying to find out if they do or not.

    I can see the merits of your ‘single face method’, especially when it is combined with either holding slots/brackets or narrow indented grid lines on the tabletop surface. Being able to make simple card profiles would be very cheap and very effective.

    Certainly it is an idea that I will keep in mind.

    All the best,


  15. Tradgardmastare,

    Finding my very large collection of small wooden buildings during my recent toy/wargames room spring clean was one of the inspirations for this blog entry. In particular it was the field walls and the railway station (I think it is a railway station: it is long and thin, has a flat roof, and a clock painted above the entrance) that set me thinking about the possibilities of producing somewhat more substantial versions of the triangular built-up areas that I created for the SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES game.

    I hope to build some prototypes in the near future, and when I do I will certainly write a blog entry about whether or not they work.

    All the best,


  16. David Crook,

    The thought of making hexed-shaped versions of my triangular built-up areas is not something that I would like to try until I have tried building some simpler prototypes first!

    That said, if it were possible to do so, then they should work very nicely with my Hexon II terrain … and that would be a goal that would be worth achieving.

    All the best,


  17. arthur1815 says:

    You summarise the problem of buildings well, and offer some practical solutions. I think much depends on the general visual appearance of the game. For example, if the game has a deliberate 'toy soldier' aesthetic, with gloss-painted troops and stepped hills,the 'cartoon-style' solid buildings on a small footprint look good, whilst buildings one scale down work with more realistic terrain. The hollow or L-shaped BUA's suit stylised games like OP14; personally, I think they would look better with a roofline and no sky or placename.

  18. Doctorphalanx,

    If I could come up with a model building that had a small footprint and yet that still did not look too out of scale with the figures I am using, I would be a very happy man indeed. I would be pleased if I could even get close to achieving that goal.

    All the best,


  19. Nigel Drury,

    Funnily enough I was thinking the same thing … and about possible ways in which I could make woods that figures could easily be moved about in.

    All the best,


  20. Ian Dury,

    Having seen your portable wargame board, I must agree that your built-up areas look very effective with your 15mm-scale Peter Laing figures.

    I did think about doing something similar, but I wasn’t sure whether such buildings would work with 20mm-scale (or larger) figures.

    All the best,


  21. Dick Bryant,

    What a very simple idea! I have a few spare organiser boxes like that, but had never thought to use them in the way you explain in your blog entry.

    If my ideas don’t work, then I will be ‘borrowing’ yours!

    All the best,


  22. Mike Taber,

    It would appear that quite a few of us are thinking along similar lines, although you do seem to be a bit ahead of me when it comes to turning the idea into something that actually exists.

    I was thinking of making my models from basswood, balsa, and matchsticks, although I am not sure as yet whether or not to paint the detail on (e.g. widows, door) or to try to model it. I hope that any prototypes that I build will answer than conundrum for me.

    All the best,


    PS. I will look out for your updated TTT posting.

  23. Ross Mac,

    I was wondering if it would be possible or not to make some semi-round model trees. It sounds as if you already have … and I look forward to seeing them – and your bushes – just as soon as you get around to painting them.

    All the best,


  24. Arthur1815,

    As these days most of my wargaming seems to be gravitating to the ‘toy soldier’ end of the spectrum, I think that a more ‘cartoon’-style of building will look more appropriate on the tabletop.

    Rest assured that it is my intention to make the buildings on my L-shaped built-up areas look reasonably like buildings as seen at ground-level They will certainly have a roofline, and they will not feature sky or place names on them. (The latter was only required for the SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES game.)

    All the best,


  25. arthur1815 says:

    In your reply to Mike Taber you wrote:

    “although I am not sure as yet whether or not to paint the detail on (e.g. widows, door) or to try to model it.”

    Would that be a model of the – perhaps apocryphal – hotel that advertised 'All our bedrooms have French widows'??

  26. Arthur1815,


    Do you think that the French widows would come in hot and cold running varieties?

    All the best,


    PS. I really must stop watching the re-runs of ''Allo, 'Allo' on daytime BBC TV!

  27. Bob

    I had a conversation about true scale height but artificially small footprint with a manufacturer at Cavalier. He pointed out that his buildings were already bathtubbed! Come to think of it that's probably true for most wargame buildings.

    Kind regards


  28. Doctorphalanx (Richard),

    It probably is very true of most – if not all – manufacturers. Certainly a quick look at my collection of model wargames buildings would indicate that they are all somewhat 'cartoonish' in style (i.e. bathtubbed).

    All the best,


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