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(Extended) Holiday Properties Pt. 2

Among the improvements I have been attempting to make to my Syldavia project terrain pieces are fortifications.  In my mind’s eye, Syldavia and Borduria ought to have a generous sprinkling of fortifications and walled towns built by the various powers that have held sway in these territories at one time or another during their tumultuous histories, Byzantium, Hungary, Venice and the Ottomans among others.  I’d like to be able to bring a bit of this colour to the table with some appropriate town walls and small fortifications that can help evoke the setting and serve real roles as needed in games.  It would be nice to have a siege game down the line, for example. 

Among the nicest commercial fortification models that I know of are the Hudson and Allen 25mm medieval castle (now produced by Vatican Miniatures) and Terrain Warehouse UK’s 15mm Vauban star fort, both of which are splendid models but rather large and a bit pricey.  Big tables and big budgets are needed for these!  I don’t own either and in any case I would like to build my own to measure.  They are, however, useful guides for my building plans as both make good use of a modular system composed of relatively simple elements (wall sections and towers/bastions).  My plan is to make some prototypes of similar basic wall and sections in appropriate style, which can be easily reproduced and used in a flexible fashion on the table.  This is obviously a long-term project so in the short term so I chose to make a small fortification in order to experiment with materials and methods.  Here are a couple of photos of my experimental building; it was intended to be a ravelin, which is intended to be a ravelin for a Vauban fortification but is large enough that it might be best used as a battery or bastion.  

The outer wall of the structure is made with of panels of sculpting plaster (hydrocal) that I cast myself, glued to a styrene foam core.  The panels are textured to suggest masonry; I tried to obtain a rough, irregular finish suggestive of large blocks and a stylized look.  My mould produces panels about 12cm x 10cm which I trimmed down to strips about 4.5cm tall with a Dremel cutting tool.  The panels at the vertex of the ravelin walls were trimmed to give a 13o set back from vertical, an angle that (I think) approximates the slope of Vauban-era fortification walls in the sources I had at hand (perhaps one of you knows if this is a good approximation…?).  The embrasures were also cut out of the panels with the Dremel.

Making the mould and the master was a little time consuming but not seriously so and once the mould is prepared, one can produce great numbers of blocks with ease.  The mould material (Smooth-On urethane) was fairly easy to use.  Hydrocal reproduces surface detail very well and is a strong and durable modelling material once dry.  

The deck, ramp and interior wall were made with LINKA blocks cast in hydrocal and a couple of other materials I experimented with.  These fit together quite easily (being much better designed than my panel or mould!) and give a good appearance with little effort.  One has to take some care however to fill the seams between the blocks, upon painting it is clear that I wasn’t quite careful enough. Seams, corners and the masonry on the wall top were all modelled in Milliput.

Here are a couple of photos of the finished model with its initial painting and some figures. 

I am not sold on the rough texture nor on the slope of the wall, which should be, I think, a little sharper.  The LINKA blocks might make a better surface for the outer wall. Any future ravelins I make ought to have a more acute point as well.  Based on this little experiment, master models suitable for casting wall sections and bastions (and ultimately medieval walls?) seem within reach.  Of course, all of this takes me away from figure painting and games, so it remains to be seen how much of this will be realized ; )  The model is however very solid and strong, it should prove quite durable.  

On a final note, here is a model of a battery I made way back – gasp – some 30 years ago, quite soon after I visited the Musée des plans-reliefs the first time (see post of 19 December).  I’ll not comment on the (lack of) plan but it was made of REAL masonry – small bits of gravel mortared together as I couldn’t think of another way to make it.  That was back in the day before I realised I could glue my Airifix soldiers to bases so they would stand up…  It was a real pain to build as I recall, but I recently rescued and repaired it.  I’m going to re-use it in my campaign as - you guessed it – an archaic, decaying fortification.  Even the Bordurians ought to be capable of taking such a fort!  



  1. Interesting post and super fortifications. I really liked your 30year old piece and it will serve very well today too. I like the continuity...
    On such matters i use a 1960's Britains beehive I had as a boy on the wargames table- it looks fine and I like the link to my youthful games...

  2. "you are not sold to.."?
    You can be really proud of your work - compliments!

  3. Both structures look very good and quite useful to my eye.

    -- Jeff

  4. Hi all, and many thanks for the comments.

    Jean-Louis: "I am not sold on..." = I am not convinced (that I like the very blocky texture). It is indeed a strange expression when one thinks about it...


  5. The "blocky texture" suggests a solid defensive edifice; not very elegant, but VERY utilitarian. Well done! His Majesty de St. Maurice salutes you.

  6. I think both structures look very good! Quite in keeping with what I would expect to see in that part of the world, too. I like the idea of using the older one as an older one.

  7. They're nice pieces of work. The slope of the glacis on the ravelin should technically be sharper, but since it's obvious what the model represents it won't matter on the tabletop. Are you planning to construct an entire defensive work, or just a portion?

  8. Hi all and thanks again for the comments.

    justMike: The King of Syldavia hails you in return! My apologies for being so dilatory with the proposition - is it not high time we opened diplomatic relations? An ambassador has been hastily sent on his way to St. Maurice.

    AJ: Hi! I believe you are quite right about the angle of the glacis (and thanks for the word, I had forgotten it!). I re-checked some fortification plans I have (Louisbourg, a couple in Quebec) and found some variability but still find a tendency of around 13 to 14 degrees from vertical. Some older examples seem more acute and some more recent examples more vertical, if that makes sense. Some in Quebec city are quite vertical. No doubt part of these differences lie in the extent to which a glacis is protected by a ditch/counterscarp... In anycase, I had misgivings that my glacis was too steep once the model was glued together. Too late now! I just re-measured my model and found that the angle is actually a shade over 11 degrees ; I seem to have erred in trimming my panels or when glueing them and compounded the error when applying milliput to cover the join where I glued the panels together. I'll pay more attention to this in the future.

    I am planning on having a portion of a defensive work - a section of town walls or fortress - to attack or to act as a pretty backdrop but nothing requiring square metres of table space. However, if I can manage to make decent wall section and bastion masters and moulds, a simple complete fortress would be easy to produce. Have you ever tried this kind of thing?


  9. Four years back I did make a set of walls and bastions using Hirst Arts components to represent a kind of colonial Legation defense. Just four walls and bastions and two gates. Since I could only mold about 10 inches or so basic wall blocks at a time in those days, it took a while to build!

    I think a portion of a defensive works is the best way to go. As you say, to represent the entire circuit would cover a lot of tabletop. My modest legation walls enclosed about four square feet.

    I was in Quebec City back in '87, spending an entire day tramping the Heights of Abraham (and got viciously sunburned in the process!) I was impressed by the fort (the name of which escapes me - senior moment here) and the Martello towers.


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