Zone Mortalis Board

Posted: January 17, 2016 in Horus Heresy, Scenery, World Eaters

Good afternoon everyone,

Today is a great day, I’ve finally finished a project I’ve wanted to do for the longest time and it’s the second of three posts I promised you before I return to studies.  A Zone Mortalis board.  This blog is festooned with some pretty ambitious scenery/table making projects.  Many of you probably don’t know, but I sold, yes sold, all of my boards late in 2014.  Fear not, they’ve gone to a very good home, and I routinely see pictures of them being put to good use.  Why did I sell them? Well, by taking terrain making to such an extreme (by that I mean a dude tooling around in his garage, not a professional design studio) I learnt some very good lessons.

The lessons boil down into striking a balance between three competing, inter-related issues.  I’ll call them the dark triad.  Playability, robustness & storage.

Playability.  One of the main reasons I wanted to make some awesome terrain in the first place, many years ago, is because we spend so much time and energy on our armies.  Then we go and play games on a piece of MDF with a few (poorly) painted pieces of styrofoam, aquarium plants and a hill here and there thrown on it (if we’re lucky).  Gaming is a social, visual and intellectual pursuit.  It’s a noble hobby and for me, having terrain that matches the time we put into the miniatures we game with is just as important.  However gaming is an abstraction of reality.  Therefore, boundaries need to be easily and identifiably established between say where a road ends, and a crater begins.  What this boils down to is drawing a line between making a massive diorama to play on, versus a wargaming table.  A wargaming table needs zones that can be segregated physically and visually as clearly as possible to conform to the rules system that is being used.  This means making a compromise between a board that looks amazing (a massive diorama) but is difficult to establish where a road ends and a crater begins and a board that can be played on without confusion over where a piece of terrain starts and ends (a wargaming table).  After making boards previously that were a little too close to the diorama side of the house, I now can see that keeping an eye on playability is an important factor when designing and constructing a wargaming table.  Which leads me to my next point.

Robustness.  In a sentence, the cityscape boards I made were not robust.  Yes they looked good, yes there were tones of fun to play on, yes I loved making them (some of the best modelling experiences I’ve had actually).  But they were very fragile (even though I tried to make them durable).  This lead to breaks, and worst of all, friends were worried that when they played on them they might damage something.  This lead to trepidation and a reluctance to put miniatures in certain positions because they were difficult to get access/retrieve said miniature.  It also meant that packing up the board and moving it was a massive logistical exercise.  Particularly because I couldn’t just place all the scenery in a storage box and leave it at that.  It had to go in a certain way, which isn’t a very economical use of space, and even then, breakages were abound.  So, yes a spiral stair case looks badass, was a great modelling challenge, but totally impractical because it was very fragile due to all of the hand rails and putting miniatures on it was a massive pain in the ass.  So again, making a compromise between having a nice looking piece of terrain, and one that can stand up to the rigors and demands of being used during gaming, moved from one location to another for a game is critical.  That balance that needs to be struck is again in favour of being first and foremost a robust piece of scenery, then a good looking one after that.

Storage.  Lets face it, we all have lots of stuff these days.  Just our armies alone can take up a considerable amount of space.  Now imagine the storage space needed for 6, 2′ x 2′ tiles plus the terrain that goes on them.  Unless you’re fortunate enough to have a permanent gaming room with a table and shelving set up, storing the board tiles and scenery is challenging.  This is compounded when you want to transport it all from one location to another.

So, this has lead me to the conclusion that wargaming scenery needs to be visually appealing, but not over the top so that it compromises its robustness, playable and finally, easy to store when not in use or being transported.  I intend on making one or two more boards (an epic scale 30k board, think Istvaan III, Choral City post fire storm and a ruined/abandoned/city of death style board for 30k).  When designing and constructing these boards, striking a balance between the dark triad, with more weight being placed on playability, robustness and storage will be the order of the day.

Well, with that said, here is the first board I’ve produced in a long time.  This scenery ticks all of the boxes.  It’s very playable, no confusion where something starts and ends, plus it looks amazing.  It’s robust, seriously, this stuff (whatever resin FW uses) is strong.  As a side note, I suspected that the more recent castings of these tiles has more resin in it than older ones.  A few weekends ago, I took a new board piece along to a tournament I was playing in with a small set of scales, knowing that it would have a Zone Mortalis table.  Anyway, the old piece of the same design tile weighed in at 720g, while the new piece weighed in at 980g.  Thats a significant difference.  It is also apparent in FW’s larger Realm of Battle tiles.  If you recall from previous posts, there were significant warpage issues with the older tiles.  Well, not any more.  As a part of this purchase, I also got one of the new Industrial Complex tiles because I liked the detail on them and wanted to use it as scatter terrain for the board.  Anyway, it is seriously heavy (and very well packed too).  So good work to FW for improving their products.  These things are tough.

They’re also easy to store, I can fit the entire 4’x6′ board in two 500mm cardboard boxes.  Nice.  This has gotten me thinking about other board systems that use a 12″x12″ tiles, as opposed to FW’s 24″x24″ system (Secret Weapon I’m looking at you).  It seems to be a lot more transportable and easier to use and manage.

So on to the pics.  As you know, I really like my boards to tell a story.  This is meant to be a flight deck of sorts on the Conqueror.  I took inspiration from FW’s amazing display board they did a few years back on a similar theme.   Zone Mortalis Zone Mortalis Zone Mortalis Zone Mortalis

All World Eater’s ships need a dueling arena don’t they?  Plus it just looks cool stencilled onto a tile.  I plan on making a frame for this one tile, so that it resembles a pit when not being used on a ZM board.  For Primarch/named character fights that have become fashionable at clubs and tournaments recently.  Two men go in, one man comes out, n’that…        Zone Mortalis

I actually made those fuel pods myself.  If you cast your mind back a few years, FW actually made a similar one.  I tried getting hold of one from eBay, but it sold for $250AUD!!!.  So I thought, just make one… it’ll be fun, and a lot less expensive.  So I did.  Here is what the original looked like.  I think the piece of PVC pipe was the most expensive bit ($2).  Moral of the story, buy FW terrain, it’s a good investment.

IMG_5013  Zone Mortalis

As I mentioned, I cut off some random bits of detail from a FW tile to have as scatter terrain (see those generator things?)  I also made up some containers from old Necromunda bulkheads.  Good times.

Ok, thats me for the time being.  My next project is on the bench and under coated.  Want to see it?


What could it be?

Zone Mortalis

So next weekend I’m off to Canberra for CanCon to play in an Epic Armageddon comp.  It should be interesting.  I’ll do a short post on it with some pics.

Until then, take care


  1. Lucas says:

    Good luck at Cancon!! So jelly of that ZM board, I’m trying to convince Geoff that ZM 30k games are where it’s at for us at 28mm, I think even he might be able to paint a ZM force of loyalists..

    • John Sutton says:

      I happen to agree with you. Astates specialises in ship-to-ship fighting. So boarding actions and ship assaults. I’m anxious to have a game or two on this table

  2. Wow,being a huge Space Hulk fan I really love and need that board. I really like you wide open areas like the landing bay which screams out for a giant fight to the death. Very,very impressive.

    • John Sutton says:

      Thanks very much. I’m glad you noticed. It was a key consideration when I planned the board. One thing I don’t like in a lot of ZM boards I’ve seen is the labyrinth style setups they consist of. I aimed to provide a nice balance between corridor fighting and straight up stand off attacks

  3. The stuff looks great, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts behind it all!

  4. Warburton says:

    Nice work – very nice! And, yes – terrain making is always a massive conundrum of competing priorities….

    • John Sutton says:

      Hey Warburton, I thoroughly enjoy making terrain (it seems you do too) but it’s always a real conflict between making a playable diorama and a wargaming board. Maybe I should make up some dioramas to sate my hardcore modelling urges….

      • Warburton says:

        An excellent idea… I look forward to seeing some dioramas from you soon… 😉
        I have only made a relatively small amount of scenery so far, but I am already running out of (convenient) space for it!

  5. Turkadactyl says:

    I am looking forward to more terrain articles. Good terrain makes the game play more enjoyable. I have a bunch of GW city terrain assembled. It has to be painted now and my Carcharodons are the priority over the terrain right now. Lobing the AM. I’ve wanted to own some AM for a long time/ It’s that bloody exchange rate that gets in the way.

  6. Geoff says:

    Excellent work as always John. Why do you have to live so far away…
    Good luck at Cancon with your marines. You should have a good time, the Epic lads are a pretty decent bunch usually.

  7. Felix says:

    Great write up and exactly my thoughts on the matter. Never regretted to buy my 4×4 ZM table. My friends and I played the Blood in the Void missions, and our forces got custom ZM bases. The look and fun alone is worth it! 🙂 Also it´s easier aside from family and jobs to get some quick games in every so often.

    • John Sutton says:

      Glad you enjoyed the post Felix. Yes, being able to unpack/play/pack up is a strong feature of ZM. I’m thinking of doing a small World Eater force for ZM on custom bases too. Seems like a good idea

      • Felix says:

        I got another question, if you could help me. Are your tiles warped alot, how is the quality? I´m thinking of selling my 4×4 ZM and buying a new one, if the quality is higher than last year.

  8. Redscorps says:

    Your ZM table is pretty boss dude, I really like the WE logo stencil and the idea of making a surround to create a fighting pit. Really cool! I have always loved it but I think your comments really sway me towards pulling the trigger on getting one of these. I live in a pretty small apartment and the ability to pack a table up in to small boxes and stash it are a huge selling feature, plus, it looks so cool and I imagine in gaming terms it would be a good leveller of armies in 30 and 40k as it restricts your selections and mobility pretty heavily.

    How’s the replayability? Have you been messing about with reconfiguring the boards or have you just settled in to the one hanger design?

    • John Sutton says:

      Yo Redscorps, been a while! Glad to hear you like it. Yeah, it’s super playable. And the fact I can pack it away easily is a big sell. Interestingly, in going to get 8 more tiles. That way I have have two, 4×4 tables if I choose, and it’ll still fit into 2, 500x500x500 boxes (the ones FW deliver them in actually). As far as playability goes they’re awesome. In Book III of the HH there is a whole section on ZM and different stand alone and campaign missions you can play. The one thing I’m doing next is making an outer hull board to compliment the ZM. Again, the good thing about this is it’s easy to store (it’s basically flat, with a few features on it) and it’ll add more variety to the scenarios I just mentioned. I’ll be making it out of the flat ZM tiles. Good to hear from you, take care

      • Redscorps says:

        Hey John

        It has been a while, I had a couple years of vacation from painting and modelling and sold the Red Scorpions on to a fellow in Canada, I got back into it about 6 months ago with some Tyranids and have just pulled the trigger on a bunch Sons of Horus guys.

        Thanks for the tips on the table mate and I look forward to seeing how you integrate the outer hull idea with the rest of the sets you have already done, You’ll have some cool opportunities to scratch build external gubbins like thrust ports, PDC weapons batteries and antenna arrays, yeha!


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