Thursday, March 21, 2013

Half Price Books Finds #2 - How to Make Wargames Terrain (In Stereo!)

New school from a decade ago and old school from almost two decades ago. The 2003 How To Make Wargames Terrain (left) and the 1996 How To Make Wargames Terrain (right), both by Games Workshop.

I found these awhile back on separate trips and decided to compare them. The two books present some sharp contrasts. While both books cover the same topic, each takes an approach firmly rooted in the trends of its time.

Now, to be clear, this isn't a full review of the books. I do offer some opinions on each book, but the focus is contrasting the two due to the differences in publication date.

The 1996 version is written as an instruction book for someone new to the process of creating terrain. Everything is laid out in logical steps. It starts off with much terrain is needed for Games Workshop miniatures games as they existed at the time, so a newcomer can plan out what he needs. It explains the tools and materials needed for terrain projects. And it presents some simple projects to start off with and continues with progressively more advanced projects as the reader's skill level develops. This approach was necessary at the time due to the lack of alternatives. The vast amount of online resources covering the topic didn't exist back then, after all.

The 2003 version assumes some familiarity with the subject matter. It leads with the need to construct a game table and creating terrain for that table. This is quite a challenge for somebody just starting out, but is a good place for someone with experience to start the planning process. Descriptions of tools and materials is pushed to the back. Most of the book is organized by terrain type: hills, woods, water, buildings, etc. Overall, the book is better suited as a reference work for someone who has already picked up the basics.

The 1996 and 2003 versions reflect very different views on materials. The 1996 presents less expensive materials as a viable option. The 2003 is set solidly in the insulation foam, plasticard, and MDF era. Granted, there are excellent reasons for using the more expensive materials - they look good and are very durable. On the other hand, someone new to the hobby does need to know about the less expensive options. Cardboard and styrofoam may not look as convincing and will not last as long as MDF and insulation foam, but they are more accessible to a hobbyist with a limited budget. Besides, the first few projects for someone starting out will be learning experiences, so why bother driving up the price of materials?

The pictures in each book really bring home the different times they were published in. The terrain in the 1996 book is less detailed, lacking the professional polish of the terrain in the 2003 book. Likewise, the models in the 1996 books are boldly painted with the green bases of the "paint it red" period. The 2003 book's models look more familiar to a current gamer. Each one shows the full panoply of techniques and materials: blending, highlighting, washes, and various basing materials. Neither approach is wrong, mind you. I certainly wouldn't feel comfortable painting a model without washes, static grass, and paints available in triads. But the look of the models in the 1996 version does have a certain charm.

In the end, both books are products of their respective times. Side by side, the two provide alternative views on the same subject. The 2003 version is relatively current. Mastering the materials and techniques in the 2003 version will allow the reader to make quality terrain. The only big change in the decade since the book was published is the growing availability and quality of pre-made terrain, something well outside the scope of this discussion. However, the 1996 presents an alternative view - older techniques using cheaper materials can also produce quality terrain. Will it lack the polish of the terrain in the 2003 book? Maybe, but for many gamers, that doesn't matter. There is good stuff in both books, depending on the project and the situation.

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