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Modular Trench Boards

by Gary James

Modular Trench BoardsOur modular trench boards were built for UK Games Day 1999 as part of our Gaming Club display. The scenario was an allied Ork and Chaos assault on a forge world.

The defenders were the Imperial Guard and being a forge world they had lots of tanks...and a Reaver Titan. This picture shows one of the boards. As you can see we wanted a heavily cratered, mud-strewn battlefield to reflect all the heavy artillery action.

As usual we had very little time to build our display, and these boards were built in two weeks from buying the materials to delivery of the finished boards to Games Day...and that included painting the Reaver Titan! Most of the hard work was done by Tom and Mark (of GorkaMorka fort fame) assisted and supervised by Adam.


This display was inspired by the lovely trench terrain in the 40K Chaos Codex and White Dwarf around the time of the Codex release. The total area was to be 8 feet by 6 feet because this would be twice the size of our usual club gaming boards (6 feet by 4) which would mean that the display could be used as two 'normal' gaming boards during club meetings.

Modular Trench BoardsThis is our original sketch for the boards. The trenches would run along the long edge of the display and would be made up of two 2 by 4 foot boards. The rest of the terrain would be four 2 by 4 foot boards with some free-standing rocky crags. Since there would be lots of tanks and titans we wanted the terrain to be quite open

One of the things we were quite keen to do was to make some really big rocky crags. Most of the hills that we use are quite small, and when gaming we declare that they 'count as' blocking line of sight or whatever. For a display game we wanted really big crags - 18 inches or two feet high!

Historical gaming buffs will realise that these trenches are not historically accurate. We know that too. If you look at photographs of trenches from, for example, the first world war you will see that they are much more convoluted and zig-zagged than those on our boards. Real trenches have lots of corners built in to them so that troops can defend them if the enemy get into the trench system. The zig-zags allow troops to fall back and defend the trench at each successive corner.

We made our trenches this way for a couple of reasons. First, we were working to a very tight time schedule and so sacrificed some realism for ease of construction. Second, trenches are very difficult to attack in 40K. To make them accurately zig-zagged would have made them almost impregnable.


  1. Two 4 by 8 feet sheets of 50mm thick polystyrene (Styrofoam)

  2. Six 2 by 4 feet panels of 10mm chipboard (the store cut them for us)

  3. One large tub of textured wall covering

  4. Corrugated cardboard, balsa wood, Necromunda sprues, thick cardboard and plastic I-beam for the trench walls and floors

  5. One 5 litre drum of PVA glue

  6. Duct tape

  7. Brown emulsion (latex, household) paint.


Making the boards

These boards were made in the same way as the castle modular terrain. They were basically 50mm (2 inch) polystyrene (styrofoam) sheeting glued onto 2 feet by 4 feet chipboard panels with PVA glue.

It is essential that you get the edges of the styrofoam at 90 degrees, otherwise you will have ugly gaps between the boards when you push them together. The easiest way to do this is to sandwich the styrofoam between two of the chipboard panels and use the edges of the panels to guide your knife or hot wire cutter when cutting the foam. You can see this stage in photographs in stage 2 of the castle terrain. The plain boards can be glued together straight away, but the trenches need cutting out of the trench boards before you glue the styrofoam to the boards:

Making the trenches

The trenches would be too deep if they were simply cut out of the full depth of the styrofoam - a figure should be able to look out over the top. (Second historical note: real trenches are quite deep, so that troops can take cover. There are ledges and slopes to allow them to shoot over the top. Again, we went for simplicity but you can suit yourself!). To make the trenches they were first drawn on with a thick felt pen. Then they were cut out at full depth with a knife or hot wire cutter (both worked). The trench part was removed and sliced through to make it half as thick, and then the bottom half was slotted back into the trench slots. Thus we ended up with trenched that were half as deep as the styrofoam, or about 1 inch.

Modular Trench BoardsThis picture shows one of the trench boards after the detail has been added to the trench walls. You can see that the trenches are not as deep as the full thickness of the styrofoam.

With the boards and styrofoam glued together and the basic trench shapes cut out we began the process of detailing up the trenches and other terrain boards.

This is described in part two.

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