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Sectional Gaming Boards

by Gary James

Sectional Gaming BoardsI have called these boards sectional to distinguish them from modular boards, which most people think of as fully modelled boards with built-in hills and such like. These sectional boards give a variety of terrain layouts whilst still being tough and easy to store.


  1. Chipboard panels 12mm thick cut to 2 feet by 4 feet

  2. MDF or chipboard panels 6mm thick cut to 2 feet by 4 feet (for the river board). Two 2 by 4 foot 6mm thick panels are needed for each river board.

  3. PVA glue (500 to 1000 ml)

  4. Sand (I use sand from pet shops - it has interesting shell bits in it) or (lots of) flock

  5. Paints (Household emusion or oil paints)


These boards can be placed together in any combination or configuration to produce a playing surface from 2 feet by 4 feet (one board) to immense! They are guaranteed to match up no matter which way they are turned. We achieve this by using the Dews design of board described by Robin Dews in White Dwarf isses 209 and 212

The Dews design

In this design all roads enter and exit the boards at the same points on every board, spaced so that they will match up with one another whichever way the boards are turned. This gives six entry/exit points per board - one in the centre of each short edge, and two on each long edge 1 foot from the corner:

Sectional Gaming BoardsThe roads enter and leave the short edges at the mid point (12 inches), and enter and leave the long edges at points 12 inches from each corner.

This means that the roads will match up no matter whether the boards are aligned along their long edges, like this, or along their long and short edges.

Sectional Gaming Boards Sectional Gaming Boards

Laying out the roads

Roads need to be about 1 to 2 inches wide for Epic scale boards, and at least 4 inches wide for 40K scale boards. You do not have to have six roads per board - just let the road fizzle out after a short while if you do not want a road at that point.

Sectional Gaming Boards Sectional Gaming Boards Sectional Gaming Boards Sectional Gaming Boards

Making the road boards

  1. Use pieces of paper of the right proportion (say 2 inches by 1 inch) and mark out the roads you want. Arrange the paper in lots of combinations and try different roads until you get a set of patterns that you like. For 40K scale roads you can only really have a couple of full roads per section at most, otherwise it looks too crowded.

  2. Transfer your patterns to the chipboard. I taped two pencils to a ruler 4 inches apart and drew the roads on in one go - this keeps the roads the same width overall.

  3. Spread PVA glue over the non-road part of the boards and sprinkle sand liberally on it to get a dense covering. Put thick globs of PVA here and there to get some texture into the surface. This is messy and I suggest you do it out of doors or in a garage.

  4. Spread glue on the road sections and sprinkle just a little sand on. Allow a thicker blob here and there in the centre of the roads (for 40K scale) that you can then paint up in green, to give a tracked effect.

  5. Allow the sanded boards to dry thoroughly before painting up

Painting the road boards

I used household oil paints from a DIY (hardware) store for my boards. In retrospect I wished I had chosen emulsion (waterbased) paints because they are easier to clean up. Choose a 500ml can of dark green and a 500ml can of lighter green for dry-brushing.

First, using the dark green colour paint the whole of the non-road parts of the board solid green. You will find it easier if you thin the paint slightly because working it into the sand is quite difficult.

Whilst this dries you can work on the next board and/or start to paint the roads.

For the roads or tracks I used Snakebite Leather as a basic coat with Vermin Fur and Bestial Brown at the edges. I then dry-brushed with light brown (Snakebite leather and white mixed). Any clumps in the centre of the tracks were painted up as grass, like the rest of the board.

Once the dark green on the non-road parts has dried dry-brush with your light green. I used a 1 inch wide flat, stiff artists brush for this. I found the best way to work was to glob some paint onto an old sponge and to rub the paintbrush over it to load the brush. This avoids over-loading the brush which needs to be very dry for the best effect. Dry brush the first board and thereafter always have the board you are working on next to the original so that you can get a reasonable colour match.

Making the river board

I wanted a river board that had some real 3D depth to it but was still strong and easy to store. I decided that even a shallow depression gives a better effect than a flat board with a river painted on, so I made the river board from 2 sheets which were half as thick (6mm) as the road boards (which are 12 mm). I was then able to cut the top sheet to give a gap for the river, like this:

Sectional Gaming Boards

The river is 8 inches wide and centred on the short edges. The banks are therefore exactly 8 inches wide from each corner. This is important if more river boards or half-boards (see below) are going to align properly. The river bank (top) sections were glued and pinned to the bottom. Roads were marked onto the riverbank sections and sanded just like the road boards. I created a crossing area in the centre of the board so that it was equal distance from each playing edge. This meant that the roads crossing the river had to cross diagonally through the centre of the board.

To get a water effect I spread PVA glue unevenly over the part that would be the water surface. Once this had gone a bit stiff I stood the board on one edge. The PVA ran slightly giving a rippled surface texture that I hoped to exploit during the painting.

Finally some clumps of gravel were glued into the river as rocks breaking the surface.

Painting the river

Sectional Gaming BoardsThis is a closeup of part of the river to show the painting and surface ripple effect produced by allowing the PVA glue to run slightly.

OK, it's confession time again. I took my river board to the house next door where my friend David Parkins lives. Dave is a gamer and just happens to be a professional artist and book illustrator. He painted the river in about 20 mnutes. I did this because I am colour-blind, and really not too good at this type of painting.

However, this is what Dave said about river painting:

When painting rivers you will have to decide whether it should look deep or shallow. Shallow rivers and streams tend to be darker at the edges than in the middle, because the bottom reflects the light and shows through the shallow water in the centre. Deep rivers tend to be darker in the centre than at the edges, because the banks reflect at the edges and give a greenish tinge.

This river was painted up as a deep river. The colours blend from greenish at the edges to deep blue/grey in the centre. Where the water swirls around the rocks and banks light grey and then pure white has been painted and dry-brushed on. Anyone who wants to discuss river painting in more detail is welcome to email Dave at <a href="mailto:dparkins@dircon.co.uk">dparkins@dircon.co.uk</a>.

When dry the water was given two coats of gloss varnish to complete the effect. Note that a lot of the of the realistic look in the photograph above is actually due to reflection produced by the gloss varnish and PVA ripples and is not a painting effect so don't be too daunted by the painting!

Using the sectional boards

One finished the boards can be arranged in any fashion that pleases you. If you end up with two short dead-end roads then just cover it with a building, hill or wood. I am now making polystyrene hills which are coated in sand and painted in exactly the same colours for use on the sectional boards. I was amazed what a difference it made to be able to lay out terrain on these boards. After all, you wouldn't get a landing pad or refinery with no roads or tracks going to it.

If you don't want the effect of an impassible river in a game but want to use the board then just declare that it is a very shallow river and counts as normal or difficult terrain that can be crossed anywhere. Alternatively declare that it can be crossed as normal terrain only in the centre, or construct a bridge. Of course the river board can only be used in one direction unless you make some half boards:

Half boards

Half boards are, surprise surprise, half the size of normal boards!

In my case these would be 2 feet square. Half-boards allow you to make a special piece of terrain that can be slotted into your layout for particular scenarios or games, for example a lake, swamp, or turn in the river.

A half river-board with turn would look like this:

Sectional Gaming Boards

One or two half river boards would allow you to use river boards that go longways, across the playing area with turns at each end. The fact that the river banks are equal in width means that the half boards can be turned in any direction and still join up. Remember that half boards need road joins modelling on too.

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