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Space Hulk Boards

Space Hulk Boards Space Hulk BoardsAt a game convention last year, Keith Jordan found himself discussing Space Hulk with one of his friends:

He's a diabolical genius (curse you Bryant) who knows how I occasionally obsess over building terrain. Somehow the discussion turned to 3-D corridors for Space Hulk. I think it started with him saying "You know what would be cool?"

Space Hulk BoardsThe board layout was the first thing that had to be defined. After considering designing my own layout, or creating individual pieces that matched the Space Hulk modular boards, I discovered the 'geotiles' from Deathwing. This Space Hulk expansion set has ten geotiles that can be put together in different ways for a quick, random map. I decided to use them as templates for my 3-D boards.

I started the construction by figuring out the dimensions of the boards and drawing them out on graph paper. This was not as straight-forward as it sounds because the movement squares, wall thickness, and a margin (so that the figures would fit between the walls), all had to be taken into account. In the game, squares are used for movement and line-of-sight determination. The squares that the figures move on are 30x30mm and the rooms and hallways need a 20mm margin between any movement square and the walls so that the figures fit inside (see 'with hindsight notes' below). After thinking about it a long time, I used Microsoft PowerPoint to make a sheet of 30mm squares with a grid pattern, made copies, and then cut them to shape. Once I had the dimensions figured out, I cut out polystyrene foam bases and drew the wall outlines on them.

Space Hulk BoardsI also used polystyrene foam for most of the walls but, in some cases, the foam was too thick and I had to use foamcore. The walls are all 50mm tall. The foam and foamcore was cut to size using a new, sharp utility knife.

In case you haven't already read it in other places on this site, a new blade is essential for cutting polystyrene foam and foamcore. Even a slightly dull blade causes breaks and tears. I used Elmer's wood glue (PVA) to glue the pieces together. Once I got the walls glued on, I added details like pipes and wall panels/supports.

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The pipes are bendable drinking straws and coffee stirring sticks. The wall panels/supports are pre-cut wood shapes I found in a craft store, and poster board cut-outs. Super-detailing the boards is one area where I plan to spend a more time as I get the chance. Craft stores are great places to look for bitz. Chains, wires, and odd shaped pieces can easily be found to add more eye appeal. The more little details you put on, the better the boards look.

Space Hulk BoardsI also have a tendency to grab discards that I think look interesting and hang on to them until I find a use. The 'machine' in the machine room is one such item, the packaging from a printer ink refill (I think). The tubes out of the top are drinking straws. The rusty chain is a cheap necklace from the craft shop. The container thing is a small aerosol dispenser with a coffee stirrer stuck on top, and the vent on the wall is the top from a pill bottle with some window screening stuck in. The consoles are just Styrofoam, cut to size.

After the details were glued on, I started painting. If you've never worked with polystyrene foam before, beware that regular petroleum based spray paints will dissolve it. You must use water-based paint, which usually must be applied with a brush. Recently however, I found that Krylon now make a water-based spray paint called H2O. I started with a black undercoat - hoping for a dark, shadowy look. I usually waited until the black was dry, and then painted a kind of highlight with grey. I angled the grey paint spray down onto the boards so that it didn't get the underside of the details and left a good, heavy shadow. I also found that if you don't wait for the black to dry, you get some very interesting looking paint runs (as seen in the machine room above), that look very appropriate on a space hulk. The last coat of paint was a very, very light coat of light brown, for a dusty/rusty look.

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(Click images to see larger versions)

Once the paint was dry, I did a little more detailing. I added things like skeletons, data pads, exposed wiring, small debris, and some dripping, corrosive, liquid features. For the monitor screens, data pads, and furniture, I made interesting looking combinations of colored shapes using Microsoft PowerPoint again, then printed and cut them out, and glued them into place. The results were much easier and better looking than if I'd painted them on. The wires are just telephone wire cut in short pieces and stuck into the foam.

The small debris is a mix of left over parts and sprues from plastic models out of my bitz box, and plaster mixed with water and paint. I spread the plaster mix very thinly on a sheet of wax paper, then crumbled it up once it was dry. All the larger bitz were painted a rusty brown and then glued down with the small debris.

The dripping liquids are just glue from a hot glue gun. The corrosion of the walls and floors is a side effect of the heat. I found this by accident, but decided that it looked pretty good. The last feature to be put on the board was the printed movement squares that I had cut to shape.

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The game mechanics also incorporate bulkheads and doors for the figures to go through. Doors just open and close but bulkheads are thin walls that must have a hole blown in them before going through.

The bulkheads were made by gluing a printed cross-brace pattern onto poster board and then onto a 70x50mm piece of foamcore. If I had been more precise, the bulkheads would have just wedged between the walls and stayed there. As it is, a lot of them had to be trimmed down to fit. I expected that if any were too small, I would wedge a coffee stirring stick between them and the wall to keep them in place.

The doors are a bit more involved: I cut out a rectangular piece from the top/middle of a 70x50mm piece of foamcore and saved it. Then I glued a printed door facing onto poster board and cut out the door opening. The door facing was then glued onto the foamcore. Next, I either painted, or glued a printed pattern onto, the rectangular piece that I had cut out. Finally the small rectangular piece is slipped back into its hole, and viola, a door that will open and close.

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The game also allows genestealers to hide behind crates and debris that have been left in the hulk, so I made a number of them as well. I made one out of a toy loader, but most are interesting wood pieces I found at a local craft shop. I painted them or glued on pictures that I had printed out. A lot of the boxes have the US Postal Service and UPS logos on them. It's good for a laugh when anybody notices. I also attached fire, bio, and nuclear hazard symbols to a lot of them to indicate that they are dangerous if they got destroyed. Players often don't notice small details like those signs, and when a barrel clearly marked as a fire hazard explodes, the looks on their faces are priceless, and then they start to frantically search for the rest of the exploding barrels. It's big fun.

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(Click images to see larger versions)

I also made some modular inserts to place in some of the rooms for specific scenarios. I made a bridge console using foamcore for the base, foam for the back, and printed pictures glued onto poster board for the chairs and monitors. I made cryotanks, in PowerPoint again, then glued the printed paper onto poster board, cut them out and glued foamcore on the bottom, back, and top. The last insert I made was a genestealer throne. The throne is made from Sculpey, and is not one of my best works, frankly. I couldn't get one off eBay in time for the convention, so the Sculpey was a last resort. The base and back is made from foamcore with white glue used to make some interesting shapes for the drybrush to catch. A spider web pattern works very nicely.

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The hangar bay was built after I found the spaceship model on sale at a hobby store. Old-timers may recognise it as the 'Spindrift' from 'Land of the Giants'.

And that's was how I built my space hulk. It really wasn't that difficult - you basically cut and glue a lot of straight pieces. It does take some patience though. I think I worked on it just about every night for two months.

With Hindsight

Every time I do a big project like this, it turns out to be a huge learning experience and these boards were no exception:

  1. If I did it again, I think I would use the blue foam insulation (Styrofoam) instead of the white stuff. The blue is denser/stronger, easier to cut, and less messy.

  2. There was no good reason to stick with the map on the geotiles from Space Hulk and I think it might have been better to make square bases of a consistent size, with an entry/exit at the same point on each side.

  3. I've also become aware that the new GW terminators are on a much bigger base than the old ones, and the tiles I have are too small for them. I therefore suggest that you use bigger tiles than I did.

  4. Making designs with PowerPoint and then printing them and gluing them onto something else is a very handy technique and one that I will use again. Since making this piece I've done a little more work on the designs which I have made available here as an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file (67kb). As well as the floor tiles (which should be enlarged by 33% to accommodate the new type Terminators), the file contains console, door and bulkhead designs which you may also find useful.

  5. In some places, I have foamcore walls that are not braced by any other pieces because of openings on each side. I have found that this is very flimsy (duh). I would recommend that any foamcore piece with an opening on both sides have the opening only 40mm tall cut out of it. That way, you will still have a 10mm span over the opening that you can use to brace with something on the ends.

  6. The Krylon H2O water-based spray paint is a wonderful material for the terrain builder. Stock up.

  7. Sometimes, some short corridors are needed to keep the boards from overlapping. A number of short corridors and 90 degree bends would be very handy.


I saw Bryant again this weekend at a convention. We played the "Zombies" game by Twilight Creations, Inc. and had a great time. The game has the players trying to get away from the zombies using a modular board much like Space Hulk. After the flea market, he presented me with a gift: a used copy of "Zombies". He then started a conversation with "You know what would be cool?". The man is diabolical, I tell you.

Space Hulk Boards

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