Thursday 29 September 2011

Barsoom theme HoTT gaming table.

What are the chances of anything coming from Mars, you ask ?

Well, that same question was asked and pondered over for some time in the period following the Napoleonic Wars.

In fact Professor Friedrich Max Willen of the Royal Theosophical Society spent several years work on the answer to that question. Through painstaking research and the application of numerical methods, he calculated those odds to be -

A Million To One  

... precisely.

Professor Friedrich Max Willen 
of the Royal Theosophical Society.

First scholar to calculate the odds of anything
coming from Mars, using modern rational methods.

... well, we all know how those odds turned out !

By the time of Queen Victoria, knowledge of life on Mars was a well established and documented fact. Tensions inevitably rose, as trading routes of the mighty British Empire were once again under threat by dastardly foreigners. Only this time they were from Mars !

To this end, the British Outer Indies Company was established by Royal decree and granted a monopoly of trade between Earth and other planets of the Solar System.

A Clipper ship of the British Outer Indies Company.

Unfortunately, the powers that be on Mars soon discovered that such trade was anything but to their advantage. And so began the first mutiny against Pax Brittania on the Red Planet.

Not to be outdone, both the French and Prussians, the Russians and numerous other foreigners including the emerging United States and Japan took advantage of the situation and all moved in with an eye to gaining their slice of the trade pie.

The fearless struggle that resulted from these Martian Mutiny wars is well documented. Many historians agree that the outlandishly recalcitrant attitude of the Martians was a prime factor in influencing the events back on Earth - such as the Mahdist uprisings, the Indian Mutiny, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Zulu Wars to name but a few.

So since before the time of John Carter, Mars has provided ample scenarios for battlefield simulations and After Action Reports.

Thats just a bit of background. Then again, who needs an excuse to create a custom board for playing the odd game of HoTT ?

Inspired by the recent open-source release of HoTT -

(Free Download here)

AND, Inspired by the 100th aniversary of Edgar Rice Burrough's brilliant 'John Carter of Mars' series, its time to take a break from Napoleonics for a weekend, and get Red with a HoTT table for Barsoom.

OK, lets start with a few bits and pieces :

MDF board, 600x900mm
2 x edge battons, 10mm wide by 900mm
4 x edge battons, 10mm wide by 580mm
PVA glue
some small nails

Start with the 580mm battens, 2 of which go on the end, and 2 in the middle.

The reason its 580mm, and not  600mm is to accomodate 2 x the thickness of the edge batten. Make sense ? 

Measure the board up so that you end up with a regulation 600mm x 600mm playing area, and a couple of neat trays at each end to organise elements, dice, etc.

With the battens, tap the nails in first to make it easier to nail home once they are on the MDF.

A layer of glue to the batten.

Then, line up on the marks on the MDF, and nail the battens home.

Remember what your good woodworking teacher told you :

"Its the GLUE that holds the wood together
... the nails are only there to hold it firm for the glue to dry."

No need to bash the nails in then ... frustration awaits those that bash the nails in. Trust me on this one !

All good, now attach the 2 side pieces.

It should look something like this :

Remember I mentioned something about not bashing the nails in ?

You end up in an endless loop of securing one nail at the expense of 2 others popping out.

I won't bore you with excessive details here about this endless loop, but Ill just mention that clamps come in handy.

Real handy ......

OK, on to some accessories ....

Find some bits of interesting hardware and cut them up.

I love working with this grey water gardening pipe with ridges in it. Ive used it before on some sci-fi projects, computer cases, and various things ... its great value for a piece of pipe.

Ive sliced this one down the middle so it can lay relatively flat on the board.

On Mars, as you know, most of the surface water has evaporated eons ago, and so the surface of Mars is covered in a series of irrigation pipes that look very similar to this grey water pipe.

Here, for reference, are some NASA photos from Mars, as well as an artists impression of how this might work :

So yeah, I like the idea of the grey water pipe.

In terms of HoTT, I will class the water pipe as 'Running Water', meaning it has a negative effect on movement, magic/technology, and provides a hiding spot for Lurkers.

Now for the good stuff - a 350ml can of expanding foam from your local hardware store ....

Cover the MDF base in a layer of PVA glue, for adhesion insurance if nothing else.

.. and then have some fun with a whole can of expanding foam.

Chuck it around, get all the gaps on the edge, and build up some features.

Insert the cut up water pipe to create the 'River' feature that all good HoTT boards should have.

That little Lunar Lander thing - thats a plumbing thing from the plumbing things section of the hardware shop.

Whilst you are in there, have a wander around and see what modelling marvels they stock in there. Use your imagination ....

In the Mars that I have always imagined, the surface of the planet is littered with artifacts from aeons untold - large complex structures in ruins, sheets of precision made metal grids, all found randomly buried and preserved in the dry dust of the Martian surface.

Nobody knows the true origin of many of these enigmatic reminders of a distant past.

Non slip mat material + scissors = ruins of ancient metal grids of  unknown origin.

Quite plentiful on the surface of Mars of course.

In the local 'Reject Shop'  (yes - thats a real shop name)
- they sell all manner of excellent items that have been rejected somewhere along the supply chain.

In this case I am in luck. A small run of museum grade scale models of common Martian flora has mistakenly been labelled as 'Aquarium Plants' at the factory in China.

Ooops - big mistake there, so the museum grade models have been rejected, and ended up going for cheap at the Reject Shop.

My lucky day ....  I will use them, somehow.

Placing some irregular shapes of metallic grids into the foam before it dries.

Now - here is the messy part. Get some nicely watered down PVA glue, and carefully pour it into the gaps in the expanding foam, so it fills up and creates a level field with irregular bumps of epanding foam sticking out everywhere.

Remember that on Mars, gravity is far less than on Earth, so those large areas covered in huge lumps of marsrock are in fact 'good going'.

You tend to move in literal leaps and bounds on Mars due to this gravitational good fortune. Bad going on Mars = really really bad going.

A cheap transparent red yo-yo ... sits very nicely on top of the plumbing thing. I think I will use that later on.

The messy part continues.

Taking handfuls of sand (you can use builders sand, or visit the nearest beach), very carefully pour sand into the lakes of dilute PVA.

Let is soak in ... it will take forever and a day to dry, but when it does you get a nicely flat area of sand that sets like concrete.

The worst part is the waiting ......

At this stage, the foam has now cured, and I have a sea of molten PVA/sand mxiture floating on the gaming area of the board.

Hit that with a can of gloss red enamel spray paint.

Beautiful ....

Its a bit hard to photograph, since the camera keeps doing it red-eye reduction trick and playing havoc with the colours.

It is very red, but not as bad as this picture looks ....

Dont stress over the gloss red at this stage. The plan is to let the red stain the sand and provide a red tinge to the rocky lumps of the martian surface.

The whole board will later be stained in burnt umber and blacks, and then given several layers of dry brushing ... from natural reds through to bone white.

This should (should) end up looking like a slightly red tinged desert themed board, after all the processes are complete.

Also - the plumbing thing as it came from the hardware store had some writing and a barcode hard printed onto the casing. There are also some raised letters on the top of the plumbing thing - various product codes and other plumbing related numbers and what not.

I have chosen in this case to let the barcode slightly show through the paint, hopefully to give this a look of some ancient artifact.

The red yo-yo I think will make an appropriate dome. Ill have to work out a way to cover up the words 'Happy Yo Yo' painted on the damn thing, without losing the translucent effect.

Might hit it with the wet rub sandpaper and then dry brush it in metalics. Will see how that goes.

You will notice too there are some enigmatic monoliths buried in the sands ... these are martian moon rocks that grow upwards facing towards the moon(s). The actual mechanism for how this occurs remains unknown at this time. From a modelling point of view, it is sufficient just to know that they exist.

There are 2 moons on Mars - Phobos and Diemos.  Each of these moons causes the growth of an entirely different type of moon rock.

Diemos produces the tall thin spiky growths as seen here :

Whereas Phobos causes the gowth of larger, smooth glassy objects as seen here :

Each type of moon rock is oriented towards it's respective moon.

All quite logical really.

Here is a little teaser video of the completion of stage 1 :

Stage 2, move the board over by the East German zeltbahns, and start adding some stain.

Mostly burnt umber, with a few oily spills of black where appropriate.

Nice ....

Thats starting to look a little like I imagined Mars to look on a typical summers day.

Have to leave it for a couple of days now to let the sand/PVA concrete set, and then onto the detail work and dry brushing.

It certainly looks pretty revolting at the moment, just the way I like it. A similar effect would look great on a Hades / Gates of Hell theme board.

Oh well ... more next episode. Hope you enjoyed reading this so far, and get inspired to start your own custom HoTT / DBA table project, just the way you like it.


  1. That is amazing and totally unique. Nice work.

  2. Thanks Corey, I appreciate your comments.

    Just adding the finishing touches to that board over the next day or so ... will post an update as soon as its done.

    Its looking rather awesome already :)


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