Monday, September 7, 2015

Scenery: Street Tiles and Roads

I have had a few requests for an description of what I use for my streets.  Luckily I had planned to make (or remake) my roads for my ATZ campaign, so it gave me a good opportunity to document the layout.

For ATZ, at least in my campaigns, it seems 90% of the action is in an urban setting.  I like to have different setups, so I didn't want to make a dedicated board of the same street and buildings.  I looked at several options for how to handle streets.

First I used just plain cardboard cut outs, or various forms of paper to denote roads.  I decided I wanted some specialized game boards, but I wanted flexibility.   I didn't want to invest in a full 3'x3' or 4'x4' tabletop that would only have one real layout.  Looking around, I considered some of the various options that were available.

Printing is a great option.  There are some great street products available, World Works Games makes a great set for their Mayhem City.  They are not very expensive, and look very good.  They do require printing, and need to be backed by something else to give them a good 3-d feel.  The amount of ink I would need to use for printing the various streets does make it a bit expensive.  That and my inkjet printer is not the highest quality.

I decided to test a theory, I wanted to make some tiles that I could reuse to make various layouts.  This way, I figured, I could have nearly any layout I wanted.  I did a quick layout of various shapes, and made them out of some cheaper foamcore boards I had.

Plain roads
My first tiles were just two tones of gray.  Not very interesting, but they worked.  I added some markings to help make them look a bit more like roads...
Same roads, with markings
One of the nice things is that the tiles are reversible, with one side being blank.  This allows me to fill in the city block areas, all the same height.  I use black poster board cut outs for parking lost and some driveways.  Overall, I was quite happy with these, but they did warp a bit too easily.  I considered just printing off streets and gluing them onto the foam core.  Instead, I thought I would try something else...

To keep the basic tile the same size, I tried using floor tiles.  Cheap ones can be found for around 50 cents or less each.  I liked the idea of using the tiles, they come all the same size, very nearly 12"x12".  This saved me the hassle of cutting the basic shape squares.  I drew up some basic templates for what I think will give a good mix of tiles.
Red is the base tile, White is the sidewalk
The floor tiles are pretty easy to work with, but they weigh a ton compared to foam core or even MDF.  They do hold detail pretty well, and worked out as I had hoped.  Once I started playing with the tiles, I found I wanted more than I had made.  Before I made a bunch more, I decided to change to MDF for a couple of reasons.
Tile streets with a foam core piece in bottom left

The tiles tend to slowly warp, and that led to a few cracking.  This added to the weight made me like the tiles a bit less than when I started.  Also the fact that the tile will potentially shatter when dropped (which did cost me one straight road section) made me believe something a bit more forgiving would be better.

I really wanted to fins some cork tiles cheap, they make 12"x12" tiles from a dense cork that I think would work well, but I couldn't locate any for a reasonable price (they were all $4+ each that I could find.)  Instead I used MDF at 1/8" thickness, with a smooth finish on each side.
MDF cut into parts

These are pretty easy to make, I'll walk through it as I made one of the straight sections.

The tools I used for this are a steel straightedge, a wire brush and a hand scribe.  The scribe I picked up at Home Depot (DIY big box store) for about $5.  The wire brush came from some hardware/DIY store (not sure where, I have a few of them) and cost me maybe $1.  If you don't have a steel straightedge, you can use another straightedge, but those things are cheap and strong - go get one.  I am also doing this on a cutting mat with 1" grid squares.  It makes lining up much easier.
The tools - scribe, brush, straightedge
First, cut your MDF to size.  I cut the board up into my 12"x12" bases sections first, then cut some of the squares into the smaller parts.  It's better if you are more uniform on tile size, but it's not as vital as you may think.  Just stay within an 1/8" and everything will still look good.

Second, I pencil in the lines for the sidewalk design and any other basic lines I want.  Later I may freehand some cracks, but they can wait (and don't need to be drawn out) as you are just trying to get the uniformity of the sidewalks and roads at this point.  You also need to flip over the road and add some lines to what is going to be the 'blank' side.  These can be in any pattern, but they will make the blank areas look better on the table.  They are made the same way as the road/sidewalk side.
Lines drawn in - a bit sloppy but okay
Once you have the basic lines down, you use the straightedge and the scribe to trace them, cutting into the board slightly.  You don't need to press very hard, the MDF will give way to the scribe easily, and I found you only need a couple of passes for the lines to be a decent depth.
Lines cut by the scribe, not cleaned up
Action picture!  Okay, just showing how the scribe works...
Once you have the lines cut in, brush off the lines and the rest of the piece with the wire brush.  This will remove the bits of dust and fiber that the scribe has kicked up.  It will also give a little texture to the road and walkways.  I have used sandpaper in place of the brush, but I find it is a little too aggressive, and you get much more 'sanding' lines in the end.  It's worth trying out and seeing which effect you prefer if you try this yourself.

Next is painting.  I do a general watered black base coat for the roads and sidewalks.  The idea is get the black to run into the cut lines, giving an impression of deeper cuts than they actually are.  You need to be careful not to use too much water, MDF warps pretty easily if you get it too wet.
Road side primed
Blank side primed, shows the lines very well
It's your choice if you want to paint the road and blank side with or without the sidewalks attached.  I have done both methods, and there are pluses and minuses to both.  It's easier to keep the street colors off the sidewalks if they are not attached, but having them attached gives a good idea of how the colors are looking as you paint.  Again, it's just personal taste.  

This time, I attached the sidewalks with Liquid Nails (a strong permanent adhesive) and clamped them for a few hours while it set.  Then I painted the various areas.  I use a lighter grey for the sidewalks and blank side, to help define the roadways better and, at least around here, the streets are a bit darker compared to the sidewalks.
Basic grey colors for the street section
After the base coat, I go over it a few times with washes of gray/black and do a 'pat' dry with a towel.  I also do random spots of black, white and various grays, just to give some interest.  Think of it as dry brushing with lighter and darker shades (which is all it really is...) 
Tire paths and some textures

For basic details, I paint the curb sides a shade lighter than the sidewalks, just to make them stand out.  I also add a series of straight 'tire' tracks for each lane of the road.  These get washed over, but they will still stand out somewhat.  Finally I have a template for the lane markings.  For most of my roads I use a Vallejo lemon yellow mixed with a lantern yellow for my road markings.
Center line added
After the details are on, and I'm happy with the results, I give it a light coat of sealant and add it to the mix!
Needs to be a bit darker...
As you can see above, the latest isn't quite as dark as my others.  I think I just need another black wash on the road, but in person it doesn't look nearly as different as the picture suggests.

It's pretty easy and quick to make the road sections, once you have the MDF cut to size.  If there was a cheap way to get the boards already in 12"x12" tiles, that would make it even better.  Still, if you are looking for reasonably priced and detailed streets, something like this is a pretty good choice.

Questions and comments welcome!  Thanks for looking!


  1. They look great. I would love to have a set of them for my own games.

    1. Thanks! They are not that hard to make - just plan out what you want and go for it!

  2. I must admit that I hadn't noticed your 'new' roads and thought they were the old ones "up-graded". I do like the width of these roads though, they make mine look like alleys.

    1. Well, in a way they are 'upgraded' from foam core to til and now to MDF. The MDF is so much lighter it is very nice compared to the tile.

      I like the alley look you have. Much more claustrophobic, and more like the older downtown areas.

      My streets are 6" wide, just FYI. I forgot to include the other roads I have made, which are just 6" wide sections painted and finished to look like...roads. they match up nicely to the street sections for a transition to suburban or rural settings.

  3. That is truly great work on the street tiles!

  4. Very nice!

    This is very similar to the plans I have, apart from 2 things. Firstly, I intended to stick printed paper roads onto the MDF squares rather than painting them and secondly you've actually done it (I've been planning this for at least a couple of years without getting very far)!

    1. Ha! That was great. It is sooooooo easy to procrastinate on projects, it took me most of the summer to get the boards, cut them and get started. In the end it takes less than hour per tile to finish them. Too many other things to do...

      Thanks tho!

  5. Excellent work dude! Thanks for the breakdown, it'll go a long way to guiding me through my own road building.

    1. Good luck on your project! The hardest part is just getting started. Starting up is a pain also as you may not have quite enough tiles to make the board you want, so you have to make more instead of playing... Vicious cycle.

      Make sure to share your creations!

  6. Very nice job, beautiful and realistic!

    1. Thank you very much! I am pleased with how they have turned out.

  7. Nice tiles and easy to follow tutorial, wish I'd seen it before I spent a ton of cash on my table. I'm new to zombie apocalypse games but my WWII northern France 2'x2' tiles work well for the non U.S survivors. MDF works really well and all my roads are cobblestone ....

    1. I say I'm new to zombies but had them for years just taken me years to get my arse in gear and start gaming with them..... 😉

    2. Thanks, I'm glad you like the walk through. Glad you've joined the zombipoclypse! Hopefully you find the genre fun.

      I'd like to see your WW2 tiles. I helped make some for 15mm WW2 gaming a few years ago. Great gaming period... Ahh memories!

    3. Thanks mate, just trying out the ATZFFO rule set, so far so good! I like the solo aspect of it as I can't always get a game and tend to play BA when the grown ups turn up for a gaming session! Just got to work out the tech side of it (only just got onto an iPad, need to figure it) and then I can upload some images. I'm really proud of the way they have come out but they have been a cash cow to put together....

    4. Have now uploaded some photos onto my blog