Friday, April 3, 2015

Scratchbuilding structures for Dropzone commander

When building a Dropzone Commander board, buildings are one of the main thing to look after. After all, it is were most of the infantry action takes place, and the buildings are very important to break the line of sights and provide a nice setup. The cardboard buildings from the starter set (or the standalone cardboard versions) are nice to begin playing, but they may not be enough for most of us that would prefer something nicer for their boards.

There are some solutions, from buildings designed with DZC in mind, to railroad scenery. I tried a little of everything, including creating my own buildings from scratch.

It is time consuming, and the results may vary. Here are some toughs after working on a dozen projects, sometimes throwing the result even before beginning to place the details on the walls.

My very first attempt more than 2 years ago, with a lot of errors and design flaws, next to some DZC cardboard scenery.  This first flawed trial ended in the trash bin after a while...
At the moment, this is my latest creation and I am mostly pleased with the end result. Still need to get some paint on it !

Some important facts about designing Dropzone Commander buildings :

Most of the buildings are some kind of boxes of one kind or another, ranging from 12 cm width 8 cm large and 10 cm height for the smallest residence in the starter set box, to 12 w x 12 l x 25 h for the tallest. The roofs are flat to hold the infantry garrisons.

The structures from the official range are either small, medium or large (see the rulebook), and the number of their DPs (damage points) vary accordingly so it may be a good idea to be able to distinguish easily between these three structure sizes easily.


It is possible to design some buildings with other kind of roofs, but it could prove to be very impractical to use during the games as it is where most players place the infantry units occupying the building. My advice : there should always be a way to position the infantry bases to represent the fact that they are inside the building. Some kind of side terrace or platform could be sufficient.


Most of the buildings from the official range are some kind of box and thus have a squar-ish footprint on the board. A few of  the other buildings from the official range have an elongated shape and can provide some interesting very wide cover (one of the residential building).

Some other shapes (L or H buildings) could be interesting to try in a game, but I think that really weird shapes could create some difficulties when controlling line of sight. On the other hand it could also create some very nice exotic scenery !

Doors and windows, roof access

In the rulebook, it is said that the infantry units can only enter a building from a door (or a window) when coming from the ground, or from a roof access when coming from the roof (light dropship landing on the roof, it needs traps and skylights ). It is kind of important, as if one building does not have a door (or another entrance ) on one or more of its walls, it means that infantry is not able to enter from this side of the building (it happened to me in once). To be fair, it would be better to place a door on each side of the building, or to design the building to be symetrical. Otherwise, it could happen that the building is not easy to access from one side of the board and create an easy to miss handicap for one player !

On the other hand it is also the perfect opportunity for the praetorians or the destroyers to shine as they can enter a building without requiring a door or a roof access !

Planning and drawing


Having a precise idea of the object to build can help a lot. Most of the time, I draw a crude blueprint of the structure I have in mind, and then I try to get the dimensions right before I begin to cut or glue anything. It can prevent a lot of mistakes !

Cutting and assembling the main body

The materials


I use mainly 3mm thick foamcore (sold as a sheet of styrene foam between 2 sheets of paper ). This is a relatively cheap and sturdy material : 5 sheets for less than 10€ where I live. It also exists in 1,5mm, 5mm and 10mm thick sheets, but I found the 3mm to be the best most of the time.

I also have a small stock of evergreen white styrene sheets ranging from 0,5 mm to 1 mm thick. More than 2 mm can become very difficult to cut without a proper tool (hobby saw maybe ?). Building the entire structure with it would be way too expensive as a single small sheet can be priced at something like 10€, but otherwise it can be used for details like beams.

There are also some textured styrene sheets. They can be hard to come by, I got some from antenocitis with an hexagonal pattern (originally designed for Infinity). The price remains the same or it's even more expensive than the flat styrene sheets.

I also bought some evergreen styrene shapes that can be used for other kinds of details : tubes, H and I-beams, strips... It can be expensive (5€ for a bag containing only a few strips) if it were used en masse, but it can also help a lot with little details !

In the past I also used some thick paper, but as I had some mixed results with it, nowadays I prefer using the styrene sheets whenever it is possible.

Cutting the walls and the roof

Tools of the trade...


A very sharp hobby knife (or a regular cutter with a new blade) can cut the foam core very easily. I also use a metal ruler when cutting to get straight lines. It is important to be as precise as possible when measuring and also while cutting. A few millimeters difference between the different pieces may not seems much but it can produce an ugly gap between the walls at assembly. When I am not satisfied with a piece of wall I just cut, I often redo it, as it is possible to use the first attempt later for a smaller part (thus not wasting much material).

Foam core is quite sturdy but I noticed that it is susceptible to pressure, and it can get ugly depressions on its surface, that is very difficult or even impossible to repair afterward.

There is no real need, but it can also be nice to base all your building. A styrene sheet or another piece of foamcore can be used for this. It could very well be a base with rubble on top of which your building then goes. If it happens to be destroyed during the game, you just have to remove the top part of the building and let the base with rubble on the board. I still have to try this.

Preparing the walls for assembly


Assembling the walls this way, the foam won't show


The walls small sides are naked foam, and it is not as clean and smooth as the part that is covered with paper. What I often do is that I cut the walls in such a way that it hides the foam on assembly. To do this : just remove 3mm width of foam and paper on the side of one wall, leaving just one of the paper sheet, it should be 3mm wide. The glue will go there, the 3mm paper band will recover the naked foam from the other wall. Of course it only works for perpendicular junctions...

Where this is not possible to use this technique (like the top of the walls), I prepare some 3mm wide strips of white styrene sheet, and then I glue those on the exposed foam. It will help a lot when painting, as foam is harder to paint and its texture could very well break the smoothness of the walls of your structure. Also, Superglue will melt the foam from the foam core so it won't work (believe me, I tried), so I just use PVA glue. PVA takes a while to dry (at least 2 hours) but this also means more time to work and it is easy to clean.

Sometimes I glue most of the details on the walls before assembly. It really depends of the building. It may not be a good idea for fragile details, and it requires to be more gentle during assembly or you could very well ruin all your previous work quite fast.

Gluing the walls together

I use a small hot glue gun. The wax is not that hot (it barely hurts when the wax gets on my skin, so it is probably no more than 60-70°C) so it doesn't melt the foam. It requires however to be fast to get the parts together, because it solidifies quite quickly. Once cold, the hot glue is quite sturdy and it is almost impossible to separate the parts without ruining everything.

That's why I recommend to always do a dry fit or two before gluing the parts together. I can help to prevent a lot of mistakes. Because once the glue solidifies, it is too late to correct anything...

The best thing to remember when using hot glue is to do a minimum of gluing at once each time. Never try to glue many pieces together in one go, as the glue on the first piece could already be too cold when you finish putting glue on the last piece...

Most of the time I begin by gluing two walls together. Then, I glue the roof to the first two walls : it is even possible to glue the roof only on one wall, and then run the glue gun between the roof and the other wall on what will become the inside of the structure (and thus never seen), so it glues the pieces exactly where they are touching. Next, the third wall, that should be easy : once again it is possible to glue the roof afterward. The last piece is generally the trickiest because it requires to glue it on two walls and the roof at once. It may be possible for large structure to get the glue gun inside the building to glue the roof afterward, but it requires care and could prove difficult.

Detailing the structure

The next part is almost as important, as the details will give the building its characteristics, and provide a feeling of the scale of the game.

Placing the doors and the windows

When it comes to placing the windows and doors, I calculated that a building floor should be roughly 2cm high,  as one DZC infantryman is about 10 mm high. The problem is that for a tall or large building, this can mean a very large number of windows.

The windows are necessary to change a cardboard box into a real building model. It also gives texture and details to the walls.

The main problem I have with windows is that it is hard to find a good technique to build them quickly and efficiently.

So I tried different things to represent windows.

First I tried to cut the frames into thick paper with a cutter. It is a very long and tedious process and it produces varying results.

My third building, with window frames cut from thick paper.

Then, I tried wide window surfaces delimited by bands (again, thick paper).

Lately I bought some resin windows from antenocitis. The main problem with those is the scale. They are designed for 15mm, and some windows and doors are just too big for DZC. The price is also not negligible as a large structure could require a large number of these components.

Doors and windows SF 15mm Antenocitis

a 8" height building, with antenocitis metal shuttered windows and doors. The doors are very good, the windows not so much.

The roof traps are nice. Still need to glue some ducts and air conditioners.

A 5" tall medium building, with a simple layout but a good look.
These two kinds of 15mm antenocitis doors really work well for 10mm.

A quick review of all the components I got from Antenocitis for this purpose :

15mm blast Doors

Nice doors. Maybe too large, but at 10mm scale it could be considered as a hangar or garage door if fitted on a large building.

15mm bunker doors

Probably the best doors for 10mm. Big at the 10mm scale but not too big either, nice details and style for a SF look. I like !

15mm standard doors

Those are not good for 10mm, even if they are smaller than the other doors. The overall design is too dependant with the scale.

Metal shuttered windows

I tried those, and only some of the windows seem really looking good at 10 mm scale. A large building would also use a lot of the contents of one pack, so it could become quite expensive really fast.

As an example I used all the Medium Windows 20mm x 11m from 4 packs on one tall building (required a total of 12x4).

Moreover, I noticed that the overall quality can vary, some pieces came broken, and sometimes the same pieces were not homogeneous in size, neither in thickness...

Other metal shuttered windows

Haven't tried those yet. They may have the same problem as the one before as they look very similar.

Shuttered windows
Sci-fi winfows

I still have to use those, but there may not be enough in one pack for the price.

Hawk Wargames Doors and windows

I also bought a hawk wargame resin building recently, and only then realized that they also sell windows and doors !

The doors look really good, and the price seems similar to that of the antenocitis kits above :
The quality is very good, as usual with Hawk. It requires only some quick flash cleaning with a hobby knife

The windows on the other hand could become very expensive. It really depends on the number of windows you need on each building.

If you were to use those, this kind of pack seems interesting : if using only 5 piece on each wall, one blister could be enough for 2 medium size buildings :

Other structure details

Other than the doors and the windows, it is possible to place a lot of things on the structures. I tried the following : fans, air ducts, air conditioners and various machinery, logos and markings from decals.

The only limit is imagination, and also the fact that it could become too fragile for a regular gaming use.

Hawk Wargames roof detail

The Hawk roof details packs (the first two on the page) are quite good and not that expensive. There is a good amount of everything and one blister of each should be enough for quite a good number of structures.

Antenocitis 15mm fans and traps

The fans and hatches pack from antenocitis is very good. The best thing inside are the hatches : the fans are okay, maybe too big for 10mm. In my opinion there is way too many fans and I would have prefered more hatches.

Other companies have other things, and it is also possible to realize interesting things if you have access to a large bitz box and a lot of creativity ! I would be very interested to see what other people realized !

Conclusion : calculating the cost per building

The price is not the only reason I tried to build my own structures, it is also because I like doing that. It also offers more freedom and variety, but requires more time and patience. Let's do a quick price estimation and then a comparison.

Tall building core foam and thick paper, bitzbox and scratchbuilding elements (like doors)

  • 3mm corefoam sheet 2£
  • some bitzs (negligible price)
  • some thick paper 1£
  • some evergreen styrene beams for the doors, some tubes, approx. 2£

Total : 5£

Tall building, core foam, styrene sheet, antenocitis windows + doors

  • 3mm corefoam sheet 2£
  • 1 antenocitis large "hangar" door 1.08£
  • 1 antenocitis large doors 2.16£ 
  • 2 antenocitis small door 0.46£
  • 8x large big windows 1.25£
  • 48x large windows 7.5£
  • traps, fans (negligible price)
  • some evergreen styrene sheet (pieces negligible price)

Total : 14.45£

Medium sized building (10cm x 10cm, 12.5cm tall)

  • 3mm corefoam 1/2 sheet 1£
  • 1 antenocitis large "hangar" door 1.08£
  • 3 antenocitis large doors 0.72£
  • 1/2 evergreen plasticard sheet (for the wall details and beams) 4£

Total : 8.24£

This is an approximation : I didn't include the price of the glue and such ressources (PVA, cutter blades and so on...), but I also probably overestimated the quantity of corefoam and plasticard used.

It requires a few hours of work to design and cut the pieces, assemble them, then paint each building. The price vary greatly when using resin components.

A similar sized building in resin from the official range is more than 33£, and it also require a lot of work to build (but it also looks gorgeous!)

A similar building from Boltz, is only 8£. It looks easy to assemble, but could require some paint to look good.

4grounds' at 15£ comes prepainted and looks also easy to assemble. It looks very good and it may be the best compromise.

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