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Bonsai Indochina

How to make your own little piece of Tonkin...

"Oh no!", thought Uncle Ho. "Giap has brought that damned board-game again, and I wanted to play with my new Peter Pig figures!"

One of the most important aspects of wargaming is building/acquiring terrain, buildings, etc. Figures and vehicles are covered on their own page - this one will cover building vegetation, roads, bridges, houses, etc. Most will concentrate on 15mm or 20mm (both of us use 15mm for this period). 

The aim is to give some ideas and techniques for making serviceable models for gaming purposes, not absolute replicas or works of art. Neither of us is an architect or a botanist so the general idea is to have fairly representative structures and vegetation which need only be reasonably plausible. Basically, terrain pieces need to combine functionality with effect : intricate models will eventually get crunched by some ham-fisted player but nice looking terrain will make or break the visual appeal of a game.

For the time being, the following pages are available (but still need some work) :

Modelling material and techniques

This will only be a very short and general guide, have a look at the terrain modelling sites listed at the bottom of the page for more examples.


  • A good quality cutter (X-acto is the most common brand) and an ample supply of sharp blades (dull blades are the surest way to ruin a project and maim yourself in the bargain).
  • A small hand saw. Buy a cheap one in a discount store rather than the ones sold in model shops : they are exactly the same, except for the price of course.
  • A mitre box is useful if you want to make angled saw cuts without tearing your hair out.
  • A steel ruler. Not only will this help keep your pencil lines straight but it is also ideal for cutting.
  • A set square
  • Plastic painting knife. Cheap and useful for spreading filler. For small areas, use an old brush handle cut down into a wedge.
  • Loads of those very cheap brushes found in discount shops. These are used to apply wood glue, texture filler and clay. Always have an abundant supply of these or one day you simply won't resist the temptation of using one of your good painting brushes and regret it instantly...
  • A very old toothbrush (preferably one that has had a second life polishing shoes) is excellent for texturing filler and clay.
  • Rarely mentioned : a cheap, simple CAD program. This is certainly not a necessary item but it does a tremendous job of taking the hassle out of making paper templates. DeltaCAD is a particularly useful program which can be used by a six year old.
  • Wood glue, a.k.a. "PVA glue" or "Elmer's glue". The white stuff which, despite its name, will stick most materials together. Dries transparent.
  • Super glue, for things that won't wait. Use the cheapest stuff you can get.
  • A stick of paper glue, useful for temporary glueing of templates or for a dry fit to make sure you got the angles right. Again, use the cheapest you can find.
  • Cardboard of various thicknesses, your prime material. This ranges from good quality laminated cardboard found in art shops to the corrugated stuff used in shipping boxes and the thin one from your favourite cereals or biscuits box.
  • Foamcore board. This is polystyrene sandwiched between two sheets of cardboard. Light and sturdy, this is very useful for large structures.
  • Balsa wood. This can be quite expensive and is not very easy to work with because it is prone to shattering just when you make that cut. Some love it, some hate it.
  • Plasticard, sheet of styrene plastic found in model shops. Useful but relatively expensive so use it sparingly.
  • Filler, a.k.a. "spackle", Polyfilla and Tetrion are common brands.
  • Air drying clay such as DAS Terracota.
  • Bamboo skewers, found in various thicknesses.
  • Just about everything else that you would usually throw away : next time you're about to send some packaging material to the bin ask yourself "now what could this be good for ?" and you'll be suprised !
Here are a couple of useful sites which should povide plenty of inspiration :
  • There is a nice site covering a variety of modelling techniques, aimed at the 25mm "Games Workshop" games (fantasy and science fiction), but useful for the historical gamer nonetheless, at TerraGenesis
  • Another source of excellent terrain modelling advice is Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial Wargames Page which focusses on late 19th Century games but is useful for all periods.
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