How we make cheap, super-lightweight, strong gaming boards: A Thread.
1) Buy a cheap "egg box" style door - typically 3mm ply skinned over a card honeycomb. Cut to required size (here we made 2' squares) - jigsaw will do the job, we used a tablesaw. You're left with edges like:
2) Cut strips of MDF of the same height as the gap between ply skins. Fix with wood glue top/bottom to fill all your edges flush and to reconstitute your "solid" box. Repeat for all sides.
3) Repeat till you've used all of the door/made your reqd # of tiles...
We "cheated" and used a biscuit jointer to make our boards all fit together. Not necessary for home builds, but this was for a participatory display game so we wanted it to hold up to hordes of Salute gamers... 6x10' total area.
Sketch your layout onto the face of your boards. For truly modular you want all your roads, rivers etc to match positions but in thus case we were modelling a meteor crash site. Dry fitting a couple of pieces of critical terrain feature to plot our roads, rivers, and hills...
Next tool: a dremel will do the job, we have a mini plunge router. Cut away ply surface wherever you want a sunken terrain feature (river, meteor trench, crater) and remove the card honeycomb with a chisel.
You're left with channels @ full board depth - vary inside height as needed with scrap foam. Make sure your terrain fits. Add elevation with contours the same way.
Cheap insulation foam for contour building. Cut into lengthwise strips, slot one side 3/4 or more through so you can form curves. We have bandsaws but a hacksaw blade will do the job. Contact adhesive the foam to your board; when cured, carve back with hacksaw to suit.
Hot glue will also do the job of sticking foam to wood, if you're in a hurry .. Chop chunks of back-cut foam to follow tighter curves. Then surform, file or sand your contours smooth.
For the meteor's crash trench, I'd already cut a straight channel matching the diameter of some old polypropylene tube in the workshop. Drainpipe from a DIY store will do! Sliced lengthwise - you can buy "half" tube if you don't have suitable tools/safety. Scrap pipe for banks.
Filling/fixing foam - a mix of car body filler (aka "plod") and polyester resin to make a printable paste. Both products @ Halfords/equivalent. Add resin to plod to desired consistency then *just* red accelerator paste - resin acc not needed. Paint on. Brushes in acetone b/f cure
Vary thickness of plod mix with more/less polyester. Make sure to paint onto top surface to seal everything. Then: yacht varnish plus sieved builders/silver sand. Tamp down; spray water/PVA mix to seal.
Repeat for all 15 boards (in a very busy weekend). Chopped up styrene sheet texture for paths; Devcon epoxy for corrupted watercourse. Paint!
Make a dozen or so haunted trees from scrap wire and another plod/resin mix. Add buildings from 20+ Frothers forum members on the day of the show.
Plonk on the laser-engraved signpost. Retire to your tradestand and leave the Frothers to play. A cheeky @_AndyHemming in shot. April 2010.
Welcome to Frotherheim!
We've used this same technique hundreds of times for architectural model baseboards. On really big setups and for models needing long distance travel, we use the same technique but with aerospace aluminium honeycomb board. Super lightweight, ridiculously strong, moar expensive!
(You can also use eg timber battens cut to height to make joining pieces between boards, effectively creating oversize tongue'n'groove...)
*paintable paste. Typing this thread live while walking the Hound was not the best decision of the day...