Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Assembling Terrain for Valley of the Ape

Development on my Valley of the Ape kids’ game proceeds at a slow but steady pace. I have a workable draft of the rules and a solid idea what additional bits I need to prepare (explorer cards with rules summaries and encounter tiles). But the rulebook and other materials form only half the project, although the part I can most easily share online once completed. Along with the game design work comes the hobby work assembling and crafting miniature wargaming-style terrain for the playable bits of the game.

A selection of aquarium plants
from PetSmart.
Some of this material I own already, stored in various boxes beneath or near the four-by-eight-foot wargaming table in the basement. These include a swath of dark green felt dappled with paint to vary the terrain surface, numerous 54mm plastic soldiers (Zulus, British, Dervishes) from Armies in Plastic to represent explorer parties, the giant ape from Safari Ltd. I bought at a craft store, and a resin-cast giant man-eating plant I picked up years ago from Armourcast (though it could use a better paint job).

"Betta" foliage cut for better coverage.
I have considerably more work to do with jungle foliage and terrain. I’ve already sculpted a few foam hills and prepped some palm trees out of wire, artificial plant leaves, and masking tape. But to fill out large portions of impassible jungle terrain I needed a lot of fake yet exotic-looking foliage. So I drove on down to the local big-box pet store, PetSmart, and spent some time browsing their aquarium section. I found a host of very affordable pieces from Top Fin, including some single plantsfor $0.99, a few “peacock feather” plants with a nice high profile ($2.99), and – perhaps the most versatile find – two varieties of what they call “betta” artificial aquarium plants, plastic grids with small plant bits mounted at each intersection (for $1.99). These last ones provided versatile jungle cover, particularly when split along the middle or diagonally to make two uneven halves that, when positioned unevenly, offer some natural-looking uneven terrain. For less than $20 one could buy enough jungle foliage to set up some challenging and good-looking terrain; augmented with some custom pieces it’ll make for an easy-to-set-up “board” for Valley of the Ape.

A scene hastily assembled from my terrain,
including the giant ape and some Armies
in Plastic Zulus.
I’m debating whether to craft my own temple ruins from bits prepped for old Egyptian temple projects or just pay for one of the fish tank temples available from PetSmart (some manufactured by Top Fin and others by National Geographic).

Once that’s decided and I finish up the palm-tree terrain pieces I’m ready to set everything up and start playtesting the rules.

Armies in Plastic Addendum

Folks who read Hobby Games Recce know I love the 54mm (1:32 scale) unpainted plastic figures from Armies in Plastic, including the ones from my collection I’ve drawn upon to serve in my Valley of the Ape game (Victorian-era British soldiers, Zulu warriors, Dervishes). They’re big, historically themed, and great for small hands (or my clumsy fingers). The prices have crept up over the years as the figure count has recently diminished (20 infantry figures down to 18 or 16 in some cases). But I recently happened by the Armies in Plastic website to find an interesting sale: the company put their Battlefield Combo boxes on sale, an 18- or 20-figure mix from both sides of a conflict for $12 (the regular price for 18 or 20 figures in other sets is now $17...). Of particular note for my own gaming interests are 6 British Army in Shirtsleeves and 12 Zulus, as well as combos including Dervishes. Those interested in the burgeoning French and Indian war genre might like 8 Rangers and 12 Indians for skirmishes. Other periods include the American Revolutionary War, Boxer Rebellion, World War I, Napoleonic Wars, some Civil War, and modern conflicts. They’re a fun way to provide large, plastic soldiers to fight period skirmishes – or just to play with – at an affordable price.

Armies in Plastic Rangers fend off a
Woodland Indian Ambush.
I’ve recently been bitten by an inexplicable bug to dive into reading about and wargaming skirmishes from the French and Indian War...and my collection of Armies in Plastic miniatures lacks anything from the American Colonial period (having focused more on 19th century British colonial wars). Seeing the Ranger/Indian Battlefield Combo sets at the Armies in Plastic website – plus a “buy 3 get 1 free” promotion – I decided to order some sets directly from the company.

Normally I try to give my business to local stores (none of which stock Armies in Plastic sets, although I first discovered and bought my first Armies in Plastic sets from a now out-of-business hobby shop in Fredericksburg) and, barring that, wait patiently for one of the small, local wargaming conventions where vendors occasionally have a limited selection. But I was looking for something quite specific, and knowing how the prices have crept up recently, wanted to take advantage of a really good deal. So I ordered two sets of the Rangers/Indians, plus one with Loyalists and Militia (10 each, plus a cannon), and, for my “free” set, ordered British infantry (20 figures). Three days after placing my order the box arrived at my doorstep. Along with the French and Indian War skirmish rules set I bought earlier and with some old forest terrain I can now start exploring period battles with a minimum of work. Sure, the purists might scoff that I’m using unpainted figures, but I have two ready made forces in an appealing size. Thanks to Armies in Plastic for the good deals and excellent service.

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