Friday, April 3, 2015

How I Built My Mantic Battlezones for Deadzone

Who wouldn't love fighting through such a 3D nightmare?
     The recent inception of the new Deadzone: Infestation Kickstarter from Mantic has got me all jazzed up about that great game again, and reminded me of this blog entry someone at Mantic asked me to do back in November. Sadly, due to a series of personnel turnovers and a super busy publishing schedule, the blog post got lost in the shuffle. After several recent inquiries from listeners concerning the post, I decided to share my excitement concerning the new Kickstarter by finally posting the blog entry myself for those who might be interested.

     So, without further ado, here’s that entry, in its entirety, with lots of pictures. Enjoy!

     Sadly, I missed out on the <<first>> Deadzone Kickstarter. My first exposure to the game was when my friend and podcasting co-host Russ picked it up at our local store. He fell in love almost immediately. Soon after, we went to Adepticon 2014 where Russ picked up more models and a bunch of the terrain. I did a demo at the convention and really enjoyed it.

     I went home and ordered a copy of Contagion along with an extra set of terrain and some of the other cool components (resin cargo containers are GREAT for blinging out the game, if you can get them). I now had two full sets of terrain, but I was not done. Another local friend, Will, had endangered his marriage by going into the first Deadzone Kickstarter whole hog, resulting in far more terrain than he had time to play around with. He gave me a bunch of other sprues and I was off.

     I almost immediately gave up. The sheer versatility of the Battlezone Terrain was incredibly daunting. I did Google searches for other people’s layouts. I poured over the Mantic website and blogs. But I couldn’t find any concrete directions anywhere. I knew it COULD look great, I had seen examples, but I didn’t know how to get there.

My first Deadzone build. Spot the mistakes? They are many...
     I dove in with Will’s sprues, building a small landing pad connected to a watchtower by a bridge one panel wide and two panels long (Russ had been mocking me about my Teraton not being able to cross the standard ½ width walkways … and I had to show him, right?). In building this I made my first mistake: I painted the tiles first, and then put them together.

     In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was a RIDICULOUS mistake. You’re working with hard plastic, so you paint it over and thereby rob yourself of the best adhesive to use when making models: plastic glue? I had been a fool; a fool with super-glue all over my fingers.

      I made yet another mistake by priming the stuff black, dry-brushing it with a bone color as a pre-shaded base (my usual technique), and then dry-brushing it again with the shade of blue I was looking for (and then, of course, bringing up further layers one or two times for shading). It took a LOT of time to do all that, and I was not super excited about the results.

     My next mistake: I had only played a few short games, so didn’t know how best to maximize what I was building. I used the 45 degree tilted paneling to border the landing pad. I also wanted to have some cover underneath, so I used four solid walls to build a pedestal. Sadly, this then meant that the amazing-looking pillars that come with the landing pad would not touch the ground. I had to cannibalize some other terrain to add little pads for each pillar so it would touch the ground and keep the consistent height of the Battlezone system. It looked cool, but in game play, the 45 degree panels mean that you’ve basically got 9 squares of elevation that are closed off from the rest of the board. You can’t place bridges on them, so you’ve locking out a lot of cool options for elevated cross-board maneuvering. Also, the build was so big it dominated the board, making itself the centerpiece of any setup that included it.

So, lessons from my first attempt: Build FIRST, with plastic glue. Paint AFTER, priming in your main color and then just doing a quick dry-brush to pick out the amazing details already included in the pieces. And most importantly: fight the urge to constantly close off your assembly options for rigid aesthetic value: You want to be able to create all sorts of scenes, territory, and terrain. In most (but not all) instances, flat tops are your friends.
My second attempt (in the center). More modular and uniform
     Next I needed to decide what to do with my two sets of standard terrain (and the various bits and pieces left over from Will’s gift). I decided, rather than make buildings which I REALLY wanted to do, I would design around cubes, for maximum versatility with Deadzone. I built 6 one cube elements, 2 two cube elements, and 2 three cube elements. I also built a platform/bridge 1 cube by 3 cubes, to give me some elevation. This would allow me to put these pieces together, side by side and/or on top of each other, in any number of ways. And with flat tops, I could connect them with the various 1 and 2 cube-length bridges I had made.

Another Lesson Learned: when stacked upon one another, my cubes nest nicely, but there is nothing stopping them from sliding off if someone bumps the table (and sometimes it takes only the slightest bump). I need to add something for the cubes to rest upon. I learned to put right angle connectors along the inner walls of the cubes, and then clip off most of the downward facing prongs, so that they could sit into the recesses of cubes beneath them, but would be flush when placed directly upon the mat.
     I decided I liked the blue, but would rather go with a more uniform look for the rest of the table. I primed with standard retail light gray spray primer, and then highlighted with two coats of lighter gray craft paint. I pick out little details with a couple other colors to make the items pop, but I didn’t go crazy, letting the detail of the pieces speak for itself.

     I also decided I wanted things to look old and worn, so I used sea sponge for the first time, going for a rusty look. I used sea sponge to apply a stippled dark brown in patterns that made sense to me from a quick perusal of Google images of rusty industrial machinery. I then went over the brown areas with a great textured orange technical paint from another manufacturer. I finally used a fresh-blood technical paint to add splashes of gore, which I’m not entirely sold on, but they do blend in well with the Deadzone game mat.

      But now I was struggling under something I saw mentioned more and more online, the “Paintball Field” effect of Deadzone terrain. I love building tables that look real: you can see why things are the way they are and you can imagine fighting over realistic locations, real or imaginary. But I was limited in my Deadzone builds by these undamaged cubes, because if I put them back to back to make cool buildings, you wouldn't be able to get your models into them. I was left with some very cool looking terrain, but wanting something more.

More lessons learned: using the X-brace panel more liberally can give you a very cool open-concept industrial feel that breaks up the solid walls enough to mostly dispel the paintball field impression … but mine were all used up to make bridge/platform pieces and watchtowers.
     I had known there were ruin sprues coming, of course, and I knew that with these I could make awesome blown-out buildings that would look real AND allow for models to be placed within them. I could not wait for the release in the US, so I jumped on the Ruined Quadrant pre-order, and I never looked back.

The ruined fortress in two halves
The full fortress
     With the Ruined Quadrant I built a large fortress, four cubes by three. I built it in two halves, and made add-ons with the ruin sprues that I painted to match the fortress. I can field it as a whole fortress or two ruined fortresses separated by any amount of space on the board. With the fortress, I tried something I had always wanted to: I first painted the pieces to match everything else. Then I used masking tape to cover the entire fortress except a stripe running all around the outer wall. I used regular retail spray paint to add a bold brick-red detail stripe around the entire thing, as well as the barricades I had built to match (no matter what I do, I'm still terrified of delving into the use of an airbrush). I gave the stripe a quick dry-brush with lighter reds, removed the tape, and LOVED the result.

The full standard collection
I do love me my platforms!
       Then I went to town on my ruins. Again, I built in single layers so I could stack in a variety of different ways, this time building one 3x3 ruin, three 2x2 ruins, and several 1 cube ruins. I built a large 3x3 platform with two angled corners, another 1x3 bridge/platform, and a 1x2 platform to give myself even more height options (keep in mind, thought, that in Deadzone, this makes those stair and ladder bits even more important). This is where I figured out how to place the 90 degree connectors facing inwards, with the bottom prong mostly snipped off, along the bottoms of my pieces so they would stack more easily and stay put, but would also sit flush on the mat if I wanted to use them as a bottom level.

The ruins, with the platform in the upper right

     I painted these pieces up the same as the non-ruined elements, but dry-brushed blast damage with black, radiating outward from the damage points, and then lightly dry-brushed gun metal over the wrecked pieces (paying extra attention to the rebar) to pick out the awesome detail of the destruction.

Rubble/half wall bits
Rubble w/half wall and non-ruined cube
Makes ruined cube!
Another cool trick I stumbled upon: pair the half-rubble piles, meant to sit flush against walls, together with a single ruined wall piece on only one side. With these I can make non-ruined elements ruins simply by butting them up against any non-ruined wall.

The two platforms used in a standard layout
     I broke my own new rules only twice: I built two ruined landing platform pieces, each two cubes high. I COULD have made the landing pad parts separate, but I really wanted to give them a ruined appearance, and so needed to build them up to provide the support necessary to make them sturdy enough to use in the game.

     In the end, I’ve had a BLAST making, painting, and playing on this great terrain. It goes together like a dream, paints up fast and beautifully, and looks phenomenal on the table or the Deadzone mat. I’ve got more than enough to fill 3 mats to ridiculous density already, and I can’t wait to build more!

The Rebs scout out the new territory
·         Put your pieces together BEFORE you glue.
·         Spray a colored basecoat and then dry-brush for detail.
·         Build in single layers with an eye to combining, stacking, and bridge access.
o   Don’t forget the 90 degree connectors along the bottom to keep the upper levels steady.
·         Include details like hazard stripes, rust, etc. to really make these great kits pop!
·         Don’t let anything go to waste: make scatter terrain with anything you have left over!
·         The stairways that come with the Landing Pad are AWESOME for adding realism and further cover. Beg, borrow, or steal as many as you can get.

Kit List:
·         1 Deadzone: Contagion box
·         1 Scenery Upgrade Pack
·         1 Ruined Quadrant
·         A random bunch of sprues that at my best guess would add up to:
o    1 Landing Pad
o    1 Watch Tower
·         I also got a couple extra sprues from Mantic CS when I pre-ordered my Ruined Quadrant.

Craig is a teacher, author, and co-host of the general gaming podcast The D6 Generation, universally acclaimed as Not-Too-Horrible. His latest novel, Bastion, is available now through Winged Hussar Publishing, as well as online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also follow his exploits on twitter: @d6gcraig.


  1. I know it isn't optimized for Deadzone (although unwound think that Enforcers could jump up into it) but the landing pad and tower look like what a tactical landing pad and tower should look like-a sheltered spot to land and defend your shuttle or ornithopter or whatever. You might get more mileage out of it in 40k but don't put down what is a great piece. The stackable platforms are genius and I wish I would have seen what you did before I put my sets together;
    Your method created far more flexibility.

  2. Thanks, Veez! I do like it, to be honest, and it has seen some duty with 40K. And my Enforcers HAVE been known to jump onto it from time to time. But don't use it much anymore, because I like the tighter urban sprawl feel of the other stuff. But thanks for the kind words!

  3. Great looking stuff. I agree with you on making small pieces that can be combined. I only have the base set but by keeping my pieces small and spreading them out it covers the playing area. I hope to get another set at some point, perhaps some of the new Infestation set with their corrugated panels. Alas, I fear I will never get around to it: none of my friends are miniature gamers so I don't get to play. I had hoped if I painted everything they would be interested but it was not to be.

    I also didn't pick a uniform paint scheme. It was my first major airbrush project and I was having fun playing with different colours. You can see them here:

  4. Thanks for your kind words! I envy you your courage with the airbrush, sir. I'm not sure why, but they scare me to death! I have a feeling I'll make the plunge one day and never look back, but for now, I can't bear to think of it!

    I also know how you feel about going through all the effort and not getting to play. I've got two groups, one will play most stuff sometimes, the other, it's damned hard to start anything new. I've got a TON of doubled-up forces and terrain for many many games, and I never learn my lesson. Oh well, at least I love putting together the models and terrain, so I get that out of it, anyway. :)

  5. I had an airbrush for a long time before I found the courage to use it. Then I found that it didn't work (I'd bought it second hand) so I had to replace it and find new bits and bobs to connect it to my compressor.

    I started using it just to prime miniatures using Vallejo Surface Primer. Then I moved on to Deadzone Terrain and am currently painting a 1/48 Spitfire. This is all practice for a massive 1/72 Millenium Falcon model I don't want to ruin.

    Sure, I've made mistakes but nothing fatal and I'm learning at a fantastic rate. Our figure painting strategies are very different but I'm sure learning to airbrush would allow you to paint miniatures at an even more prodigious speed.

    Inspired by this conversation I'm going to write a newbies guide for newbies on airbrush on my blog. Maybe check it out when I'm done and tell me if it's changed your mind. I linked my blog above and if you have trackbacks enabled it'll appear as a comment.

  6. Thanks, Tyler. I'll definitely check it out if you give me a shout out when it's done. I allowed Backlinks ... that was the closest to trackbacks I could find ...

  7. This is a really great guide. I was going to use bits of old sprue to have the boxes rest on each other - but I like your idea better. Do you have a picture of "Don’t forget the 90 degree connectors along the bottom to keep the upper levels steady." - just so I can see where you put them?

    Seriously though, this is really is a great guide, I'll be sending folks here - it's just the kind of thing budding builders of this stuff need to see.

    1. Totally get it now so never mind! - Although I've found that with snapped 90 degree connectors, as long as there's some sort of edge you can use those too (not as effective, but gives you something back for the broken ones!)

  8. Hi Craig, "Listener Dan" here (from Adepticon). I jus wanted to thank you for posting this guide. I purchased a big box of Deadzone terrain at the end of March (and got into the Kickstarter at a hefty enough level), so I am following your advice here religiously. Your timing on posting this was perfect for me.

    It's a little alarming how quickly the 90-degree connectors get used up! Have you found yourself running out of them as you've progressed through your collection?

    I will confess in advance that I'll probably copy your grey + red-stripe paint scheme. It looks great. Well done, sir.

  9. Hi Craig, great guide!
    Could you post a close up of the "Don’t forget the 90 degree connectors along the bottom to keep the upper levels steady."? Did you cut off the majority of the piece that slots into the hole so they just rest in each other rather than snap fit?

  10. Great article. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I'm building my own set of terrain for Deadzone right now. My problem is running out of connectors. Maybe I just use too many for a piece but I want my structures to be solid and not flimsy. Did you have the same problem?

  11. Hey Craig, before I sink some money in the terrain could you elaborate on this? Is there another brand you prefer to get that "tighter sprawl feel?"