3D Map Sheet Information & Instructions
Due to many requests, I've provided some photos, as well as the following
instructions, concerning the 3D map sheets we have made for use by our playing
group. We find them a lot more fun, and helpful as well, when compared to 2D map
sheets, and highly recommend them. Pictures of some maps created with this
method can be seen here.
- I use standard 3/4" (19mm) thick construction grade Styrofoam as the core for
the levels. This type of foam is far cheaper than hobby foam found
at craft or hobby stores, and believe me, you'll use a lot of it!
Map Sheets - We use the
standard FASA/FanPro hex map sheets for this use. Of course, you could use any
that you like.
Glue - While you can use
any white glue like Elmer's, I find that Aleene's Tacky Glue works best. It's
thicker, tacks quicker and doesn't sink through.
Foam Cutter - I use the
one that looks a bit like a sand jigsaw, with a thin wire in place of the blade,
and 2 D-cell batteries in the handle. You can use a saw or knife to cut the
foam, but the hot foam cutter is quicker, easier, neater (you don't have
Styrofoam fuzz floating everywhere) and it seals the edges as well.
"Bumps" - They're made like piper clearers, about 12" long, but the "fuzz"
on them varies in thickness, from about 1/8" diameter to about 1/2" (3 to 12mm)
in diameter. Shades of green or brown are best, but you can actually spray them
to get variations. See the picture below to help clear up the explanation.
X-Acto Knife - While you can
cut the map sheet levels with scissors, a razor or X-Acto knife works much
Heavy Construction Paper - Or construction board, basically thin (or
thick) cardboard, used as a base on the map.
The Basic Map Design
Making a 3D map sheet isn't very difficult at all: you just decide how thick
you want each layer to be, then cut them around the elevation contours and glue
them up. As to foam thickness, I decided on 3/4". Most BattleMech minis are 1.5
to 2" in height, and 'Mechs are supposed to be 2 levels tall, on average (a
Level in BattleTech is 5-6 meters, while 'Mechs are 8-15 meters tall). 1" foam
would work just as well, therefore, but I found the 3/4" to work well, and it's
cheaper and more readily available.
Yeah, but what about Trees?
What kept us from actually making 3D maps for the longest time was having a
good way to represent trees. The 3D maps are great, but without trees, they are
very lacking. Yet, every idea I'd seen for trees actually blocked entry to the
hexes, making the maps useless. What to do?
My son to the rescue
Chris, my son, came up with an idea: why not place the trees at the corners
of the map hexes, leaving the center of the hex open for the 'Mechs? That would
allow the hexes to be used, as they needed to be, yet would give a forested look
to the sheet. What a fantastic idea! This would work.
My idea came next: how about putting trees on every other point of the hex
for Light woods, and every point for Heavy woods? That is, 3 trees per hex for
Light, 6 trees per hex for Heavy. Of course, neighboring wooded hexes share the
same trees, but that works out just fine. This made Chris's idea even better.
So what do we use for trees?
My wife came up with this one. The Chenille "bumps" she had used in the past
for crafts were just the thing. These pipe cleaners varied in diameter several
times over their length, giving each cycle, thin to thick to thin again, a
length of about 3". Thus, we get 4 trees out of each 12" length of bump. We've
also used Christmas needle type decorations for a different tree look.
If you like the color of the bumps, use them as-is. I like to lay them out on
newspaper, and overspray green or brown to get some variation in their color,
rather than having them all be a very bright green.
After cutting them to length, I bend the top 1/4" or so over, so no sharp
wire is exposed. The other end will penetrate into the map paper and foam, so
don't bend them over.
You need to start out with a good base for your map sheet. Unless you have
some kind of backing on the bottom of the foam, gluing the map to the top
results in the map foam warping, and rocking on the tabletop. Also, the foam I
use is only about 14" wide, thinner than the narrow dimension of standard map
sheets. Having a paper or cardboard layer on both sides allows you to splice
together the pieces of foam, making the result stronger. You can use any
material you like for the bottom, from plywood and Masonite, to cardboard and
heavy construction paper. I usually use a heavyweight construction paper; it's
cheap, and it works.
Cut a piece of the backing material for the map exactly the same size as the
map sheet itself, using the map as a guide. This will help everything to
together better later on.
Before starting the base, Plan!
You'd think you'd just start gluing, right? Nope, you have to do some
planning first. At least you do if your map sheet has any levels at all.
Basically, you want to make up only one level at a time. And unless you want to
use multiple map sheets to get one 3D sheet (a real waste), you need to plan
So, take your map sheet, and carefully identify the division between Level 0
(normally any hex which doesn't have an elevation on it). It doesn't matter if
it goes from Level 0 to Level 1, or Level 0 to Level 8, that division line is
where you're going to cut. You can do it by eye as you go along the outline,
watching indication of elevation levels by text or color change, but sometimes
it's easy to make a wrong cut. You can use a thin, black pen or marker to plan
your cut ahead of time, helping to eliminate the possibility of error.
Depending on the map sheet you're using, you'll end up with a rectangular map
with intact outer sides, with irregular cutout areas (areas higher than Level 0)
in the center, or sometimes you'll have higher levels at the outer edge of the
board, making the map a bit trickier to work with.
Then take the Level 0 area (normally most of the map sheet), lay it face down
on a flat surface that you won't mind a bit of glue on (newspaper helps; I use a
glass table that glue scrapes off easily). Put the tacky glue all around all
edges of the map, and zigzag some extra glue in larger center areas. Then place
one or more pieces of foam in place, preferably even with one or two sides. If
you're using two pieces of foam here, put glue on the joining edges, as well.
Now put glue all over the top of the foam (which will be the bottom when it's
in playing position), and place the cardboard bottom in place, being sure it's
even on all sides with the map sheet paper on the bottom. Then put a bunch of
books in place on the sandwich you've just made. TRO's and source books work out
great for this purpose; what can't they be used for? ;-)
Let dry. Several hours at least, overnight isn't overkill. You need this to
remain very flat until it's completely dry, or it will warp, which you don't
want. It won't matter so much about later layers, but it does here.
After the map sandwich is completely dry, you can trim the foam that sticks
out beyond the map sheet itself with the foam cutter. You can paint, tape or
seal the edges, or leave them alone, if you're lazy like me.
Add Level 1
You need to add 1 level at a time, carefully. Do not cut the
remaining pieces into multiple levels yet. We're on Level 1 now, and you have in
front of you cutouts that represent everything on the map that is not
Level 0. You therefore need to have a form base for each area that matches the
size of these cutouts.
Take each cutout, and position it on a piece of foam, minimizing waste
(scraps work great for small pieces). If the level is entirely
Level 1, you can go ahead and glue the map section to the foam. But that
normally won't be the case. Where the Level 1 piece also has some higher level
areas, rather than simply gluing it in place on the foam, lay it on the foam and
use a felt marker to draw the outline of the entire piece. After doing so, you
can cut out any areas from the map pieces which are higher than
Level 1. These won't be glued on at this stage. (Sometimes, the entire piece is
higher; that's okay, the same operation applies.) Again, when you cut,
plan ahead and keep everything higher than Level 1, in that same map section, in
one piece if possible.
Then, take the remaining part of each Level 1 map section, put glue on the
back, and glue it to the top of the foam. Note that the foam is not
in place on the base map sandwich yet; it's easier to cut if it's separate. If a
section of the map portion has been cut out because it's higher than Level 1,
then use the felt outline on the foam as a guide to its location.
After the glue is dry, use the edge of the map sheet sections to cut the
extra foam with the foam cutter. If a section of map, which will be higher, is
missing, then use your felt outline to cut with.
Cutting map pieces out this way, even with the foam cutter, can be tricky;
the cutter tends to melt the foam, it's difficult to keep vertical, and you end
up with lots of grooves and waves in the vertical areas. But that's no problem,
they look great. Hillsides do get eroded, don't they? Once painted, they'll look
After you've cut out the outlines, you can glue all the Level 1 sections in
place, using the bare foam exposed through the Level 0 map board as a guide to
its location. I like to use books here to hold them solidly in place, but it's
not as critical as when you make up the base sandwich.
Repeat for each Level
Go through the above procedure for each level, only doing a single level at a
time. Yeah, one some maps, that's a lot of work; but the results are worth it, I
promise you. The more work put into a map, the more impressive it will look, and
the more fun it will be to play on.
What about the white foam edges?
Well, that's up to you. We started out mixing a matching paint to the map
sheet, using only acrylic paint (no lacquer sprays, and watch enamels; acrylics
are best on foam), and even painted in the roads and streams. After 4-6 map
sheets, we started getting a bit more careless, and I must admit that I haven't
even painted some of the latest we've done. But whether you paint them or not,
they're just as usable. But you will probably get more compliments if you spend
at least a little time painting them.
Finally, the Trees
The trees are the most fun. I like to overspray my trees with brown and green
paint, to get more variation in their color, as in real life, but it's not a
necessity. This goes real quick if you just lay them out on newspapers in your
garage, flip them, and then do the other side. The idea is not to completely
cover them as mentioned above, cut the chenille bumps into pieces about 3" long,
at the narrowest part of the length. Bend over the upper 1/4" with pliers, or
fingers if you're tough, to protect from injury later. You're now ready to place
them on the map board.
Through trial and error, I've found that the trees go into place best if you
have a hold already started. I use a large pin, with either a T-head or plastic
ball, to put the holes in where required. I'll usually go over a sheet, putting
the holes in, while my son positions the trees.
It takes just a bit to get used to the hole pattern. If you have a single
Light woods hex, choose any "point" of the hex (the exact area where 3 hexes
touch each other) and place a hold there. Then, for the Light woods hex, skip
the next point, then a put in the second. Skip another, then the 4th. You'll
have a total of 3 holes for the one hex. If it's a Heavy woods hex, put a hole
in every hex point. Then go back and push the trees in. Usually you end up with
about 2" of tree sticking above the surface, which looks about right.
It gets a bit trickier where hexes meet each other. Sometimes it's best to
plan your pattern first, but even if you don't, the worst you end up with is a
few extra small holes. Obviously, a Light woods beside a Heavy woods will have
trees a bit closer on the side that adjoins the Heavy woods. And sometimes
you're best, for the sake of tree sturdiness, to put the tree at a higher or
lower level that the hex actually is. But you still have the text on the hex to
rely on, if it's not completely clear.
So, How do they Play
Your completed 3D map sheets will be a ball to play on. You have to "nestle"
some of your larger 'Mechs into that Heavy woods hex, but they fit fine. The
sheets look great, and attract a lot of attention. Which was a nice change from
everyone gathering around the Warhammer 40K tables at games night. A couple
things to watch out for:
You will probably lose some small 'Mechs. They are camouflaged so well,
especially in Heavy woods, that a small, green 'Mech can actually be forgotten
about. We've had people forget to move them, and we've had people move 'Mechs
right in front of a 'Mech that hadn't moved for several terms, giving the hidden
unit a fantastic back shot, because they are oftentimes hard to see.
Some map sheets, with narrow, high valleys, are tough, even impossible, to
fit some larger 'Mechs into. Try getting that Kodiak between a 1 hex wide
valley, with level 2 hexes on either side, and you'll find the 'Mech doing an
imitation of a gymnast's performance on the parallel bars, complete with rocking
back and forth! A small price to pay for the 3D map, in my opinion, and a fun
time at any game regardless.
The trees can get bent over, especially if you stack them during transit or
storage, but they straighten back up well. Or, you can imagine as we did once,
that a hurricane had just come through.
Come up with your own ideas and additions to the 3D sheets. We've made some
3D buildings out of foam as well, or used pieces and bits from other sources.
We've talked about having a few red "trees" made up to represent fire in a hex,
that could be added or removed as required, and even a cotton ball or so to
represent smoke. Whatever you do, it's fun, and certainly adds to the enjoyment
of the game.
Please let me know of any ideas or solutions you've come up with that work
And if you haven't looked at the map sheet pictures I have posted, you can
take a look at them here.
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