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Tuscany Hill Village Terrain Build

Tuscany Hill Village Terrain Build

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Project Blog by redvers Cult of Games Member

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About the Project

I started this project some time ago. It's a slow burner. But I've decided to turn it into a project so that I have a reference point but also to get some help along the way. This is my attempt at trying to recreate an Italian Hilltop village in 15mm....

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The Gate House

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With the village planned, I now have the list of buildings I need and their dimensions. Time to get designing in FreeCad.

I’ll start with the gate. Most medieval hill villages were also defensive points and the tight packed houses and buildings also served as walls. Gates sealed off the main parts of the village so that when needed, the village could be turned into a ‘castle’.

I’ve been looking at some reference pictures (below) and you can see that the gate is often just an extension of the surrounding houses.

The Gate House

To keep things simple, I can use part of the basic house that I have designed previously and add in the gate. I also need to make the gate wide enough for the gaming pieces to pass through. This means that the gate will not be strictly to scale but as this is for gaming purposes, I’ll allow it.

I’ve designed the gate to be modular, with the gate itself separate to the over gate defenses. This then attaches to the house. Most of this is reversible although I’ve had to design two versions of the house to accommodate a left and right sided gate.

I’ll need three of these for the village, two left sided and one right sided.

Front side of the gateFront side of the gate
Internal side to the gateInternal side to the gate

Town Planning

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Now that I have designed the basic house in FreeCad and I’m comfortable that 3d printing will deliver what I want, I need to draw up some plans for the actual terrain. This will allow me to design the buildings to the space available.

This is a terrain piece rather than a gaming board build and so it needs to be small enough to allow space around the outside but big enough to actually game in. This means some compromises. Firstly, it will need to be a representation of a hill village rather than a fully blown village. It will also need to be able to take the gaming pieces, in this case 15mm Flames of War. This means that some of the features, such as the gate, will need to be large enough to accommodate a tank, something medieval Italian builders didn’t have in mind!

So, armed with a trusty piece of large paper, some cut out foot prints of proposed buildings and a reference tiger tank, I’ve set about squeezing as much into as little space as I can.

Here’s the process:

My eventual layoutMy eventual layout

My aim is to create a central piazza which will also be the highest part of the village. This should be accessed via gates and in my mind, I envisage a simplified version of San Gimignano (picture below). To one side of the piazza, I would like a street of houses, but at a lower level, to try and create the tiered perspective. Ideally I would like this street to run all the way around but there won’t be space for this. As it stands, the design above is looking close to being 2ft by 2ft, which is already going to dominate a 6×4 table!

The Piazza of San GimignanoThe Piazza of San Gimignano

Below is the plan view of what I need to build. In addition to the houses that are already designed, I think I will need the following (with the colour coded box in the plan view),

  • Gate and gate house (black boxes)
  • Tall buildings with shop fronts on the ground floor and/or ‘cafe’ area (green and pink boxes)
  • Bell tower (orange box)
  • Town hall (purple box)
  • Church with bell tower (brown box)

The roads are the black squiggles, the piazza the red squiggles and the green squiggles will be the rock face/ grass banks of the side of the hill.

This was not made by a 5 year old - honest!This was not made by a 5 year old - honest!

The Basic House

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I’m going to need a few houses to flesh out the village. I plan to create a modular approach of two different sizes. One smaller house, being 4cm wide and a larger one being 5cm wide. I’ll create a number of different floors for both which will allow different height buildings.

I’m aiming for the sort of look that you can see on the left side of this street:

You can see the variation of height and facade on the street sceneYou can see the variation of height and facade on the street scene

I’ve designed a simple approach to ensuring each floor remains in place when stacked. A 1cm long, 2mm high ridge along the top of each side wall will interlock with a corresponding gap in the base of the upper floor. You can see the ridges on the top of the walls in the first picture below

To create each floor, I make a box and hollow out the middle. To add doors and windows, I punch holes through in the relevant places, as in the first picture below.

Doors and windows and then made separately and created in blocks that are the same size as the holes punched through the walls. This allows me to create a number of different, interchangeable doors and windows to mix up the architecture but without having to recreate them every time.

In the third picture, you can see that slotting the doors and windows into the holes creates the finished floor. The CAD software merges everything together.

Repeating the process a number of times allows you to build a number of different styles of floors which can be built into houses. Below is a mock up of what the finished houses will look like

A typical (virtual) Tuscany street sceneA typical (virtual) Tuscany street scene

Choosing the printing medium

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In the last project update, I had designed a simple Italian house and given it a monk and nun roof. I now needed to get this printed off to see how it looked.

Using the Treatstock website, I was able to upload the files and selected the cheapest option, in this case an fdm print. I think this is where the printer extrudes the plastic, printing from the bottom up. Here’s the result

As you can see from the above, the stepping that is common in fdm printing is really noticeable in the roof tiles. So much so, I don’t think this printing technique is going to work for the roof, although it is less noticeable for the walls and other features of the building.

Returning to treatstock, I ordered up a resin version. This was almost twice the price, which may get expensive for a whole village, but as a one off test piece, it was ok.

You really notice the difference between the two printing methods when you put the two roof pieces next to each other

Choosing the printing medium

So clearly resin printing for the roof to get the clarity. To keep the cost down, I can always print the building itself in fdm and then just the roof in resin.

The only problem that I have now is getting texture onto the walls. I don’t fancy trying to model individual bricks, render etc as this will likely take too much time so I have a couple of options,

  • Add the texture after the models have been printed by using some textured card
  • Figure out if there is some software out there that will allow me to ‘wrap’ texture around the buildings. Apparently Blender might be able to help, so I will take a look at that

But at least now I can start modelling more buildings in 3d for the village.

The Pantile Paradox

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I’ve been carrying out some research on the roof tiles used in Tuscany as getting these right will go a long way to getting the overall look at feel. What I have found is that older tiles are ‘barrel’ tiles arranged in a pattern apparently called ‘Monk and Nun’. Here’s an example:

Monk and Nun tilingMonk and Nun tiling

Looking at my plastic sheet of roof tiles, I see that this is apparently pantile roof tiles and not monk and nun. The difference being a flat strip between each barrel section rather than close packed barrels.

My 'pantile' plastic sheetsMy 'pantile' plastic sheets

Now the easiest option would be to just glue the plastic sheet onto the models. The difference between pantile and monk and nun is not that great. But, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly.

I can’t find plastic sheets that are barrel tiles, so I’m going to have to model these in FreeCad and attach them to each model.

To do this, I’ve made a cone, cut it down the middle and chopped the top off. I’ve then created a thin sheet and stuck multiple copies of the cone to the sheet. Multiple sheets can be stuck together to cover the rood before printing.

For the ridge tiles, I’ve created half cylinders and stuck them to small blocks. I’ve then arranged them slightly out of line to create a more haphazard arrangement.

I now need to add this to my FreeCad model of the building I used in the last project update. I’ve also adjusted the model as well. I’ve lowered the roof pitch and removed some windows. I’ve also had to extend the roof outward to create the eaves.

Adding the tile sheets to the roof took some time to the alignment. But I’ve now got a library of different sized roof tile sheets that should make future buildings quicker.

The new roofThe new roof
A mock up of the new building designA mock up of the new building design

A Journey into FreeCad

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FreeCad is a exactly as its name suggests, a free to use CAD package that offers a lot of options. I tried out some other tools suggested for 3D design but FreeCad seemed the most powerful yet still allowing me to do something without taking a 3 month tutorial package just to get started.

I also considered Blender but as this was aimed more at 3D modelling for animation or computer games, I decided against it. After all, I want to design buildings rather than humanoid figures and CAD seems the better option.

FreeCad is a little quirky at times but I found it quite quick to get to grips with making boxes that can be cut down into buildings. I want to be able to access the inside of the buildings to put unit stands on so each floor needs to be detachable but I am not modelling any interior as, at 15mm, this is not necessary and will also get into the way of the models.

For my first attempt, I opted for a basic Italian town house. A two storey building with a roof. Here are the designs that I drew up

Ground FloorGround Floor
First FloorFirst Floor

The advantage of this approach over the ‘flat pack house’ is that I can virtually put the elements together to see if they will fit, like below

The three separate building floors put togetherThe three separate building floors put together

I was then able to export this as an STL file and uploaded it to some software that checked it for 3d printing and corrected any problems. This gave me my file STL.

Using Treatstock, I received a price of around £8 plus postage to get this printed and, about a week later the below arrived.

My new 3d printed modelMy new 3d printed model

This is a vast improvement over the mdf and flat pack versions. As you can see from the next picture, the flat pack printed version is on the left and the new 3d printed model looks far superior.

Flat pack vs FreeCad designFlat pack vs FreeCad design

FreeCad is far more accurate and I can now design the detail into the model, such as windows, detailed doors etc. I therefore think I have found the way forward with getting the buildings I need to set off my Italian hill village.

I do need to adjust the design for the model that I have printed. The roof pitch is probably too steep and I could reduce the number of windows, but that can be worked.

I can now use this model as a test piece for texturing options and colour while I design some more buildings.

3D printing does seem to be the way forward!

Turning to 3d Printing for salvation

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With the mdf a little blocky and not quite offering the fidelity that I want, at least in 15mm, I decided to turn to 3d printing. I do not have a 3d printer and I have no intention of buying one so after searching the internet, I found Treatstock that allows you to upload STL files, select the printing medium and get instant quotes on the cost. Sounds perfect for what I want to do.

Having never tried 3d printing, I wanted to run off a test print to get some idea of how this might work and what I will need to do.

I decided to stick with the Ikea flat pack Italian house approach, primarily because I had learnt Inkscape as a design tool and it was easy to mock something together.

For this test, I opted for a basic town house, nothing elaborate, just to test out some principles. I opted for the cheapest printing option and this is what I got back.

Flat pack Italian HouseFlat pack Italian House
And the built houseAnd the built house

I’m not worried about the stepping on this model, that can be dealt with. The big positive for this approach is that the accuracy is better and I can control the thickness of the material.

I don’t however like the joints – that’s going to take some fixing.

Therefore, I think the only way to proceed with 3d printing is to build the models in some package as whole pieces, rather than flat pack.

I’ve therefore downloaded FreeCad as the tool to design my own buildings!

Another mdf building, just to see

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As already stated, this project is charting the past few months of effort on getting this to work, so I’m currently playing catch up with the experience so far.

Not overly content with the church, I thought I would design another building and get this cut up in mdf. I designed a large town house with balconies to represent a more ‘well to do’ building.

Here’s the pile of pieces for the main building and the floors that they constructed

The balconies were also made from the 3mm mdf but were fiddly. It took some time to glue these together

Bloody fiddly little bitsBloody fiddly little bits

When finished, I got the below building (excuse the poor angle of the photo shot – at least it is in focus!)

Lloyd shotLloyd shot

And my conclusion?

I don’t really like it. I think the limitation of having to use 3mm mdf just makes it a bit too blocky and it isn’t doing it for me. I could look for a service that provides thinner mdf but I’m not sure my design skills are really up to scratch in this medium. The other challenge is that so far, I’ve been lucky in that my designs have been thought through and worked. Where they haven’t, such as the church roof, I’ve been able to bodge it, but if I do get a design wrong, it’s going to get costly very quickly.

So, I will keep mdf as a fall back option but I need another approach to getting the buildings I want. I’m therefore thinking 3d printing is perhaps the way to go. I don’t have a 3d printer and I’m not likely to get one either so I will be reduced to using online services to print the building out.

Painting an Italian Church

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Picking a colour was difficult but easy at the same time. I studied some reference photos of villages and found variations in the colour of the stone used in construction leading to a tough decision on what to opt for. The variations of sand from a yellow to a faded tan were quite diverse across the different villages. Then I looked closer at the last picture below of San Gimignano and realised that different buildings in the same village (even different parts of the same building) were made out of different colour stone. So does it really matter what colour I opt for as long as it is somewhere in the yellow to faded tan range? Probably not, but I will likely need to use a number of different shades across the different buildings to get that mismatch look.

I also notice that some of the buildings are clean cut stone that looks quite uniform. At 15mm, I think I can get away with not representing each individual stone. However, some of the buildings use different stone in the construction. I may need to look at how to get the texture for these before painting.

In the end, I opted for a faded tan colour and bought a cheap acrylic spray can. I had problems sealing the mdf. I sprayed it with a varnish first and then a primer before adding the acrylic but this didn’t work and it needed several layers. You can see from the pictures below that the base colour is pretty thick and, in my opinion, looks poor.

For the roof, I replicated the approach I used in the spring clean challenge but tried a different primer. I think this now looks too dark for Italy and needs to be more orange than red. The roof is just attached with blue tack and can be re-done.

Painting an Italian Church
Painting an Italian Church

Now this is just the base coat for the walls (the attempt at the roof is finished) so it does need shading and weathering but I was sure on the overall effect. It just looks too ‘blocky’.

In short, I’m not sure about the colour and I’m definitely not sure about the use of mdf in this build.

Building an Italian Church

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Having sent the file containing the design for the Italian church to Razorlab, I received the following pile of mdf through the post. It took about a week to turn this around, so a good service overall.

A pile of mdf, cut to my designA pile of mdf, cut to my design

Now for the moment of truth. Was me design, maths, planning on paper and all the thinking correct?

Let’s separate everything out.

In the below pictures, we have all of the components for the church and then split out into the components for the church bell tower, the main body of the church, the upper roof and the well.

There were some problems. The biggest issue was that the material wasn’t exactly 3mm but was slightly thicker. Whereas the laser cut very accurately, perhaps to less than 0.1mm. This meant that where I had designed a gap for 3mm, it wouldn’t fit. This was solved with some sanding and careful cutting but this added considerably to the construction time. So for the future, add some additional space to allow for the material to be bigger than expected.

The other issue was with my design for the church roof. Where the roof met the tower, I neglected to cut the roof away. This wasn’t a major disaster as I could manually trim it and this will get covered with the plastic roof tiles but it was a little frustrating.

So, this is how they turned out. You can see the bell tower in parts, then with the parts put together and the church well

Completed ChurchCompleted Church
Building an Italian Church

If I’m honest, it looks alright but not great. Before I pass full judgement, it needs to be painted and have the roof applied. I also designed window frames where I plan to mount stained glass windows into. These steps might bring the model up to par.

Designing a church

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I spent some time looking at pictures of Italian churches around Tuscany, particularly medieval ones. There appear to be some common design features that I need to try and replicate, namely,

  • tall bell tower
  • a ‘double’ roof
  • a relatively plain exterior

Some of the larger churches in the bigger towns take on more ornate features. This makes sense as these churches were likely to be more important and have more money. But as I’m aiming for a village, a plainer option would be the way to go.

Church in San GimignanoChurch in San Gimignano

I’ve picked San Gimignano as a reference point as it contains many of the features that I want to include in the village. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit and have plenty of reference photos.

As you can see from the above picture of the town church, the entrance is plain. You can also see the double roof that I want to replicate as well as the bell tower in the back ground.

All this will need planning!

My 'detailed' planning!My 'detailed' planning!

Getting the roof right was tricky and I finally found a use for all that trigonometry that I learnt at school. It appears that mnemonics are actually useful as I still remember the Silly Old Hitler Couldn’t Advance His Troops Over Asia or Sine = Opposite over Hypotenuse, Cosine = Adjacent over Hypotenuse etc etc

This all led to the following design in Inkscape:

Part of a flat pack churchPart of a flat pack church

I also had space on the material for something smaller so quickly designed the town well, again using San Gimignano’s piazza well as influence

San Gimignano's wellSan Gimignano's well

Department of Planning and Building Control

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This will be a stylised village but I need to think about the buildings that I need to include. My thinking is I need at least some of the following,

  • Church. Italy is a deeply religious country and every village has at least one church. This really should be the dominant building and needs to have a tall bell tower
  • Town hall
  • Town square with well or fountain
  • A tower. Towers are a feature of hill villages!
  • A couple of bigger, ‘posher’ buildings
  • A selection of two and three storied town houses of various sizes to create the ‘random’ look

That should be enough to get an Italian village feel.

To make these in MDF, I plan to make them as ‘flat pack’. This means disassembling the buildings into a jigsaw that, when put together will make a 3d building. I think, with some careful planning, I can design some basic principles that can be adapted to make the more complex buildings. Once I have the designs, I can send them to a lazer cutting service

3d Jig Saws

I found a company online (Razor Lab) that will take files and pass them through their laser cutter. To use this service, I need to use their standard material, 3mm thick mdf.

I had planned to start with a basic house to test some principles but cost of materials made it a better option to go for a bigger building. And I’m impatient and wanted to see what I could achieve. So I started with the church and found I had room on the material for a town well.


Basic Principles

mdf doesn’t really support curves, at least not with my limited level of ability and experience (I’m not 4Ground!). So I need to keep to straight lines and right angles where possible.

I’ll need joining points for each piece, so will need to build in tabs. I plan to keep these uniform across all of the models, that way, I can’t get confused. I also plan to design the floor layer to have the same corner tab configuration and size, again to reduce the risk of error.

I’m going to do all of this in the free software Inkscape. I like free…


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I’m going to start with the buildings. Getting this right will be the key. But there is a significant problem…

I’ve taken a look around the internet and I cannot find 15mm scaled Italian buildings, at least none that look decent. I’ve found some Spanish/Mediterranean pieces which look ok, but really look more Spanish rather than Italian.

This presents a problem as no buildings, no hill village.

I think I have two options, I can repurpose buildings already available on the market and make them look Italian or design my own.

On the plus side, during the spring clean challenge, I found a plastic sheet designed for the model railway community. One side of the sheet is moulded to look similar to the roof tiles you find in Italy. This is at least a start although it’s not exactly right. I may need to revisit this at a later date….

The roof tiles. At least a starting pointThe roof tiles. At least a starting point

The options for designing my own buildings:

  • Scratch build them
  • Use mdf
  • Use CAD and 3d print them

Of the above, I think mdf would be the easiest option to try. I don’t have a 3d printer and my skills to scratch build are non-existent.

An early trial

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I took the opportunity during the Spring Cleaning Challenge to put together an Italian Chapel. For that project, I used an old mdf kit that I spruced up. This is what I came up with:

My finished spring clean projectMy finished spring clean project

During the project, I was able to test some basic principles, such as colour of the stone and the colour of the roof tiles. I’m hoping to take some of this into this project.

Research, research, research

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To get this right, I’ve been looking at a lot of images of various Italian villages. The buildings are key to getting this right to give the look and feel of Italy.

Research, research, research
Research, research, research
Research, research, research

As you can see from the images, there are quite a few distinct areas that need to be nailed to get the look right, most notably,

  • The roof tiles
  • Towers
  • The close packed nature of the buildings
  • The variable height and widths of the buildings that create a very non uniform view
  • Buildings that are a mixture of fairly plain and some with arched windows, balconies etc

Most of the above should be possible however the close packing of the buildings could be a challenge if the terrain piece is designed for gaming. There needs to be fields of fire, several entry points etc otherwise it will become too much of a fortress. So this will need a little thought to get the balance right.

Also from the pictures, we can see distinct rock colours, both for the buildings as well as for the actual rocks. There is also a lot of lush vegetation that needs to be included – especially cypress trees.

About this project

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I like my WW2 gaming and particularly the Italian campaign. There is no good reason for this, perhaps it is because it is not as widely known as other theatres of WW2. Perhaps it is due to how hard the battles were. Or the vast number of different nationalities fighting the battles. Regardless, I’ve spent some time building up armies of little fighting men from this theatre – 1st Fallschirmjager, 26th Panzer Division, North Irish Horse Tank Regiment and so forth. Anyone really interested can take a look at my project:

75th Anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino and Northern Italy (Gaming The Battles)

To complement these, I’ve gradually been building up some terrain to add to the setting. One terrain piece alludes me – a traditional Italian hill top village as you might find in Tuscany.

About this project

This is a project that I actually started some time ago and I’m only now getting round to writing it up. I’m lazy.

My aim in this project is not to build a full table on hill top village, although that would look amazing, as space and time doesn’t allow it. What I am aiming to build is a stylised version of a hill top village that can be made into a put down terrain piece on a standard 6×4 table.

It should be big enough to look like a village but not so big that it becomes the entire gaming table or takes up all of the space.

I also play all of my games in 15mm, so it needs to fit to this scale.

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