Thursday, January 1, 2015

Making a Two-Dimensional Zone Mortalis Board

Dark Angels defend their ship from attack by Saim-Hann Eldar.
A follow-up to my 6 December discussion of how to create a fun, versatile, and durable two-dimensional Zone Mortalis board, with additional pictures of my Zone Mortalis board and how to make a Zone Mortalis board of your very own!  


For those of you who don't know what Zone Mortalis (ZM) is, it's a style of game for Warhammer 40k (and 30k) which uses a special subset of rules and a tightly-confined, maze-like battlefield to represent warfare in places like underground corridors or spacecraft.  To give you an idea, you may see a picture of Forge World's Realm of Battle Zone Mortalis Battlefield Complex on their website at:,000_Terrain/REALM_OF_BATTLE_ZONE_MORTALIS_BATTLEFIELD_COMPLEX.html.  Forge World also offers some beautiful blast doors to use with its ZM Battlefield Complex:,000_Terrain/ZONE_MORTALIS_BLAST_DOOR_SET.html.

I knew that I wanted to build a 30k army representing the VIIth Legion, the Imperial Fists, and I knew that meant I would be playing a lot of Zone Mortalis (such close-quarters fights are the Fists' specialty!).  Moreover, once I read the rules for playing Zone Mortalis scenarios, I was hooked!  The ZM Battlefield Complex, however, is just a little outside of my price-range at present.  So, I decided to make a board of my own.  Using poster board, I created a proof-of-concept board:

Zone Mortalis proof-of-concept, made using poster board.
Using a marker, I drew a grid of 2" squares on several one-foot squares of poster board.  I then filled-in various squares to create the "wall" sections, using the patterns from the Forge World ZM Battlefield Complex as exemplar.  The "floor" sections I made by adding dots to represent rivets.  I made "doors," some wide in 2" sections, and some narrow in 1" sections, to be used either in wide or narrow corridors, respectively.  On one side I drew the doors to represent the doors being closed, and on the flip side I drew the floors to represent the doors being opened.

Then, I arranged the squares together and played a game with a friend to see whether the two-dimensional nature of the board detracted significantly from the experience:

The Crimson Fists battle the Dark Angels in a desperate boarding action...on square-foot sections of poster board....
The game was a blast!  It didn't matter at all that the board was two-dimensional. In fact, we noted quickly that one of the advantages of the two-dimensional board was added flexibility; for instance, we could make more doorways and passages simply by laying a door on top of a wall section (see, e.g., the one-on-one battle between our warlords taking place in the "control room," created by laying doors down atop wall sections).

So, I decided to create a much larger board, 4' x 4', to play 1,000 point games.  Because the posterboard was rather flimsy, I chose to make my larger board out of tiles of thin plasticard.  Sheets of plasticard (otherwise known as "sheet styrene") are available online through Amazon Prime.  I bought sixteen sheets of 12"x12" styrene 0.060" thick, which looked like this:
With a chisel-tipped Sharpie-brand marker, I drew a similar grid of 2" squares to those I had drawn on the posterboard tiles, including dots to represent riveting, and I filled-in a number of the grid-squares to represent walls:
Using four basic patterns of tile, I made four tiles for each pattern which I could combine to create a seemingly inexhaustible variety of 4'x4' battlespaces:
One of each of the four basic types of ZM tile.  Note the posterboard doors in both the "open" and "closed" positions.

I also bought a pack of thinner styrene sheets, 0.030" thick, to be used to make doors and objective markers.  I have not yet gotten around to that particular project, however, so I simply continue to use the posterboard doors discussed above, which seem to work well enough:
2" and 1" posterboard doors in both the "open" and "closed" positions.  Note:  making the "open" and "closed" positions on the flip-sides of the posterboard doors was my wife Sara's brilliant idea!
Two ZM tiles with posterboard doors, in the "closed" position, blocking the corridors.

The same two ZM tiles with two of the doors in the "open" position.
The remarkable thing about the two-dimensional Zone Mortalis board is the ability to create more complex battlespaces by adding additional doors in places where the physics of a three-dimensional board might constrain, or even preclude, doing so.  Two-dimensional doors can be placed pretty much anywhere on the two dimensional board, potentially creating a far more dynamic experience (and even more variety!):
The same two ZM tiles, above, with a "closed" 2" door overlaying a wall segment to create an additional passageway.
As above, with the 2" door "open," allowing passage where there would only be a wall on a three-dimensional board.
The next step in this project is to cover each tile with clear acetate paper.  That will allow me to draw objectives and perhaps even terrain (e.g., rubble; drainage systems; booby traps) directly onto the tiles using dry-erase markers.

Then, once my thesis is done and armies are painted (my Crimson Fists, my Eldar, my Night Goblins, and VIIth Legion, as well as my Aeronautica squadrons and my Eldar and Imperial Battlefleet Gothic fleets), I can begin to design and build a three-dimensional Zone Mortalis board that would allow me the same versatility as my two-dimensional board.  Probably something involving magnets.  For now, the two-dimensional board works just fine, as you will see in my upcoming battle report!