Operational Terrain 3: Experimenting on a 4 Inch Hex Grid

I got my Hotz Mat with a 4″ hex grid so I thought I’d try out my Operational terrain so far. This is part of my experimentation to inform the set of rules I’m thinking about called Deep Battle.

Having fun with a hex grid

Here is the Hotz Mat with the 4 inch hex grid. It is a full size (45″ x 72″) Earth Green Game Mat.

Hexes-18 Hotz Mat with 4 inch hex grid
Hexes-18 Hotz Mat with 4 inch hex grid

First I put on the MDF Rivers. I wasn’t following a map/plan so I just put a few on to have a look. I have felt rivers but I prefer the MDF versions because they are more curvy.

Hexes-19 Hotz Mat with painted MDF rivers
Hexes-19 Hotz Mat with painted MDF rivers

The next step was felt roads and railways. Black roads. Grey railway lines.

Hexes-20 Hotz Mat with rivers road and rail
Hexes-20 Hotz Mat with rivers road and rail

Finally I put on woods, hills and towns. The “woods” are single tree models in a forested hex. The “towns” are single ruined houses. I went for ruins so I could easily fit troops inside.

Hexes-21 Hotz Mat with rivers road rail hills wods and towns
Hexes-21 Hotz Mat with rivers road rail hills wods and towns


I’m fairly pleased with the result but I think there are some areas to improve.

I like the:

  • MDF rivers
  • woods
  • black felt roads
  • straight roads and railway lines

But I’m not sure about the:

  • grey felt railway lines
  • ruined towns
  • hills

Straight roads and railway lines

On my Kharkov 1942 Map for PanzerGruppe with 10km Hexes the roads and railway lines are naturally curved. This looks good on a map but once transposed to a table the same roads and railway lines end up dead straight and, more or less, from the centre of a hex to a centre of a hex. I’m okay with that. But it means next time I draw a map I’ll make the roads and railway lines reflect how they will look on table rather than curvy.

Kharkov Map for PzGruppe
Kharkov Map for PzGruppe

Railway lines

There is nothing about the grey felt that screams “railway line”. Of course, anybody I play with will just know they are railway lines but I’d prefer something more suggestive.

Doctor Phalanx uses black felt for his railway lines and brown for roads. I could follow suit but this wouldn’t really address the underlying problem. Black felt looks no more like a railway than grey felt.

I experimented with images of railway lines from Hotz Mats. But that would result in either paper railways lines (flimsy and floaty) or cardboard (floaty and inflexible). By “floaty” I mean will float around the table. In contrast felt terrain sticks to the felt mat.

I’m wondering about printed felt.


A ruined building is pragmatic. But not terribly visually inspired.

I could go for 6mm buildings so they fit in the hex. But that would mean duplicating terrain and I hate that. (Don’t you dare point out that I’ve duplicated rivers, roads and railway lines for this project – it is cruel to point out a man’s self-delusions.)

I could also do a 2D city.

Not sure.


I found that even my smallest hills are too big for a 4″ hex grid.

S&A Scenics have done a few special projects for me. I’m tempted to ask them to make me some tiny hills.

The experiments continue.

13 thoughts on “Operational Terrain 3: Experimenting on a 4 Inch Hex Grid”

  1. Steven,
    a) looks good.
    b) agree about rivers, roads and railways.
    c) I use Brigade Models ‘Small Scale Scenery’ houses etc and (cheap, Chinese) trees on MDF hexes; the houses etc don’t match my 6mm toys, but at operational scale that doesn’t seem to matter…

    • Bill, thanks for the heads up on Small Scale Scenery. I guess I’d used their European City Buildings and Industrial Buildings.

      I can accept a mismatch in scale between the figures and terrain, and buildings in this particular case. At one point I did small base DBA/HOTT with 15mm figures and 6mm terrain (houses and trees). Worked well enough but I abandoned that scheme when I went to big bases.

      You’ve gone with 6mm figures and 2mm buildings. I know that 15mm figures I could go to 6mm buildings – I’ve done it before – but I’m wondering if 2mm would be a step too far. Hard to tell without seeing them.

      As you say “at the operational scale that doesn’t seem to matter”.

  2. Steven

    Three comments/suggestions.

    (1) Yes, I use brown and black! Steam railway beds were pretty dirty.

    (2) At this level of abstraction why not scatter a few Monopoly buildings in the hex? You can pick up old sets in charity shops for next to nothing.

    (3) Have you looked at ready-textured Hexon hills? They’re all ready to use, just buy ’em!

    BTW, do your roads/railways have any game significance? If they don’t you could take the bold step of forgetting them. I have gone to huge lengths to plan detailed terrain for high-level games, but it’s not always been that relevant in game terms, and it was only practical at home, not on a club nights.

    Also, how wide are your railways? There are some model products which might do if you want something more ‘realistic’.


    • Thanks for your comments Richard. Always helpful.

      (1) My draft rules railways and permanent hard roads are significant for game play. This might change. We’ll see. If they weren’t significant I would definitely remove them from the maps/tables as they add quite a lot of complexity and clutter.

      I agree about dirt. But I went for black roads because they represent permanent hard roads rather than dirt tracks that dissolve in the Rasputitsa. So if roads are black, what colour for the railways? I went with grey. Could have been a darker grey, I admit. Anyway, I’m now thinking about something else that I think is better.

      The roads and railways are currently 1cm wide, as per your suggestion. I might go slightly narrower in the future (8mm)

      (2) I like the suggestion of monopoly blocks. I’ll investigate. Anybody have a big collection they want to dispose of?

      (3) I have looked at Hexon but rejected them for several reasons:

      (a) expense – although I admit my operational experiments have not been cheap
      (b) storage – you know what I mean
      (c) reuse – my general terrain approach is to get terrain that I can use for any game system, scenario, table.
      (d) one size does not fit all – I’m thinking about 6″ hexes / squares.

  3. Steven

    The three products I was thinking of were:

    (1) Irregular Miniatures almost certainly do railway track in 2mm.
    (2) Hornby used to sell bags of small plastic track which OO railway modellers used for track planning. I don’t know exactly what size it was/is.
    (3) Search eBay for Lone Star 000 track. The original metal track which I had as a small child in the late 50s linked together and was very solid.


    • I’m no expert but I suspect OO and OOO are too big. OOO has a 22mm gauge and OO has a 16.5 mm gauge. Don’t ask me why OOO is bigger. I’d need something much smaller, perhaps 5mm gauge – which doesn’t exist as a railway modelling scale.

  4. Just rereading some of your posts relevant to Deep Battle in anticipation of further developments…the Hornby track planner stuff I mentioned wasn’t fullsize OO but a much smaller scale representation of it. However, I’ve not been able to find any further reference to it as I guess it’s been superseded by computer modelling programs.



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