Excerpt from the Junior Officer’s Pocketbook – 1894

Considerations for Small Unit Actions by Major Bullington-Smythe MC, Commanding Officer, The Prince of Wales’s Extraordinary Company.

There shall come a time in every Junior Officer’s career where he shall find himself leading a handful of men against a capable and cunning foe. The guidance below is based upon notes made by the author in small unit actions across Africa, the Caribbean and China.

Such small engagements are often the fulcrum upon which events of much greater import revolve. The turning of an enemy flank, the capture of an enemy leader or flag, the stalwart rear-guard that enables the regiment to withdraw and reform, and in more recent times, the thwarting of foreign agents and their nefarious schemes.

To paraphrase the late Field Marshal von Moltke, “No operation extends with any certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy”. This is no truer than in the command and leadership of small units in the ofttimes chaotic engagements they endure. The force that succeeds shall not necessarily be the one with the greater numbers or better equipment. Instead, it is the force that has the most adaptable leadership and the most complete moral certainty in their cause. The author has seen bellicose Highlanders put to flight by savage Pathans for this very reason.

When one leads men into such a situation one must assess the following:

1. The objective of the mission;

2. The ground across which one must fight;

3. The troops and equipment at your disposal;

4. The likely actions of the enemy.

The author shall address each of these in turn below, but first he shall address the matter of good leadership. In Small Unit Actions everything shall depend up on the steadiness of command. With such a small number of men they shall advance or retreat depending on their faith in the strength of character of their commander. Such actions are often over in mere minutes, and, without bold and decisive leadership, the men shall waiver and fall to confusion.

At the Royal Military College, you men will have learnt how to give orders with accuracy, brevity and clarity. This skill shall show its worth in such engagements as we here discuss. Direct your men with confidence and precision and you will often succeed by that alone. For given a clear order a man shall do his utmost to complete it. If confused, he can become distracted and easily put to flight.

Make good use of your NCOs, especially the senior men. They have the trust of the soldiers they lead, for they may have been with them for many years. They are the steadfast example their men need when all falls to chaos and bloodshed around them. In Small Unit Actions you should take these men into your confidence as far as you are made able by your orders.

If you must divide your force, then they shall then act for as leaders of the other parts and as such the more they know the better they can continue the mission should you fall. Ask for and respect their opinions as usually they shall be more experienced than you. At the end of the day though you are the Officer and must take the decisions that will save or doom your men.

The NCOs know this and shall rely upon you for it.

The Four Principles of Small Unit Action

1. The Objective

In most cases you shall have your orders. You may not be entirely wise as to why you are ordered to do or achieve what is stated within them and it is not your place to question. It is only important that you succeed in carrying them out to the best ability of your men and yourself. The cost you may be asked to pay is of no consequence when put against the larger picture seen only by your superiors. When engaging the enemy, you must put other considerations aside and concentrate wholly on your objective. Anger, the fear of loss of good men and equipment, the wish to return harm unto your enemy, or other motivations must not divert you from this.

2. The Ground

Your appreciation of the ground across which you shall fight may be the determining factor in whether you succeed or fail, live, or die. As you did in training ask yourself the following questions:

a. Where is the objective?

b. What cover may be gained from the terrain before you?

c. What are the clearest lanes of fire that you might dominate by well-placed men?

d. From where are your enemy most likely to come?

e. What cover might be afforded to them and how might you deny them that refuge?

f. How shall the terrain hinder or aid your movement?

g. To where might the enemy escape if defeated?

The terrain may afford you the luxury of a well-covered approach or place you in the position where you must move with boldness and speed to achieve your objective.  Open ground always holds deadly potential and, if you must attempt it, do your best to make any enemy uncomfortable through accurate covering fire. Grenades and smoke are often useful for obscuring your advance. It is important to remember that you shall not have a battalion at your back in Small Unit Actions. So, you must enlist the ground itself to multiply your effectiveness and become that battalion.

3. Troops and Equipment

You must appreciate that you shall never have enough men, nor all the equipment that you might want. With the best will in the world you are probably are going to suffer a lack of some measure. So, you must make best use of what you do have.

Small Unit Actions are mostly short, on occasion only a minute or two in duration, and seldom longer than twenty. Your men must be able to move quickly and be prepared to fight at close quarters. One could deploy a squadron of Guards in full armour, carrying heavy weapons and enough ammunition to refight the Crimea but your enemy shall dance around them and be off before you can even turn to face.

For an ordinary infantryman one recommends a reinforced tunic or, if the enemy is expected to have heavier weapons, brigandine. Give each man a rifle, three clips of ammunition, a bayonet (fixed before the engagement to save time) and possibly a grenade or two. This is more than enough for the purpose.

Armour, such as it is, often has a greater effect by instilling confidence in the wearer than it does in actually stopping injuries.

If you need heavy support, then deploy two men to carry and use a Maxim – or better yet one of the new Vickers models being considered by the Ordnance Board.

Perhaps add a Sapper to bring a Congreve. You should not need more this is not Omdurman.

For yourself the classic Pistol and Sabre combination, and perchance a Breastplate should suffice. Some Officers in the Extraordinary Battalion are known to favour shortened shotguns or even carbines. However, I find these hard to fire in one’s offhand. Personally, I do not favour the new-fangled Arc pistols as they are useless when pressed in close combat, yet some of my fellow Officers swear by them.

I recommend heavier armour for the Officer because you are the core about which your enterprise succeeds or fails. If you should fall, then the chances of success are greatly diminished.

On occasion you may have access to extraordinary equipment. The usefulness of Faraday or Vulcan coats cannot be underestimated against the right foe. Heavy support from a Mechanical Walker, despite their innate unreliability, could provide a real advantage. In each case though take only what you need for each of these items comes at a tactical cost.

One of the problems common to Small Unit Actions is the effective concentration of force. It is not unusual for men to become quickly separated and fall to confusion as a result.  At most divide your force into three parties. Each with a minimum of three men and each given clear orders, amongst which must be the command to stay together. In a classic engagement one of these three is the support party. This contains a heavy weapon, if you have one, or acts a reserve. If it is the former it should move to a point where it commands the greatest part of the field of battle. If it is the latter ,then it must keep pace with the others and be prepared to act upon command with immediate effect.

The other two parties, led by your NCO and yourself, should be prepared to lend fire support to each other and to drive out the enemy where necessary. One of these two should have the task of securing/achieving the objective. Whereas the task of the other is to engage, frustrate and prevent the enemy from doing likewise. Which one you choose to command is your decision.

If you have insufficient men and can only manage to divide into two parties, then set one to frustrating the enemy and the other to the achievement of the objective. If one has a surgeon or medical orderly place him with the latter.

4. The Enemy

Know thine enemy as thyself” is the wisest advice I can give. 

It is not often that you shall be sent into action with absolutely no knowledge of your enemy and his capabilities. Take what time you have to acknowledge his strengths and weaknesses, what equipment he shall likely bring to the field, and what tactics he favours. Perhaps engage the support of other Officers who have met this enemy before.

Do not fall to arrogance lest you underestimate your foe. We did so at Isandlwana and paid a heavy price for our belief that the Zulu was an untutored and cowardly savage. That a much smaller force survived at Rorke’s Drift was due in no small part to two British Officers realising how powerful their enemy could be, and thus playing to their own strengths and planning their meagre resources accordingly.

If competently led, each enemy shall play to their strengths. The fanatical zeal of the Boxer, the fearsome hand-to-hand fighting skills of the Zulu, the guile and marksmanship of the Pathan, the desperate courage and self-sacrifice of the Anarchist, the precision of the Prussian, the élan of the French Legionnaire.  Place yourself in the shoes of the leader of such men and consider how you would use them to achieve the objective. Then plan to frustrate them by this insight.

Some of our enemies have begun to use great beasts in Small Unit Actions. These are a terrifying spectacle to behold and can cause a man’s courage to drain away like water. The best way to deal with these is concentrated fire, something to which fortunately most seem especially vulnerable. Once downed, the moral advantage moves to your men for they have defeated a denizen of Hell and are subsequently less afraid of the mere men that summoned it.

At the end of the day, what you shall achieve in a such an engagement shall be in direct proportion to that which you are willing to hazard. You shall lose men and you may also fall, but this matters naught if you succeed. It is only a waste if you fail.

Finally, concern yourself only with that which you can command. Let the Lord God concern himself with the rest.

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Doing things on the cheap

One of the things that often appalls me as a wargamer is the apparent entry cost of many games. First you have the rulebook, its supplements, rulers, dice, terrain and then the unpainted figures you then have to paint or pay someone to paint for you.
All this must be very off-putting to new players.
However, it does not have to be this way. There are several ways to get into a game without paying north of £100/$100 and as the Ministry’s skinflint-in-chief here are a few examples…

  1. Digital rulebooks
    Most wargames companies have embraced the digital nature of the world today. You don’t have to get their expensive 300+ page hardbacks as they will usually sell you a digital version for half that price or even give you the basic rules (without fluff and pictures) for nothing.
  2. Terrain
    There are numerous companies and creators out there who have created terrain that you simple print on light card, cut-out and assemble. Much of this is absolutely beautiful and surprisingly durable. For example: Dave Graffam produces a wide range of useful terrain at very little cost, and once you own the PDF you can print as many as you like. [http://www.davesgames.net/]
    If you have a 3D printer Thingiverse and Cults3D are full of free terrain objects you can print.
  3. Figures
    The obvious route here seems to be to download designs from Thingiverse/Cults3D and simply 3D print them. Of course they are not painted, and the range is still a little limited. If you do not have a 3D printer there are hundreds of producers in Etsy willing to sell you decent prints.
    A much cheaper option though is to print 2.5D paper craft figures on card. Numerous artists now produce ranged of these for a tiny cost. Look up Dave Okum on Drivethru RPG for amazing examples. http://www.okumarts.com/
  4. Figure bases
    There are plenty of companies who will sell you incredibly detailed resin or plastic bases that can cost more than the figures that stand on them. However, if you just want something simple go to your local craft store and buy bags of 50+ small wooden 1mm thick disks for a couple of pounds/euros/dollars.
A David Okum Troll on a textured wooden base

The pictures I have added here are of a Dave Okum Troll, on a wooden base and painted with a textured acrylic paint that cost me, all in, about 10 pence. I printed the figure from a five page PDF which includes 20 detailed full-colour figures and terrain pieces, used a 40mm wooden disk from The Works (pack of fifty includes 40mm, 25mm and 20mm disks for £2), and painted the base with a textured Acrylic paint from the middle of Lidl (5 x 100ml tubes for £6.99). Assembly took me ten minutes for five figures.
In an afternoon you could easily print, assemble and base a 100 figure army, while listening to Youtube videos telling you how to play the game.

Cheap textured acrylic paint from the middle of Lidl
Wooden bases from The Works

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Bad news from 4Ground

It is with great regret that we have to inform you that this long-term partner of ours in the wargaming world will soon close its doors. Here is their statement:

This is an important announcement from Tymeagain Ltd. We are closing 4Ground due to increasing costs. 4Ground Publishing is having a closing down sale, ending on the 30th of June 2022. At that time, Tymeagain Ltd. will complete any remaining orders but will not accept further orders for 4Ground product. It’s been an incredible journey and we can’t thank you enough for all the years of support and enthusiasm from the amazing community of terrain lovers!

4Ground were the company that created the Ministry game tokens that you can still get from North Star Miniatures, and many of the buildings that you have seen in our various show boards.

We have been on their website today and they have already started applying significant discounts to many of their magnificent products. So you might want to get in their early before the stock is gone.

Other companies in our hobby have also been talking about the deleterious effect of increased costs, especially in materials and energy, has been having on them. As many are very small companies, with limited resources, who already run on tight margins we are concerned that 4Ground shall not be the last to be affected in this way.

The Ministry would like to thank Cad and his crew for the great service they have provided over the last decade, and we will treasure the many excellent products we have bought from them.

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Adapting Thud & Blunder warband lists to match your collection

Robbin’ B’stard & his Merry Goblins

I must admit that I am very fond of Goblins, far more than their larger cousins the Orcs, so I decided to create a goblin-only warband from 9.4.16 Orcs and Goblins list.

In that list the goblins are very much the junior partners and are used as scouts and cannon fodder. To cut them away and make them stand on their own two feet I had to make several small, yet significant changes.

First though, the theme. Whenever I create a list, I start with a theme. In this case I took the classic Robin Hood trope and turned it to the short and dark side. So, we have a band of goblins with a cunning leader, who are into highway robbery. Taking from the rich, to keep for themselves.

To begin with I pulled out the goblins from my figure collection. I have a huge number of GW Night Goblins which, though characterful, lack a certain medieval villainy. I also have a small group of goblins my friend Martin sculpted. These could easily be buffed to make a 200pt list and would form the core onto which I could add more later (I’m thinking a small troop of wolf riders, and some more raiders, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.

I will need to start with my chief – the Robbin’ B’Stard of the title. As goblins must rely on their cunning, I chose to base him on a bow-armed Raider. In the original list there is a named goblin called Sly, a right sniper. I took Sly, improved his Destiny from 5+ to 4+, and gave him Leadership +2. One of Martin’s sculpts is perfect for him.

Then I looked at the rest of the band of figures. I have five armed with shortsword, to whom I added a rectangular shield from my Oathmark Human Soldier sprues to make my Ravagers. These little guys are going to get in the thick of it, so they need all the armour they can carry. As a group of four their job will be to mob enemy combatants and drag them down with numbers and sheer spite

To lead them I took the bareheaded Ravager figure, gave him Leadership +1, and improved his Destiny from 6+ to 5+. As a spin on Robin Hood, I called him ‘Little Nob’ (because of his bald head, you dirty-minded rascals).

Now things get interesting as I want a little magical edge. Thus, I adapted the Orc Junior Shaman to make Hissing Sid, the Goblin shaman, which suits one of Martin’s figures wielding a magical staff. The decision is what magical powers suit this warband. Heal was my first choice, so he can get fallen comrades (of which there may be many, given their destiny stat) back into the fight. Then Spectral Dart, which he can use on important foes… and their mounts. Finally, his most important spell – darkness. It’s an any phase spell which weaves a 12” diameter area of darkness over the battlespace, giving it the equivalent of Light level 0. This shields his comrades, blinds his foes, and makes life very difficult all round.

To assist with this, I gave all the Goblins the Nighteyes trait, so they can navigate and fight their enemies in the pitch black. They also received the Stealthy trait, so that even when they are not in darkness, they are harder to shoot at.

Finally, I wanted a brute squad so picked up the main list’s optional Ogre from the Bestiary. I armed him with a big club for smashing down the enemies’ finest. Then, reading the description, I realised that we had never defined a thrown boulder in the Armoury. So, I gave it some thought and gave it +1 to hit because it is a big missile to dodge, -2 on the Destiny roll as this will hurt and a relatively short range of 12”, for a total of 9 points. I’m still wondering if it should be considered a Sundering weapon when attacking vehicles or structures.

Overall, I now have an operational goblin list of just under 240 points. To round it out I am going to create five Raiders armed with Shortbows and improved with the Stealthy and Nighteyes traits, at 25 points apiece. Then a trio of wolf riding raiders to harass enemies at speed.

Note: I do not paint my orcs and goblins green. I much prefer a paler flesh tone.

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The Great Wargames Survey 2021

Every year Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy Magazine runs the great Wargames Survey.
This excellent work covers the entire hobby and provides useful analysis for players, designers, creators, retailers, and wargames companies.

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Thud & Blunder Announcement!

Note that North Star have discounted the price of T&B for a few days. It is now £21 for the hardback instead of £27. This discount shall only last a couple of days

. Got to: https://www.northstarfigures.com/prod.php?prod=13242

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From Russia with love…

Last year I ordered a couple of card building kits and one ship kit from a company called Rubrand in Russia. They were really cheap and looked excellent from the photographs on their website. I had seen some of them being used by people online and received some recommendations, including one regarding the company’s good customer service.

So, I placed my order, winced a little at the shipping costs, and almost immediately received confirmation from the company, then a shipping tracking number. They clearly warned that shipping from Russia to the UK took 6-8 weeks.

Well six weeks later, to the day, they arrived, well-packed and in good order.  I opened the packaging and found that the accompanying sheets were all in Russian – oh dear I thought. However, they had obviously employed an IKEA flat-pack furniture designer, for the build instructions were well-drawn and quite clear. All the parts are numbered and referenced on the instructions.

The buildings each came in two A4, 1.5mm thick, card sheets. They are printed both sides in full colour. The scale is 25mm, but honestly, I use 28mm figures with them all the time and do not notice. Pressing out the parts was very easy, and they even provided a toothpick to push out the smaller parts such as the tab holes.

It took me a couple of hours to construct the two buildings. They are a fold, tab & slot design that, once you get the hang of it is quite intuitive. The first time I pushed a tab into a slot I was terrified of bending or breaking it, but the card is quite robust. There are one or two places where you have to try and manoeuver three-tab insertions at the same time, which  can be challenging. It is worth noting that every fold line has been pre-pressed and folds easily.

A watchtower and house with figures to scale

The one real tip I can give other assemblers is examine each instruction diagram very carefully. Do not assume that this tab goes in that slot, because that’s the way it worked in the last diagram. Also build it in the order on the diagram. They have coloured arrows that instruct you on what order to assemble individual pieces.

At the end of the build, I was left with two colourful buildings. Each has a fully detailed interior that can be accessed through walls and roofs that fold open. All windows are open, and the exterior main doors are hinged. They really are quite strong, and I intend to affix them to detailed mounting board bases just to finish them and prevent any future warping. I am toying with having pairs of tabs rising from the card base to grip the walls so that the base can be detached for ease of storage.

There was also a small sheet of 25mm card figures (standees) with each set. These make great ‘civilians’ and I am building up a collection of them to use in RPGs and skirmish games. One building, the Smithy, came with a separate blacksmith, anvil and a horse. The other, a Marketplace, came with a few stalls and a cart. All useful scatter terrain.

The ship was a little more challenging, and I am glad I left it to last. The skills I picked up constructing the buildings paid off though and an hour later I had a medieval cog. Lining up multiple tabs and slots as I constructed the hull did have me sweating and swearing a bit. I then spent another hour figuring out the rigging, but that is always the case with model sailing vessels. Note that the ships are waterline models.

Anyway, fast forward to June 2021. I see someone recommending the Rubrand buildings on Facebook, and then realize that they have bought these through Amazon. They are being marketed as Keranova Clever Paper and are still as cheap as chips.

Long story short, I ordered a further four buildings, including a stone tower, and these arrived just three days later. I have already built all of them, which took just a couple of hours. I did note that several designs had low stock warnings so check this before ordering.

Several come with town walls attached which can be joined together.

Each building costs £11-15 and comes fully coloured. They require no cutting, no glue or other preparation. They also pass the arm’s length test, i.e. if it looks great at arm’s length it is perfect for tabletop gaming. Honestly, because the tabs are coloured to match the walls they push through, you often do not notice them at all, unless you are looking for them.

At the moment the majority of the usable (i.e. 25-28mm) buildings in the range are for Medieval Europe, but since many such buildings have survived right up to the present day, they could be used in any intervening period. They also do some Western buildings as well, and several other ships.

If there is something the range lacks it is roads, streams, low walls and fences. They would be a welcome addition.

Now, although I love making my own terrain, I shall certainly continue collecting these until I have at least one of each from the range. That will give me enough buildings to quickly construct a small town on a 3ft/1m square board and populate it with civilians and scatter terrain.

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New Houses – first layer of paint

So, I have begun to paint the new house.

First a simple base coat of watered down white acrylic. I let that dry for 24 hours. I use artists acrylics for most of my painting. They are hard wearing, adhere to most surfaces well and, most importantly are cheap.

Then I began painting the plaster on the outside of the walls. A mix of Yellow Ochre and white produces a nice creamy plaster finish. I always leave such combinations only half-mixed, so then I can make lighter and darker variations on the fly. This is a medieval house so no need for consistency here. This is the first coat but it takes well. I will be doing some weathering later.

Following that I paint the beams. For this I use watered down Raw Umber. Most woods used in this sort of building have been allowed to age and harden, so more obvious browns are unlikely, as it a fresh pine look. The ‘distressing’ I did on the beams during their constructions shows up nicely as the dark paint fills in the cracks and leaves natural highlights on the surface.

Finally I do the stone plinths. A simple dark grey wash works well here. I shall highlight it properly one this coat dries.

Next I’ll be giving the inside walls a base and first coat, and once that is doen I can move onto some detailing.

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Character Spotlight 1 – Lady Felicity

This is the first of what are going to be a series of short articles on iconic characters in IHMN that have significantly changed between the first and second editions.

One of the iconic figures that North Star produced for the first release of In Her Majesty’s Name was Lady Felicity. I wrote her specifically to include an interesting female character into what otherwise was an entirely male company.

The good Lady Felicity admonishing Sairah on bringing her knives to a gun fight.

Let’s start by looking at Lady Felicity in the first edition:

Lady Felicity, sometimes known as ‘Two-Gun Tess’, is Lord Curr’s constant companion and almost as much of a maverick as he is. She wears normal-looking clothes with the equivalent of a Magneto-static waistcoat built into her bodice. She carries two expensive Italian custom-made pearl-handled pistols, with which she is an expert shot – particularly when firing one in each hand. She is a Socialite and has the Gunslinger Talent.”

PluckFVSVSpeedCostTalentsBasic Equipment
5++0+4+024Gunslinger2 pistols, Magneto-static waistcoat (in bodice)

That Gunslinger talent was supposed to make her a fearsome adversary. She could split her SV and get two shots per shooting phase, each one at +3 to hit. However, it never really gave her the real edge I had hoped for the character.

Moving onto the second edition.

“Lady Felicity Marchbanke, sometimes known as ‘Two-Gun Tess’, is Lord Curr’s constant companion and almost as much of a maverick as he is. She wears the most fashionable outfits from the finest dressmakers but with a Magneto-Static Repulsor built into her bodice.

“She carries two Webley-Fosberry .38s, presented to her by Fosberry himself, with which she is an expert shot – particularly when firing with one in each hand. Lord Curr calls her his ‘delightful surprise’.”

FigurePluckFVSVSpeedArmour RatingCost
Lady Felicity4++0+4+1Shooting 9,  Fighting 1077
Talents / PowersEquipment
Gunslinger, Hero [2 Hero Points], Lightning Shot, Marksman, Snapshooter, Speedshooter, Weapon Master [pistol]Magneto-Static Repulsor, steam dynamo, two pistols

You will immediately notice that she has trebled in cost, and that she has a bevy of extra talents. She can react immediately to anyone drawing a bead on her, she can shoot every single figure in a group at full effect with her two pistols, she ignores cover when shooting, she can choose her targets when firing into a fight, she can split her shots as before, and is now a master of the pistol.

She is now a whole different kettle of fish to the old Felicity. Get her close and people are going to die quickly.

She also had an improvement to her Pluck and Speed to reflect her experience in such a rough and tough company as The Incorrigibles.

This is my Lady Felicity, a match for any man in her company and beloved of them all.

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New Houses

In preparation for the next round of shows, I have been experimenting with unfamiliar materials to build houses from.

In the past I have mostly used mounting card and 5mm foam board for this. They are sturdy, especially when based, and have served me well.

However, I recently bought a stack of dense grey foam in A3 sheets. The reason for this is that with my previous materials I had to spend a lot of time adding extra materials to do the detailing I wanted. Online I had watched other terrain crafters using this grey foam sheet and noted that they could put the detail directly onto the sheet.

Below is the first full house I have built using this new (to me anyway) material. All the detailing you can see on the foam was done with an old (ink gone dry) ball point pen, and rubber end of a pencil. I took inspiration from photos of old wood framed houses, so it will look moderately realistic.

All the cut details, such as the door and window holes, and the drain were done with a chisel tipped scalpel. Then I have added 3D-printed windows and door.
Inside I have also added more detailing showing the wood frame and plaster. This needs less work as most people will not see it.

The house design includes showing the wood framed house sitting on a stone plinth. This is because I am using a sheet of grey foam as the ground floor inside. I have detailed that with a flagstone roller (Green Stuff World).

One of the advantages of using both this grey foam and standard foam board is that you can improve the strength of the joint between walls and floors with cocktail sticks or cut match sticks, as well as the adhesive.

I intend to add an upper floor, probably made from coffee stirrers, which shall lift out for access to the ground floor, and a set of stairs.
Externally there will be a lift off roof, fully tiled with card.

I shall paint each wall individually, inside and out, before assembly, this makes it easier to reach those fiddly corners. The windows and doors will also be painted separately before being fitted.

Finally, the whole assembly shall be adhered to a mounting board base to give it extra strength.

As I progress I shall post updates and photos on this blog

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