Let's Build! Victorian Ruins Pt 1

Updated: Feb 16

Written by Sarah-Anne


This build is a perfect compliment to your Gothic-Horror or Apocalyptic tabletop game. In Part 1 of this build you will learn how to build the structures themselves, ready to be painted in Part 2!

Materials required:

  • foamcore

  • PVA glue

  • Hot glue/PL Premium Construction Adhesive

  • Grout/model texture paste

  • Balsa wood (various sizes)

  • Mod Podge (tinted with black acrylic paint)

Tools required:

  • hobby knife

  • Pencil/pen

  • Carving tools/cocktail toothpicks

  • Cup and stir sticks (to mix grout)

  • Ball of aluminium foil

  • Paint brushes (one for painting and one (preferable old) for applying grout/texture paste)

When I first started this project, I had a rough idea of the number of buildings and the approximate shapes I wanted, but left the final designs pretty flexible. Though I had made a small trial building with this technique this was the first time I would make buildings this way that would end up on an actual gaming table and wasn't sure how the final result would turn out. What I did know is that I wanted the walls to be the width of two foamcore sheets for added strength, and wanted the corners to overlap in the hopes that it would make them more durable. Since this was my first attempt I decided to stick with simple four sided boxes, but plan in the future to try this technique with more complicated shapes.


On a single sheet of foamcore, I measured out the width and max height of each building’s sides, knowing that I wanted some single- and some double-storied buildings. Since I was making more than one building at a time, I made sure to mark each side with the building number for future use. I drew the top edge of each building along all four sides, making sure that the beginning of the first side and the end of the last one are the same height (so that they match up when the sides are turned into a box).

After cutting out each side, I used a new piece of foamcore to make a second copy of each side (traced from original), but removed 0.50 cm from either side edge (the width of the foamcore) for the joining seams. After removing the paper backing of each side and its copy I glued both sides together. Note: PVA glue works best for this step - it takes longer to dry but does not add any additional bulk between layers. This way the original piece became the external side, the slightly smaller piece became the interior.

On the outward facing side I added architectural details and additional build outs, using existing Georgian and Victorian-style buildings for inspiration (Google for the win!) I tried to think ahead to what areas would become brick, stone, or stucco, and focused on details such as door or window lintels and other masonry additions. Again I didn't have much of a plan in advance, but rather chose elements that looked best as I went forward.

Once the added details were fully dried, I added the surface texture for the areas that will become brick or stone. (For more detailed instruction you can follow our tutorials for brick and stone here. In addition to the larger walls surfaces, I added cracks and breaks where brick will show through the stucco texture added later.

Now for this step you can use either hot glue or PL Premium, and there are benefits for either technique: hot glue will bond almost instantly and eliminates drying time (and is quite inexpensive), but it tends to add additional bulk to the side seams and the walls may not line up properly. PL Premium (which can be found in most hardware stores) is what I prefer due to its strong bond (these will be carted back and forth between games), though PVA or tacky glue could be used if you don't have access to it. Because the outer layer is just slightly longer than the interior it creates an ‘L’ shape at each end and the walls should fit in together with one end overlapping the other.


At this point I need to sing the praises of an item that I am intimately familiar with from my sewing crafts, but would not have normally thought of for terrain crafting: sewing pins. I don't know why it took me so long to discover how useful these little objects are outside of sewing, but am I ever glad I did! Using push pins to hold the sides together can help ensure a tight bond while the glue dries, and can be easily removed once cured by twisting the pins gently while pulling them out. These little guys are a must-have if I you are using any long-curing adhesive on XPS foam!

Note: Though you should always be wearing protective gloves when using any adhesive, this is even more important when using a construction adhesive such as PL Premium. Trust me, you do not want this on your hands... I speak from experience!

Now I should mention here that though I knew I wanted to add some areas of second floor that would look like they had broken away, I hadn't really given much thought to how I would actually construct it until this point and just sort of winged it. I also realized that if I added the bottoms to the second story buildings at the same time as I did the single-storied ones, I would not be able to properly paint the bottom of the second floors, nor the walls directly underneith. So I went ahead several steps on those areas before adding the bottoms, along with pre-painting the bottom floors before attaching for the same reason (as you'll see in some of the following pictures).


Using strips of balsa wood, I added pieces to the bottom of each door and window to represent the jambs. You could go as far as to frame out the entire door or window (what I initially thought I would do) or add just a few pieces here and there (as I ended up actually doing) depending on how ruined you want the final piece to look. I decided to cut the odd piece partway to look like it had been broken off. If you find the wood grain of the balsa is not pronounced enough (as I did), you can use a sculpting tool or tip of a mechanical pencil (or other fine pointed tool) to score exaggerated grain in the wood.

To create the bottoms, I traced each building exterior onto a new piece of foamcore and cut it out, adding an additional 0.50 cm where each door would go for the steps. I took my trusted ball of aluminium foil (it is literally how it sounds: a length of aluminium foil rolled tightly into a ball) and texture the sides (and the top of each door step) along with lines to mimic the stone block seams. On the top (which will become the floor of each building) I also added more stone texture with the foil ball, and created individual stone tiles with a toothpick. Note: you may want to add an additional layer of foamcore textured to look like wooden planks to mimic areas where wooden floorboards remain on top of the stone foundation. See our tutorial here. Then I attached the bottom in the same way you attached the walls, sewing pins included.

With the flooring sufficiently attached, it was time to apply the ‘stucco’. If you are using model texture paste, you could apply it right from the bottle in a thin, even layer. If using grout (as I did), mix with water until you have a thin paste. With an old brush I applied it in a thin even layer, changing direction the direction of my brush requently to avoid any obvious brush strokes. In this example I choose to apply the stucco to the exterior only, but you could apply it both inside and outside depending on the look you’re going for. Be careful when adding the stucco around any areas that are supposed to be cracked (with the brick layer visible underneath) to not get the paste into the recessed, and the slight depth the stucco layer adds will really help to sell the idea that the foundations of the walls were originally created with brick.

Once the grout or texture paste has full dried (preferably overnight) I gave the buildings an even coat of Mod Podge (tinted with black acrylic paint - a wonderful idea from Black Magic Craft). The Mod Podge acts as a sealant for the delicate foamcore and brittle stucco texture, and the paint provides a base coat (without having to add an additional layer of paint or primer that might otherwise start to obscure your finer details). Once dry, my build portion is complete, and it was time to start the painting!

Be sure to check out how I painted the structures in Part 2 of our Let’s Build: Ruined Victorian City!

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