Absolutely basic area terrain, is one of the most simple projects you can pursue.  Abstract enough to be shifted around mid-game, and effectual enough to keep your HQ safe from a melta-gun.

A staple of 5th edition Warhammer 40k, the almighty area terrain is a classic terrain feature that has it all:  Tactical ambiguity in the form of difficult and dangerous terrain tests, survivability buffs in the form of cover and “Go to Ground” functions, and lastly, the unavoidable need for assault troops to carry Frag Grenades.  It is true that there exist larger, more LOS blocking terrain options, but for your buck?  Area terrain is pretty sweet.

In order to create the zone of area terrain featured above, I spent very little money.  I ordered some pre-cut sheets of masonite from eBay for less than $20 for a stack of 10, then forced some of my industrial arts students to use ban-saws on them (child labor is not endorsed by BoK).  After cutting and rounding the edges of my “organically drawn” pieces of masonite, all it took was a quick coat of textured black, some patterns of brown, a drybrush of grey and white, and some sealer.  The end result is an abstract base of masonite, just itching to offer your infantry some life-saving cover.

The area terrain depicted in the first photo,
is adorned with some “rocks” made from pink-foam.  Pink foam can be purchased from most DIY stores on the cheap, and offers endless hobby possibilities.  To make these rock piles, I used an extendable razorblade to randomly chop a large quantity of angled foam chits.  After making an enormous pile of angular foam, I used some woodglue to affix the piled  foam chunks from large to small.  A bit of textured black paint, some brown smatterings, and a quick drybrush of grey, and I had more rocks than I could ever need.  To be honest, I only ever field %50 of my rocks, even when I want a Necron Tomb World theme.

The trick with most terrain, is that it takes an hour to make one piece, and an hour and a half to make fifty.  If you go into this phase with lots of material, you will come out with far too many rocks for just one table.

The beauty of making these “zones” is that you can populate such areas however you like.  If rocks are not your style, you can use some resin-cast terrain features.  I use these Armorcast skull piles with my Daemon World setup:

If purchased resin is not your style, it is easy enough to carve out chunks of pink foam, and adorn them with clippings from the “fake flowers” section of your nearest hobby shop for a jungle look.  I use the following items when I want to represent a  planet over-run with alien flora:

My point here, is that area terrain, one of the most useful and commonly encountered terrain features in 40k, is also one of the most forgiving to craft.  Once the “area” markers have been established, it is truly a simple task to create a variety of themes and ornaments to cater the feature to your own table or army selection.  As you can see, I personally have built a variety of area terrain features, in an effort to match my own collections.  Also visible, is my obvious anal retentive approach to presentation of my armies.

Regardless, I think that area terrain can move beyond the “patch of felt” level, on the cheap.  In closing: Buy some cheap masonite, cut it in random shapes, texture and paint it to match your board, then cover it with small terrain items.  There is a reason area terrain is so common, and it isn’t due to exploded Chimeras.

Go to town.