Generic 17th – 18th Century Fortress

Three decades ago WR had a scenario involving a 17th-18th Century fortress on the tabletop. Looking about the slim terrain offerings back then, it quickly became apparent that WR would have to build the fortress from scratch. Build a simple fortress outline, small and compact but have the look and feel of a 17th-18th Century fortress plus be able to store the finished project. The project must allow placement of miniatures on the walls (with their basing), be compact in size (approximately 2 feet square), and be adaptable for different basic configurations, town layouts, and entrance gate locations. A tall order of construction and gaming priorities for the wood worker rabbit.

WR Vauban fortress under construction. Basic wood walls done many years ago. Recently found some scaled brickwork textured paper (from Greece) to complete the decade old project.

WR Vauban fortress under construction. Basic wood walls done many years ago. Recently found some scaled brickwork textured paper (from Greece) to complete the decades old project.

Looking at the WR library collection on european fortresses (pre-internet days back then), old photographs taken from european fortress visits in his youth, WR sketched out a basic design on paper from old notes written while in Costa Rica. WR even placed miniatures on the flat drawn walls, thought about the length of the curtain walls, ability to place fortress cannon, tabletop march the actual 28mm miniatures about within the fortress wall perimeter and position miniatures firing over the ramparts… basic gamer stuff. WR quickly determined that the glacis outside the fortress would have to wait for now.

So, first stop was a cheap and local material source to complete the underlying wall structure. Easy step after a brief thought… just took a walk around the local Lowe’s or Home Depot or similar DIY store wood molding department. The same stuff everybody uses for cabinets, wall boards, ceiling trim, door trim etc. After pawing thought the shapes and sizes, three styles or molding shapes together formed the walls. WR bought 16′ lengths for the walls, assuming and making allowance for manufacturing (angle cutting) mistakes. Additional wood materials are balsa or basswood sheeting (1/8 and 1/4 inch thick) and various wood strips for the fortress gate construction. Wood glue, some basic undercoat paint, hobby tools,, sanding paper (various grits) or Dremel tool for sanding the wall joints.

With material on hand, the next step was draw the fortress outline on the half-inch plywood under-base. Simply sketch the curtain wall outline and length, the bastion shapes, and other design notes for construction. I kept a small scrap piece of wall wood molding styles handy for wall dimension calculations. WR should note the bastions in the end all came out slightly different in size and shape, adding character to the finished fortress but Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban would have fired his junior engineer for shoddy bastion work.

Cut out the wood molding material to shape and length then wood glue the fortress together. This took several evenings since the horizontal levels required some pin work to hold in place while the glue dried.

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Cutaway of the fortress curtain wall showing the three molding wood strips and basic dimensions. Fortress is mounted on a plywood sheet for rigidness and easy transport.

Close view and molding angles to complete the bastion "entrance". Finished bastion will have entrance across the opening.

Close view and molding cut angles to complete the bastion “entrance”. Finished bastion will have entrance across the opening. Note the flat surface glued joint lines for the curtain wall esplanade. Bastion upper esplanade surface is cut balsa or basswood cut to shape of bastion.

Basic outline of the fortress "half" without ravilins.

Basic outline of the fortress “half” without ravelins. Twelve inch ruler for measurement. WR made the fortress in two halves for easy storage in a file cabinet drawer.

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The ravelins. WR made four ravelins to place before the exposed fortress curtain wall and cover the fortress gates. Same materials from making the curtain wall but sheet balsa or basswood for ravelins esplanade surface.

With the fortress under structure completed, the next step is cover the walls with a suitable brickwork. This is where the fortress project languished for three plus decades. WR couldn’t find a rough 1/72 or 25mm miniature scale brickwork pattern. Recently, pulling the unfinished fortress out for his future Klagenfurt 1809 scenario, WR went looking about the internet. Searching on Ebay found several interesting brickwork sheets from and paper supplier in Greece of all places. Cheap and with free international postage too! WR promptly ordered two sheet patterns and also found some Faller HO scale cobblestone sheets too.

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The three commercial brickwork and cobblestone patterns WR found on Ebay.

The printed brickwork sheets arrived quickly from Greece via international mail (10 days). The ordered Faller HO cobblestone sheets arrived soon afterwards. The printed brickwork from Greece was excellent material, the Faller HO cobblestone sheet WR quickly noticed that the soft material left pressure marks on the material. WR quickly realized the Faller HO cobblestone sheeting wouldn’t stand up to the tabletop action and so WR filed away the cobblestone for another future.project. WR should note the Greek printed sheets are available in many styles of brickwork or stonework patterns, different scales, different textures and color. The Ebay seller’s name is Starboc1 and link to their storefront: Starboc1

Looking at the ordered Greek printed brickwork, one style had self adhesive backing while the other had raised brickwork texture. The self adhesive brickwork sheeting was used on the vertical fortress curtain walling, the raised texture brickwork on the flat walkway surfaces and also glued securely the self adhesive brickwork paper, which over time, WR suspects would dry out and peel back.

Like the wood molding, WR started at one point on the curtain walling and worked around the surfaces, covering with the self adhesive brickwork sheeting. For the corners and angles a small cut with the sharp knife allowed the sheeting to curve over the wall surface. Generally tried to use the largest size sheet trimmed to fit to avoid excessive joint lines. During the early application process WR tried to match the brickwork lines but quickly realized the small brickwork 1/87 scale pattern needed “very close” inspection to discover if the lines were ajar, so the process quicken dramatically with just applying the brickwork without “line matching” headache.

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Adding the printed brickwork purchased from Greece on Ebay. The vertical wall brickwork sheets are self adhesive backed. The flat raised texture surfaces need the white PVC glue treatment.

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Overhead view of the basic fortress walls covered and before the stonework wall additions to frame the angled wall and exposed bastion apex.

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Angled side view of bastion. Shows the small “uncovered” areas from the printed brickwork sheathing cuts to contour to the curved curtain wall surfaces. These will be covered by the textured stonework for the bastion apex and wall angles.

WR then painted the exposed fortress curtain wall joint ends with flat black paint to avoid a “grey line” showing at the brickwork curtain wall joint. The base plywood sheet was painted a brown color to match the fortress interior cobblestone / brickwork and the exterior painted a base green for the future ground texture material.

The four detached ravelins are covered with the self adhesive brickwork paper following the same process as the main fortress walls.

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The four ravelins to cover each of the four curtain walls.

Next step is the finish stonework for the curtain wall, bastions, and ravelins edges. Materials for the stonework pattern include: pale yellow paper, steel ruler, sharp scissors, PVC white glue, and x-acto knife. A pair of tweezers to handle the small stone “blocks” into place helped.

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Stonework construction. WR used pale yellow stiff paper, steel ruler, sharp scissors, x-acto knife, tweezers, and PVC white glue.

Stonework process is simple. WR cut the yellowed paper into strips of 1/2″ and 3/8″ widths. Once you have several strips of both widths, cut the individual stonework “blocks” to desired height of about 1/8″ but with slight height variance to give texture on the fortress model. Take the first block of many to come, folded to rough 90′ angle at midpoint. Apply a dab of glue at base of curtain wall and glue a large stonework block tile at the wall base. Apply a shorter length block above. Then the large block above that… then a shorter block. Continue the process upwards till you reach the curved wall portion. At that juncture WR narrowed the block height to assist with the curved surface. While placing the block retain a very narrow gap between the stonework blocks, level and true, to give the masonry look. You can make the stonework “perfect” but WR tended to like the slight irregular look on his fortress wall, thus making the gluing process quicker. All block measurements are for the look and not scale therefore larger or smaller blocks can be used depending on the modelers’ preferences. When the stonework is dry, WR applied a little extra glue dab at the bastion and curtain wall apex reinforcing the stonework from misplaced finger wear and tear. Same process used to seal any brickwork paper exposed edges on the fortress walls.

Note: Having some entertainment while gluing the stonework block helped. WR saw two college football games during his gluing process.

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Work on the fortress itself. One bastion completed with stonework. After the stonework the entrance way into the bastions then the fortress gates.

Interior bastion gateways are next. WR cut a piece of 1/8″ thick balsa wood, sized to fit each bastion’s width, and provide support for the bastion rear wall brickwork. The bastion rear wall was measured to be level with the outward bastion and curtain wall height. Apply the same pattern brickwork to the balsa, on both sides since the rear bastion wall has two exposed sides. When completed, WR printed off and reduced to rough scaling for the fortress wall height. Scissors trimmed to fit then glued to the balsa wood wall. Some more adventurous modelers can construct a raised surface entrance way but WR just applied some cut and sized pale yellow stiff paper for the columns and lintel stones. WR went for the slightly raised with shading paper look on his fortress. Before gluing the bastion rear wall assembly in place, WR painted out the entrance with flat black paint to enlarge the actual bastion entrance. Glue the bastion rear wall in place and let dry.

Fortgress gateway

Fortress gateway image file (.jpg). The fortress gateway was found in Christopher Duffy Fire and Stone book page 74.

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The four stages on the bastion gateways. At right the balsa wood backing with brickwork for the side facing the upper desk bastion. The paper “gateway from Duffy’s book scaled down, trimmed and glued to the bastion vertical wall.

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Two bastion entrances completed. They are different because WR’s bastions have slightly different hand-made dimensions. Note the entrance way has been painted flat black to enlarge the passage for 25mm miniature scale.

The other three bastion entrance gateways are completed in the same manner.

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The completed bastion entrance glued into place. The remaining three bastion entrances completed the same way.

Ravelin rear entrances are simply some thick paper stock cut to shape and glued. Then the same stonework pattern applied around the ravelin entrance way. Using the same flat black paint, WR painted the entrance way black to have a sense of depth for the ravelin entrance.

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Ravelin rear entrance created from thick paper stock cut to shape and glued in place. A coat of flat black paint to create depth for the entrance way at left ravelin. Stonework will be paint textured once all the stonework is completed on the fortress model.

Fortress gate construction and design required some thought and planning. Mentioned earlier, the fortress curtain wall entrance position cannot be fixed permanently, as WR wants the ability to change the entrance point for different fortress scenarios and configuration. Therefore the ornate gateway should be temporary attached to the curtain wall, or ravelin wall, and removed for placement at another position using museum putty fixative material. Museum fixative putty is a sort of removable bubble gum but without the discoloration or surface staining effect on the paper brickwork.

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The fortress gateway construction process and stages. Upper left has the cut out paper gateway image sized. then glued to balsa or bass wood covered piece. The narrow wood is used for the curtain wall curvature. Note upper glued narrow wood piece on the backside view (lower center).

Fortress gate construction starts with a printed fortress entrance way sized for the curtain wall height. WR’s gateway became 2″ in height, which just reached the upper curved curtain wall zone. To cover the “curvature” aspect, WR glued a narrow strip of wood on the upper edge backside of the gateway piece. When placed against the curtain wall the narrow wood fills in the “wall curvature” and prevents a “visible gap” on the upper rear zone of the gateway piece. When glue is dry, apply the brickwork sheeting to the gateway wood piece, covering the open view edge and wrapped around to the rear face.

Next apply the fortress gate image centered to the front of the wood brickwork piece and positioned against the bottom edge. Next apply the stonework on the side vertical edges, similar to the ravelin stonework pattern. WR wrapped his stonework, front to the rear surface, around the entire piece edge. Once the stonework is completed, apply the pale yellow stiff paper stonework for the gateway columns, column bases, lintel stones, and the angled arch work above. Next…use a black fine marker to highlight the black lines on the fortress printed gate work image. Last step is fill in the entrance way with flat black paint. The above process is repeated for the other three fortress entrance gateways. WR made four gateways in total, one for each curtain wall, or use with a ravelin then curtain wall combination.

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The individual fortress gateway piece completed. Stonework, printed image, pale yellow raised relief work and the black paint or marker lines. Total of four fortress gateway are made.

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The finished gateways described in text above. Placement of the fortress gateway against either the curtain or ravelin fortress wall, and the rear view or frontal view of the gateway piece.

The reusable museum fixative putty pictured below. Commonly used for holding glass and other fragile pieces stationary in WR’s “shake and bake” earthquake home warren (California).

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The museum fixative putty. Commonly used for keeping glassware and other artworks stationary in earthquake country.  Small flattened piece behind the wooden fortress gateway piece and pressed into position on the curtain or ravelin wall.

The project almost finished. WR adds his matched tabletop green flocking material to the green base around the fortress exterior to blend the fortress to his tabletop boards. After twenty years or so, the fortress project is completed for now….Time for a beer.

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So why the Imperial beer logo at left? Many years ago, when WR was drinking this Costa Rican beer (in CR) back in the 80’s, he designed and sketched out his fortress. WR even retained the beer bottle labels for a possible fortress flag project. Instead of using the beer labels as the fortress flag, WR recently painted up the Swabian Circles Main regimental flag and their battalion of infantry (circa 1790’s) for his fortress town. That is why that battalion, of all the hundreds of painted battalions WR has, will be given the parade honor in the new fortress, carrying their black eagle standard.

Displaying the project in situ…. ie… on the wargame tabletop. WR added two roadways to his fortress showing two different fortress entrance designs. One with the fortress gate offset on the curtain wall and exiting the roadway straight to distance places (lower left of photo below), and the more common fortress entrance plan, passing through the ravelin first then towards the fortress gate at right.

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The basic design with four bastions and four ravelins. The ravelins placed before the curtain wall section. Note the two entrance road designs, one passing through the ravelin first at right.

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Angled view of the roadway passing first through the ravelin then towards the curtain wall fortress gate.

The fortress cannon have been collected over many years. WR sees some nice miniature cannon models and, like the typical wargamer, buys on the spot. After painting, the cannon miniatures are placed carefully into their storage and soon forgotten over the passing dusty years. Well, it’s time for the cannon to be unpacked and placed on their fortress walls. A parade review of sorts for WR’s fortress cannon collection before they are placed on the fortress walls. Does look like a used cannon sale lot….

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Wide selection of various cannon and mortar sizes, wall swivel guns, and early 17th century frame guns. The wooden barrels in background are “famous” WR “tabletop game teasers” to torment unlucky players. HRE Kreis IR Wurttemberg mans the fortress walls.

Fortress cannon are placed along the walls. WR still needs to build some raised wooden or stonework cannon platforms to enable the cannon barrels to poke over the wall. A close look shows WR didn’t cut or model any cannon embrasures along his curtain, bastion, or ravelin walls. Years ago WR determined that covering the walls with brickwork sheeting would have been near impossible with all those cutouts. He went with the smooth and unencumbered look on his fortress. Future modelers can try their luck and modeling skills. Picture below shows too many cannon for this fortress but WR is operating an “used cannon lot” today in his fortress so all the shiny cannon are out on display. Normally WR plans to have a cannon or two in each bastion and maybe a wall cannon along the curtain wall. But to show the fortress cannon collection and possible cannon or mortar location placement, WR placed his different fortress cannon eras on all the walls. The large wheeled carriage cannon from the 17th century were left displayed on the glacis.

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Fortress with its display of different cannon, mortars, wall swivel guns, and old frame cannon.

The facing fortress wall has the large 32 pounder placed in the bastions (could be 24 pdr. in a pinch) and the lighter 8 pdr. cannon in the ravelin and distant curtain wall. WR needs to buy a set of 12 pounder cannon it seems. The heavy siege mortars have been placed along the long vertical curtain wall.

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View of the curtain wall mortars, the large 32 pounder (or 24 pounder) bastion cannon and the smaller 8 pounders arming the ravelin.

The rear fortress wall has the older 17th century “frame cannon” along with some wall swivel guns  placed in the forward ravelins.

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Since the old frame guns had a wide base, WR glued some brickwork paper to the metal washer base and painted the edge brown. The ravelin has wall swivel mount guns.

With cannon emplaced, the town itself suddenly grows up within the fortress walls. WR always promotes active commerce and several taverns to exchange the latest gossip on troop movements. Spies have to work someplace. Several of WR’s really old paper buildings create the interior town buildings. These German paper buildings have naturally “yellowed” from their age (constructed back in the 1970’s). Still protected by their varnish protective sealer, they stand in honor within the fortress.

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WR’s old German paper building added to create the interior town.

The only step left is to march the garrison in. WR pulled his recently painted collection of 1790’s Wurttemberg battalions, along with their HRE Kreis IR Wurttemberg, to garrison the new fortress. As the new Wurttemberg garrison marches in, they are met by the local Swabian Circles Main regiment in their new white coats and red facings. Proper salutations from the Wurttemberg engineer officer in charge, turning the fortress keys over to the new commandant, are performed in the town square. It’s October…. time for Oktoberfest and the free-flowing beer.

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The Wurttemberg battalions march into their new fortress home.

All the miniatures in the photos are 25mm / 28mm Foundry. WR rates them as short  28mm miniatures in the world of 28mm miniatures. Each group of six miniatures represents a battalion in the photograph, which represents a typical 1:100 ratio for our tabletop games.

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Side view of the Wurttemberg battalions marching into the fortress and gives some scale with the 28mm miniatures.

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Another view of the march in as the leading battalion, and new fortress commandant, arrives in the town square. The HRE Kreis IR Wurttemberg has already manned the fortress curtain walls.

Fortress honor guard, the HRE Swabian Circles Main regiment, presents arms to the arriving new fortress commandant while the keys of the new fortress are handed over by the senior engineer officer.

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With pomp and ceremony, the fortress engineer officer hands the fortress keys to the new commandant while the Swabian Circles Main regiment gives paraded honors, with their black eagle standard.

The fortress ravelins can be moved or placed directly in front of the bastions for a different look and fortress design. Sort of a type of counterguard. Modeler’s can easy see the ability to add hornworks and other fortification types to the basic fortress design.

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The ravelins can be moved about to give different fortress design, Here they are placed before the bastions and the curtain wall as a sort of counterguard.

Future fortress projects could include figuring out how to add a hornwork, demi-lune, lunettes, detached works, a citadel, the ditch or moat before the curtain wall, and of course the open ground raised glacis slope. If WR decides to run a full miniature Vauban style siege scenario some day the above fortress structures will surely be needed. Maybe when WR pulls out his old WSS collection, and resumes playing some WSS scenario actions, the encouragement will come to expand the fortress.

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Basic fortress nomenclature.

Notes on fortress model dimensions and measurements. The fortress has “square” overall dimension of roughly 20 inches from bastion point to bastion point. The facing curtain wall height is 2 3/8 inches atop the plywood base (additional 1/2″ to height. Bastion depth from frontal apex to rear wall is 5 inches. The ravelin walls are the same materials and height as the central fortress wall but without the extra 1/2″ plywood base. Ravelins are 8 inches wide at rear face and 4″ depth from frontal apex to rear face. Fun evening project for the last few weeks once WR had his brickwork paper but I hope no more wargame projects that take decades to complete. If a reader needs more detail on the construction please email the WR. I would be glad to assist your inquiry.

Reference material pulled from the warren bookshelf.

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Several books of interest. Including “A Manual of Siegecraft and Fortification” by Vauban himself and “Siege Warfare 1494-1660” by Christopher Duffy.

Fortress Internet links and other fortress projects.

Vauban fortress project (siege of Danzig). Rafael Pardo’s fortress project.

Vauban fortress picture library.  WR’s favorite site on fortresses: Fortified Places.

A modern company called Paper Terrain makes Vauban fortresses in several scales. Available in 6mm, 10/12mm, 15mm, 20mm and 25/28mm scales. A picture of their product below.

Paper Terrain model of Vauban fortress. Produced in several scales from 6mm to 28mm.

Paper Terrain’s model of Vauban fortress. Produced in several scales from 6mm to 28mm.

Now WR has his basic fortress for storing his winter carrots, barrels of beer (Oktoberfest), and garrison home for his loyal Wurttemberg troops.

Happy Oktoberfest and cheer from the warren. But today for this English rabbit is known for something else. At around 11:45 a.m. on 21 October 1805, the most famous naval signal in British history was sent. Nelson’s signal

England Expects Signal

Nelson’s famous signal, relayed using Popham’s (1803 codebook) “Telegraphic Signals of Marine Vocabulary”.

Today the signal could read… “England expects that every gamer will host a game”.

WR

Vauban notes…. he was a very busy engineer for France.

Between 1667 and 1707, Vauban upgraded the fortifications of around 300 cities, including Antibes (Fort Carré), Arras, Auxonne, Barraux, Bayonne, Belfort, Bergues, Citadel of Besançon, Bitche, Blaye, Briançon, Bouillon, Calais, Cambrai, Colmars-les-Alpes, Collioure, Douai, Entrevaux, Givet, Gravelines, Hendaye, Huningue, Joux, Kehl, Landau, Le Palais (Belle-Île), La Rochelle, Le Quesnoy, Lille, Lusignan, Le Perthus (Fort de Bellegarde), Luxembourg, Maastricht, Maubeuge, Metz, Mont-Dauphin, Mont-Louis, Montmédy, Namur, Neuf-Brisach, Perpignan, Plouezoc’h (French), Château du Taureau (French), Rocroi, Saarlouis, Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, Saint-Omer, Sedan, Strasbourg, Toul, Valenciennes, Verdun, Villefranche-de-Conflent (town and Fort Liberia), and Ypres.

He directed the building of 37 new fortresses, and fortified military harbours, including Ambleteuse, Brest, Dunkerque, Freiburg im Breisgau, Lille (Citadel of Lille), Rochefort, Saint-Jean-de-Luz (Fort Socoa), Saint-Martin-de-Ré, Toulon, Wimereux, Le Portel, and Cézembre.

As part of the fortification of Strasbourg, Vauban was also responsible for the building, in 1682, of the Canal de la Bruche, a 20-kilometre (12 mi) canal intended to improved the supply of building materials to the fortification works. (Wikipedia)

The UNESCO lists 12 fortifications of Vauban as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not too many builders of modern times have earned that honor. One small note to his history… his body (bones) were scattered by the French Revolution mob. Only his “heart” lies in his tomb within the walls of the Les Invailides of France.

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Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban, Marshal of France 1633 – 1707

Tomb of Vauban

Mausoleum of Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban in Les Invalides. Only his heart lies in the tomb. The rest of his bones were scattered during the French Revolution.

 

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11 thoughts on “Generic 17th – 18th Century Fortress

    • Burkhard, Worth the effort too from my end. I can now mark off the fortress project which has been bugging me for decades (low level bugging or I am immune). Now to go ahead with the Klagenfurt 1809 scenario next month. Michael aka WR

  1. What a spectacular fortress, and a wonderful ;post, from how-to to tabletop and the parade ground.

    Have you seen Eric Burgess’ “Vauban’s Wars”, Michael? Not in print yet, but we did several playtests a few years back, and he’s run a couple of siege games at Historicons past using them.

    I’ve been tempted by the paper Terrain Vauban fortress, but even in paper it gets fairly pricey in 28mm scale!

    • Peter,

      Thanks again for your reading my blog and supportive comments on the project. Hope of some use in the gaming world.

      I read Eric’s site and subscribe to his reports… so yes I have seen his Vauban project in passing. Time to re-read his efforts for scenario suggestions. I thought about paper.. but the weight of the miniatures and ease for the terrain to be pushed about made me use wood. Never priced the Vauban fortress. Mine cost me maybe $50.00. Mostly the brickwork paper from Greece ($15) then the wood purchased back in 80’s (another $20?). Glue, paper and paint for the balance of cost. Just the time….and artistic work… but hey that is what college football afternoons are for.

      Michael

      P.S. Time for my Klagenfurt 1809 scenario then AAR. I have no excuse since the fortress is completed.

      • The paper terrain version would come to far more than that, and still require assembly.

        I enjoy your blog tremendously; it is a real asset to the larger wargaming community!

    • Thank you Phil. Vauban has always been an interesting character of history for me. Maybe this project will pull me back into the WSS period for gaming. I have a small collection of WSS armies…. gathering dust.

      Michael aka WR

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