As a man with a sizeable collection of unpainted MDF, making it tabletop ready requires a big chunk of time and special techniques to get it ready for the tabletop. Between getting the right texture on and making sure the Agrax is deployed enough without bankrupting you, it does all build up. So the idea of purchasing pre-painted MDF can be pretty attractive.
There are a few companies doing it but the selection for gaming in the Middle East or North Africa is pretty limited. Luckily, Black Site Studios in the US have kicked off their War Zone Arabia range, bringing a load of buildings to fit the Middle Eastern zone. Spectre Miniatures were offering a pre-order on their products in the UK for a limited time and I just had to pick up a trio to try out.
First of all, let’s talk the basics. All the buildings arrive in a mixture of MDF and greyboard, laser-cut into pieces and ready to be popped from the sprue. Most of the building Sprue removed was relatively easy, although I did find a good few cases where some clean-up had to be done after removing from the sprue. Overall the kits all feel very nicely designed and well manufactured.
Instructions are available from the Black Site Studios website and are simple and easy to assemble. As with all MDF buildings, I really recommend dry-fitting everything, making sure they fit properly before applying the glue. There were some really snug fits, especially with the interior and exterior walls being separate pieces and needing to fit together. In a few cases, a little bit of percussive construction assistance was used just to make it all fit. However, aside from one piece seeming to need to be reversed, everything fitted together well, with tools only needed for a little bit of clean up. On the other hand, I need to stress that you should definitely read the instructions – I ended up skipping the outer decorative pieces when assembling the largest building and ended up unable to assemble them as intended (as you can see in the picture at the top).
For all the positives I do have to give a warning about the staircases. They are a monster to assemble, requiring the lining up of several steps and their locator pins between two outer pieces. I assembled three sets in the course of these buildings and each one was incredibly annoying. Additionally, the steps seem to be designed for figures mounted to penny bases, with incredibly small gaps between them. For everyone else, you either let the figures slip and slide or else just make sure people stand at the top and bottom of the staircases.
The first building I constructed is the Abboud Trading Company. The smallest of the buildings available, the building is a perfect store for your MENA street. With a roll-up door over a wide entrance, it’s easy to picture it being rolled up as the day starts, various goods waiting inside to be bought and sold. Alternatively, this may be where the HVT goes to ground, operators moving up to breach through the door and drag them out.
Around the back, you can see an additional entry, making the building perfect to fight through and presenting a challenge when defending. Additionally, the low walls on the partially assembled roof leads to some interesting fighting positions.
As you can see inside, there is a serving counter between the main door and the roll-up access. There is enough space to roll in a vehicle, letting you use this as a handy garage to hide key objectives in. Additionally, there is plenty of space inside for players to move around and actually fight, even on standard-sized 25mm bases. This is a common theme across all the buildings I noticed.
The next set is Turhan Imports. A single large room with staircase access to the roof, this building actually works really great when sat next to the trading company or assembled into a small compound. A big feature of this building is the cracked plaster on the other walls, the cream coloured greyboard placed over pale MDF brickwork. I think it works really well, especially from tabletop height.
At the rear, you can see one of those dammed staircases I mentioned further up. As you can see in the breakdown below, this piece is separate, letting you replace it with a ladder if you want to adjust the look. One thing I will mention is the piece of plaster you can see on the staircase. These pieces were not on the instructions, perfect for making each building look different. I think this is especially important if you were running multiple buildings on the same board.
Broken apart, you can see the building is a single large room. One trend through all of these is that the buildings ask for plenty of interior elements, a scattering of tables, sofas and chairs ready to be flipped for cover when people breach and clear.
Finally, lets take a look at the Temara Safehouse. And Oh Boy.
This building is huge. Like, seriously huge. With a footprint of over 1′ x 1′, you could very easily use this building as a game board all by itself. With multiple entry points, access to both floors and interior rooms, this is an assaulter’s nightmare.
As you can see on the other side, there are plenty of access and firing points to utilise. You can also see some of the incredibly nice detail work that is a stand out element of these kits. From the windows to the guard rail around the roof, these buildings definitely feel the part while also definitely being different from the rough adobes that are the go-to for the Middle East.
Now, this really is the money shot. By taking the building apart you can see just how much space for activities there are inside. Three rooms on the ground floor with two more above gives you plenty of spaces to sweep and clear. In addition, you can see the first floor has two staircases to allow access. Overall, this is one hell of an addition to any terrain range.
Overall, I am very impressed with the Black Site Studios buildings. Ignoring the fact the design of these constructions filled my brain with thoughts of Insurgency Sandstorm’s urban conflict zones, there are plenty of really nicely designed bits to them. Each building feels evocative, both fitting the range but also feeling something unique. I’m also a fan of them being very playable – opening doors, sensible access to all the rooms and space to move through, rather than just cramming figures in. The variety through the three buildings is also pretty spectacular – I’d love to see where else this range could go.
Am I going to throw all my unpainted buildings aware and swear only to buy prepainted? Honestly, no. I think these do an excellent job of letting you get past the painting stage and ready for the table, but I think I’ll be going back and painting these. It really comes down to two things – texture and me being a cack-handed fool. Spray-on texture just makes the MDF pop while a good paint job helps to cover up places where I made a mistake during assembly or let the glue on fingertips attach themselves to the greyboard. However, if this doesn’t interest you (or you can assemble them without being a moron) then I think these buildings are a fantastic purchase.
Now someone stop me before I buy all the compound walls I can cover myself in…