The answer is paper terrain. Card stock models fit the bill perfectly. The cost is quite low, assembly is quick, and storage is simple.
I started poking around the internet to find some card stock / paper modeling resources. I found a variety of free models, a lot of them amazingly good for a free model! These models also looked good on the table. At the end of this post I'll put up all the links I found useful. But there is one site I've found that is just great for war gaming needs. Check out Dave's Games for some excellent models.
Dave has a few free models to check out, with the coach house being the best. This is a layered PDF file. That means you can make the house look like brick, stone, stucco, or some other textures. You can add or remove doors and windows. The chimney position can be changed, and the dormer is optional. There are several other options as well. So for one free model, you can get a three or four buildings out of it. Check it out. Here are some shots of the coach house and the hovel models.
I was so enthused about this, that I purchased the ruins bundle, which gives a bunch of ruin models that look fantastic. Here are some shots of a ruined foundation, just right for WWII or 40K games.
So, I know that a fully modeled, 3D piece is beautiful and an art form unto itself. There really is no substitute. If you pick up a paper model and hold it up to your face, you'll be unimpressed. I get it. But for gaming purposes, how often do you do that? You just note that the building obstructs LOS or slows movement or presents some other challenge. A paper terrain piece can do that and look great in the process.
Finally, cost is something I've heard a lot about especially printer ink. So, let's do some quick math on this. I'll just throw all costs together and not even break it down to a "per model" basis. Here's what it takes all told:
- Ream of 110# card stock $18
- Full ink cartridge $30
- Glue stick $2
- Xacto knife $5
- "Ruins" bundle (16 models) $30
- Grand total $85
So get moving on your instant terrain! Here are some links to get you started.
Dave's Games as I mentioned is a great, low cost resource.
Paper Terrain.com has some interesting 15mm stuff
World Works is the grand-daddy of paper eye candy, though more for RPG or small skirmish games.
Wizards of the Coast has some awesome looking terrain for free. This stuff looks great, especially the covered bridge! Don't miss this.
Model Train Software.com has software that will let you design your own stuff. Looks very interesting!
Cardboard Warriors is a forum about all things paper model. I've just found this site, and it looks promising.
Also, if you've come this far and didn't ditch my post, here's proof I still plan to use 3D terrain. I've finally, after 3-4 years of procrastination, painted my GW modular gaming hill. And my cat approves!