Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Building the Battlefield, the right amount of terrain?

A slightly different topic this time, terrain on the battlefields...

This was brought on after reading a few threads on forums/blogs I frequent, Dakka Dakka kicked this off with This and then Mike Brandt discussed the Nova terrain Here and then more locally it was mentioned on the lisburn forums Here and got me thinking more after seeing some table layouts recently at games that sometimes the suggestions in the rulebook aren't fully followed (Not saying they have to be just I pefer a proper battlefield to one full of craters or massive LOS blocking terrain pieces respectively as I like to use casual games as practise for tourneys).

I remember 'Deffdred' on Dakka saying ''Divide the table into 2x2sections. Each section should have either A) A large building or terrain feature, B) 2 small buildings or terrain features or C) Several pieces of smaller terrain features like rubble and low walls.''  I really liked this comment as it does if followed provide a good table for playing on, as long as the terrain is set out properly within the quarter and is not all the same type of terrain. The only slight alteration I would say is regarding option C, make sure if it is small pieces of terrain that they are still of a decent size... I don't class barricades or barrels as suitable pieces for his description.

By this I mean mix it up, I don't want all buildings on the table unless I'm playing a themed city board or its for a fun game scenario, likewise I don't find just hills to be a particularly interesting tactical option. Instead a good mix of a few ruins, some hills, woods and maybe a impassable mountain or structure really does add more appeal and make deployment options much more essential then rolling and praying you don't get stuck on the side of the board with a few barricades while your opponent has happily plonked his long fangs into the two storey ruins and hidden his tanks behind those hills which just hide them bar the turret which can shoot over.

What this is trying to show is the battlefield has to be considered even, there should not be one side/quarter that is seen by both players as the auto take option with a poor quarter opposite it forcing your opponent to sit in the open taking shots he cannot avoid. Stelek discussed his ideal table scenery layouts Here and it seems he liked tables which are the same layout on both sides, saying that it means there is no terrain advantage for the player getting to pick sides first, meaning more skill is needed on the battlefield.

At the same time there should not be so much terrain in a quarter that there is not enough room to place your vehicles around or even in. Thus its this balance of getting it right not just in terms of amount of terrain, but placement, because remember, pitched battle is not the only deployment setup and a little too often I see great looking tables with terrain on them become useless when it all of a sudden becomes spearhead and the straight facing terrain offers no protection from the new angle, or Dawn of war which can push your forces back out of the terrain lines due to enemy placement on the half way line.

Also adding in some Impassable terrain (If not too big a piece) can spice up games, although after reading Stelek's he does bring a valid point that it only really hurts imperial armies as all other armies transports are usually skimmers. Though I do think a small piece may have a place on the battle field, maybe right in the middle of the table to make movement a little tougher and also block LOS.

But I digress... I see far too many tables with buildings placed back in deployment zones and very little in the middle segment of the boards, meaning those poor players who need it are more likely to get ruined in a shoot off. 

Below are some examples of tables I'd class as poorly laid out. I would however like to state I'm not meaning to be offensive to the people who put these tables together, no malice is intended just my own opinion on what I consider proper terrain (Even though we all know sometimes you don't have enough to make a perfect setup possible sometimes).

Cluttered buildings and some gaps just to the right of road  look vehicle unfriendly and cluttered.

Look at the gaps on the near edge and especially to the right, the big piece of terrain is not acceptable enough to cover this imo, the two pieces on the near left could be moved slightly and one relocated to the right side.

As a guard player I'd cry with joy to face an opponent on this, but it's not a fair table by huge margins. Horrible coverage unless for part of a themed game.

Again poor coverage on right side of board, the small hills along the edge aren't worth much and the lack of blocking / higher level terrain is likely to make me sigh as its trading shots game.

Masses of tank traps ruins a good portion of the board, and the gap in the middle between the triangle of buildings is again likely to be horrible for gaming

Trees don't make a table on their own unless jungle themed, for a tourney this table be terrible for the poor player who either goes second vs. a shooty army, or on an army needing cover to sneak between.

So what are others opinions on this, am I being too fussy or do people agree a certain level of terrain usage / coverage / type mix is needed for games?


  1. There is an unfortunate tendency in Irish tourneys to use a 5 piece system. One building/forest in the centre and one in the middle of each quarter. Total coverage is generally way under the recommended 25%. I'm a big fan of area terrain.

    Without small patches of area terrain, a lot of the non-3+ save armies simply die. At best, you're going to have to make it across 12+ inches of open ground to reach the enemy. That's if your opponent kindly advances into the central building.

    It's far more likely that you'll have to cover 24+ inches of open ground.

    The first table, although described as cluttered, does seem closest to the 25% laid out in the rule book.

    The second is a little light but fixable. The third and fourth are sick jokes.

    The fifth and sixth are light and poorly balanced. You could spread the buildings a bit wider on the fifth, also dispersing the tank traps. On the sixth, switch some rock plateaus and forests to even out the area and LoS-blocking terrain.

    The solution is a easy fix, the TO just needs to go around and cover a quarter of the table with terrain, maintaining a 1:1 (close), 3:2 (normal) or 2:1 (open) split between LoS-blocking and area terrain. Then on the second sweep, you set up the table, balancing both sides and all quarters.

    1. Dammit. Should read "1:1 (open), 3:2 (normal) or 2:1 (close)".

  2. What a great article as you seem to read my mind, it's something that I have noticed whilst attending tournaments myself. So hopefully with our own tournament happening soon, if you're there on the day James maybe you can help us out by making sure our tables is fair for both players. In the meantime you can check out the link below to see some pics for yourself of what we are currently working on for war on the shore.


  3. This is an excellent and diplomatic post.

    It's very difficult to say anything negative about the terrain coverage without falsely giving the impression of being derogatory of tournaments here.

    I think the best way for me to approach the issue is to take a picture of what I want to see, what I think tournament tables should consist of, and simply allow it to proceed from there. Hopefully everyone seeing it will agree that it's closer to ideal and better balanced for both players and all deployments.