Friday, 27 March 2015

Location, Location: How To Terrain

Oh, hello. I didn't see you there.

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the shooting phase and how it is perceived as OP. One of the things I touched on was terrain, and how it can be an important part of the wargaming experience. Well, today I want to look at that idea in a little more detail, as well as hopefully give you a couple of ideas for your own terrain collection.

The last time I mentioned terrain, I was looking at it in terms of how it adds to the strategy of the game. However, wargaming, as GW keeps trying to remind us, is a narrative style of gaming. A great deal of effort is put into designing miniatures that tell a story. It's either the story of the character itself, or the story of the army as a whole. I've got to admit that that philosophy comes out in my games. I'm not a very competitive gamer; I like to think that my men aren't just pieces on a board, but soldiers with objectives and motivations. 

An important part of any story is the setting. The first thing you're told to do when writing a story is to set the scene. Part of what made Lord of the Rings such a compelling book was the detail that Tolkien went into when describing Middle Earth. The first chapters of that epic tale really paint a picture of the Shire that draws you in and helps you believe what's happening. 

The same principles apply when playing a wargame. You want to set as clear a scene as possible to get the most out of the experience. There are a few things to think about here and I want to go through them step by step.

This is the most obvious starting point. One of the greatest things about the 40k universe is the multitude of planets and dimensions that are on offer. So you have to ask yourself if your armies are fighting on a Hive World, an Agri World, a Death World, a Daemon World in the Eye of Terror or even an Eldar Maiden World. Then there's the question of climate. Is it a frozen ice world, a jungle planet or a barren wasteland, blasted by an orbital bombardment? 

This question will often be answered by the table you decide to play on. As you can see above, the table I made is a very generic brown with patches of grass. I deliberately made it as vague as possible to accommodate my Bayou Gremlins, Space Wolves and High Elves. I could just as easily make this board a swamp or jungle as a blasted waste. 

In a similar way, a flat green mat could be a grassy plain. But it could make a good forest or jungle floor and might be a bit more fitting in a fantasy setting. Some people like to go specific, making a desert, snow or urban table. This is great as they immediately kick start the narrative. Unfortunately they do limit you in versatility. 

What are you fighting over? Sometimes it makes sense that an army would come across their enemy in the middle of nowhere, perhaps to cut off an advance or supply line. More usually though, there will be some sort of strategic value to the location. Maybe it's a blasted city that would act as a good base for an invading force, or it might be an Orbital Defence Platform up in the mountains. 

The most effective use of terrain is when it is consistent and gives a good sense of what's at stake. The 3rd Ed 40k BRB has a few tables in the Appendix that give a couple of ideas on what sorts of things might be in a particular battlefield. There could be a couple of buildings and a promethium pipeline with some earthworks and wrecked machinery. All these pieces put together would make a pretty cool mining outpost or power plant. Straight away you've got a reason to be there: Ork Warboss Snotlobber of the Evil Sunz needs the promethium in the plant to fuel his warbikes, buggies and trukks. The Imperial Guard PDF are there to stop him and hopefully stall the invading WAAAAAGH! The point is to be consistent. A few disparate craters next to a ruined cathedral with a forest or two works well to add diversity and strategic options, but in terms of narrative it's confusing and doesn't add much to the experience.

Orbital Defence Platform compound - 3' x 4'

Here you can see the set up I want to use for a Killteam game that will be the first mission in my upcoming escalation campaign. The Aquila Strongpoint is a missile silo facility up in the mountains of the Planet Victoria in the Brunswick sector. The Space Wolves must stop it from falling into the hands of the invading forces. If the defenders can hold onto it, they will be able to hamper the invaders' efforts to land on the planet. Just by setting this scene, there is an urgency to the mission and it gives the game a bit of consequence.

An important part of making a consistent table is to think about who will be fighting over the terrain. Games Workshop makes some great terrain pieces, but the main complaint I always hear is that it's all Imperial. Imperial terrain is great if you or your more regular opponents play Imperial armies, but if you play Eldar and Tyranids, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to fight over GW's kits.

Rather than getting down about it, do a quick Google search and you'll soon get some ideas of your own. There are some great examples of homemade terrain pieces for different armies, there are also a few companies out there that make more alien-looking terrain.

A great Dark Eldar table from Wild Boar Blog

Finally, the important part of terrain for strategic purposes is how to set it up. The first thing to think about is how much terrain you want to use. Obviously you'll be limited by what you have. A good guide is to try to cover about 25% of the table with terrain. Another option is to take the Fantasy method, using D6+4 pieces of terrain.

You'll want to mix it up with a few barricades to provide cover, but not limit movement too much; a few areas of difficult terrain (eg. craters and small ruins); a big building of some sort to block line of sight to allow more combat oriented units to move up without being blasted away; and some raised areas such as hills or tall ruins and towers. The idea is to have diversity in what you have, limiting movement and providing protection to your units. This will give you a bit of a tactical challenge and stop games from being a boring shoot-out. 

Ruined buildings are good as they act as both difficult terrain, limiting movement, while also providing protection for your men, and even giving an elevated position. Intact buildings, on the other hand, might be impassable terrain, or you could allow them to be fortified, providing all sorts of tactical options.

Next, you have to think about how you're going to arrange the terrain on the table. One method is to select all your pieces (either randomly or to a theme) and have each player take turns in putting down each piece. This is a great way to make sure that the terrain is fairly distributed but the downside of this method is that it's pretty time consuming. The other way to go about it is to arrange the terrain in a narrative way. The aim here is to make a table that makes sense and effectively sets the scene for your battle. You could either have one person set up the terrain and have the other player choose which side of the board they want to deploy on. You could also place the terrain with your opponent in a mutually agreeable manner, or simply accept that the terrain plays as much of a narrative role as the armies and the battle themselves and just roll with it. 

However you do it, it's important to make sure it's fair and fun. None of these are hard and fast rules, it's just a guide and will hopefully provide some food for thought. So go on, get out there and think of some cool places for your little blokes to fight over. 

Do you play on Planet Bowling Ball?
Or is it books and cans of beans for you?
Also, check out WintersSEO on YouTube for some
great tables with nice armies.

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