Sunday, August 11, 2013

2D and 3D Terrain

One thing I've realized about the miniatures gaming hobby is that you need a lot of terrain unless you want to fight in the desert / plains / snow all the time. Accumulating all of this terrain is practically another hobby unto itself, with a different set of skills required if you're the DIY type of person. For me, I buy as much out-of-the box stuff as possible.

A big terrain challenge is variety. While I've collected a lot of Battlefront's excellent terrain, it's still pretty repetitive unless you buy a lot of it. That gets expensive and brings storage issues into the equation.  Additionally, if you game at more than one scale and in different genres you've compounded the terrain issues.

There's not much to do for it, except try to get as much utility from every piece of terrain in your collection. For me, at least, having every game feature that same hill and forest with the same cabin gets a little old. I'm especially tired of my GW gaming mat, which is an unvarying green felt covering.

I've been playing a lot of board games recently, and a few of them (Battle of Westros and Descent 2 come to mind) play like mini games. I realized the answer to my variety problems has been right under my nose for a while. The RPG world has a huge variety of setting and terrains suitable for miniature gaming. You just have to be fine with it being flat, 2d stuff.

Not only was I fine with it, but I was also greatly surprised with it. I've invested in a few Gamemastery flip maps as well as some wilderness "dungeon tiles" from WOTC. These provided a whole new variety of terrain for my gaming. The flip mats are good sized, 24x30" of high gloss finish. I tried to take some pictures of a game but glare ruined it. Still, the look was pretty awesome and I was able to have a fight inside a forest, which is not something I get to do too often.  I was using the "Deep Woods" flip mat.

I took things a step further and added some 3d terrain to the maps, and things looked even better.  I snapped a few pictures of a battle between Dark Elves and Beastmen that I played as part of an on-going campaign. The Dark Elves were raiding the Beastmen camp to recover an important artifact that they had unwittingly in their possession.

The photography sucks and there's a blue cast from an open window messing with the colors. I'm just throwing this out here for illustrative purposes anyway. These are all tiles from WotC's Essential Wilderness set. The tiles gave me a about a 20" x 20" play area.  Stuffed into this area were different levels of terrain, fallen logs, trees, patches of rough terrain, rocks, and a puddle / pool.  I put on my huts from Gale Force 9 and I was ready to go in just 10 minutes. Clean up took about the same time -- just whisk everything back into the box.

This play area is a lot smaller than I usually use. However, I've found that in my solo campaigns I basically have mostly wasted space on the tabletop. Preparing terrain for areas that won't even be the focus of the battle makes little sense to me. Most of the battle with my small sized forces only focus into a small section, about the size you see here.  With all the terrain in the way, there was a lot of maneuvering and the small area felt a lot larger.

Well, you get the idea by now. If you like variety and don't mind 2D terrain, you should investigate game mats and dungeon tiles. While these are almost exclusively targeted for fantasy games, I can see many of them being "genre neutral." If you pepper in a few 3d pieces, you'll have some pretty sharp looking tables for your games.

Oh, and if anyone cares, the Dark Elves wiped up twice their number of beastmen. Frenzied Witch Elves, while fragile, are really scary in combat. I'm using Savage Worlds for the game, which easily accommodates Warhammer stats. Anyway, the Beastmen eventually broke and ran off the board.


Da Green Skins said...

Hey Jerry I have been playing a lot of those maps and tiles and they work great. I recently picked up some Terraclips and have been playing around with them. I like the fact that when I am done I just break it all down and put it in a box. Great post

Tim Kulinski said...


Nice idea man, I thought about that when I was writing LotHS for boarding actions, but not much else. I bet the stuff works great for your 15mm ww2 stuff your doing your campaign for!

Nice idea man!

Robert Brightwell said...

Hey Jerry! Did you ever see the Major-General? The site is gone now but the archive is still up -

There is tones of coo terrain ideas here. I really like the use of back-drops and distance compression in some of their games.

Jerry said...

@DGS: Thanks Mike! I didn't realize that the terraclips stuff can breakdown and go back into the box. That's a whole new thing I'll have to look into!

@Tim: There are some really nice ship flip mats now that would work great for LotHS. In fact, they have add-ons with below decks and cabins, etc. You could do quite a bit with those maps.

@DS: I've never heard of Major General. Thanks for the link. I'm looking through it now. The table top periscope looks pretty awesome! I'm going to have to spend some time exploring that archive. Thanks!