The terrain game

Terrain in tabletop wargaming is a finicky beast, always walking a line and trying to find the balance between immersion and practicality.

On the one hand there’s the consideration that you’re placing expensive models that you’ve spent hours painting on sloped edges and risking their sliding, toppling, and being damaged. Or maybe your model has an outstretched spear that butts against a terrain piece, stopping you from showing his true facing. At the same time, you can lean down to eye level on the table and peer through the stake palisade and see the advancing foe.

On the other hand a table covered with a handful of pieces of neoprene has almost zero immersion. Your models shuffle around on a flat surface, devoid of narrative. Your model is standing behind a wall! The wall is about 1/8″ high, and no part of your model whatsoever is actually obscured. At he same time, you can move and position your models with precision and accuracy, and there’s no risk of damage to your models at all.

There’s no right or wrong way to use terrain, and it really does barrel down to personal preference. Many choose a mix of 2-D and 3-D options according to whatever’s in their collections. For larger tournaments I can totally understand the logistics of outfitting 50+ tables, and how much easier it would be to store 200+ pieces of flat, rollable neoprene than it would be to do the same for 3-D options.

At the same time, there’s just something so much more realabout a fully realized table – witness the finals table from Lock & Load, with the enormous Infernal spire, or any number of other 3-D terrain tables on display and available for gaming. I still remember the joys of playing on tables at my first Templecons including the frozen river with the railway bridge over it, the “300” narrow pass, the dry docks, the beach assault, the railyard – Such tables are always in high demand, though of course with set terrain versatility is radically reduced or even eliminated entirely.

The flipside is that the tables with 2-D terrain can be completely redesigned every game. Don’t like the forest where it is? Easily moved! Change the course of the river, reset all the trenches, for a different gaming experience each time. Amazing artists have created an excellent range of visibly stunning terrain, such as the templates available from Broken Egg, which include nice little innovations such as the overhead view of a hut, which you lay over the interior view and remove as needed. Just because you favor practicality doesn’t mean you have to completely sacrifice your aesthetic.

At the same time there’s great, easily assembled plastic terrain kits like the ones coming from GW with the Warcry box (see Monday’s bloggery), or the stunning Tabletop World resin buildings, like the Stable (right) that’s just today gone up on Kickstarter. You can even use Privateer’s structures, which have actual game rules, as the basis to build terrain pieces. A forest built around a Well of Orboros, for example. Now, granted, you will need to assemble and paint these pieces, but if you’re a hobbyist that’s par for the course. One of my GenCon goals is to check out kits like this.

Somewhere sitting in the middle is scatter terrain. Smaller pieces that can bring the table to life, such as Dragon Forge’s crate stack and resin walls for a variety of table themes. An empty base may functionally suffice as a flag or objective, but a personalized model representing the thing your army is fighting to take (or defend) is a small way to add to your game regardless of whether you’re using 2-D or 3-D terrain for the rest of the table.

Whether you go for immersive/customizable  3-D terrain or the more portable/practical 2-D terrain, there are plenty of great options out there for your consideration. Hunt around online and chat with your FLGS, and check social media channels like Privateer Press Terrain’s Instagram feed.

One Response to The terrain game

  1. Avatar Richard Mitchell
    Richard Mitchell says:

    I think you can have something in between. Since you can’t benefit from hills unless you are on the completely any I always felt the Mario World design of a 1 in elevation cut plateau was good. Or a template removable trees and obstacles for area concealment and cover like what is offered through Monster Terrain.