Set The Scene by Technically Terrain

24 Aug

The amount of terrain I’ve built over the years is huge – from  full in store dynamic Aztec worlds with fighting arenas to scratch built foam board ruined cities and  ridiculously large Dark Eldar towers with interlocking skywalks at 3 feet off the table, there was  lots of  failures and some successes. Ultimately  all  these projects get ground to dust and  tossed out after being bashed about in cupboards and thrown  on to tables to endure  a continual rain of dice and spiky plastic models.

We need it and we tend not to care much about it. The life of our terrain is mainly a miserable one. Whether built from sprues and bog rolls or purchased for a king’s ransom.  The end problems are the same; expense,  robustness, unwieldiness, imbalanced, and a multitude of others.  Above all it’s hard to get people motivated over it.  It’s just not that sexy to begin with.  There is no allure to it unless you go all out and really theme a table and even then there is not that personal attachment you get with an army. Terrain and boards can fall into after thoughts.

However  with the rise of 40k into a very competitive tournament game, we have to look at every aspect,  including  terrain, which has been a hot topic for a long time, but in a very limited way.  There has been little shift in how terrain is handled  with only a few exceptions creeping in the right direction from tournaments and model companies.

Terraforming for Dice.

No matter what your goal is when playing 40k – balance matters,  whether it’s  tweaking 10 to 30 points of wargear for an uber tourney or having a laugh doing a FFA with your mates,  there can always be some grumbles over rules and terrain – no one likes to be shafted by imbalance.

So terrain needs to be functional to use with your models and can throw your whole game off keel if it is skewed against you.  I used  to be guilty of creating bad terrain that did this because I was breaking the golden design rule of  ‘form follows function’ . I’d create soaring buildings on rolling handcrafted hills and expansive water effects in resin. Proclaiming this as brilliant, I’d let players at the local store ‘try’ to play on it with disastrous effects as I focused on aesthetics over function.  And as you know everyone has an opinion and 40k players rarely pull their punches on opinions. There was yells of, “there’s too much terrain”, “there’s not enough blocking terrain!”,  “It’s too textured… dice bounce about like it’s trying to escape!”,  “My models don’t balance on it” and the obvious rule lawyering about terrain types . It’s an endless cycle of mild peril, long sighs, and pregnant silent pauses.

When it come down it terrain needs to be a simple representation of actual terrain.  This doesn’t mean it has to be stripped own to soulless white blocks but if a model can’t stand on it, or worse it’s damaged by it, then it’s not doing a good job and could affect game play.

Ideally we are aiming for modular terrain with clear boundaries for various set ups that function with various rules not just impassible blobs and If it happens to look great, excellent – job well done.

If we look at the terrain to buy.  GW and FW have started to produce more extensive molded boards.  They look good and split into various tiles for set up. They might actually be very good for balanced play, but they have a fairly high price tag and storing them might be an issue and may have problems with models and dice with textured surfaces.  So are they any good? well, I’d have to play on them to find out how they feel but I think it’s a step in the right direction. On the other hand you have Wyrd Minatures Terraclips terrain. Which looks great easy to store and is pretty cheap for what you get, but it’s card and might not weather  game play and accidents well. but it’s also ticking some boxes.

Terrain is moving forward but it’s a balancing act of what is wanted and required by the gamers and there is always building your own.  Keeping it simple with various heights and cover that will accommodate different sizes and bases then homemade terrain can tick all of the boxes even storage with a little creative planning.

Abuse and Balance

Any player can abuse table layouts to favour them. Whether it’s IG player making your Orks eat pie plates for turn after turn or BA parking lots moving through a jungle of terrain uncontested. Creating a list is often done without knowing  what terrain will be like and is gleefully abused if the table falls in your favour.  Getting that balance of ‘fair’ terrain is hard with no set way of dealing with it. You just don’t know what to expect and choosing a table edge can be almost game winning sometimes.  So why do we allow this system to happen?  There are ways around it if you take the time to try to find balance. Nova in the USA has touched on this giving each table a similar layout across the tournament  and this gives players certainty about terrain, so there is little random aspect to it.

With that in mind, would it not create a more tactically sound game if you could see the battlefield beforehand?  Knowing you can get creative with your list because there are less hidden elements to worry about.  Creating a list around  table balanced layouts means you can tailor lists to a bigger degree and remove some redundancy and open up the use of units that might not be viable beforehand as they are dependent on situational terrain or deployment.  This could also stop some of the epidemic of spam lists, which can be reliant on imbalanced terrain, pounding you to dust if all their stars align or failing miserably if they happen to come across their kryptonite.

Tournaments and Tables.

40k  and other TT games are not the only ones that have it tough when it comes to terrain. Competitive computer games also have many terrain issues  that affect balance and we can draw an almost direct comparison to RTS games like Starcraft 2. This is a highly competitive game with pro leagues and is even a national sport in S. Korea!  So they need to balance units and how they interact with terrain.

They deal with balance on a  competitive level by releasing map packs ahead of time that the players can pick from.  Out of these a player can ban 1 map that they  feel doesn’t favour their race.  Then roll randomly for the remaining maps. If it’s a game out of 3 or 5 games the loser always picks next.

This system works for highly competitive play where money is literally on the line and there is no reason not to adopt this in table top as well.  Tournaments could release 5/6 table layouts using 6 to 8 set sized terrain pieces.  Then release them along with their faqs and missions. Now skipping ahead to the day, players  nominate their banned maps, roll randomly and  set up.  Match the terrain to the layout and off you go.  Understanding this is added set up time. It’s not extensive and shouldn’t add more than a few minutes to the game; creating an environment that both players know well in advance and are happy with.  If they are well versed and have play tested,  players could even speed up play on these layouts as they have pre-laid plans for deployment on each layout.

This is just one way of using pre made layouts and it can be extensive and varied but the crux of knowing them in advance and knowing they are fair is key to bringing some balance to the game.

The End Game.

I don’t proclaim to have all the answers, but we can take lessons from other games that have been where 40k is now and help it not stagnate into a total imbalance. Of course what is considered ‘balanced’ can be subject to opinion. What one person sees another might not. So players skill, knowledge and experience go a long way into this. This means we also need to have debate and voting; by taking averages we remove extreme views and see trends.

Trial and error is key to finding solutions to complex questions with no obvious answer. We need to try out and revise layouts and try again with multiple lists then  give feedback. So this is what I’ve have tried to do by creating a project called Technically Terrain. A place to design and upload table top layouts for voting on balance. Hopefully creating a good source of fair layouts that players can use and abuse creating needed data and feedback. It’s only a first small step but hopefully it will be a beneficial one that takes root.

So I hope you stop by and take some of what the project is to heart. It will take some time for change and lots of opinionated voices to get it right.

Check out our website to rate different terrain layouts and maybe upload some of your own.


One Response to “Set The Scene by Technically Terrain”

  1. Digital Unicorn August 29, 2011 at 19:34 #

    Looking forward to the segment matey, the tactics of terrain aren’t talked about enough. You should do some vids to visualise it sometime in the future, do I smell a 40kuk youtube channel somewhere in the future?

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