Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Over Looked Importance of Terrain

We, as wargamers frequently talk of the latest models, cool lists and so on. There is nothing wrong with that, but I sometimes feel terrain takes a back seat in the eyes of many of us. 

So I wanna emphasize terrain today, as much a rules, army lists and models can turn the tide of battle, so too can terrain. And much more. I will detail my plans for a board as well. So any advice would be appreciated. 

Over the course of this year I am really hoping to expand my terrain collection. So I have kept an eye out for ideas both on the net and around the club. So I broke it down in my mind how I would go about it. Here is what I have planned. 

My Plan

To make a transportable, natural and modular gaming terrain set in desert theme. 

Sounds simple? Hardly. The problem with terrain is its hard work. But good terrain makes good battles. So how will I go about this?

The Base

First thing for me is to get a mat to use as the base. 

This is what I have found. This mat is from HERE and I think this set up will be perfect. Simply roll out the mat and place terrain on and under it. 

Making it natural 

I live in a country that has a lot of untouched nature. Everywhere I go there is forest, hills and green. But what sticks out to me is how uneven a lot of the ground is. We are used to video games and boards which are largely flat with bumps here and there. To avoid this flatness I will make small hills that will sit underneath areas of the mat to create rises and leaving the areas that lie flat as the lowest areas of the battle field. The hills will be made as flat as possible for models to easily sit on but I will try make them look as natural as possible. 

Another thing that I will try my best to achieve is clutter. Patches of grass, rocks, Cacti and so on will be made on flat small bases. Just to add pointless clutter that shouldnt effect the game much, but make the board look natural. 

Some Military Build Up

Primarily the hills will be my line of sight breaker, but this wont be enough. To add more cover to both parties I will gather up some Sandy forts and barricades. The hills will be made with these in mind (so they can all fit together nicely).

Then I will make some "Hill Tops" which will feature Trenches and dugouts. I think these fortifications will really add finishing touches to the piece and more importantly add more depth to the game. 

The Possibilities 

I think with this set up I can make the board fit to any need for 28mm. If I need flat space I can simply not add hills. If I want to play Flames of War I can simply not add 28mm details. So hopefully the transporting wont be too hard. But since its not a board technically, all I need are a few boxes. 


Many of you may have looked at my battle reports and see nothing wrong with the terrain I have available. However after seeing how historical gamers set up their boards, many 40k ones simply do not compare. Im hoping to really bridge that gap of playability and natural aesthetic to create a stunning board. So here is the plan (hopefully I get round to it soon). Its very doable I think and all I need is to get to work. So on to the importance of terrain.

Terrain Importance 

Aesthetically a good table set up can really create and immerse players and watchers into the  game. With painted models and a well set up table the game will be many steps closer to being a simulation or recreation. Imagine knowing nothing about wargaming and you walk past a 40K game only to see what appears to be a diorama but with interactive pieces. In my opinion it really contains that wow factor. 

Terrain also creates amazing games. Battles throughout history are won and lost on the battlefield alone. Choke points, high ground and defensive positions go a long way to creating battles where you must outmaneuver and outwit your opponent. The table should be made in a way that avoids turn one losses. Instead forcing the sides to take up positions and commit precious support to areas that need it. 

A really nice and natural map can really hurt deep strikers. (this is where things like flat ish hills come in. So be reasonable and talk about areas that are safe for deep strike, even if the rules say its not allowed. For example is that pillar of rock flat enough for someone to land on? If so, let them drop there. Or that building roof top? Why not? this is something that is over looked in many games. Merely talking about the terrain before a game can stop future problems before they begin. 

I have touched on all this before but at the end f the day, its not what terrain you have. Its where you place it and how much you use. Use enough so that Line Of sight can be blocked, but its not a hassle for cover save purposes. 

I know terrain is expensive and space consuming. But its something all gamers should have. Even if you belong to a club or use the local store tables. The ability to make the battlefield unique and work for the game you are playing goes more to making a great game than many players think. 

So if you have armies already, instead of buying more armies, how about giving terrain pieces a go. Make a theme that suits your army (nothing worse than having snow bases on a green table) and make it compliment your force. Its hard to begin with but you will be glad that you tried in the future. 

So whats your cup of tea? Alien Psychedelic Flora World? Arid Desert? Snowy Alps? Mega City? The list goes on. If you can think it, you can make it. 

If you are reading this, give it a go. Doesnt need to be fancy. My club has workshop days (I havent gone, work prevents me) but they make some great stuff with limited resources. My school club had a workshop and we used polystyrene and old wood shop junk to create some lovely boards. 

Tutorials are plenty on the web guys. Learn and create. 


  1. I couldn't agree more, good terrain lifts the game to the next level, both visually for the aesthetic but also tactically for the nuances the terrain creates for the game.

    1. Definitely. To be honest looking at your boards you have a great set up going. Its looks good but has all the player friendly bits in there so models arent falling left right and center. I may look through your blog and steel ideas.

      Cheers for reading.

  2. I have tried under the matt hills before and they looked great,but any slight nudge or pull would create a landslide of miniatures.the only way I solved this issue was to get my girlfriend to sow in magnets into the material,which was very time consuming and led to lots of nights watching chick-flicks :D

    1. Hmmmm thats an interesting idea. My solution was to buy another matt and use the second one to cut up and cover the hill pieces to stop this. but maybe magnets is the better way to do it. Cheers for that.

      Thankfully my Fiancee isnt into chick flicks (mostly) so hopefully I dont suffer the same fate :P

  3. I'm in the middle of a mass terrain project (at 40k-scale) myself, and yeah, it's a LOT of work (and more expensive than I'd have thought, even though I'm mostly making things from plasticard).

    I would note, though, that hills (in 40k at least) aren't real terrain. They usually don't impart a cover save, or slow down units, while they do allow you a vantage point that allows you to shoot over other pieces of terrain to help ignore the cover saves they give. In a way, hills aren't terrain, they're anti-terrain.

    Not to say never include them, but they're not a substitute for terrain that uses more of the rules for cover and movement.

    1. While thats a good point its more for Line of Site purposes. The hill tops for the most part will have bits on them and so on. But its to try stop the sides from shooting on turn 1.

      If I can find this awesome fort I may not resort to hills though.

      Id like to see your board if you ever take pics.

      I know what you mean, ill play test a mock up board first and see how it works in my area. If the hills dont have the desired effect then removed they will be.