Posted by: markfender | May 27, 2015

Miniature Terrain

Besides miniatures, you probably need some terrain.

Ruined ChurchTerrain is cool. It makes the game look properly three-dimensional, opens up new tactical challenges and can go a long way towards developing the aesthetics of the game. But it’s also kind of big and annoying. It gets damaged easily, takes up way too much space, and often involves an element of scratchbuilding (depending on how well-supported your chosen game is in the terrain department).

I’ve seen and played with a lot of different terrain pieces and enjoy making my own stuff. But there are three rules I’ve adopted when deciding on terrain.

First of all, the terrain has to be portable. I don’t necessarily have the room to store an entire battle’s worth of hills. And buildings seem to just take up more room than they do on the tabletop. So, my first rule is that the terrain has to be portable. That doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to break down into individual walls and then be reassembled before the game like a LEGO set, but it needs to all fit into some sort of container I can shove under a bed or into a closet until I need it again.

Second, it needs to be usable. Can the minis themselves fit through the doorways? Can I reach the inside of buildings to move minis around? If there’s multiple stories in the building, are there ways to secure models when they move to those different levels? (Because it almost always ends up that a mini’s movement isn’t enough to advance completely to the next level). The biggest problem I have here actually comes from the simplest form of terrain to make – hills. How many hills have you played on where your minis can’t actually stand on the slopes? Tiered slopes are better for this, but they don’t always store nicely and tend to look a little less realistic than other hills. But nothing annoys me more than having a table full of terrain that I just have to avoid because my miniatures can’t physically use it. Terrain becomes areas of the battlefield to avoid, rather than take advantage of. And that’s kind of dumb. I spent all this time building an authentic Victorian village for this game, and now no one uses any of the terrain because it’s a bigger pain than just avoiding it.

Lastly, the terrain has to be sturdy. Because terrain takes a lot of abuse. More than the miniatures themselves. Storing it requires pulling it out, setting it up, and taking it down again. If you leave your terrain at the game store, other people are using it (and they’re not using it well). Edges get chipped, bent, and worn. Honestly, I’m less worried about this one than the other two, but, if I’ve mastered the first two rules, I’d sorta like the stuff I’ve got to survive. But I can say I’ve thrown out my fair share of terrain that didn’t meet these requirements.

I think a lot of terrain gets judged on how it looks before anything else. But I do think there are more important principles to pay attention to before the cosmetic (Notice how that’s not even one of my criteria?). Looks are cool, but they’re really the last thing I think about when deciding on my terrain needs.

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