Thursday, 12 February 2015

The lay of the land...

So I've been thinking and talking about terrain a lot recently...

This has been sparked by the radically different approaches to the use of terrain in the two games I'm playing a lot of at the minute - namely Warmachine and Malifaux. I even did some research by asking on Twitter and Reddit. I am a proper blogger at last...

Fine! I asked a baby!
Malifaux, bring an objective based skirmish game, seems to take the approach of "Use as much terrain as you own (or can fit on the board)". At least when we play anyway. Having checked the rulebook it recommends "enough terrain to cover 25 to 50% of the playing surface" on a 3 by 3 table.  Each piece gains a variety of traits which then interact with an LoS system that was designed to collect tears from the Baby Jesus.

"I don't know how the elevation rules work either my son..."
Warmachine, a game of fighting designed for people who really like defining things, throws us a curve ball by saying "place as much terrain as seems appropriate" for your 4 by 4 table. I was floored by this but once I recovered I downloaded the 2015 Steamroller tournament pack and was reassured to find terrain setup defined thuslessly: As a general rule, an average table should have five to seven pieces of terrain placed closely enough to eliminate large open areas without unduly constricting movement. The size of terrain pieces is also important. No piece should be insignificantly small or extremely large". Then it says not to place terrain in deployment zones or within 5" of an objective. Like Malifaux, terrain has traits to tell you how it behaves.

No. Comment.
(As an aside, I wanted to reference the current Warhammer rules because I love the random terrain tables but it seems I've left by 8th edition rulebook somewhere...).

Something like that anyway.
So that's what the rulebooks say - two broadly similar approaches but players see me to have quite different expectations. What really struck me was what people said about abilities that let you ignore some of the terrain traits. To be specific, Malifaux players said "more terrain is good because it let's you hide and sneak around to do your schemes but some things can still get you" whereas Warmachine players said "too much terrain makes models that ignore it too good". I assume this comes down to the goal of the game. As Malifaux has less of a combat focus it's more legitimate for a model to not engage or be engaged in fights (hence "we like being able to hide" vs "ignoring it is too good"). As bring able to setup or block charge lanes is a key element of Warmachine it makes perfect sense that having lots of terrain in a game where entire factions are immune to it is a little rough.

What low wall?
So I guess the question is what do we, as gamers, do about it? I know I hate the idea of playing on an empty field with 2.5 hills, a wood and a pile of skulls that I never interact with. I've found that the trick is to make sure you know the game before you plan your terrain. If you need to be able to block off areas, you need the terrain to do it. If you need room to move, well those narrow city streets are going to ruin your fun. That said, Ben and I are determined to try Warmachine with our Malifaux approach to terrain and see what happens - my hope us that it makes movement even more important and increases the value of infantry over jacks (we are new so jacks are still the coolest bit of the game!)

Like this. But with more 'jacks
From a designer point if view I think the key is making terrain something you interact with. It's often said that terrain is the third player in a game of Infinity but the rulebook made my eyes bleed so I guess i'll never know. A Fistful of King Fu has an awesome terrain system that allows you to break up chairs and things to use as weapons or throw goldfish bowls or handfuls of dirt  at each other but it is a very low figure count game So I doubt the terrain bookkeeping gets too arduous. For me (and I know this will be controversial but hang in there) is something like GW's random terrain effects in WFB and later editions of 40K. Terrain pieces that you move around, get cover from and are occasionally eaten by.

Jackie Chan doesn't suffering penalties for rough terrain
As those of you who remember by post on 2015 goals will know I'm looking to make more terrain this year. Below are some photos of my work so far...

This is a statue using the Governor's Proxy model from Malifaux and a plinth from eBay.

These two are a sort of chemical refinery thing that didn't quite work out.

Some islands and sandbanks for Dystopian Wars. I literally bled to make these, I almost had to go to A&E after slicing my finger open cutting the insulation foam. Stupid islands...

1 comment:

  1. Ahh, Infinity. A wonderful game. I think that thing would appreciate 100% cover on the table. It really is a shame that game makes brains bleed with the calculations.

    I think the main correlation factor for terrain is the army size. Terrain only seems to work well at low count skirmish games. As the armies get bigger, individual pieces of terrain count less and less.