Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Wargame Terrain Part I

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One of the areas of wargaming that is often the most ignored and aesthetically slighted is the terrain. I have seen all too many games with some relatively well painted figures, but felt cut-outs and bits of paper representing hills, streams and forests placed on a bare tabletop or an old green blanket. While, I admit that the hobby requires imagination on the part of its participants, even five year olds invest a little more care into their playsets! Such “presentations” at public war-games are pretty uninspiring, and, even at home based games, makes one wonder why the gamer spends hours getting the figures just so and then piles rubbish on the table-rather like a well costumed professional play being performed in front of a 5th grade painted cardboard set!

There is an opposite extreme where the gamers are really refugees from model railroading and do an intricate, multi-layered, terrain that gets the battlefield correct, right down to the last hedge and tree. They look fantastic, but their failure is one of function, moving and adjusting troops in this cross between a diorama and an architectural model is damn near impossible. Troops fall over, don’t fit in the dense foliage, and get lost in the arboreal splendor. In fact, it is not only difficult to use in a gaming sense, but the terrain completely dominates the most important element, the troops and figures representing the combatants. Even the best painted units are visually submerged in the undulating green. This is a case of the scenery getting more attention and applause than the actors!

In truth, war-game terrain has to be a carefully wrought balance between functionality and visual impact. Gamers should seek the “Golden Mean” where the terrain gives an attractive and reasonably accurate representation of the real world, or the actual battle, but retains an ease of use that doesn’t frustrate play.

This will also underline the two different kinds of war-game terrain needs. I NEVER game at conventions or hobby shops, ALL of my wargaming is done at Chez Jones in the legendary Chambre de Petit-Guerres. This allows me to acquire and build some really nice terrain pieces( and troops) that never will suffer the travails of being carted miles to a large gathering where there will be at least one lout that, never having bought, painted, or built any war-game figures or terrain treats them like they were his plastic Marx playsets when he was seven.

People who do choose to game at stores or conventions often willingly make the compromise of less elegant, very tough, and damage-proof terrain and troops. Some terrain of this type could literally be stood on, or dropped a couple of stories and survive, The figures are so coated with clear enamel and dull coat that they will outlast the Pyramids!

Both needs can be met with aesthetically pleasing and functional terrain, but compromises in detail, materials, and delicacy of construction and painting must be made if you plan to do a road show. Some gamers may choose to create a collection for home use, and another for the “away” games.

Another problem of terrain is storage. In the joy of purchasing some scale representation of Hougoumont, the gamer may be excused for overlooking the problem of where in the hell do I put this thing between games?? Even a basic collection of hills, structures, and forests will take up more space than many gamers imagine until they run out of drawers and corners to put the stuff!

The storage issue varies a lot depending on period and scale. This is the justification for scale such as 6mm. or 10mm, and is a MAJOR problem with 28mm figures-especially if the gamer buys his structures in 28mm. Even a small house or farm covers a lot of table top space, and a village could easily cover half the table! What makes this especially problematic is that most war-games, for obvious reasons, use a ground scale that is quite different from the figure scale. We must do this, since a ground scale of 28mm to 6 feet would make musketry range 4 1/2 feet to 13 1/2 feet, and artillery canister would reach up to 26 feet away! Round shot would be out of the house and down the street! So we propose a ground scale, regardless of figure scale, that varies depending on the scope of the game from 25 yard to 100 yards an inch. This makes a single small 28mm scale building with, say, a measurement of 8 inches on a side monstrously huge in the ground scale-over 200 yards at even 25 yards to an inch! 400 yards at 50 yards to an inch!

Compounding this weird ground scale anomaly is the sheer size of 28mm terrain. I once had a collection of superb Herb Gundt created structures in 28mm; A French and Indian War wood fort, A Vauban fortification of over 3 feet on a side, a German Farm, a French chateau, a Three Musketeers Tavern, a large stone village home with a courtyard, etc. They were magnificent creations, but the took up too much space! Even with a war-game room that measures 12x 20 feet-dedicated to the hobby-they were consuming so much space in storage, there was little room for anything else! I sold them all. There just wasn’t anywhere to put them, unless I chose to live in a house that looked like a hoarder’s!

My answers to this storage issue? It’s an easy one, that I encourage every gamer to consider. Do the same thing with structures that you do with ground scale for weaponry- use structures for smaller scales! All of my terrain structures are in 10mm, with a few of indeterminate size, such as a windmill and some bridges, in 15mm. I use them with both my 10mm armies and my 28mm armies. The mind easily adjusts to the structure size disparities, just as it does to the disparity between figure and ground scale. All of my terrain fits in a two plastic storage boxes, that fit under one end of my table and on one shelf in my storage room. They take less than 50% of the space of 28mm terrain. If I gamed 15mm, I would look at 6mm structures for the same reasons.

I also took an added step of stipulating a certain size of terrain base, in my case 4”x 8”, that all my structures are built upon. Of, course larger structures, such as my 10mm model of la Haye sainte, are built, jig-saw puzzle-like, upon several interlocking 4X8” bases. Each base is defined as having a capacity of one regiment of troops, regardless of the number of structures upon it. This clearly defines the issue of how many troops may occupy a structure, or group of structures, and further defines just where that regiment is located in order to be attacked. The structure “Type” defines the cover the troops investing the structure(s) have in combat.

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Because all terrain structures share a common base, the issue of storage is further simplified and made even more efficient.

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Needless, to say, hills are hills and are of no particular scale, though for storage reasons I make sure all of my hills are flat topped.

I use trees that are from model railroading and are from 2-3” in height Each individually mounted on a tin disk so I can make a wide variety for forested areas. They are not so high as to get in the way, can be moved slightly to allow for occupying troops, and still give a nice forested look at any scale.

Streams are of no particular scale, but, again, I use segmented streams that allow for a variety of lay out and store flat in a shoebox.

Roads are to 28MM scale, two inches wide-simply because the units fit on them better, but I could have easily have chosen 1” roads-and may in the future. They are also segmented and store flat.

Wargame Terrain Part II , will concentrate on gaming concepts used in Die Fighting and Zouave concerning terrain and its effects on movement and combat. I hope to have it out next week, along with a battle report on this week-end’s game.