Thursday, 3 March 2016

The difference good terrain makes to your games and why you need it.

Everyone at some stage, most probably a tournament (well at least here in Oz), has played a game on a table that was, well.....lacking. Terrain was sparse or not painted and the general feel of the game was...meh.

Conversely i would like to hope that gamers have at least at some stage played a game on terrain that was sooooo good and realistic that it just drew you into the fiction you were playing there right on the table. This is the reason i so adamantly believe that terrain is one of the most important parts of a 30k game (any minis game really) for those who are hobby enthusiasts. Not so much for those who play WAAC or the tournament scene as they play predominately strategy and not so much tactics and tactics can be driven very heavily by terrain.

So before this devolves into a rant....let me tell you why i think good terrain is so important.

What makes good terrain?

Its all subjective really.....

What i think makes good terrain is a piece that looks realistic but practical to a gaming sense. You do need to be able to fit your minis on and in it after all. Also something that's not all  single story tall. Multiple building levels are essential i feel. A battle field should rarely be two dimensional.

I often see ruined buildings or structures which have gaping holes as big as a superheavy allowing sight from one side to the other. In a game where line of sight now is pivotal its a recipe for mundane games and useless token terrain pieces.

A simple way to mitigate this is to include simple internal walls in buildings. Only has to be one or two and all of a sudden the terrain piece breaks up the tables line of sight and changes the dynamics of units. Infantry can now sneak through dense terrain. Vehicles suddenly need a good infantry escort to protect them from ambushes. You get my drift......

Visual Aesthetics:

  • Many of us have read the Horus Heresy novels or any other black library 40k story and been drawn into a richly descriptive setting of the grim dark 40k universe. Hab blocks and manufactorum buildings. Grand bridges spanning rooftops and gantry walkways. There is no reason why the tables we recreate these battle stories on, shouldn't look the same as from those books.
credit for pic goes to 

  • Placing your minis into such detailed terrain i have found, gives a profound sense of wonder. Seeing models taking fire points in windows, sniper positions from rooftops all goes towards enhancing the narrative of the game.

  • Another good point is the fun and enjoyment of actually modelling and creating this terrain. When we finish a squad or vehicle and get that sense of accomplishment, that too can be had with terrain. Terrain pieces, much like large tanks and superheavies can allow for heaps of detail and embellishments due to their size so they offer a great opportunity to express your modelling skills.


  • I hear many, many a gamer complaining that jump troops are over priced. I beg to differ. When jump troops are used with good, real terrain, that is multi level you can see why jump troops have their points cost. They have the ability to navigate easily across an otherwise difficult slog on the ground. They can use the height of buildings to shield them from sight and be in range of a devastating assault the next turn. That is the key to jump troops assaults, is to hit with maximum momentum (as many troops as you can) and good terrain allows these types of troops to do this flawlessly. So the attack doesn't go so well and you have to fall back......flee to the roof tops and you'll never be chased down. I wonder how many people have ever thought of that aspect of terrain?

  • Super heavies can play a dramatic part in any game. The sheer amount of fire power they can bring can literally and practically wipe an opponent off the table in a few turns of fire......if on an open table. There have been many games of apocalypse that i have played where a guy has rocked up with his warlord or reaver titan and proceeded to wipe everything off the table with no recourse for the other players. There is no fun in that. Having proper terrain can help mitigate this and has two sided benefits. It means that such large war machines can still be dominating but not dominate the entire table. They now need to navigate the terrain to obtain fire lanes to be made useful and will teach players of such units to be better tacticians. Conversely players can feel more confident that playing against one of these super heavies isn't going to mean an instant loss to the game and can instead try for victory by securing objectives under cover, all in all making for a much more cinematic, narrative driven game.

    A galaxy in flames
    A game played between A galaxy in Flames resident Dark Angel and Imperial Fist players. The terrain was so engaging that first blood was not scored until turn 4! 
  • Another aspect is that good proper terrain creates a solid reason for taking unit upgrades and additions. Such things as nuncio voxs and rhino transports. With line of sight adequately broken up units would have these extra layers of support and adds a little extra bit of flavour to a game.
All in all, good realistic terrain (and by realistic and good i mean terrain that has the extra detail such as ledges, internal walls and multiple stores) is as essential to a game as a tackle box is for a fishing. Without it you are not really getting, and experiencing the full scope and range of what your 30k miniatures can do on the table. Unit tactics begin to pop in your face and sudden realisations of how you can secure an objective two turns ahead begin to show. When your opponent sees the same thing then all of a sudden he is now trying to devise tactics to counter your smart use of terrain and a brilliant game of cat and mouse can ensue on the table. This in turn will drive larger strategies which most people dismiss.

now compare all these points to a bare table that you're probably used to seeing and tell me its not grossly lacking....


  1. I'm also. Big one for terrain being set up in a "realistic" manner. As in some sort of believable layout for buildings and debris. Often boards will be set up in such a way to equalise terrain and it just doesn't look right such as buildings all on different angles and trees, debris or monuments just randomly scattered.

    1. Absolutley agree about the need for "realistic" set up of terrain. I'm also not afraid to set up terrain unbalanced making that roll for which side you get even that more important.....and rewarding if you in fact built in that tactical aspect to your list where you can over come that flaw in your edge of the table with transports or infiltrate or some other such strategy.

  2. I am also a huge fan of subtle "rolling" type terrain, Ridges, valleys, generally about a Leman Russ in height & depth. Generally full table width. That and a laser pointer for determining true lines of sight, changes the game a good bit it does.

    1. Indeed it does change the game. I always love the look of realisation and comprehension when playing a game against a player who hasn't been introduced to the tactics and gameplay of a table with good realistic terrain.

      When you deploy troops just behind a ridgeline to a valley out of sight then proceed to jump or charge from the ridge into his trapped troops in the valley who just moments ago had no shots or sight of you. The thoughts that cross their head "Historically this was how ambushes happened......then why did i put my troops in this situation?"

      I love it when fictional gaming gets a good does of reality to it.

  3. Really enjoyed this post spraggs, I love those buildings

    1. Cheers Randy. Maybe you can try out your new raven jump troops on them soon.