Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Concept: Terrain As A Part Of Your Task Force

As I've been writing up the next mission concept, I found myself getting off on a tangent that I've decided requires it's own post. That being the idea of including terrain as part of a player's army. So that during deployment, you can put down some smaller, tactically important bits to modify the play field; instead of simply being at the mercy of whatever the table layout + mission does to you.

First, let's look at the competitive 40K status quo:

Typical Adepticon Terrain Layout
Typical NOVA Open Terrain Layout
Typical Table From Last Year's Indy Open GT
These are all competitive (5th Edition) terrain layouts from 3 of the biggest American 40K GTs. What do you notice about them?

I notice that there's plenty of larger pieces of area terrain/hills, but there's not much in the way of smaller terrain bits. No long walls. No single rocks or trees. No craters, fences, or minefields.

Why? There's 2 big reasons.

1) It's Expensive For Tournament Organizers To Provide

Every piece of terrain that a TO puts on the table has to be bought or made. But it doesn't stop there. Their terrain also has to be transported and stored. Not to mention the time it takes to set up a table, and having to deal with terrain 'drift' (caused by players making room for their movement trays) as the day progresses also causes problems. So the more terrain you have, the more hassle and expense all around. It's therefore much better from a TO's standpoint to have a smaller number of large pieces than a large number of small pieces. That's not ever going to change.

2) It's Difficult To Balance

The other problem facing TO's is how to lay out their terrain in such a way that it's doesn't over-advantage one player or the other. So walls and small obstacles are avoided in favor of a geometric pattern of large area terrain pieces that work well from all angles.

In a competitive 6th Edition event, you'll see some Aegis Defense Lines, but... you see them every game. It gets boring.

So Let's Consider...

Most game stores don't tend to have a lot of small terrain pieces laying around. Plus the competitive players will almost always ignore them in favor of the layouts favored by tournaments. Which are fixed by the constraints that TO's have to work under. So instead of expecting either stores or tournaments to provide the small, interesting stuff for a table setup, we'll make that the players' concern instead. We'll also make the placement tactically interesting.

In addition to your troops then, each player would be required (in approximately 1/2 to 2/3rds of the game's missions) to have some terrain of various sorts.

1) Blocking/Defensive Obstacles

Blocking obstacles would be placed outside of a player's deployment zone. Their purpose is to disrupt or slow down an enemy advance. Or to provide places where a few models can be protected from enemy fire as they move forward.

Lines of barbed wire are the most obvious choice here. All six of these barbed wire sections are sold in one pack (pre-painted) from Pegasus Hobbies for $15. Easy!

Minefields are easy too. Just a piece of felt (say 6"x12")  with some dots on it would suffice. Imaginative players could come up with themed substitutes too.

These rocks are $25 for the set (pre-painted) from Battlefield in a Box.

Six of these pre-painted trees (and two woods bases) are $30 from Battlefield in a Box. Plus trees are pretty easy to make by hand, and you can do all sorts of alien versions.

2) Defensive Obstacles

These are basically fortifications.

I'm fond of sandbags, but you could use any wall-like structure. Basically, in some missions you'll start 'dug-in'. These are how you represent those defenses. You don't get enough to line your entire board edge. Just enough to give the defender a fighting chance in certain missions where they only get to start with part of their force on the table.

I don't see us doing full trench lines or bunkers (yet). But that would be something you would buy in your army list. Not a 'standard' set of terrain that all armies would need to have available for the standard missions.

So the list of required terrain would go something like this:
  1. Blocking Obstacles (Which one you use is chosen at deployment):
    • 18" of Barbed Wire (or equivalent) in 6" sections.
    • One 12"x6" Minefield.
  2. 3 point obstacles (Single trees/rocks or stacks of crates/drums)
  3. 30" of sandbags/walls (in 4" or 6" sections) or linearly stacked crates.
That's light enough that you could probably scrape together the minimum requirements from my FLGS's collection. Though you might have to use Trees as point obstacles instead of whatever you would prefer to later model up.


In missions that allow them, you would place your sandbags/walls in your own deployment zone. While you would place barbed wire in your half of No Man's Land. The point obstacles would go in your opponent's half of No Man's Land to disrupt their nice neat fire lanes. :)

So a standard Adepticon-ish layout that looks like this....

Would be transformed into something like this. In this case, both sides are dug in behind sandbag walls. Each has placed 18" of barbed wire in their half of No Man's Land. In addition, each has been able to place 3 point obstacles (for cover while advancing) in their opponent's No Man's Land.

In a short-edge to short-edge mission where there is a clear attacker and a defender, the table might look like this. Where the defender has placed 36" of barbed wire (using both players' obstacles), and the standard 30" of sandbag walls to protect his troops. While the attacker got to place 6 point obstacles (from both player's terrain) to protect his advance. Three in his side of the table, and 3 on his opponent's side.

When placing the point obstacles, I used an informal rule where they couldn't be placed within 6" of a hill or piece of area terrain, or within 4" of a blocking obstacle or defensive wall. The exact numbers are open to testing/opinions.


I think that, by making the 'small stuff' player-provided, mission-specific, and player-placed, we can really mix up the tactical possibilities for a game. At the same time, this would increase the average amount of terrain on the table (which our system needs), without throwing the burden for providing that on either the local game store, or Tournament Organizers.

And, thematically, it gives players some new interesting stuff to model up (or buy) that's not just more infantry models. For store owners, it would boost the number of terrain kits they sell. So I think the idea is win-win for everyone.


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