Saturday, April 29, 2017

Better wargames on grounds of Terrain....

“The strategy for employing the military is this: There is dispersive terrain, light terrain, contentious terrain, traversable terrain, focal terrain, heavy terrain, entrapping terrain, and fatal terrain.

-Sun Tzu –

Even back in the day good old Sun-Tzu had some interesting things to say about the ways terrain could work for you in a battle. And unsurprisingly history is dotted with examples where terrain played a crucial and determining role in the outcome of battles and wars. This should teach wargamers something valuable: terrain can enhance your games!

I will not go into the visual aspect of terrain (i.e. how to make your gaming table look better) as rows of books have already been devoted to that. Instead, I will address terrain as a means to make your game more interesting!

It goes downhill from here on.…
While terrain may serve as an objective, we can do so much more with it. Instead, let’s place a hill. Instantly lines of sight change as a large obstacle blocks them. 

Movement is hampered as moving uphill might slow figures down. And especially if an enemy has already settled on top of it climbing the hill is particularly unattractive, as this enemy defends high ground (+2 Attack roll or something). Suddenly simply moving across the table has become something to reconsider.

Speed limits and dead ends
Rivers, steep cliffs and walls might simply block movement and force troops in other directions. A swamp might slow movement down to a crawl while not offering any particular cover, yet offering the enemy ample time to shoot at your poor mud-sloggers. Then again, should the enemy use it to secure his flanks, or to hide behind? Spicy dilemmas abound!

Terrain might discriminate between troops. While infantry may cross woods relatively easy cavalry cannot enter woods at all as anyone who has ever been swiped off his horse by a low tree branch can testify! This causes more tactical considerations.

Terrain might offer benefits, as troops might move faster over roads than they would through a field. This of course channels your troops along certain predictable routes. It offers you the -always interesting- choice between speed and surprise.

All this of course serves to make the intellectual challenge of a game more interesting. Even without writing detailed game scenarios a pitched battle (allegedly the most played type of wargame ever!) can be made very complex by placing some woods, hills and marshes.

Good terrain rules!
Should you rules contain no specific terrain rules, I suggest by all means make them yourself!
Let’s look at a corn field. Or rather: through it. You can’t, at least not very far. So field of view in a cornfield would not be blocked, but severely limited. This should influence the chance to hit someone walking in a cornfield with a ranged weapon, as a target that is far enough away might just as well stand behind a wall.

On the other hand, unlike a wall a cornfield offers zero protection against ranged weapons once someone has drawn a bead on you. Explosions in a cornfield will hurt the target just like it would in an open field.  So a cornfield would influence a to Hit roll, just like a wall would, but not a Save (if your rules know such a thing) unlike a wall unable to stop the projectiles hurled at you. 

This would offer a more interesting variety of terrain rules than say: terrain is either Difficult (Movement penalty and cover) or not. That way it will actually become both useful as well as pretty to invest in some good crops on the table!

There’s something moving over there….
While terrain is usually static, it does not need to be. Smoke and fog might float across the table creating a moving blockade for view. (Sky)ships can really be moving pieces of terrain from which figures shoot or fight. A moving bridge is a very simple example.

There is only a fine line between figures and moving terrain. Stampeding herds of cattle are little more than moving terrain creating dangers for your little soldiers. Shambling zombies moving on “automated” movement- and reaction rules are actually terrain that can move as well as fight! 

“Get to the choppa!”
So simply by choosing and placing terrain, we can direct or at least influence movement of troops, create dilemmas and choices and create an interesting game scenarios without actually having to write one.

One of the most successful games I ever played is a simple VTOL evacuation mission where the 
Rescuers have to pick up the Objective before the Hunters capture it. The Objective must be collected and escorted to a landing zone and evacuated by air from a landing spot at least a foot wide. There are several such spots on the table, all several turns of movement away from the Objective. That’s all. So far the scenario has always been lost or won by a hair’s width.

I hope I have inspired you to make more use of terrain. Not only does it look better than a green sheet with a lonely tree, but it makes for better games as well!

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