One of my favourite things about Flames of War is the terrain. Unlike some other games, in Flames of War you frequently move through terrain and use it to benefit yourself and hamper your opponent. The layout of a table can have a large effect on the outcome of a game. A skilled player can effectively use terrain to help them on either attack or defense. In this post I will share some of my ramblings on what I think makes an effective and well laid out table for tournament games.
Disclaimer: This is ENTIRELY an opinion piece. I am no Flames of War genius and am subject to my own biases. If you disagree I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.
In this post I am going to focus mainly on what I think is desirable in the terrain for tournaments. Insanely dense bocage or city tables are really fun for friendly games, themed games and scenarios. Extreme tables have their place and can be good fun to add to an event to add some randomness and challenge. In this post I will focus on average tournament terrain as we use here in Western Canada for tournaments as most of our terrain aims for balance and moderate terrain.
Density of terrain is probably the biggest thing I hear and read people talking about with reards to terrain. The common wisdom seems to hold that a terrain heavy table favours infantry companies whereas an open table favours tank companies. In my opinion, a moderately dense table benefits both attackers and defenders depending on how they use terrain. As an aggressive player, I love using terrain to protect my fragile assault assets until I can get close to the enemy. For tournaments, I think a variety of medium-light to moderately dense tables are ideal. I love the strategy of using terrain and the challenges of moving through and around terrain. The challenges of designing a good dense terrain board will be covered in the mobility section.
|My current Normandy table.|
A key aspect of a good tabletop layout is balance. Glen, one of my regular opponents, has some great tournament terrain boards that are very balanced. When I am choosing a side to defend or a table quarter to attack from on his tables I often find that there is little difference in each table quarter. He purposely lays out the terrain to generally balance the four quarters of the board so no one section provides too much of an advantage to either the attacker or the defender. In general, I try to follow this when designing my own tables. I try to have relatively equal density of similar terrain in each table quarter. For example, if I have line of sight blocking terrain like trees in one quarter I will try to have roughly equal amounts of line of sight blocking terrain in each quarter.
|Here's a game against Sean on one of Glen's tables.|
Variety is the spice of life (or so they say). A few different types of terrain on a table can add interest and more tactical choices. A mix of hills, open terrain, slow terrain, concealing terrain, and linear obstacles makes for good variety on a table.
On the other hand, a strongly themed table can also work. For example, I want to make a Hurtgen Forest table in the future that is heavily wooded with only a few places to move more easily. Bocage tables are another example of this.
As a tank player, I think it is important that tables be laid out with mobility in mind. There is definitely an element of bias in this. In my opinion, it is important to consider mobility when planning a table. If you lay down long hedgerows with that are difficult or very difficult going then you should have periodic openings to allow tanks to move through them. If you have rivers, then three or more potential crossing points is ideal to prevent too many choke points. I think openings allow for strategic choices by allowing many different outcomes to occur. When you set up a hill or slow terrain, allow options to move around the slow terrain in some places.
Lines of sight
When I am setting out terrain I try to think of both long and short edge deployments when I look at sight lines along the table. Having some long sight lines on a table is fine. It makes for a more interesting game if the table is not dominated by very open sight lines for artillery and heavy tanks. I try to set up my tables so that long sight lines are fairly limited. Make those observers work for their artillery barrages! One way I do this is by putting area terrain like trees in areas that would otherwise be very open sight lines. Another thing I do is to stagger my buildings so they provide staggered cover from different angles instead of having them neatly in a row.
|A picture of my Normandy table from the Kelowna tournament. Geoff is sneakily moving his infantry through the hedges and behind the fences to get concealment. The mix of terrain types (and night attacking!) has allowed him to get close to me intact.|
Realism and theme
Flames of War looks great on the tabletop. The scale lends itself to very cinematic games on a nice table. Laying out terrain in a realistic and natural way adds to the feel of the game. Random clumps of terrain can look a little silly. Some forethought can allow a table to take on character and provide something worth fighting for. You can do this by arranging your buildings to form a small village or putting hedges and walls along roadways. Small complimentary pieces like statues can provide a focal points for a scene. Along the same lines, a strong theme for a table can help to create a great setting for a game. A theme can be as simple as a desert or winter board or as elaborate as a specific suburb of Stalingrad or the Battle of Kasserine Pass. A sense of coherence, theme, and realism can add to the aesthetic value of a table.
|This table is Bradford's. It has a very realistic terrain layout. It looks like a real place when you are playing on this board. He had an even nicer board that I forgot to photograph at the tournament.|
General guidelines for effective table layout
- Set terrain with mobility in mind (gaps, river crossings, slow vs open terrain)
- Design tables to reflect real locations and with a theme (villages, linear obstacles along roads, roads that make sense)
- Provide choices for the players on your table (multiple river crossings, limit choke points)
- Consider lines of sight (mix of cover types, limit very open lines and dominating positions)
- Balance table quarters and halves so that the players make choices but so that table side does not decide the game
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments on what makes a good terrain table for Flames of War. These are my thoughts based on my limited experience at tournaments and the limits of my own terrain collection. I've had a few comments about terrain for Flames of War on twitter. If I get enough responses I'll post a follow up of thoughts from some different players. Thanks for visiting.