Monday, June 6, 2011

"Get Skinny!!!!"- The Importance of Terrain

So, after an extended weekend that included 7 games (6 wins and 1 loss if anyone cares.. damn space lizards...), I decided that its time to mention something that is so pivotal to the battlefield of Warhammer 40k, yet most of us completely forget to appreciate it for making the game fun and interesting. If the title didnt give it away, then I guess I will inform the uninformed. Its Terrain!

So how can something be so asthetically pleasing yet be such a pain in the backside at the very same moment? Well, it has to come with the fact that terrain, like in real life, changes and intensifies the battlefield in so many different ways, providing much needed cover, while still denying line of sight and free movement all at once. So why have terrain on the battlefield? If its such a bother, then why have it in the game? These answers, like many others that involve this game, come from real life battlefield conditions and scenarios. Every battlefield is going to have terrain on it. Wars are hardly fought on flat surfaces with nothing in the way of the opposing forces. Especially in modern (and post-modern/futuristic) style battlefields, wars are fought in cities, forrests, jungles, mountains, etc. All of the aforementioned places have objects that troops can hide behind, as well as things that can deflect or deter optimal line of sight and ammunition effectiveness. Terrain can be both a positive and a negative, and should never be overlooked. It can clearly change how the game is played, and WILL add both fun and frustration to any part of the game.

Some positive aspects of terrain involve its effects on every portion of the game, especially on deployment. Like any good strategist, the first thing you do before anything else is survey the battlefield. We all do the glance over the table, labeling certain areas "no man's land" or "the deadly courtyard of doom." We look for how the terrain is going to help our particular army win the battle, whether it be a good place to hold an objective, a place to "castle up" units, or a bottleneck in a roadway where an IG mech list will get bogged down enough for your friendly units to pick them off. Its important to make sure that your units are either deployed in proper terrain or kept in the open but well hidden behind a line of sight blocking building or rock to maximize movement while still utilizing its protective qualities. A campy army may want to deploy in dense terrain, but at a level or distance where they will still get a clear shot, but wont be denied the cover save. Some "squishy" units may want to stay in terrain to provide a buffer against an onslought of a close combat oriented army, or just so they can dig in to hold a nearby objective. Terrain can and should be used to maximize the strengths of your army while minimizing the strengths of your enemy's. It should force your opponent to utilize tactics that they didnt originally intend to use, or force them to change their entire game plan based on your use of the terrain.

One of the biggest positive impacts of terrain comes from the use of a wide variety of terrain pieces. Using a wide variety of pieces can make for a more interesting and fun experience, while forcing both armies to make different tactical decisions. For example, in a city fight/mountainous village themed battlefield, the terrain may include roads, buildings, mountains, barbed wire, fences, bridges, and maybe even a bunker or fortified structure. In such a battlefield, each piece of terrain is going too impact the models in play. Roads (depending on how your gaming group wants to use them) may increase the overall movement of any model on it, since a road would be easier for a vehicle or a man to move on then a steep hill or a rocky surface. Buildings may be used as cover, and depending on how tall they are, they may block a lot of line of sight to and from specific models. the levels of the building may also be used for different models, altering the overall layout of the game itself. Forcing the enemy to not only move across the field, but also climb a flight of stairs in a skyscraper can make the game go vertical instead of just horizontal. Mountains can block line of sight, can force models and vehicles to funnel into valleys and ravines, can create a location for an epic open space battle, or make a "king of the hill" style game possible. Barbed wire, fences, and bridges can create difficult and dangerous terrain, adding not only another element to the battlefield that may slow down and hinder enemy troops, but may also make for a very interesting battle, adding more "real life" effects and reactions to the ways in which the player will approach the different pieces of terrain. Finally, fortified structures and bunkers can completely change the entire game, giving a great tactical advantage to the player who is holding the structure, while giving the opponent a challenging obstacle that they must approach.

The biggest positive impact that terrain makes on the game is that it makes a more realistic battlefield. Depending on the wargamer's style and desire for asthetic appeal, the terrain may be almost as important as the army they are about to field. Coming from a person who has played games using lincoln logs and legos and defensive positions, I know that anything can be used, but the effects of having realistic terrain makes the game so much more asthetically pleasing. Sometimes it is nice to just take a step back and look at the battle in front of you. Look at how the troops are moving, how they are interacting with the terrain and other models, and how the battle begins to take on a more artistic and wonderous form, far removed from the basic measuring and dice rolling that some might think the whole game is about. While I know it sounds weird, sometimes it just looks like a piece of art watching a battle occur on a wonderfully detailed battlefield. Terrain at least amplifies the story being told, increasing the realism, excitement, and level of fun being had by all.

While I will admit terrain is always the wargamer's greatest friend, it can also cause a big headache for those that do not take into account all of its characteristics. In the game of Warhammer 40k, terrain impacts the models in ways that can sometimes being quite troubling to the controlling player. Terrain can slow down troops, prevent units from moving, and may even be deadly. Dangerous and difficult terrain can be quite annoying when your trying to plan out a specific strategy. It may force you to change your tactics in ways that you previously did not imagine. It can seemingly slow your army down to a crawl, and can immobilize and stop even the greatest of heros and machines. Like all of us, I have tried to charge through difficult terrain, and found that I came up only a couple of inches short, wishing that the piece of terrain did not exist. Sometimes its frustrating to watch the volley of massive firepower be deflected or stopped by terrain, watching your spearhead offensive or flanking maneuver get stopped dead in its tracks due to some shrubs and a pile of rocks! But, despite all of its pitfalls, it reminds us that we must always prepare for the worst of rolls as well as the best. We must always have a contingency plan just in case the terrain slows us down or stops us. Terrain forces us to rethink tactical plans as the game board changes, forcing us to adapt and learn and prepare. I think that I will take the headache caused by the failed difficult terrain test, or the conundrum caused by not wanting to charge into cover without grenades. I do this becuase terrain makes the game even more entertaining by challenging us to adapt to and overcome different tactical scenarios, while still making the game board look cool! I will take the terrain over an open field any day, and I know my models will not think less of me for it. For all of you out there with the headaches, just think about what 40k would be like without the occasional tree of fence blocking line of sight and deflectiong a strength 10 AP1 shot from a single guardsmen holding an objective. Despite the frustrations, it makes for one fun game.

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