Friday, September 16, 2011

Basic Training: 40k Battlefield setup

I've noticed that the blogosphere has been raving non-stop for the NOVA format of tournament tables.  I actually appreciate this, and so decided to do a blog all about proper table setup myself. 

First, I have to note that this is nothing new.  I don't know if the NOVA boys came up with this stuff on their own or if they learned it from their local hobby center, but proper table setup is something that we Servants of Emperor used to be trained on long ago.  Good on them for being focussed on this lost art.  Here's the rules that we had to follow:
1.  Make sure the tables are covered in terrain.  The all-to-common idea that four pieces are enough was NEVER acceptable in our shops.  Sadly, most LGSs have become rather famous for this problem.  I know it's expensive to fill a table, but c'mon.  You gotta have something for armies to battle for and from...
2.  Make sure both long table edges are even.  This doesn't mean that the table needs to adhere to the mathematical Law of Reflection or anything, but if you have an elevated piece of terrain on one side of the table, then it's only fair to have one on the other side as well.  Also, this cuts down on gamer complaints, and  that's something we all like.
3.  This is the hardest rule to adhere to, but does more to make an impression than any other:  Make sure that at least one piece of terrain is vertical.  This means that each table should have a terrain piece that's at least 12 inches tall or otherwise suitably impressive.  Warhammer does a great job of this with the studio always including a tower or massive plinth (or two).  In 40k, this is easy to accomplish with ruins or something else.  Sadly, this is also hard to do for LGSs as they don't want to spend $50 on two ruins sets just to make one piece of impressive terrain. 

And that's it!  Here's my table and how I set it up for cool, fair games:

Step 1:  Set up the battlefield itself.  I'm using a standard grassmat in the picture just because it's prettier, but a sanded and flocked table always looks better (mine needs a severe day of touchup right now).  In any case, please try to avoid the 'ol kitchen tabletop.  Very few planets in the Imperium are made of wood and have a lacquered finish...

Step 2:  Include the most basic forms of terrain for any wargame- hills and woods.  Hills are fantastic as they block LOS and also give players elevated positions to place their "gun" squads, and Woods block LOS (to an extent) and provide cover for those infantry units out there.  I, personally, like my hills to be two levels tall (just high enough to hide a Rhino tank behind, but also tall enough to command good LOS across the field) and around a foot across (not so large that a single piece of terrain takes up the whole battlefield).  I prefer my woods to have the same measurements and include at least 5 trees, which should be enough to suitably block LOS or be convincingly good cover.  Quick story here:  Back when I was a wee little lad playing in my LGS, we had a desert table with a single hill on it that was 22" across and six levels high.  Every battle ever fought on that battlefield always became a four-turn scrum across the so-called "Hill of Death" and it wasn't long before nobody played on that battlefield.  It was fun for the first dozen games, but quickly became predictable and obviously advantageous to certain armies.

 Step 3:  Ensure you have enough terrain to suitably cover at least 25% and no more than 50% of the board.  This is an easy check as all you need to do is place all the terrain you plan on using to one side of the battlefield and scrunch it together.  The group of terrain that I've chosen takes up almost a third of the table easily (this picture shows my terrain taking half the table, but I didn't squeeze it either).  I've made sure to include 2 hills, 2 woods, four sets of small ruins, a bunker, a giant rock, and a couple of rock piles.  This is as even as one can get without going mathematical with it.

Step 4:  Place one hill in a single corner.  This will be the foundation of the rest of the terrain.  I hate the idea of hills in the middle of the table (that's a whole blog of its own), so I believe putting them in corners is a great idea.  Now, there's something very serious to keep in mind.  Too often, players want to place terrain near the table edges...  Don't!  40k is not a game played from the table edges.  Most missions may require armies to initially deploy there, but the battles are fought across the battlefield and units struggle to get to the other side.  I find that putting all terrain at least 8" away from the edges always makes for a more attractive battlefield that's fun to play on.  Plus, with the commonality of 'deep striking' and 'scouting' units, players should take that into account when placing the terrain.
Step 4b:  Place the other hilll in the opposite corner.  It doesn't have to be perfectly placed so that it's the same distance from the edge or anything like that, just give both players a hill!  It's easy!

Step 5:  Place Woods on each side of the table in the same way as you did the hills.  In fact, each long table edge should include a wood and a hill, making each player happy no matter which side they deploy on.  Better yet, this particular style of terrain deployment is so easy that it takes all that worry of "am I being fair" completely away.  No complaints when both players have the same general terrain on both sides... 

Step 6:  Place some esoteric (that's 'outside the box' or abnormal' for you vocabulary-challenged folks out there) terrain pieces around the edge.  This accomplishes two purposes:  1)it allows you to 'even out' the table as the hills and woods aren't perfectly aligned with one another and 2)it allows you to kind of set a theme.  I used the ruins along the outside edges of the battlefield to try and draw players away from the direct center.  In conjuction with the woods, this should keep the battlefield interesting no matter where the players line up their armies.

Step 7:  Place a piece of terrain, preferrably your sexiest, tallest, coolest one in the center.  It does't have to be in the direct center of the field (just like the woods and hills, it should be placed in a way that looks good without being a 'reflection').  In addition, this makes the table attractive from all angles and gives a 'central objective' for both players to battle over (if they want to).

And there you have it!  Properly following these steps, you should have a fun, balanced, and attractive battlefield.  Here's my battlefield in all its basic glory, ready for war:

 I can't lie, one of the things that I enjoyed very much was reporting to work every morning before my own shop openned and just spending time setting up the tables.  I can't say that there wasn't a few times that I chewed on my Red Shirts for poor table-setup.  To me, there's almost nothing more inticing to battle than a well-done battlefield.  Hell, that makes me want to paint my armies to look awesome for when I play on that awesome-looking battlefield.  Nothing is more shamefull than seeing primed or plastic models on a great tabletop- it's a cryin' shame!

Let me know what you guys think. Better, send me some pictures of your own battlefields and let me know what's your thoughts about setting it up like that were.  A few extra rules never hurt anyone and everyone has a different take.  One day, I may even build some more terrain (Emperor knows I have enough in those tupperware boxes) and expand my battlefields from basic to awesome.  All it takes is some inspiration...  :-)

Happy Hobbying!

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