Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Building Better Battlefields: Essentials and Theme

Many of us spend hours and hours assembling, converting, and painting our models to the best of our ability so that our army will look nice on the tabletop. But one area that helps enhance a good looking army is a good looking battlefield. Not only a good looking battlefield, but a battlefield that has a diverse selection of terrain that offers both benefits and disadvantages that help shape the course of a battle. But many times I see this big part of the game neglected, with terrain just thrown on the table with no real sense of purpose other than to break up the flatness of the tabletop. So I'm going to touch on the essentials of making a nice looking and functional battlefield in this article.

The 25% Rule
From the 40k Rulebook: "As a general rule in Warhammer 40,000, the more terrain, the better the gaming experience. If you use too little terrain, games will be short and not very satisfactory, with too much advantage going to the player who gets to shoot first. For a balanced game, where close combat troops have a chance to get into contact with the enemy without being completely blown away in a couple of turns, we expect that about a quarter of the total playing surface should have terrain on it. The assumption here is that if terrain pieces are roughly 12" by 12", then six or seven pieces are needed to fulfill the 25% recommendation on a standard 6' x 4' table."

I always set up my battlefields this way. On a standard 6'x4' table, I first mark off an area 24" x 36" with dice, which is 25% of the table, and then fill that marked off area with hills, woods templates, ruins, or whatever types of terrain I need for the theme I have in mind. Once it is filled, I then remove the dice and then arrange the terrain I have chosen in as much of a balanced manner as possible. I always do this before the type of mission and deployment zones are determined, unless there is a specific scenario that I am running.

General Terrain Types
Another thing to consider when setting up your battlefield is the types of terrain to set up. Generally there are 3 categories of terrain:

• Terrain which interferes with LOS and provides cover (woods, ruins, etc)

• Terrain which provides cover but does not block LOS (barricades, low walls,
craters, etc)

• Terrain which blocks LOS completely (hills, intact buildings, etc)

You need a good mixture of the above, taking into account that too much or too little of one type of terrain is going to unbalance the game, either limiting shooting severly by placing too much LOS blocking terrain, or making the battlefield a shooting gallery by having too little of cover and LOS blocking/interferring types of terrain. When I am setting up my 25%, I tend to choose equal amounts of hills, woods, buildings, ruins, etc, and placing them evenly across the table so that one side doesn't have more or less of each terrain type.

Defining the Terrain
Another important factor in placing terrain is defining the terrain as clear, difficult, dangerous, or impassable. Not only that, but make sure you discuss the terrain with your opponent(s). I can't stress that enough. There have been too many games that I have participated in where terrain wasn't suitably defined before the game, and people just assume it counts as difficult or offers cover based on how it looks. Also I have played in games where the terrain was clearly defined as difficult or whatever before the game starts, but then later on in the game a player has forgotten that a piece of terrain was difficult, clear, etc. I now make a map of the battlefield, numbering each piece of terrain, and in the side notes explain what terrain effects each piece of terrain offers. I then show this to everyone involved in the game so that they know what is what. (Now, if they don't want to read the map, you can't make them, but when they later attempt to claim a cover save on a piece of terrain that was marked as not offering a cover save, the only thing you can do is tell them they don't get a cover save and show them the map they refused to look at earlier!)

When defining terrain you should take into account the following:

• Which terrain pieces are area terrain, difficult terrain, or dangerous
terrain (or a combination)?

• Which terrain pieces are impassable terrain?

• Which terrain pieces are ruins?

• What cover saves do different terrain pieces confer?

• Which buildings are impassable?

• What are the Armor Values, fire points, access points and capacity for any

That is a lot of stuff for one opponent to remember, not to mention several players in a multi-player game. That is why I find making a map and noting what each terrain feature counts as and offers to be the easiest approach.

A lot of times I see players just grabbing terrain off the shelf and throwing it on the table with no real direction. A couple of City buildings mixed in with some woods and hills, and perhaps a bunker or other random piece of terrain thrown in. When I set up my battlefields, I envision in my head the different armies clashing over a special location of importance, whether it be to destroy a chaos shrine/altar, retrieve an important object that has been recently uncovered, defend an outpost, save a city under siege, etc. Whether or not that idea has any bearing on the actual game or not doesn't really matter, but rather the purpose it serves is to be the basis for the narrative of the game.

Why are these armies here? What are they after? Where is it taking place? Etc, etc.

So I set the battlefield up according to the narrative in my head. Then the mission is rolled for and deployment zones determined. In this way, you make the battlefield as personal to you as the models you are playing the game are personal to you, and you will want to make a battlefield that has meaning instead of just some random bits of terrain thrown on the table with no thought put into it.

So, for example, when I have run my Demon army, I envision a Chaos ritual taking place where demons are summoned to an arcane temple, and the enemy has come to stop the incursion. Or within a Chaos temple lies a demonic artifact and the enemy has come to either retrieve it or destroy it, and wards are in place that summon demons to protect it. Only those strong enough to defeat the demonic host can then retrieve or destroy the item. I envision this temple being in a remote location, such as a jungle or secluded area of woods, and so I build my battlefield around that idea, and only include terrain that fits the idea. It doesn't matter if the mission ends up being objective based or KP based, as I can tie the objectives narratively into the theme of the battlefield.

So I hope these ideas have helped. Setting up great looking battlefields can really enhance your games of Warhammer, both Fantasy and 40K, and make for an enjoyable game.

The Death Company are complete!!

Well the Heroes of Armageddon project is coming to a conclusion. I recently finished up the Death company that I was assigned. Here are some pics but remember that black is a pain to photo:


The Blood Angel army is looking awesome. Make it a point to head to the HoA site and donate to help support doctors without borders!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why we play the armies we do...

Last week there was a thought provoking post by my new buddy HERO over on BoLS. There was a lot of comments there and it spilled over to other blogs and forums. To me the main gists of the article were as follows:

* People play popular lists circulating on the Internet because they are proven and it requires little if any time to playtest.

* Net lists are for competitive play.

* If you play a net list then most likely your army doesn't have much flavor.

* Many players don't play their armies as intended.

I think the majority of the responses were either posted to chime in agreeing with HERO or to justify playing a net list. Definitely this article touched on a few nerves. I don't play net lists. If a new codex is released and I find that it might be fun for me to play I'll study the codex thoroughly and read what people whom I respect are saying on the Internet. I like to play armies outside the proverbial box. I enjoy being unique. Often I see players struggling with their armies to produce a winning list... They can't figure it out for themselves so they fall back using an Internet list. I always design my armies such that they can handle the net lists and if you're a competitive player I think this is a good technique too. A big part of the fun is figuring out what makes any given codex work. If you opt to play a net list you're probably going to miss out on this aspect of the hobby... Sure it can be challenging but if you stick with it you'll eventually crack that codex. The designers don't specifically tell you what is powerful and what is there for flavor - figure it out for yourself.

Weaknesses of Net Lists and Why They Don't Help You Evolve as a Competitive Gamer
Net lists are typically min|maxed and feature heavily spammed units|options. The problem with this approach from a competitive gaming experience is that these lists will have some holes that can be exploited. Sure leafblower IG and TWC/Grey Hunter/Long Fang spam were very tough - people had lots of problems beating these two lists on a consistent basis. They were tough for me to beat as well... some armies seemed to have any real chance at success against them such as Tyranids versus Space Wolves. My approach to beating these lists were to play as many games possible against them versus good opponents. I was playing BA DoA at the time and eventually I figured out how to beat both of these net lists on a consistent basis. I've written many articles on my own 40k blog ( that go into great detail how to beat them.

The Test of Time and Not Withstanding
I've found that net lists don't stand the test of time well. For example I've found it's relatively easy to beat Space Wolves with my dark eldar and Draigowing is very effective versus Imperial Guard. So you might spend a lot of time and money building an army only to have it slip a tier or two on the power rating after a couple of years. Maybe that is okay for you but wouldn't it be better to design an army that can stay at the top throughout one edition of the game (e.g., 5th edition)? Net lists are designed as quickly as possible to dominate the current meta and take advantage of the most broken combinations. Changes to the rules and newly released codices eventually spell their doom though. I've found that Phil Kelly's codices fall into this bracket - just look at eldar - the release of 5th edition immediately dropped them from the top tier. Same thing with orks... Every day they slip down a notch. I'm not saying that eldar or orks aren't competitive but I think you'll agree they are not at the same level where they once started... They have both been played out to a large extent. Only with the new release of dark eldar did I finally see Phil take a step in the new direction. I'll go so far as to say that the newer codices (starting with Blood Angels) are all extremely balanced - it's not possible to break these codices so as a result we see a return of older armies such as lash spam and it's kind of funny in a dark way.

What You Play and Why You Play It
So here we come to the conclusion. Irregardless of everything I said above my philosophy is you should play what you enjoy the most. Richard Petty never drove a Volkswagen Beetle in a race because his fellow race car drivers were envious of all his wins. Play what you enjoy and don't let others convince you to play anything less. I've tried to give you some enlightening tips how to go about designing a competitive army and warned you of the pitfalls that come from playing a net list. 40k cannot be boiled to a deck of cards like MtG - it just doesn't work that way. You'll have to find a group of gamers that have a similar set of philosophies as your own... If you do then you can flourish and reap the rewards that come from that - a tight circle of good friends!

That's it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Battle of the Fang

Wow....Wow....Wow!!!!! Hello folks, the Ninja here again with a book review and man is it a killer. I can say the only book that I have wanted more than this one was Prospero Burns. When Abnett failed me and the book did not live up to its pedigree Battle of the Fang was only a cover and a release date. But it had Bjorn on the cover so I knew I had to have it. No self respecting Space Wolf would not want this book. Not only was it good, it now ranks as my favorite of all time 40K books. That is right, it is now number 1.

The Story

Since the Second Edition Codex, Space Wolf fans have known of the this Battle. I am not giving out spoilers by saying the book covers the Thousands Sons retributive strike on the Space Wolves and Fenris. Nor am I giving away anything when I say that Bjorn the Fellhanded takes part in the defense. But as with all of the Space Marine Battles books there is more to the story. And man is this a good story. Just enough plot twist and bits of information to make it impossible to put the book down. The Wolves are at their finest. And this is a no holds barred romp for the future of the Chapter. For fluff fans out there this is a must read. It opens some doors and answers some questions while creating a lot more.

The Writing

Chris Wraight is my new best friend. He combines the fierceness of the Space Wolves from King with the prose of Abnett. The combination is exactly what Prospero Burns should have been but Abnett missed for the telling of a convoluted tale. Nothing Convoluted here. This is where the rubber meets the road and Wraight does it well. He tells the tale while dropping info, fleshing out things that have never been touched while expanding on the mindset of the Wolves that Abnett gave us. And it is done well. The combat is awesome. You can feel the anger and picture the carnage. The end is epic. You will see and feel the blows. You will feel the courage and at the end you will know that mortals can stand up to a primarch.

The Rating

5 out of 5. This book has it all. I am really impressed with what Wraight has done. The story is great and does the Wolves proud. I had planned on playing my Crimson Fist for awhile as the Grey Knights are still under construction. Now I want to see my Wolves on the table, beating someones face in.