Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In which our hero thinks aloud regarding the shrubbery

Miniatures? Check.
Rules? Check.
Terrain? Oh bugger.
I've been ignoring a pretty important part of the gaming equation so far, the tabletop and its scenics. Not to say that it hasn't been rattling around my brain, but I certainly have not been oblivious to it. Rather, I spend a lot of time thinking about the game board and the lack of action on the point is due more to paralyzation in the face of too many options than short-sightedness.
Here are a few of the conflicts I am up against...
My dining room table is 54" x 54" and it is remarkably unlikely that I will play any game anywhere else anytime soon. This puts an easy ceiling on the size of my gaming space right away, and this is certainly plenty of space for the kinds of games I want to play - in fact, for what I am working on right now I can squeeze down quite a bit.
But do I want to commit to a size at all? Deciding to use a 3x3 or 4x4 surface means losing or at least marginalizing other options. What is more, I am at cross purposes with myself - I would like to play both skirmishes and battles, and they are best served at different sizes. It is likely that if I commit to a base surface, then, that I will need to either get something that is modular, get two mats, or just play in a corner of a larger mat much as I would play in subsections of an undressed table if I skipped the base surface all together.
The options when it comes to the composition of the gaming surface are legion. Giving just the most likely choices produces the list: nothing, cloth mat, rubber mat, large tiles, and meaningful hexes. Not one of these is sufficiently superior to the others to trivialize the choice, though there is a huge difference in effort in getting the surface ready to play, more or less in the order listed. Four-inch hexes are something I am very interested in, given that they combine both a high degree of customization, but also the ability to do hex-based gaming, which with the decades of Battletech and Ogre behind me feels so right. Meanwhile, the Zuzzy rubber mats look very cool, but require painting, the Hotz felt mats are pre-finished but don't come in sizes that appeal to me, and the table is, well, just the table.
Some of the very first miniatures gaming I ever did at assorted conventions as an adolescent was on tables loaded down with Geo-Hex. First impressions being what they are, the notion of piecing together a board with smaller segments has been a constant desire in my gaming life. I have used wooden and foam squares of various sizes, I've got a decent GHQ Terrainmaker project for modern microarmor up in the attic. I even tried a scheme with self-adhesive floor tiles that almost worked. Despite, or perhaps due to this fondness for modular terrain I am increasingly unlikely to dive into it again. I just know from experience what kind of cost and time investments are involved, and how hard it is to be on the right side of the crap:quality outcome. I think that at this stage in life, I am willing to trade the ability to sculpt the layout of a battlefield for the ability to get it on the table quickly and easily.
Universality goes with modularity and must be considered. While I am only doing 15mm sci-fi right now, that doesn't mean I will never play another period. The ability to reuse the majority of the terrain in various guises is highly desirable. While the to-scale and to-period pieces on the table will be specific, I do expect that a base terrain which works well for sci-fi rockballs should serve well enough for other projects ranging from Back of Beyond to WWII Africa to Hellenistic ancients. It will certainly be less jarring than all those 40k games we used to play with my fantasy battle scenics.
While my threshold of pain as far as the price tag of a scenery solution goes is not as low as it once was, I still have no desire to sacrifice too much of what could be spent on figures on scenery instead. At the same time, I want scenery which is at least as attractive as the miniatures I am putting on it. Given that my painting is just above average, that becomes my target. Getting there will cost a few bucks, but less than I have spent on miniatures for the 15mm project to date. For once, it seems, expense is the least weighty variable in a new project, which must say something about how old I am getting.
The wet blanket factors are many. It must store well, it must set up and tear down fast, and it can't be messy. It's hard to ever be driven by reasonable and rational choices when you are a grown man playing with toys, but it's got to be in there somewhere - how well I do so remains to be seen.
It must be said, one reason Bloodbowl is so easy to love is that you don't have to fiddle with terrain. Yet some do. Go figure.
Every clear-thinking neuron (that would be seven, for the record) says to just build some scenics and play on the bare table, but when do I ever live up to the logic and reason I aspire to?
The conflict-avoiding compromiser in me will negotiate up to a game mat, but only if it rolls up and doesn't shed, but he's a pushover after all, so we can probably get more.
The engineer that lives in my head wants something modular and comprehensive, and really likes to huff styrofoam hexes if rumors are true.
The pushy aesthete wants to go way overboard on the whole project. That guy always bites off more than he can chew and leaves a wasteland of unfinished projects in his wake.
So, where am I at right now? I really don't want to use a bare table, but I also don't want to do hexes (not as the base surface anyway). I don't want to have to cut or paint to excess either.
What I like the idea of right now is getting a 4x6 Hotz mat with hexes, but without craters which I will cut down to a square (more or less as the hexes fall), using the remainder to make hills by gluing hex cutouts to the top of Terrainmaker hexes, and perhaps even having enough for a 2x2 skirmish board as well.
I am not going to worry about comprehensive scenic details off the mark - I can get by with just some buildings, some rocky outcrops, and some roads. Trees, rivers, shrubs, and the lit can come later, if at all.
To that end, I do have a mess of Plastruct sheets, rods, and tubes and have gotten a bit of a go on some small colonial shanty buildings and ruins, all of which will be useful no matter what decisions I make about the overall terrain project.
TL:DR version - Phil spends a lot of time and money on pretendy planet but not as much as he probably could have.

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