Fury Management – getting terrain right for great games!
Author: Jason Enos
We have all come across them… those Cryx players that place a hill in the middle of the board to run their Satyxis Raiders onto T1, the Circle players who seem to only want to play thematic games fought in the middle of the Thornwood, the Cygnar players that like to fight on barren wastelands devoid of life or buildings and the Troll players that do a little pee in their pants whenever they come to a table with walls positioned next to water features. So how in the world should you address the creation of boards where terrain has a meaningful impact upon game without obviously advantaging certain factions or list designs?
While it is often a secondary consideration for players, terrain has probably the biggest effect on battles after lists and players. It’s important to have a fair set up but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will like it! Since a badly set up table can affect a game’s outcome (And thus negatively affect a players experience at an event) I spend a lot of time working out how to set up terrain for large conventions. The thing we want to avoid is a “Bad Terrain Experience” – that feeling that your game was decided by the terrain or at least the terrain had too much impact.
If you want to set up a table to get the best games of Warmachine then you need a variety of terrain. Too much of any giver terrain is generally going to produce skewed results. So what “Types” of terrain are there? Well we can look at individual pieces and put them into groups. Some terrain is difficult ground and slows movement, others block LOS, or can offer cover or concealment. Some have special effects like immunity to some blast damage or setting your models on fire1. Some terrain does more than one of these, Forests for example block LOS and slow movement, they also give concealment.
When setting up terrain LOS blockers are often a good way to start. Usually I would have 2 LOS blocking elements per table2 and starting with those helps define where the other terrain goes. This terrain often dictates part of how the game is played, if it’s too near a player’s edge, Warlocks and Warcasters will hide behind it, removing most chances of assassination, too close to the sides and it plays no meaningful role, allowing gun lines too much freedom. Clearly toward the centre but not blocking the whole centre is good (We don’t want to penalise gunlines to the point of making them obsolete3).
Once these pieces are in meaningful positions, look to other terrain that blocks huge bases. We want huge bases to be able to get around, if they get stuck against terrain they are certainly not worth their points and the owner will have a bad terrain experience. I made this mistake once at the Welsh Open, the owner of a huge base assumed he could fit through a gap but I had mis-measured (and possibly hadn’t included the objective in my terrain considerations), consequently half way through the game he found his colossal stuck. Luckily he’s still speaking to me but I have made sure not to do it since!
Next we place the other terrain elements, most of these grant Cover or Concealment and are difficult terrain. Rubble, Water, Trenches and the like can go anywhere but I’d make an effort to balance benefits to some extent. The one thing you never want is symmetrical terrain (The choice to choose table sides must be relevant compared to the choice to take turn 1). Remember there is no such thing as “Just” difficult terrain, why have boring terrain when Water, Forests, Rubble and the like are difficult terrain and also do something? I like to balance options for the player choosing sides: One side has cover, maybe the other side has a forest, if one has a hill and the other may get a wall. It’s fair but not symmetrical. Hills are the odd man out, they neither block LOS nor slow movement, that Elevation bonus is sweet but they also grant an LOS advantage. Avoid placing hills in the centre, often that’s just wasted space. Instead put them favouring one side, possibly as an alternative to some cover granting terrain to make people choose between them.
After the rest, consider the “Disappearing terrain” Most people play this without rolling to see if it goes5 but if you are enforcing the strict rules, make sure the table is good with none of the terrain on and then add Dense Fog and burning areas.
Rubble. This is important. Always have rubble. Rubble is a new terrain in the New Edition and is difficult ground and grants cover. This terrain is single headedly why gunlines (Which were thought to be overpowered at MkIII release) are actually ok. It’s also important because you have to choose as a player which models you can put in the cover, and do they have pathfinder… Trenches are also fine but are all positive, it’s a no brainer to use them, rubble requires choice and that always means the more skilled players have the advantage4.
I haven’t gone into great detail here or provided maps of good set ups because we all kind of know what a good table looks like and maps are almost always counterproductive (People learn the maps and practice on them getting an unfair advantage over those who don’t have the maps and if you make a mistake on a map, a quarter of your tables now have a mistake).
Right, got that out of the way, here is a very quick rundown on how to place terrain which is likely useful but not why I’m writing this. Let me say this: In a large tournament over 2-3 days if you don’t get a table with bad terrain I would be surprised. “But Enōs you’ve just spent a page telling us how carefully you set the terrain up!” you say “How could there possibly be a bad table?”6
Well, take the recent Smog Con 6 as an example. We had, usually 3 volunteers for all of the competitive events. One was on the computer doing data entry for 5 tournaments at once, so that left 2 people managing over 100 tables each. Now when terrain is set up in the morning for Outfight, for example, after 5 games where terrain was shifted a bit each round for the change to scenario elements and one player pushed some with his case while packing up, they forgot to replace the smoke then the forests on an entire row got “Borrowed” by the 4am players on Iron Arena to make an all forest table7 etc…etc… Understandably at some point the terrain will not be as good as it once was. For some events the tables get played on the night before ANY tournament games are played so look at the terrain when you get to your table.
What I really want to tell players is what they can do once they arrive at their table:
- First, if you simply agree with your opponent you can move stuff. You don’t need a judge or volunteer just make a better terrain lay out! It’s fine as long as both players agree and if you don’t agree or if you come to a disagreement mid terrain placement, simply call a judge at that point. Especially if the call is “Can you move this wall 2” away from this objective?” Both players know where the judge will move the wall, the judge knows where it will go so feel free to do it yourselves and call a judge if you can’t agree.
- If you don’t like the terrain, call a judge8. It needn’t be illegal but if the terrain looks unfair or just “Bad and Wrong” call a PG over and ask them to look at it.
- Check terrain BEFORE rolling for sides or choosing Casters. Both those decisions are affected by terrain and it’s not fair to the volunteer to set up terrain knowing that, say, one player has mobility or similar.
- Set up Scenario before asking for a Judge. It’s pointless for us to set up terrain and then come back 5 mins later to do it again because objectives are in the way!
- Feel free to point out specifics to the judge (Such as “That house is close to the objective, I can’t get my huge base through”) but note they needn’t accommodate your 3 colossal list with their placement.
- Volunteers can make mistakes, its fine to point out something you think is an issue, you don’t have to suffer with the terrain as they leave it. Bear in mind they don’t have to change due to your appeal though!
I’d also say just because you are used to playing on certain types of terrain set ups, that doesn’t mean you can expect that. At Smog Con I was told more than once “This isn’t how we set up terrain locally” or “Terrain wasn’t like this at [Insert event here]” As far as I’m concerned, that means you are doing it wrong. I hope you learned something at Smogcon ;). What you should take from this article is that you needn’t suffer with bad terrain, I was accosted at Smog this year after adding more terrain to a players table after he called a judge over and told they should “Play the terrain as it is” this is totally wrong. We should facilitate players to play the best games they can and its totally fine to listen to the players tell you there’s a problem and then fix it even if the terrain is not technically illegal. SR 2017 has a new terrain placement system so it’s easier to systematically place terrain but there is no substitute for a players keen eye in determining problems or issues that may exist so even then feel free to get someone over to look at the table and make changes.
I hope this makes things clearer as to what you can do when you arrive at a table at an event. If you have anything to add or disagree then I would like to hear from you.
1 The game effect, if your terrain actually sets models on fire you are almost certainly doing it wrong.
2 This depends on the size of terrain available. Privateer’s collection has small 55mm square houses and larger (By table area) 90mm houses. If you use the smaller ones 3-4 of them is fine.
3 Yes – I know Cygnar players would deserve it.
4 Remember I’m discussing setting up for competitive events, when I’m playing at home its not quite so strict. I own a whole river I have been known to fight over!
5 I’m maybe not supposed to say this but we’re discussing whether the terrain should just stay in place by default in tournament play.
6 And I know you’re being facetious because you have definitely seen a bad table!
7 I still have no idea why and can only apologise to Masters C for the lack of LOS blocking terrain but we found a table with 16 forests on it later on the IA side of the room!
8 As in if you don’t like the terrain placement. If you are just a Kara Sloan player who doesn’t like terrain full stop we can’t help you!
*all board images are from the WTC finals tables a couple of years back.