Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tournament Terrain. Or "Sniper Sitting on a Grassy Knoll."

In my work, I am used to defining requirements from the concepts that the client gives me. So, when our very talented terrain workshop at the NOVA Open, headed by Bob, asked me “what would you like to see for Infinity terrain?” I had to think about that for a bit.

Obviously, there are a number of qualitative attributes we can think of regarding the type of environment we try to evoke. For instance, our dear Old Shatter Hands has been busy producing some wonderful terrain inspired by District 9, evoking a derelict slum. Lo Pan, as you’ve seen, has been hard at work creating a much more “high urban” atmosphere. Both of these environments work in Infinity, as well as many others (I prefer “Highlands”, but only ‘cause I’m biased towards Caledonia and hills work for almost any game system).

But what I was left pondering are the quantitative aspects. How many terrain pieces? How many inches tall? How much “floor area” should the terrain grant? These I’ve had to think about, particularly in the realm of Highlands and Industrial terrain, which the NOVA Open terrain team is hard at work building. Here are some thoughts I’ve given on the matter:

• Obviously, the most oft quoted heuristic for number of terrain pieces is “enough to insure no more than 10 inches between terrain pieces”. A good starting point, but I would advocate for at least 50%, if not 70% coverage, to ensure for more tactical use of cover and placement of miniatures. How big should these pieces be? I would say an average of 6”x6”, with a wide variance in dimensions. A lot of small terrain pieces with a half-dozen large impressive pieces work particularly well in our games.

• I advocate for two rough terrain heights: 2” and 4” tall. This allows for some simple uniformity when dealing with difficult-to-measure vertical movements (i.e. Climbing Plus, Super Jump, Falling, etc.) This also conveniently gives a good uniformity of cover. 2” will give cover to an infantry model, while 4” will give sufficient (not total) cover to most TAGs. Can there be terrain less than 2”? Absolutely. Can there be terrain taller than 4”? Be careful of that, as Line of Fire can be abused with super-tall terrain. Speaking of which…

• Floor Area in terrain is vitally important to development of terrain. While OSH and Lo Pan have been doing their own thing, I would recommend this rule-of-thumb: terrain up to three inches can have the ability to stand miniatures; anything higher than that should not have enough ground for a miniature to stand on. This allows for some LoF blocking for all miniatures, and players can’t deploy miniatures “above the fray” and shoot fish in a barrel, as it were. This makes for a much more tactically interesting game, in my opinion.

These are my thoughts on terrain as we ramp up for the NOVA Open in August. My hope was to build much of this terrain myself, but work/school/life have collided this spring, and I have had to relegate my duties to much more capable hands. That being said, I hope to be posting pictures of this terrain in a month or so.

Next post: missions!


  1. Nice criteria for terrain, especially for Infinity.. for our group, we have gone the other route. Too many large, multi-story buildings. Although you would think this could cause the fish in barrel syndrome, it gives a completely different approach to the game as being up high is not always the best place to be now.

    Good luck, and looking forward to seeing the finished products from your group! Always looking for more inspiration :)

    1. That is very true: ARO is a nice deterring mechanic in that regard. One thing that's important to clarify, however, is field of vision over the rooftops.

      For instance, if I place a sniper a couple of inches away from the edge, at what point is he able to see (and conversely be seen)? It stands to reason that this can be directed from the miniatures's eye level, which is why a laser pointer is so vital in Infinity (more so than any other game I know of).

      Thanks for the comment! Pictures coming soon, promise!

    2. my slum terrain is very random in its height and only provides cover on rooftops at certain kudos to the player that can find them and get to them. But due to the random heights, a rooftop position often doesn't provide very much of a field of fire...

      One thing to avoid: tall buildings towards the edges - players can just set up snipers and blaze away at long distance, where snipers get the advantage. Tall buildings, as Lo Pan mentions, should be towards the center.

  2. One of the "problems" we had was with the railing of the rooftops on our modular buildings being used as cover. A sniper up there would get cover and be VERY difficult to displace. It became a no-brainer deployment option. So to counter that, we said that this railing only provides cover to a prone figure. Now you can still get cover, but the trade off is limited LOS.

    We also learned that taller buildings needed to be centrally located on the board to prevent clear LOS across the board. We had one or two games where the terrain essentially crated a dual-level playing field. It was... awful.

    Now we use larger, taller buildings in the center, several shorter buildings towards the edges, and lots of smaller items (crates, junk, cars) all over the place to provide cover. This layout allows for more aggressive play since you can run from cover to cover with a fair chance of surviving ARO, but also forces more consideration when deploying.

    1. I am curious, regarding the railings on rooftops. Do prone figures get partial cover, or full cover? Presumably, if they get full cover, they would not get LoF from the rooftop. Partial cover to prone figures might be the way to go in that instance.

      I like the idea of large terrain in the middle, small terrain around the edges. It does nice things for lanes of fire and LoF-blocking on the tabletop. Also, it just looks nicer when you have an impressive large piece of terrain as a "centrepiece" for each table.

    2. We're going with full cover (+3) but true LOS, which means a laser pointer and lots of leaning over the tabletop!