Saturday, March 25, 2017

Gaming Boards at Tournaments

A very long time ago, I once got asked to describe what a "typical" gaming board looked like at a tournament for one of my friends who was thinking about going to their first tournament.

I suspect that my answer might be similar to yours in this situation. 

A uniformly green mat or green velvet sheet draped on top of a 4ft by 6ft table. There are 4 buildings -- they are ruins. There's also a copse of trees. There might be some walls and if you're lucky: a hill in the middle. That's about what you can expect. And they'll all mismatch. One of the buildings will be from Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The next from 40k. And the other two from somewhere else -- I've no idea. Hopefully they'll be at the right scale for 28mm though. 

Or at least, that was my experience of tournaments at the time. 

Fast forward a bit, and I was attending a tournament in Brisbane where this was slowly becoming less true and such mismatches decreasing in regularity. I remember in particular that there was one table that really stood out for me. It had a lot of MUSHROOMS everywhere. Big ones. Small ones. Clusters of them on MDF sheets. Things to hide behind and claim quality cover saves from. Clusters of them to place an objective behind and sit on it for almost all of the game if I wanted to. The enemy would have to come to me if they wanted it. It looked so cool that I deliberately asked the tournament organiser if I could have a game on it -- they said sure! And so one of my 5 games was held on that board and I loved it -- the whole board what solidly cohesive. 

On reflection, I think the thing that stood out for me was the theme of the board. It had a tale to it. It represented a planet where fungi were the dominant life form and somewhere that was obviously not Earth-like in nature. 

Since then, I found multiple other themed boards at various tournaments -- particularly at conventions at the GenCon level. They range from Eldar wraith bone boards, through to necron green-glow eerie boards and chaos boards. Some were based on MDF with layers of styrene foam on top to create channels and valleys. Others were just a blank canvas, but with highly tailored individual scenery bits strategically placed. Plus a good mixture of line-of-sight blocking terrain coupled with terrain that can be interacted with. 

This thought has long stayed with me. When I got around to designing not just custom terrain items, but entire boards (see picture above), I wanted to go themed. An entire board that looked like it gels with all the components present -- as opposed to just a green sheet on a table with a few out of place looking buildings. To me, this is the key aspect of gaming board design -- not just a cluster of odd scenery items on a board, but one that looks unified and provides a good experience. Yes -- they can have four buildings, no problems. But those buildings need to look like they belong there at some level. And the buildings should be from the same source as much as possible. This is what I wanted with my Martian board and I paired this up with some appropriately painted scenery that ultimately resulted in something that was high quality for all concerned.

And, with the prospect of running a tournament in the pipeline, I have returned to these thoughts for creating a number of gaming boards. I already have invested in a number of different pieces of kit over the years, but the opportunity to design several from scratch and re-adapt others is really re-invigorating my creative energies. That said, I no longer have the time and space (due to children) to design and build MDF plus styrene 4ft x 6ft boards from scratch any longer. So I will be investing in more mouse-mat boards as the basis. What will ultimately create the unified feeling for these boards is what I then do with them. A mouse mat board is just the start. Will it have burnt-out buildings? Will it be a war zone? What about a death world? Or an Eldar maiden world? All these thoughts and more are currently burning around my mind and I'm looking in to how to fully theme a gaming board from the basis of a detailed mouse mat board. More on this at a later date!

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