Regardless of the time period, content, or story there are three elements to any wargaming system…
The first of course is the miniatures, be they fantasy warriors, futuristic knights, or grim faced soldiers tasked with taking the field. We spend a ton of tie collecting, modeling, and painting our small avatars and for many this is the main attraction to the hobby, or dare I say lifestyle.
Next element is the rules as they provide the framework as to how your miniature is going to interact with the world created on the gaming table, and then finally there is the last element of terrain.
Terrain is VERY important to your miniature game as it is the largest factor in creating a make believe world for you to watch and participate in. Ultimately any miniature system is about creating a story that the players partake in, watch, and effect by making tactical decisions and rolling dice. Terrain gives your heroes a place to hide, interact, and make a last stand in style in the game.
Actors would look funny on a movie set if there wasn’t any background or props to set the state- well the same is true for your miniature game!
The most common form of miniature gaming terrain is the tried and true grass colored mat- essentially a fuzzy table cloth with some green texture that you place over a kitchen or work table and you have the boundaries of your virtual world. Grass gaming mats have been around for a long time, and for good reason- they are relatively inexpensive, are very durable and portable, and look good.
From here you are going to want to add some terrain pieces based on the system and setting that you are playing in. Naturally there are some terrain pieces that will fit in any setting such as trees, rocks and rubble, lakes, and rivers, and then there are terrain pieces that are specific to the game you are playing- sci-fi buildings, vehicles, or time period appropriate buildings. Working with a grass mat these terrain pieces work very well since you can just place them down and over time vary their placement to create different tactical scenarios.
In a gaming club setting where you and the guys meet each week to play, or if you don’t have a permanent gaming room this is the way to go- you can fit the mat, terrain pieces, miniatures, and the rules in a box and tuck it away when not in use while transporting it to the club or a buds house.
From here things then transition over to a more permanent gaming table often made out of a wooden board with added foam or wood to elevate sections to hills and ravines- you can do this with a grass mat by placing a book underneath it, followed by more elaborate buildings and terrain structures often permanently affixed to the table.
These types of fixed boards have the advantage of being more detailed and elaborate since you don’t have to worry about setting it up or packing it away and breaking things, but at the same time they take up permanent space and can be quite a commitment to build and model.
Regardless of which option you decide to pursue, don’t overlook the value in terrain in setting the story!