You can get more from your Flames of War terrain without lifting a paintbrush: just don’t miss the forest for the trees!
Playing Flames of War with any terrain (including soda bottles and piles of napkins in a pinch) can be fun, but for a wargamer, lifelike terrain is always a treat. We’d be “missing the forest for the trees”, though, if we put all that effort into creating beautiful pieces and not enough into how we use them!
Too often, players will take terrain off the shelves in order of what they can reach and pile it onto a table. If your terrain is nice enough, this method can even work! But an organic approach works even better. And, if (like most of us) some pieces of your terrain are…better than others, organic terrain layout can go a long way.
What is Organic Terrain Layout?
Organic terrain layout refers to the process of placing terrain in accordance with how the real battlefield it represents might have come to look the way it does. After all, unlike your game board, rural France wasn’t assembled in 5 minutes! Keeping a few simple rules in mind can produce extremely realistic results that are quite playable – since FoW as a system was designed with real terrain in mind, FoW often plays better on organic setups than on terrain placed with the intention of game balance!
Place things in natural order.
Try to place your Rivers first, because they’ve dug into the ground over millennia to produce elevation changes. Place your Hills and Rises second; now that you know where your water is you can place them far from that to give the impression of valleys. Next place your Roads and Railways; humans are happy to cut through forest for their roads but will try to go around hills whenever possible and bridge rivers. Buildings, ruins and farms should be next on your list; place farms first and place these near the roads as you “develop” civilization over the course of 3 minutes. Lastly, place Forests, Groves, Thickets, etc. These cover much of Western Europe and tend to be left wherever humans have decided not to settle.
Flames of War tolerates varying amounts of terrain very well, but remember to keep between 25-50% of the board open!
Be logical about your inhabitants.
Most players’ terrain collections contain some signs of human habitation – churches, homes, farms, bridges, and roads, to name a few. Real people try to arrange these things conveniently for themselves, and so should your imaginary ones.
Always place a farmhouse near fields or orchards; no one wants to walk cross-country to tend their crops. Important buildings near road junctions also make sense. Bridges are often built where there are no fords. Contiguous hedges were used in France to keep pests both human and animal off one’s property; fences and walls usually serve similar purposes and should not end abruptly. Craters near fortifications can lend an ominous war-torn feeling to the landscape. Wooded riverbanks are an ecological commonality and additionally may ease the frustration of players having to cross a river!
Hopefully these tips are useful and quick to implement. Do you find that realistic terrain plays better? If not, what method do you favor for setting up your own terrain?