Friday, January 8, 2010

Playing surfaces for collectible and expandable miniatures games -- a review: paper

One of the things I don't care for about collectible and expandable miniatures games is that you have all these really nice-looking miniatures moving around on cheap paper battlefields for the most part.

The notable exception is Heroscape, of course, where the terrain gets pretty much equal billing with the miniatures and is one of the distinctive aspects of that game.

And the truncated Navia Dratp also featured an actual mounted playing board as standard equipment.

But for the most part the standard has been to provide rather flimsy paper maps, usually poster-sized and poster-quality, that simply can't stand up to the normal wear and tear of multiple folding, let alone play. Among the games that come with this sort of playing surface are Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures Game; HeroClix, Axis & Allies miniatures, A&A War at Sea, Star Wars, Dreamblade and Dungeons & Dragons miniatures.

Suitable playing surfaces are also an issue for more traditional miniatures games like Wings of War, Check Your 6, the Admiralty Trilogy and the Flames of War, but the traditional solution was for players to spend the time and effort to create their own terrain, not just armies. Still, there are some portable solutions for the problem of providing suitable battlefields to go with your miniatures from these lines as well.

I'll look at some of these next week, but first let's look at what's provided by the manufacturers as standard equipment.

In most cases the base game includes one or two poster-sized or smaller battlefields -- usually printed on both sides -- providing at least two and sometimes four basic battlefields. In some cases, such as Axis & Allies there are more maps of a smaller size, but in this case the maps are geomorphic, meaning they can be combined in various configurations to create more battlefields.

Generally the artwork is pretty decent for these sort of maps, although there are some exceptions. For example, the early HeroClix maps were very amateurish. Most of the time the maps look pretty good.

Another good thing about the paper maps is that they tend to be relatively inexpensive. Most of these miniatures games use quite large battlefields compared to typical boardgame standards.

The most serious drawback of the paper map usually becomes apparent right away -- the creases from folding the map. This can be corrected by folding against the crease to make the maps lie flat, but this begins the process of destroying the maps. In most cases the paper used to make the maps can't go through this sort of folding more than a half dozen times before you start to see tears. It's better to store the maps rolled. I use mailing tubes. This does result in the maps being curled, but it's less destructive to flatten out the curve than folds.

Some players go so far as to laminated their maps, but I think this is too expensive for general use. Most laminated maps are stored flat, but this takes a lot of room.

Of the games I have, I've stuck with paper maps only for Axis & Allies, Miniatures, D&D miniatures, Heroclix and LOTR:TMG. In each case the need to have many different battlefields available has required that I settle for paper maps. In some cases there's no alternative, but D&D minis do have some cardboard battlefields available and the are a couple of vinyl maps for Hero clix out there as well.

Some of the other games, however, due to their subject matter, don't vary the battlefield as much and here there are some more options. Among them are Dreamblade and A&A War at Sea. I'll look at them next.


  1. There is a nice vinyl board available for Dreamblade. Much better than the paper board.

  2. Yes, I have that and in a future post I'll talk about it. It's much better than the paper mat for most purposes.

  3. what do you think of printing the maps out in A4 sections on sticky paper and mounting to matboard or similar in pieces?

  4. what do you think of printing the maps out in A4 sections on sticky paper and mounting to matboard or similar in pieces?

    That would work, I think.