Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mounted or not?

I'll admit to a game prejudice. I prefer mounted boards.

This may be because my formative years were spent with Avalon Hill games. I came across SPI and some of the other paper map companies a little later on.

One welcome trend I've been seeing is the proliferation of mounted map boards -- often as upgrades for games that originally came out with paper or cardboard maps. Some recent examples include Commands & Colors Ancients, Paths of Glory, Twilight Struggle, The Awful Green Things From Outer Space and Shiloh (Columbia Games).

The debate between mounted map fans and the unmounted aficionados is one that can't really be settled, one way or the other. Partisans of each can point to various reasons why their favorite display is better.

Obviously the biggest advantage of paper or cardboard maps is expense, followed closely by weight and space. A paper map game costs less to make, costs less to ship and, all things being equal, will take up less space in storage. For some purposes paper maps are indispensable -- magazines with games in them, for example, would be impractical with mounted boards for reasons of postage alone. Many players like to overlay Plexiglas on their maps to preserve the surface, smooth out wrinkles and hold the map in place. All valid points, although the reason why you need to smooth out wrinkles and hold the map down is because it's NOT mounted. In some games it's convenient to be able to write on the playing surface, which is easy to to with Plexiglas. Some players also like to use magnetized counter holders which is easy to do with a papper map placed on a metal sheet. They can be mounted on a wall or stored in drawers (specially made or map drawers) between plays. Paper maps and cardboard maps also avoid problems where map cuts meet. There can be a seamless transition between two map sections separated by a cut, whereas a mounted mapborad often is forced to leave a small gap.

Despite all these factors, when given a choice I'll opt for a mounted board. The main advantages I see in mounted boards is durability and providing a steady playing surface. Durability comes in both short-term and long-term ways. For the short-term, mounted map boards are usually more resistant to accidents such as spills and tears. For the long-term, if properly stored, mounted map boards can last decades. I have a 1961 edition of Avalon Hill's Civil War wargame which appears practically new -- despite being 50 years old! In contrast, long-term storage of a paper map is brutal and I have several games that have seen little table time that have maps splitting at the folds. A mounted map is less likely to be disturbed during a game than an unsecured paper or cardboard map. Securing the paper map usually means either taping it down or that trusty bit of Plexglas. Plexiglas isn't as portable as a folded mounted mapboard, however, a factor if you're not playing at home. A mounted mapboard can allow a game to be played on a less than ideal surface such as a picnic table, rough wooden table or even a blanket or the bed. Finally, and very subjectively, there's an aura of quality about a mounted board that makes the playing experience just a little better.

I won't thumb my nose at an game just because it has an unmounted mapboard. I have no shortage of unmounted map games in my collection. Some of my favorite manufacturers almost never use mounted boards, such as Columbia Games and MMP. But finding out a game has a mounted mapboard is definitely a selling point for me and I'm willing to lay out a little extra dough for one -- or buy one separately. I'll probably get the mounted For the People map, for example, just like I picked up the mounted maps for Commands & Colors Ancients when they became available.


  1. Another advantage of mounted boards is that when your (ex-)wife goes berserk and tries to make life miserable for you, she is less likely to be able to tear a mounted board to shreds.


  2. You may be underestimating some ex-wives ....

  3. I admit I only have one ex-wife, so the sample size is somewhat limited.


  4. I'll throw in a couple more reasons why I prefer paper over mounted.

    First, you mention plexi getting rid of wrinkles as the main reason for it's use. For me, it's as much about protecting the map from spills and fingerprints as much as anything.

    Second, I prefer to use poster frames rather than just plexi for the simple reason that the game becomes movable. Since I have two or three games set up at a time, it's easy with a poster frame to move it to my "art trays" that I use to store games in progress. While not a lot of people can do this because the cost of the trays is so high (roughly the cost of a game *per tray*), it's much easier to do with maps inside the frame instead of outside.

    Finally, most games that have a mounted map no longer have room for me to store the counters in trays in the box. Nothing annoys me more (OK, some things annoy me more) than having to store some of the components of a game outside the box (Federation Commander, I'm looking at you) once things are punched, sleeved, trayed, baggied, etc. I'm a big fan of trays for markers, also for games with scheduled reinforcements or that setup in zones. With a game like Labyrinth, for example, I can't use a tray for the many markers because of the map.

    I agree that this tends to be a matter of preference for most wargamers, and I think it's good we can discuss this rationally (I'm amazed how many people confuse the right to have an opinion with the right to force other people to adopt their opinion). While I, like you, grew up with the old AH mounted maps, the truth is that most of those maps were of poor quality and many have warped over time despite my attempts to keep them in climate controlled areas as much as I could. While the initial shift to unmounted maps with GMT Games titles in the early 90's was a bit of a shock, and I actually laminated them for a short period, in the end I've decided that a good quality paper map is my own preference. Of course, I own so many games that for a single map to come out more than once a year is unusual (Combat Commander and the Stalingrad Campaign Game was a notable exception). I'm sure I'll feel differently when the map tears at the folds, but for now it's paper over plastic for me.

  5. Over the years I've had few accidents that caused serious damage to game maps, but in each case that I can recall it was a paper or card stock map that suffered. Mounted boards seem pretty resilient on that score, so long as you catch it quick and wipe it off right away.

    On the other hand, I have had some issues with aged mounted maps that split at the folds -- yet this never affected the ability to play on them.

    Circumstances have usually dictated that I have to play a lot of games away from home, so the portability of mounted maps is a plus. Plexiglas is best if you have a club or dedicated game area, although I know that some people will cart a sheet around. I can't be bothered and I can't say that I've been bothered by the lack of Plexiglas. Due to my playing style few games hit the table so often that map wear ever becomes and issue. Actually, counters seem to be the true weak spot in durability in my experience. While I can.'t say I've had many maps wear out, I do have some older, much-played games where some counters and markers are rubbed off.

  6. I prefer mounted two sided boards to be on masonite like Tide of Iron for their sturdy durability. For the paper maps, I frame the one sided maps and put the two sided paper maps into those oversized sturdy baseball card sleeves from top flight. These are great for just leaving them in there and for transporting to gaming venues. Naturally, you always need to remember to bring them along or your box of components is worthless.