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2015/01/28

Journal #2 - or, It seems that, in modular terrain tiles, Size (and Shape) Does Matter


Welcome to my second installment in this blog about the design process of Pedion (tm). Seems that people (you) liked what they have read so far, and I sincerely thank you for the warming response. In my previous entry I tried to lay down a series of requirements which will factor into development, like modularity, efficient storage, weight, durability, connectivity etc. So, in this and the next entries I will present how I try to address those needs -and others that arise and I did not foresee- while designing my modular terrain system, Pedion.

Again, I must point out that this is a work (or rather, a design) in process. Therefore, please do not take all you read or see in photos and videos for granted. They are prototypes, and may have already been discarded for a better idea. The purpose of all this, is for me to "throw" ideas at you and await for your input and counter-ideas..

In this post I will ramble on,describing efforts and decision regarding the actual tiles that comprise the wargame terrain: their size and shape. Let's get started, shall we?

Shape

Since the main purpose of a modular board is to try and interconnect many individual tiles into a greater battlefield, tile shape is critical. Tiles should all conform to a uniform shape to make it possible to connect to each other. So far, efforts in modular terrain have resulted in use of classic 2D geometric shapes, mostly hexagons (hexes) and squares. Circles are not considered a good choice since the cannot connect seamlessly, at least not without overlapping. I really tried coming up with a solution different from the more widespread one, but to no avail. I did entertain the thought of Octagonal shapes for a while, since they surpass some of the disadvantages of hexes and squares, but I found them even a greater nightmare to construct and (mass) produce than hexes. So I was left to decide between the traditional hex and the square (or rectangles in general).

Hexes are the first choice of many (mine included), especially for boards with small tile sizes. The tiles either keep the single hex shape, or they rest on a combination of hexes, like the Hexon system. Hex terrain derives from even the earliest boardgame wargames, although it cannot be easily used with them (the tiles should then be really, really small). They can be combined with wargames like Battletech, or those of the BattleLore/Command and Colors lines.

Their main advantages, apart from the wargaming look-and-feel, is the connectivity and the versatility their shape allows. They fulfill much of the Modularity Requirement, and they succeed in Connectivity. You see, their multiple angles allow the various tiles to stay together, one holding the other when resting on a table. Much like puzzle pieces, you can expect from hexes to keep each other in place, although serious pressure will move them. Also the six sides allow for more variations of interconnecting tiles along their edges, and also for six different orientations of the tile itself.

However, they present a number of disadvantages for me:
  1. Their six sided shape makes the design of multiple tiles representing "linear" terrain features, like roads and rivers, quite difficult. You cannot easily design crossroads, or 90 degree corners, just 30-60 degree turns or branches. Unfortunately, most roads run perpendicular to one another, and I wouldn't be able to represent that (a disadvantage I tried to overcome with octagons). 
  2. Even more disheartening was the difficulty to cut and produce them, especially in a mass scale. Tiles must be cut with precision, to fit snugly together. So it takes special care to cut hexagons of the exact same dimensions and angles by hand, and it also difficult (thus more expensive) to cut/produce them in a mass, industrialized way.
  3. Their connectivity can be misleading - in my experience, thick hex tiles do not stick easily together and they sometimes slide, so they still require a connectivity solution.
  4. Boards consisting of fair sized hex tiles (eg over 10 inches in size) have "jagged" edges. Since most wargames' rules operate under the assumption of a straight "table edge", involving it in many rulings, those blanks need to be filled with "half hexes" to present a straight edge. 
  5. Last but not least, I wanted to have the options to create different (2x, 1/2, 1/4) sizes of my tiles for specific reasons (mainly scale, read below), and it is quite difficult to create smaller hexes that will fit together with larger ones.
Not that the Hexagonal shape is out of the question for Pedion; it is just that I found out it imposed too many limitations when I started using it, and I abandoned it in favor of a rectangular solution. Yet, I consider it a great solution, especially for paper/cardboard flat tiles (which are more easily cut). So I find them great for solutions like GameMap, although they are too 2D for what I have in mind. If you still fill inclined to create hex tiles for your home board, do take a look at the excellent instructions by Maciej Marciniak at TerraGenesis
Squares (or more generally rectangles) are used in wargame boards of larger tile size, sometimes consisting only of 4-6 pieces. Not to overanalyze-it, square tiles have the reverse pros and cons of hex tiles: they do not stay connected as easily (thus the larger, heavier sizes), they offer a bit less variation and only four different orientations instead of six. On the other hand, they allow for 90 degree turns, though it is a design nightmare to implement 30-60 degree branches. But their many advantage is the easier process of cutting them with the necessary accuracy, making it simpler (and cheaper) to produce them. Also, they can be customized into variant shapes (like a rectangle or half-size squares) and still fit with larger squares.


Taking all the above into account, I finally decided to go with square tiles for Pedion: they cover the Modularity Requirement quite efficiently, and they produce a board with less Seams than hexagons. Also, they would be much more easily designed and mass produced. My only variance from the norm regards their size, ans it will be presented below (feel free to comment on my decision below!). 

Size (and Scale)

And so we come into the great question of tile size, which is just as crucial. And size on a modeling/wargaming table is often dependent on the scale of the phenomena depicted, ie the scale of the terrain features and the models.  A terrain board is not strictly tied to a scale -or even a range of scales, therefore I did not included "intended scales" as one of the basic Requirements of Pedion. However, scale does play a part, especially in a modular system like Pedion where the various natural and man-made features are intended to be an actual part of the tiles.

Therefore, I believe I have to define a target scale range for the terrain depicted, to better facilitate the design process.  So, Pedion will -for the time being- be better suited for a range of scales, starting from the so called 15mm, up to the "heroic" 28mm. This range also includes the 20mm (or 1/72) scale as well as the 25mm scale used in many role playing sessions. Also, this range is still suitable for smaller scale 6mm games like Battletech, where the actual models are quite large. Why those scales? Well, I decided to go with the scales which I mostly play with, and I suspect are the most popular among wargamers. Since I am an engineer, I prefer the numerical expression of scales as a ratio, as it is better for design purposes. Therefore the official scale range starts from aprox. 1/100 (15mm) up to 1/56 (28mm).

So, where does representation Scale affects Size? Pedion will include many terrain features as a seamless part of each tile, not as extra pieces. So scale does not really affect grass or broken/difficult ground tiles so much, but it starts to play a part in feature tiles like roads, rivers, hills,forest areas, plantations etc. Still, it is possible to select feature sizes which will be logical and playable in the whole scale range. You see, the Pedion tiles will not include man-made features like buildings or walls - these are objects that are really scale depended. More natural terrain features can be represented in a variety of sizes. A 2.5 cm (1 inch) rock can pass as a 2.5 m (7.5 ft.) tall rock in 1/100 scale or 1.4 m (4.2 ft) tall rock in 1/56. Both sizes are logical, although the first would provide full cover, while the later could be designed also as half-cover between players. The one man-made feature that will make it into the tiles is the roadway. There it is crucial to select a roadway width which will make sense in all scales involved; more on this on a latter blog post about roads!

Taking into account the features represented in Pedion tiles, I wanted to pick a tile size that will allow features to be crowed (for smaller scales) but still be large enough for a large scale (20-28mm) battlefield.

A Battletech Lance (6 mm) on Pedion tiles

Battle is joined...
...and it's resolved! :)

One of the good things of going with a rectacular, square tile shape is that I can always design smaller, "filler" tiles in future, with smaller, more crowded features on them - and give those smaller scales (6-10mm) a go...

Most modular solutions out there go either for small (10-20 cm long) or large tiles (50-60 cm long).
I decided to reach for the golden mean. So, the Pedion Tiles will be Squares, with 30 cm (~1 ft) sides, and 10 mm depth. Why the chosen 30x30mm size? Here are my thoughts:

  • It is close to 1 foot in the imperial system. These will make the tiles more accessible to people using the imperial system, and translates more easily into the "fixed" game table sizes most of us use; eg, a 4x4 tiled Pedion board roughly corresponds to a 4x4' gaming area.
  • 30-35 cm are the most common cabinet self depths. I wanted Pedion to be stored (and carried around) easily, into a cupboard - something not possible with 50-60cm tiles.
  • Smaller tiles allow for more details on the board and more flexibility in terrain layout. However, I find that 30x30 cm is still "small" enough to include a lot of detail on the table, and on the tile itself. For instance, a 6x4 board would include 24 tiles. I think that 24 is a number that allows for lots of variations, multiple alignments and many different features, so each layout will produce a completely different battlefield. But smaller tiles take longer to arrange on the table. I believe that laying down 24 tiles will take 10-15 minutes tops, and it is worth it if it will produce good looking and interesting terrain.
  • Larger tiles (which are the norm and many people prefer them) allow for a more seamless look (more like a diorama) and less preparation time in joining them together. However, even if you overlook the facts that they are a bit unwieldy due to size (and sometimes weight), and that you need dedicated space to store them... you are still left with only a few -or a single- board configurations. I have heard many people claiming "Oh, we had a beautiful terrain board, which we used for a couple of times. But then we gave it up, since it was only 4 or 6 pieces and produced no variations". There are exceptions of course, like the works of Clarence and John; but these are not easy to make. So I decided that the extra effort of laying down more tiles and the appearance of more seams are worth the extra games my terrain would ensure!
Here is a picture of the Pedion tiles in their first implementations (the tile is made from foamboard, which I rejected as a base material in a later stage).

The basic Pedion tile - 30x30x1 cm (1 ft x 1ft x 0.4 inch)

So this concludes my decision making on tile size and shape. I believe they cover at a satisfactory degree my Requirements of Modularity and Efficient Storage, while they also succeed in Appearance and Level landscape. However I would greatly value your input and experience!

My next post will be about materials and connectivity between the tiles - but you can have a sneak peak at a prototype tile in its most developed form in the photo below! Please do comment and share with people who would be interested in Pedion. Also, to avoid  overly spamming you with updates, you can join the Pedion facebook page to keep in touch.

Good gaming all!




2015/01/14

Journal #1 - or, What I need from a modular terrain board?

So, this is my first post - my ramblings on creating a terrain board to play my wargames on, and my decisions that will shape (pardon the pun) the final form of the Pedion (tm) terrain tiles.

Please, whomever happens upon these lines, please bear with me: I am neither a native English speaker, nor have I written any kind of fan-blog entries before. And for any Greek speakers, please use the "translate" button on the right, hope it will help!

How it started? By giving into my desire to play as many wargames as possible. And I do not mean board wargammes, with chits, counters and hex boards, but the "paint-field-move-miniatures' army" kind. My friends will know I am an avid role player but I did not play wargames at home, and wanted to start doing so.

The painter-modeler in me wanted an appropriate battlefield to place my armies. I can live with playing with book stacks, boxes and rubbers, it is perfectly fine - it just ruins the experience for me, as it does for many people I guess.

Another common problem is that I do have a table, which is large and sturdy enough. However, living in a flat, that means the table rests in the living room (or the kitchen or someplace equally non-game friendly) and not in a play-room or garage. Therefore, I could not create a magnificent one- or two-piece terrain board, and put it there permanently (or even semi-permanently) without disrupting my domestic life (read: my wife would crucify me).
Actually, space is a commodity that I find exceptionally dear in a flat, as do many of you: terrain boards and big feature pieces, while so cool looking, need some place to store. And they take a LOT of room, usually far away from where you need them most; that is, the living room table (again, storing them next to china and crystals proves ...unhealthy).

Why the long intro? So you can understand what led me to stating the requirements further below. Keep in mind - I would kill to have some of those incredibly looking, large an heavy terrain boards/tables where I could easily game in no time. But having only a living room table and limited storage space, I have to find something that suits me.

Being not the first into such dire straights, there are a number of solutions for gamers like me. They can be generalized into three broad categories:

  1. the flat, printed board; either on plain plotter paper, cardboard or vinyl you may now print battlefield 2D pictures with reasonable cost, even for large sizes like 6'x4' tables. Or the flat surface can well be a tablecloth (usually green) or a large static grass mat. These are great solutions and I have used them many times (and will again). They are especially useful in RPGs or skirmish wargames, they make no mess, they can include a square or hex pattern, and you can roll them and store them away. Of course the rolls are big and take some space. But my main problems with printed surfaces are a) they are flat, and b) they are fixed.
  2. adding terrain pieces on a flat board; I guess this is the most common solution - God knows, it is the one I have used so far. It usually is an expansion of the previous solution: get flat green/printed board and add roads, rivers, hills, buildings etc. Its fast, does the job, looks good, and has actual game value: you can create different terrain configurations, depending on the scenario played or even random terrain placement rules. But it does not "look" that realistic. I am not only a modeler by hobby, but an surveying engineer/cartographer by profession. They are not pleasing to my eye and do not reinforce my will to wage battle on them. I am especially sensitive towards the ground features -not the man-made ones, like buildings. I would like hills and roads to look a part of the surrounding terrain, not like afterthoughts. And especially, I cannot stomach rivers, creeks, craters and chasms that actually rise OVER the surrounding ground (ok, only for WWII gaming in the Netherlands) 
  3. modular terrain boards; this is the most complicated and more expensive -but also most realistic- solution sort of a fully build terrain tabletop. And they come in all sort and sizes. Here is where Pedion come in. You see, I started searching for commercial solutions in terrain tiles, and while many, none fulfilled me completely. While there are many solutions for dungeon-building, the wargame terrains where quite expensive, big in size, did not allow much variation and came mostly unpainted - and they were expensive, did I say that? One of my favorites -which I almost ordered- is the HEXON II modular terrain; they are modular, lightweight, easily stored, allowing for an extreme variety of battlefields. However, even with them I would have to spend around €200 (that is ~$250) to fill a 6'x4' area of flat green flocked tiles, without any other features... ouch
After examining (and applying) the solutions above, I came to some basic requirements for my wargaming terrain (finally mate, took you long enough). These are:

  • Modularity - again, I would love to have a large, uninterrupted gaming board lying around, but I cannot. So I need my terrain to consist from multiple pieces (tiles) that I can pull out of storage and fit together to create the second best thing: a good looking terrain, even if some seams are showing. However, being modular does not mean that it would not offer some advantages: modular tiles should be used to create multiple layouts of the terrain, conforming to different scenarios - something that a fixed (or printed) board cannot do, however beautiful. Many make "modular" boards which are actually larger boards simply cut into pieces. They can be stored away, but always fit the same way (or with slight variations). I want my tiles to support different layouts - check out the great design process from Clarence Harrison over Quindia. Taking this a step further, I would also like my tiles interchangeable, e.g. I could remove some "broken ground" tiles and add some "forest" tiles in their place (kind like HEXON allows).
  • Efficient storage - storage space is an issue for me, and I guess for others. Terrain pieces tend to take space. Lot's of it. While this is something you cannot avoid with pieces like houses, trees etc (or can you? I'll let you know in a later post...) perhaps something can be done with the terrain board. Large pieces of board are simply to difficult to store. Rolled prints or mats can fit vertically behind doors or tall closets, but they can fold - and they are too 2D for me. So if I go with modular tiles, I would like them in a size that can be easily stored away. Large tiles take less time to fit into a board but take more space afterwards. Small tiles take more time to layout but be put into a box, on a self (this is something that Hexon does really good, I told you I liked them). What I would like would be tiles which they strike a "golden" medium between size and storage space. Something to fit on a regular 30-40cm (~1 foot) self and stack over another, allowing my to close the cabinet door and keep them out of sight. Stacking is also important: tiles cannot be too high/deep. Stacking 15 or 20 3-5 cm (2") thick tiles one over another can create  a largeee stack that will not fit easily everywhere. I would like my normal (flat, not hilly) tile to rise around 1 or 2 cm (0.4-0.8").
  • Lightweight - since I am tending towards a modular system, I will need to move it around. And not only from and towards my table, but to carry it to friends' houses, my game store, conventions, even ship it. Thus I need my tiles to be made from lightweight materials. This is one of the main reasons I would try to avoid eg mdf basing - it's great, but adds a lot of weight, even if the wood is thin. 
  • Economy- by this I mean affordable, not cheap. When people and companies charge these sums for their modular tiles, they are not out to make millionaires of themselves (I think). But molds are expensive, and this is the cost you have to pay for a quality product. However, I do believe that there exist materials and techniques that cost less (especially if you are doing it yourself). Perhaps there will be some loss on quality, but the result will not necessarily suffer so much as to be unusable in everyday wargaming. To be more specific, I do not think one can get a good-looking 3D terrain board for a 6x4 table with only $30, but I do not want to spend $250 for an unpainted board either. I would consider something in the price range of $80-120 a decent and honest trade for 4x4 or 4x6 terrain (even if I still lacked the funds to buy it). 
  • Durability - as theTerrainTutor aptly calls it, the tiles must be "wargaming resistant". Normal usage and storage should not see them bend, flayed, shrank etc... Not that there will be no wear, especially as long as the production cost goes down....
  • Appearance - yes, I would like my tiles to look good, and even come pre-painted and pre-flocked! I know, I could do it myself. However, if I am going to pay over 200 euros, at least the terrain can come ready-to-play. I do not necessarily mean professional looking, drooling over terrain (oh  - my  - GOD!). Realistic 3D terrain that creates the illusion of a real landscape will suffice to let my imagination roar (along with my Dwarves)
  • Level Surface - perhaps this sounds at odds with my wish for a 3D terrain board. I mean, if I want flat, I could just roll a grass terrain mat already! What I actually mean is that the terrain should be made for wargames, not for a modeling/railway diorama. I want realistic looking ground, but on the same time I have to move my miniatures along and roll dice. So the tiles should try and strike a fine balance between the illusion of a 3D environment and large flat (or gently sloped) surfaces where the minis do not fall off or get stuck when moving. This annoys the surveyor in me, but I HATE it when the minis do not stand upright...
  • Seamless - I understand you cannot escape the joints showing on a modular board. And the smaller the tile size, the larger the number of seams among them. However, I would like the tiles to fit closely, and perhaps a solution to cover the gaps from showing to much. Deep and/or wide seams can even affect gameplay, movement of trays, and dice rolling (dice may fall into the small gap, listing on one side). 
  • Connectivity - I would like my tiles to keep together and not move/slide on the tabletop. So something must keep them together. This can be done either by tile shape (an advantage of hex based tiles) or heavier basing - but the latter contradicts to my lightweight requirement above. Plastic tiles sometimes have a connecting system like some sort of clips. The minimum requirement would be a way to stop the tiles from moving horizontally. Now, if it could also allow for raising a bit of the board without some tiles falling off, all the better....
Wow, did you read this far? thank you! I will not rumble anymore, since I will elaborate on how Pedion will tackle these requirements in future blogs. I would welcome your ideas, additions and comments on the points I make, but hold your horses a bit on proposing solutions - these I will discuss in more detail another time. 

As a final note, I give you some images of my first efforts creating a modular tile system that tries to fill the Requirements I mentioned. In some areas it succeeds, in others it fails. What you see is a 4'x4' (approx.) game terrain consisting of road, plain and difficult ground tiles. It is extremely lightweight, easily stored, adequate on appearance, and can be laid out in a myriad of ways. However it lacks on durability and stability. I have moved on from these materials, but tell me what you think. Oh, and the building are just for show - cardboard printouts of the fabulous Dragon Games series. 






















Good gaming all!