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Hello there, old and new players alike! I've noticed this coming up in a lot of different threads on different forums and in game store discussions and thought it could use some additional discussion and reference:
TERRAIN IS A BIG DEAL IN MALIFAUX
The amount, placement and type of terrain will affect your game. And not in a small way either. Most people will realize quite quickly that if they use a traditional Warmahordes board of two trees and a small hillock Masters like Perdita get much stronger as their shooting attacks dont have to worry about pesky LoS or Cover, so we have to cover the board in a lot more stuff to make things fair. Great guide Shine, seeya next time. But wait, picture the following scenario:
Edonil and Mako are having a game. Edonil wants to try out his Seamus crew and Mako just finished building an entire Western town-themed board so they decide to play on that. The board has a moderate density of cool looking buildings and they start their game. Since each building has the blocking trait because of its solid walls Edonil has an easy time using Seamus' Back Alley action, which allows him to move massive distances when out of LoS, and snipes out large portions of Mako's crew, costing him the game. Both agree that Seamus felt a bit overpowered and wonder how he got through playtesting like this.
However, in this scenario the board density might be fine but the terrain type is not. This board is nearly 100% terrain with the "Blocking" type. And while it looks awesome it gives Masters like Seamus a huge advantage and Masters like Perdita a huge disadvantage. Think of it another way, a board full of buildings is going to wind up as fair as a board full of rivers. Great for one type of crew (ones that can shoot over water) but less good for the type of crew that needs to Oregon Trail right over the river.
This is Your crew on the Unbalanced Board
Ok, so how do we handle this?
I would generally break terrain into three categories
1) Blocks LoS
2) Provides cover
3) Slows/blocks movement
I feel it's important to have a mix of these though pieces of terrain can fall into multiple categories, A small section of trees does all three. For these diagrams I have choose to limit myself to four different types of terrain which cover all these criteria.
1) Buildings: block LoS and creates line of approach and shooting lanes
2) Trees: provide cover to models inside, block LoS to models behind the terrain and slow movement
3) Scatter Terrain: in this case Barrels and Boxes, these provide cover
4) Bone Heaps: in this case slowing movement but not blocking LoS or granting cover
Amount of Terrain
You should aim for between a third and half the board being covered in terrain. The best way to sort this out is to collect all the terrain you are going to use in one corner of the board and then spread them out.
I always aim to place a decent piece of blocking terrain somewhere near the center of the board (just make sure you can get to the center for Turf War and Squatter's Rights), I also try to make sure there are multiple lines of approach across the board and also some decent firing lines. The other I would watch out for is placing your terrain along the edges of boards, as the majority of games end up playing in the center of the board. If you end up with all your terrain along the edges and a big gap in the center it lowers the impact of terrain on the game as it can just be circumvented.
I feel hills can be a bit of a trap. They don't really fulfill any of the criteria at the start. So if a large chunk of your terrain is hills then you can end up with a board that is very sparse. You see a lot of boards where you have huge chunks of hills along the edges or in the corner and in this case they are almost acting as anti-terrain as not only do they not fulfill the criteria but also they allow models to ignore terrain in the center of the board. By all means have hills; they add variety but I would probably not count them in the proportion of the board that is terrain unless they are doing something to fulfill the criteria. A hill in the center of the board could do that, or a hill with some cliff face to slow movement.
The Rule of Thirds
As a general placement rule, you can use the following:
1/3 of the terrain should be Blocking. buildings, walls, piles of crates, etc.
1/3 of the terrain should be Obscuring. vegetation, walls with holes in them, an area of Mysterious Fog, etc
1/3 of the terrain should be Difficult. rivers or water, uneven or rough flooring, snow, mud, blood, disco flooring, etc
Then we want to spread that terrain out from the third we've bundled it into. This is an area that requires a bit more finese and less quick and easy to remember rules. I spread it out and make it look like a cohesive board then consult my opponent to make changes or perhaps notice things like the inaccessible sniper's nest I made by mistake for models with "From the Shadows" (an ability that lets models set up outside their deployment zone, like in the clocktower that would take three turns to get into normally). More experience with different models will help you in figuring out placement and what to avoid. In general though you want to have a roughly even dispersement of terrain types (So as not to start the melee walking Master behind three rivers). Experience will help with figuring out the benefits of specific terrain setups.
So lets go back to Mako and Edonil. In their game they were missing a lot of the terrain types, but Mako still wants to use the board he worked so hard on. Well, he still can. Look closely at your terrain elements. Mako's Saloon has windows so he and Edonil both agree that it will be Obscuring to shoot through the windows of it and angle it so that the blocking wall wouldn't be blocking Mako's LoS to Seamus from most angles. They say that the main "roads" between the buildings have become muddy from over use and are difficult open terrain. The abandoned church has enough holes in the walls that its considered Obscuring now and the floors inside are going to be difficult as well. Their next game finds Seamus having a lot more trouble Back Alleying and Mako able to more accurately predict where Seamus is going to try to go and how to counter him. Mako still loses, but the game is much more enjoyable.
This is a rough guideline of what to do for terrain. You can most certainly have more or less terrain, change the percents, but this guide will help you in experiencing Crews and Masters in a setting they were designed for, giving more meaning to how you set up your crew initially and just generally ensuring a more balanced and fun gameplay setting.
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