I’m going to start with a few thoughts about the terrain in ‘scape. For many of us, the terrain is what drew us into the game in the first place – I mean, who wouldn’t take a second look at a game that can look like this on the table:
Terrain can be a double-edged sword, though, when used indiscriminately. Heroscape has a number of different types of terrain and terrain-based objects; many of these have some effect on gameplay, altering the map in some way that goes beyond aesthetics. This can be anything from gain extra movement to immediate destruction – each has its place and use, and knowing when to use what effect is the first tool in a cartographer’s box.
Generally speaking, I think of terrain as being in one of two categories: an accelerator or a decelerator. Accelerating terrain encourages movement while decelerating terrain discourages it. In a nutshell, that is one of the most basic concepts that goes into a successful map – your map will have terrain that either moves the action forward or impedes it, likely both, and placement of each will determine whether the map works or fails. Balancing both types of terrain is critical for balancing a map, because in general accelerators favor melee armies while decelerators favor ranged armies (with a few exceptions that I’ll mention later). This is because a melee army needs to close with an enemy force and typically wants to do so as quickly as possible, while a ranged force wants to remain at the outer limits of range and pick apart the enemy from across the map.
I would classify the different types of terrain and objects in this way, moving from accelerator to decelerator:
- Ladders – Ladders are the most efficient accelerator in the game, allowing a figure to essentially double the rate at which it scales elevation. It’s limited by the fact that it often isn’t all that useful except where there are elevation changes of at least three levels.
- Road / Castle Wall Walks – Essentially the same terrain, these tiles allow a figure to move an extra three spaces as long as all movement is on this type of terrain. Very, very efficient at moving forces across a map.
- Lava Field – While having no explicit effect on movement, lava fields fall into the category of accelerators simply because they strongly encourage units to seek safer ground at the end of a round, or risk receiving an unblockable wound. Great at discouraging camping.
- Normal terrain – Generic terrain is neither an accelerator nor a decelerator – it’s just there. And, often, that’s just fine.
- Swamp water – Technically swamp water doesn’t really do much of anything to movement. I only choose to list it separately because it’s common to see it used on the first level of a map, given how much of it comes in the Swarm box. When used like this, it serves as a slight decelerator as figures have to expend extra movement to return to normal height terrain.
- Shadow spaces – Shadow spaces offer a defensive bonus that can occasionally discourage figures from moving off of them, creating a slight decelerating effect.
- Heavy snow / slippery ice – Anything that costs extra movement to cross is an automatic decelerator.
Battlements / walls – That goes extra for things that cost a lot of extra movement to cross.
- Water – Water causes many figures to end their movement. Major decelerator.
- Line of sight blockers (trees, ruins, etc.) – This is my one exception to the idea that decelerators are ranged-friendly, at least when properly used. Critical on any map, they must still be positioned carefully, because they force non-flyers to navigate around them. This typically costs a great deal of movement when compared to a straight-line move. Having badly positioned LoS blockers can create bottlenecks that are death to melee figures.
- Molten lava – This is sort of the ultimate decelerator. Charcoal isn’t very mobile.
The first thing that you’ll notice when reading through the list is that ‘scape offers a lot more decelerators than accelerators. In general, that means that it’s easier to create a map that can be exploited by ranged armies than it is to create one that skews towards melee. In addition, bear in mind that height is also a decelerator – it causes units to burn additional movement, thus blunting their forward momentum. A map with a lot of small elevation changes that force figures to continually move up and down will be a lot more ranged friendly than a completely flat map, all other factors being equal.
Does that mean that decelerators have no role in map building? Not at all – some of my favorite maps have used some of these features extensively. But it does mean that you’ll want to do so in a deliberate way. It would probably be bad, for example, to create a map using heavy snow, slippery ice, and a lot of battlements along primary paths without extensive use of some type of accelerator like wall walks.
There are other considerations besides acceleration that shape the way that terrain is used. Decelerators on height, for example, can serve to make a map play more favorably for melee by making it more difficult for ranged squads to camp early. In general, though, these categories serve as a foundation for how a cartographer understands and uses terrain. In the next article, we’ll discuss how to use this foundation to create movement around a map in the form of pathing.