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Advanced Mapmaking Techniques

Posted April 30th, 2008 at 08:36 AM by Velenne
(This article was for the advanced mapmaker- someone who's been playing the game awhile and learned to recognize some of the subtler aspects of map design. The links have been updated for Heroscapers.com 2.0.)

Lesson 2: Maximizing Terrain

As Heroscape begins to age, its unique style and experience only gets better. Each expansion has brought news facets to the complex array of possibilities offered to those who call it their hobby. I have no doubt this trend will continue as Wizards of the Coast brings its own brand of fun and marketability to the product.

With this flexibility comes the daunting task of making the most of each of your new purchases. I’m writing this in the hopes of showing you what each expansion is capable of and how to use it to its best effect structurally, aesthetically, and mechanically. I will break down every type of terrain in this way.

It is wise to begin most of your maps with one of the two Master Sets: Rise of the Valkyrie (RotV) or Swarm of the Marro (SotM). The former provides vastly more terrain, while the latter gives you an adequate amount and a different theme. It is also important to note that the original set contains two valuable Ruin pieces, while the Swarm only provides the single, large Hive piece.

Ruins: The two ruins come in different sizes, which is a minor thing in terms of gameplay balance if you’re trying to build a symmetrical map. Don’t get too caught up on them being exact, unless the longer one is blocking an access point. As major line-of-sight (LOS) blockers, you’ll want to position them in such a way that they either protect a critical location (like a glyph or starting zone), or mitigate a ranged figures’ vantage of the field from a high point. Conversely, they can also be used to mask a melee figure’s approach to an elevated area. One technique I’ve seen (such as on ch4071c’s “Alpine Shrine”) is to form them into a sort of rectangle around the center of the map, essentially segmenting the entire field.

The Marro Hive: As a massive single structure, this piece is valuable for creating lanes on your map which figures must navigate. It can be used in the center of the map or in conjunction with a Tundra expansion to balance the largest glacier. It’s a big LOS blocker, so put it in an area where you want to minimize ranged attacks.

Grass: The staple of most maps. There’s really nothing tactical about it. It can appear next to anything, but I wouldn’t use it next to Lava tiles as this doesn’t make much sense realistically does it?

Rock: I try to keep most of my rock together, and prefer to use it at the top of elevated zones, like on Rÿchean’s “Ruins of Pine Tree Marsh”. It also looks good next to the tiles in the Lava and Tundra expansions. Many cartographers use the 24-hex rock tiles that come with RotV as handy starting zones. Finally, you can use it to stack your grass on top of if you want an all-grass map

Sand: Like the rock, this terrain is handy for building elevated zones you want to put other terrain on top of. It also looks natural next to water, like a beach. One technique I’ve seen UranusPChicago use on his “Highways and Dieways” was to use the sand as easy visual markers for where he wanted to put down his trees. Keep this in mind if you’re hoping other people will build your maps based on instructions provided by Zzzzz’s Virtualscape program (a must-have for all Scapers!).

Water: Water is an excellent way to create elevation in your map without having to build upwards. It also serves as a means to halt a figure’s progress toward a desirable area, such as on Kahrma’s “Turret Rocks”. This works both ways though, as a ranged figure in that area has an extra level of protection from oncoming melee units. Enough water can effectively segment a map without blocking any LOS, bolstering the effectiveness of both flying units and ranged units. Use it carefully. Finally, putting a little water adjacent to a very tall area of elevation provides an interesting “escape point”.

Swamp: Like the grass tiles of the RotV set, this terrain will serve as the staple of all SotM maps. It doesn’t do much other than provide ambiance.
Swamp Water: Like regular water, you can gain a free level of elevation by adding this to your maps only this time your units don’t pay with any sacrificed movement. Another interesting mechanic, as featured in Browncoat’s “Swamp Thing”, is put mix both kinds of water. Play with this a little and you’ll find fun ways to direct traffic on your map without using any elevation.

Dead/Null Spaces: Most maps tend to be blobbish affairs and when they’re not, many cartographers fill the gaps with water or some other filler. Simply changing the shape of your map, like Nadi’s “A Walk in the Park”, to make corners where there are no tiles can create an interesting dynamic. LOS can still be determined across dead spaces, but you must count ranges around them, not though. Supergeek also points out that one can build with dead space underneath elevations in order to conserve valuable tiles, so long as the structure is still sound.

Now on to the expansions themselves. I’ll often refer to them in abbreviated forms, but if you’re reading this article I’m going to assume you’re familiar with these colloquialisms.

Snow: Used as normal snow, this terrain is an aesthetic addition to a map using this expansion. As heavy snow however, these tiles slow the advance of units in and out of critical areas, especially if its elevated. Be careful stacking these too high or wide however, as they can more of an impedance than they’re worth.

Ice: The same guideline I provide above for Snow applies to Ice. The only difference is that they look good next to the glaciers and can provide channels through or around water without adding elevation in much the same way as Swamp Water, only slowing down movement.

Glaciers: These provide excellent LOS management. Obviously the larger glaciers can be easily placed to section off your map and protect certain areas, but the smaller single-hex glaciers do this to a much lesser extent. Like the trees, it is very easy to adjust a figure to be able to look around the single-hexers, so either place them adjacent to a high-value elevation point, or put several of them next to each other.

Molten Lava: The purpose of this terrain is to effectively block normal movement while permitting flying and LOS over the space. This means that you can use them to direct traffic. Yagyuninja’s “Fire Isles” does this by simply adding a line of them down the middle of the map, creating a bilateral playing field.

Lava Rock: One of the most interesting terrain rules to date, these tiles are used very effectively on Jormi_Boced’s “Hot Heights” to discourage units from staying up on the elevated areas for the entire game. It can also be used over long stretches of terrain to force players to use multiple order markers to cross a certain zone. Essentially, these tiles bully players into keeping their figures moving so they’re best used on heights. Choose whatever other terrain you use conservatively as games heavily featuring lava rock tend to be more interesting that way. For aesthetics, the dark asphalt from the Marvel set looks excellent paired with these tiles.

Road: Everyone’s favorite terrain is appropriately used to manage the flow of units into a certain area. Maps like Ch1can0’s “Road Rampage” take players up to a wide, elevated bridge where most of the game focuses. It is tempting to use the 5-hex road as a bridge, but only do so wisely as it will immediately become a dominant map feature. Your road should go somewhere on your map, not along the edge as this tends to see less use than you might think. You need about twelve spaces of it to make using it worthwhile. It’s natural to combine the Road set with the road pieces in the Castle set to get a whole lot of movement going on.

Walls: If you’re going to put these on the edge of your map, I’d rather you simply not use them at all. The short walls can be a great way to make a slightly elevated ridge into a very formidable bunker. They can be combined with the castle walls for a cool look, or with the molten lava to make a sort of fire “aqueduct”.

Trees: Like a combination of the Hive and single-hex glaciers I mentioned earlier, these pieces block LOS and redirect movement. They’re best used for this purpose, not randomly tossed about for aesthetics. Bear in mind the smaller trees ultimately do little to block much LOS on their own, and are best used in small clumps or directly adjacent to whatever you’re wanting to block. Using trees with other big LOS blockers like glaciers, ruins, and castle walls is an excellent way to turn an open field into a labyrinth.

Asphalt: As I mentioned earlier, this goes well with Lava Rock for aesthetics. Jonathan’s “Hot Bog” does this well. Other than that, this terrain doesn’t really add much.

Concrete: I’ve found that putting this under Ice terrain makes a cool shiny effect. YMMV. Otherwise, this terrain doesn’t add anything.

Breakable Wall: Now here’s a feature with an interesting twist. The fact that only flying creatures can reach the top was a major design flaw in my opinion. However, if you put build a ladder up to it near an adjacent tile, you could conceivably jump over. The breakaway wall is a neat mechanic that needs more play.

Castle Walls: I have yet to see a map that pits opposing castles across from each other successfully with a single set of this terrain. Two? Maybe. But maps like LongHeroscaper’s “Broken Skyline” or my own “Hunkered and Bunkered” use these for a different effect entirely. Bear in mind that almost all castle walls are dragon perches, but this can be fixed by altering the elevations of the base pieces (like on LongHeroscaper’s map). All non-flying double-hexed figures are hosed unless you use a lot of terrain to build up to these things.

Ladders: These don’t always have to run up castle walls, but if they do, please attach them to the grooved side instead of hanging them off where they’ll constantly be a bother when someone is trying to push in a figure. They’re also wonderful for stabilizing wobbly structures like stacks of single-hex tiles or large tiles that create unbalanced overhang. Finally there’s the concept of “Ladder Jumping” which features prominently in yagyuninja’s “Pond Skipping”. These are very versatile pieces that can add a lot to any map built with a lot of elevation.

Battlements: Again, these don’t always have to attach to the tops of castles. Gamebear’s “Embattled Fen” showed us all in the Battlefields of Valhalla judging panel that battlements create an excellent gameplay dynamic when used with normal terrain. Combining these with an elevated road can really funnel units where you want them to go since many will have to use the road bonus to get over the hurdle.

All of these terrain types have some kind of use, even if it’s just for units to walk normally across. The advanced cartographer knows what these uses are and, more importantly, how to mix and balance them to create an interesting effect. The really great maps combine multiple features in a unique way with minimal tiles while still remaining balanced. It’s a tall order, but I’m confident many of you reading this are up to the task
Total Comments 5


funrun's Avatar
Very good blog topic. It's nice to see all the terrain types laid out with descriptions. This gives me a few ideas for some maps. It's been a while since I made a good one.
Posted May 2nd, 2008 at 06:13 PM by funrun funrun is offline
funrun's Avatar
As a follow-up, I did get to make a map on Tuesday and it was awesome! It had overhangs with jump off spots into water and it had narrow covered canyons that small and mediums figs could walk through, use as cover, and shoot through.
Posted May 9th, 2008 at 12:51 AM by funrun funrun is offline
Velenne's Avatar
Woohoo! I love maps that make you think in 3 dimensions. It's very rare to pull off overhangs and tunnels.
Posted May 9th, 2008 at 08:45 AM by Velenne Velenne is offline
funrun's Avatar
Well I was striving for something "advanced". I like to take all the rules and conventions and try to break them. I had never tried to pull off overhangs and tunnels in the same map, but I think it worked well. Basically I had two 24-hex tiles, one on each side of the map, and both on the same level, which I think was level 7. They each created some overhanging hexes on one or two sides (if you think of the 24 hex as a 3-sided triangle) and a mini tunnel near the third side.

My other favorite feature was both overhangs had tiled stairs that went up to the overhang level, but without actually touching and connecting to it, such that a figure had to sorta pull himself up over the air space between the bottom step and top of the overhang. Oh and of course my map was not symmetrical, but it was pretty balanced.
Posted May 9th, 2008 at 04:23 PM by funrun funrun is offline
Smithy Winfred's Avatar
Great blog, although I do use Concrete often as a marble flooring for the inside of castles which looks very neat. Thanks for the help!
Posted August 28th, 2012 at 12:30 PM by Smithy Winfred Smithy Winfred is offline
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