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Terrain in 4th edition
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Old 28 Feb 2005, 09:00   #1 (permalink)
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Default Terrain in 4th edition


Well, about 6 months ago our gaming group started playing 40k using the new 4th edition rules. Some of the players had played 40k in the past (note: years of games) and warned that ‘the armies are not fair’ and that they had quit 40k in favor of fantasy battle because of this. After about 6 weeks of games I began to see how certain armies had inherent advantages over others, sometimes grossly so. Which led to the question ‘why would games workshop make a game that is so unbalanced in many respects?’ which led us to a discussion about what elements in the game were balancing factors.

One of the most important balancing factors we came up with is the cover save that one receives from terrain. That cover protects models from weapons that would normally kill them outright from AP. The other two balancing factors were the fact that faster assault armies were slowed down by terrain (either by going through or around the terrain). And that terrain that blocks line of sight effectively allows a model to be inaccessible to most fire if the enemy cannot maneuver sufficiently to get a bead on them (thus preserving vulnerable models for later stages of the game). So, on impulse I looked up terrain in the new 40k rulebook and found out some interesting stuff.

On page 78, under ‘How much terrain?’ it states that that about 25% of the playing surface should be covered by terrain. On a 4x6 table this equals a 2 foot by 3 foot section, or 6 areas of 12x12 inches across. It further states that this terrain should be
-1/3 blocks line of sight, provides little or no cover – like rock formations, high walls, hills
-1/3 blocks line of sight, provides cover – area terrain – forests, ruins, buildings.
-1/3 does not block line of sight, provides cover. – low area terrain (scrub, rubble) or low obstacles/walls, tree lines, snow drifts and blast craters

…Which roughly equals 2 of the 6 12x12 inch areas for each ‘type’ of terrain. I.e. a 12x24 inch area should be jungle (blocks line of sight/provides cover- area terrain) for a jungle world themed terrain set, normally split up into several patches of jungle. For the other two types one could use rock formations for blocking line of sight/no cover, and swampy areas/rivers for does not block line of sight/provide cover.

When we considered how much terrain we were using up to this point, we had only been using about 2/3 of the terrain recommended, and not enough balance of the different types. So I set to work to see if a proper set of terrain would help balance out the unbalancing factors in the game.

(for ref. Use the chart on page 25 for cover saves)

One of the first things we noticed was that basic troops tended to last longer when occupying a 5+ cover save or better. Craters and buildings with their 4+ save greatly reduced the effectiveness of AP 2-3 weapons used against the more elite armies (marines), and helped to keep the weaker troops alive longer from AP 4-5 weapons. In the assault phase, defensive armies occupying terrain get to strike first or simultaneously in most cases, allowing for a ‘fighting chance’ which has resulted in some spectacular games (an IG las-cannon crew dropping a avatar of kaine when the thing assaulted into a forest being my most memorable ). And ‘rush’ armies tended to get bogged down and split up among the terrain, buying a turn or two for their opponents in many cases. The amount of terrain seemed excessive at first, but considering the dangers of the 41st millennium, it makes sense that generals pick places to do battle that give cover to their troops. In modern warfare and paintball, cover is very important.

It also added a dimension of movement to the game we had not previously seen all that much. That in many cases, to get a shot one had to move. To stay alive longer, you had to use cover as you advanced. Weapon fields of fire are restricted to line of sight in most cases, and the terrain set up provides avenues of fire but block others. And in most all cases one sees only about 1/3 to 2/3 of the enemy deployment zone, which reduces the ‘first turn advantage’ a lot (because you can hide units and deny targets with terrain). Ground vehicles are restricted in movement due to different types of terrain and the risk of immobilization, and skimmers become very, very cool. Take a look at the 40k GT game boards on the games workshop web site – this is a good illustration of what I am talking about here.
Especially check out the sight lines- it’s like battlesuit heaven out there.

Using this terrain formula combined with playing scenarios out of the book and off the GT website, it has greatly increased the tactical quality of our games. The set up order alone (heavy support, then troops, etc) makes a lot of sense in retrospect and leads to less carnage on turn 1. Most of the scenarios require some form of movement anyway, so cover becomes doubly important then. Plus, many of the scenarios have a ‘last turn advantage’ that necessitates force protection measures for early on in the game to preserve scoring units for the last moves to claim/contest objectives. In most cases, this means hiding and denying targets. In many cases, this means setting up interlocking fields of fire across approaches to objectives (or your forces) from defiladed (i.e. hidden) positions.

I will say that the inherent advantages of different armies are still there, but with a bit of thought about how you can use terrain to your advantage can mean that a weaker army or troop type can become a lot more effective by simply making better choices about where to place it and move it during the course of the game. Reduced lines of sight reduce risk to exposing your forces (especially tanks), and there are only a few things in the game that deny cover saves (like marker lights – see the new Tau FAQ).

All in all, I hope this helps.
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Old 28 Feb 2005, 09:51   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Terrain in 4th edition

That's a nice read. Yes, terrain really is a great equalizer and sticking to the GW formula is a good approach. Too much or too little causes problems - Too much terrain gives certain armies way too big of an advantage (typically the ones that get butchered on flat plains). Too little turns the game into a die rolling match where the guy that gets first turn has a huge advantage. Interestingly enough, WHF tends to gravitate in the opposite direction. Too much terrain bogs things down and gives skirmishing armies a huge advantage.

If you want to try something interesting, place your terrain pieces (we typically alternate between opponents) and then roll a d6" scatter for each. That throws in a little randomness into the mix.
Waldo Pepper

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Old 28 Feb 2005, 12:18   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Terrain in 4th edition

Rixen: Welcome to the board

Very nice read! I couldn't agree more about the Terrain. There are armies that can do just fine without terrain, such as Imperial Guard or a stand-and-salut Chaos army, for example. But an army like Tyranid with no terrain is going to be flamed off the board before they even get to move. The Tau would be obliterated without at least a little terrain to use (but not nearly as bad as the Tyranid). Most armies just cannot stand out and take punishment. Terrain helps prevent those dreaded first turn bombardments that result in half the opposing army missing due to huge casualties.

Terrain makes the game more interesting too. If it makes the units too slow, we take tansports, but those are dangerous and might get stuck somewhere in difficult terrain, etc. Skimmers can really dominate, but may crash if careless. Everything has it's ups and downs with plenty of terrain.

I love terrain heavy boards. It allows for small games to be "bigger." And I'm a big fan of 40kn40m and Kill Team ;D
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Old 01 Mar 2005, 00:54   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Terrain in 4th edition

Finally! The answer to my prayers! I have been trying to convince these guys I know that the table should be almost covered in terrain, but they don't believe me. This is being quoted for sure.
War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over. - General William Sherman
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Old 01 Mar 2005, 03:30   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Terrain in 4th edition

very nice justificatio, I'll be pockeing that for quoting aswell .

same as Mal for me, I love 40/40 and KT, so much more emphasis on movement and less on the dice just makes it more fun.
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