Seeing the Forest through the Trees – 2D and 3D Terrain

The core of any modern miniature-based wargame, no matter if they are limited to single models or contain the resources of vast empires, is the physical recreation of battlefields for military commanders and historical enthusiasts.  A key component for these is not just the representation of troops, but also the description of the terrain they exist on and interact with.  From hills and woods, to buildings and aquatic features, what started as real world interpretations has swiftly come to now include those of the fantastic and futuristic, like floating islands of rock or the bowels of a massive spacecraft.

Interestingly, there are two camps of preference when it comes to terrain. They essentially boil down to a preference between 2D terrain (for precision) and 3D terrain (for immersion).  Two-dimensional terrain are made up of flat pieces that outline the size of any particular terrain—for example, you could have a square green tile that represents a forest-like terrain.  This allows miniature models to freely access any part of the terrain, without having to jockey for position amongst trees or balance precariously on a rocky hill.  Models fit easier within the footprint of the terrain tactically and it eliminates the worry of an expensive and lovingly painted miniature taking a hard tumble.  To contrast, three-dimensional terrain can vastly increase the immersion of players into their game, especially when the models can interact with the terrain pieces.  In games where line-of-sight between models is important, 3D terrain can greatly improve gameplay. Games benefit greatly from the unambiguous nature of these terrain types. In other words, it is really clear when there is a bush in front of your model when it appears in three-dimensions.  Sometimes though, 3D terrain can create situations called “wobbly model syndrome.”  This happens when models cannot physically sit on the terrain without toppling over, which can be unsatisfying and really mess up competitive play.  While blank bases can be used as place markers, or dice and other materials used to prop up models, these solutions can lead to inaccurate placement and measurements, which can create frustrating situations when games are tight.

Obviously, each type has its benefits and drawbacks.  The particular cultures of different games can often influence these choices greatly too, where it becomes less a choice and more a forgone assumption when players start decorating their tables that it will be in either 2D or 3D.  That being said, player preference is the ultimate judge, so do what feels best to you.

~ Jimmy Campbell