Small Box Blues, Part One

How do you cram as much gamable space as possible into as small a space as possible?  We’re going to kick 2016 off with a week-long series of posts introducing my solution to one specific kind of terrain.  Specifically, a solid set of sci-fi interiors that are attractive, provide a wide variety of battlefields, and allow room to reach the figures.  First though, let’s establish what we mean by gamable space.

Any place that a figure can move to or shoot through is part of the gamable space.  The most common limits to gamable space are marked by the edge of a ground cloth, which can be fabric, foam, or even the edge of the table.  Sometimes we limit gamable space within those out boundaries by placing ‘no-go’ areas like the space between halls and rooms in a dungeon or space hulk, or impassable terrain like mountains or un-scalable buildings.  If the game can’t go there, it isn’t gamable space.

That is a central concept so tied into the game that we never really think about it beyond answering the questions of how much space do you need, and what happens when a figure leaves that space. It takes on significantly more import when you are trying to get as much of that space into as little storage space as possible.  And that’s the subject of today’s post.

The arbitrary and artificial limitation that I have placed on my gaming, that a full set of terrain must fit inside a smallish box, makes things challenging.  Gaming primarily in 15-mm skirmish settings eases that pain a bit; you only need to build up enough terrain to cover two- to three- foot squares of real estate.  That still leaves you with a situation where space inside the storage box is at a premium.

One solution to this are as old as gaming itself.  Namely, throw in a drop cloth of the right size and five to ten pieces of scatter terrain such as buildings, roads, forests, and hills.  It works great – you get a big space with a lot of variation with very little space investment.  I took this classic approach with the first big box set.

I don’t think I’ve ever showed how my sci-fi battlefield
all packs up into one small box.

Even with the dedicated roadways limiting terrain placement, there are still countless ways to vary the setup.  You can even block those long firing lanes with appropriate scatter terrain such as vehicles, concrete traffic barriers, and makeshift barricades.  The possibilities are limitless.  With a ground cloth that is roughly two- by three- feet across, you always get six square feet of battlefield.

That box is roughly 6 by 8 by 10 inches

For my next set of terrain, I bought a the storage box manufactured to hold two sheaves of writing paper.  As a result the box measures eleven by nine inches with a height of six inches.  It’s a little bigger than that, actually, but we need some wiggle room lest we damage the terrain in storage.  So let’s consider the floor to be about two-thirds of a square foot (99-square inches) of real estate.

The theme of this next terrain set would not consist of another outdoor drop cloth setup – we already have one of those.  This time around would be an interior setup, or at least something similar.  The challenge with interior setups is that pesky third dimension.  Now you have to consider how tall to build your walls, and that limits the horizontal space.  You can fold up a drop cloth and cover up to twelve box footprints (eight square feet of battlefield) in just an inch or two of vertical space, with plenty of space left over for set-piece and scatter terrain.  If your interior tiles have walls an inch high, you can only fit six tiles (four square feet of battlefield) with no room left over.

My initial thought was to build a series of nesting rooftops.  Back in early November I shared a couple of photos of the first phase of my new box set of terrain. By nesting the rooftops inside each other, you’re looking at four pieces of terrain, each about nine by eleven, that fit together to give you about 2.75 square feet of gamable space.  You can extend that a little by not butting each right up against each other.  The alleys between are still gamable – you can shoot or even leap over them – but now you’ve got four islands and a lot fewer lanes for movement.  Goodbye flexibility, hello overwatch!

We can do better.  But how?

Tomorrow we’ll look at some possible solutions, including a few clever ideas from my fellow wargame bloggers.

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