Monday, 21 December 2015

Bloody Big Battles! - scenery options

Terrain for the Bloody Big Battles! Langensalza scenario
using Hexon. This was my first attempt. There is room
Terrain is a big issue in Bloody Big Battles! Each battle/scenario requires the recreation on a 6'x 4' (or occasionally 8' x 4') table of a contour map with one or sometimes two levels of elevation above the table surface.

Various options are discussed on the author's blog, but my immediate thought was to consider a modular approach that would both look good and be reusable for different battles.

My ideas eventually coalesced into three options:

(1) Tiles
(2) Shapes
(3) Hexon


Permanent tiles are an obvious option. I already have a collection of 1 ft (30 cm) square  cork tiles which I use not only for grid-based games like Square Bashing but anything that requires a defined area measured in feet.

1' cork tiles with modular hills based on a 3" grid.
I have also already made (but never actually used) some modular hills based on dividing the tiles into 16 small squares using a 3" grid. It doesn't matter much where the contours wander as long as they cross the tile sides perpendicularly at the 3", 6" or 9" points.

At first I thought BBB would require a grid with more granularity but after a great deal of time in CorelDraw overlaying a scenario map with geometric shapes, I concluded that a 4"/10 cm grid would be adequate.

The Gravelotte scenario using 24 bespoke tiles with
limited prospect of reuse. The modularity is illusory.
IMO the shifting of a contour line by a few centimetres is not significant  as long as it is there, and the end result is likely to be as accurate as any approach using ready-made hills.

The illustration (right) is a screenshot from CorelDraw and shows work in progress. Each square foot would be a separate tile.

Inner corners could be rounded, but outer corners need to remain sharp to match-up with adjacent tiles. Straight lines are also easier to cut! It does look a bit stylised.

There is, however, a fundamental flaw in the tile approach. In particular, a large number of different tiles are needed to capture each required combination of 10 cm sectors, so modularity becomes somewhat theoretical.


It then occurred to me that instead of modelling each 30 cm tile with its own unique and permanently stuck contours, I could simply model the contour shapes and place them on top of the base tiles as required. Why use two thicknesses of cork permanently glued together when I could just add a single layer of cork shapes to the base tiles?

Gravelotte wih simple reusable

geomentric shapes.
There is a potential practical problem with this approach in that a lot of loose shapes might be rather prone to moving around. However, it would be possible to back them with felt and they would then grip quite well on the sanded surface of the base tiles.

Modular shapes would provide a lighter and more flexible approach than complete tiles, but setting them up would be massive  jigsaw puzzle. Some of the shapes shown in the picture (right) could be combined into larger shapes. Nevertheless, I think the effect would be rather ramshackle.


Hexon was another option as I already have a collection. Hexon hexes are 4" (10 cms) across, so converting a map is just as accurate (or inaccurate) as the above 10 cm grid approaches.

I now believe that Hexon is by far and away the best option although I hesitated a little at first because I didn't/don't have enough hills and because basic 6-hex Hexon tiles don't actually fit a physical 4' x 6' table without overlapping the edge or not meeting the edge. The most full-sized tiles you can fit on a 4' x 6' table is 6 x 5 in one orientation (30 hexes) or 8 x 4 in the other (32 hexes).

Both these issues are solvable at a cost.  I can buy single hexes to add extra single-hex rows and I can buy more hills or could, temporarily, even use markers to indicate elevations.

A hex grid is superimposed on the Langensalza scenario map and printed out. Highlighter pens are then used to 'adjust' the map for Hexon. I follow the hexes for convenience when it comes to hills, but other features can be indicated by felt and do not have to conform to the hex grid.
Hexon hills come in various permutations. There are single and multiple hills and slopes. Multiple hex features may be fine for general use but lack flexibility for reproducing a map. Single slope hexes produce the smoothest, most realistic and most pleasing effect, but the three slope tile permutations are fiddly to set up in a hurry. An area of single hills (reminiscent of the hill tiles in Command & Colours) may look like a rash of pimples, but it's the quickest and easiest option.

BBB is not a hex game so one doesn't have to convert everything to hex conformity. One big advantage of using Hexon is that it is easy to demarcate the very extensive wooded areas that appear on some of the maps. A hex has a tree or trees or doesn't. Smaller woods can be demarcated with felt templates in the normal way.


Langensalza in Hexon. Although some rubber streams are
in use here, felt is the best option for streams and roads.
For roads and streams I'd intended to draw on my collection of rubber roads and rivers, but they proved too clumsy for recreating the map detail accurately. Felt, cut in strips, is much more flexible and adheres well to the Hexon.

The Germanic-looking buildings in the photo (above) are wooden toys. They have a certain charm, especially when used in combination with the blocks. If using figures I'd replace them, but I'll leave the question of buildings to a future post in which I'd like to address the whole issue of figure and building scales.


  1. Sehr schoen! I have long thought that BBB would work really well on 3" hexes with the rules redrafted to fit. Eg 120 degree firing arcs instead of 90, all movement and ranges in hexes rather than inches, some stacking limit rules. It would eliminate some of the grey areas you get when measuring who can or can't shoot or assault, it would make ZOCs absolutely clear, etc. I'll be very interested to see how your game goes.

    Bloody Big BATTLES!

    1. Hi Chris

      I have worked on some hex games in the past. There is a lot in their favour but you do lose some granularity and some people think you might as well be playing a board game.

      I have written up the Langensalza game we played and will post it soon. Although we infamously misinterpreted the rallying rules, it affected both sides so my account of the game may still be valid enough to be of interest.