Inside Pulse 12

Life During War Games 12-09-2011

I just came home from my first vacation in a few years, a four day jaunt to Branson, MO. My wife and I made a pilgrimage to watch the last Glen Campbell concert in Branson, a town he once owned and operated a theater in. While I never attended a show at the Glen Campbell Good Time Theatre, I have been a fan of his for years, so it was bittersweet to watch him retire, especially under the circumstances. Even though he is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, the man can still play and his latest album, Ghost on the Canvas, is one of his best.

How this relates to miniatures gaming has more to do with the journey than the destination. Branson is located in the Ozark Mountains, and the terrain is a dense tangle of wooded mountains. This rugged landscape is as beautiful as it is intimidating. Straight roads are as rare as blue toads, something the motorcyclist in me can appreciate.

The Ozarks hosted numerous battles during the American Civil War, primarily small skirmishes. Guerrilla bands took advantage of the hills and brush to ambush travelers and the massive caverns to hide. Since I was a wee lad, I have been fascinated by this aspect of Missouri history, before I even lived here. Touring Merrimac caverns as a boy, I fell in love with the image of Jesse James and the James Gang running roughshod through the hills, falling upon the unsuspecting with terrible fury.

Seeing the jagged horizon with adult eyes, I found myself questioning the very fundamentals of war gaming scenery. The average table is a flat 6’x4′ table with a smattering of plateau shaped hills. I understand that there has to be a large amount of flat surface area for miniatures to stand upon, with the gouges and runs of the landscape implied. The thing I find myself asking is this: does the gaming table have to be shaped like this?

The basic table is great for representing the X and Y axis, but the Z axis is poorly served. Napoleonic and earlier eras, and most fantasy ones as well, are perfectly accurate this way. Scenarios I have in mind, like Civil War ambushes, cry out for a better approach to the Z axis.

City scenery tends to be a mass of short buildings and the occasional hollowed shell of a taller structure. This adds a greater sense of depth to the table, but I am not entirely sure how to execute it for a rural setting. My mission this week is to find a way to make a mountainous table for use in my war games. Any ideas?