Now, as I noted before, terrain items work at various different levels within a wargame. In a historical setting (or, I suppose, a pseudo-historical setting, like Fuzigore) the items are added to lend some verisimilitude to the wargame. The buildings are expected to look like the ‘real thing’, and so I have been painting roundhouses and granaries rather than getting on with figure painting. Of course, the problem of the scale and size of the buildings rears its head here, but there are work around to it.
In a purely historical battle, of course, the terrain needs to match, as closely as possible, the original battle terrain. At a show a few years ago there was a demonstration game of the battle of Lutzen. The features of the battlefield of Lutzen included the town and castle of Lutzen itself, on the Swedish left, and a hill crowned by windmills, facing the Swedish left. The demonstration had a good number of nicely painted 25 mm (or so) figures, but of towns and windmills I could see no sign.
To what extent, then, was this demonstration game a depiction of the battle of Lutzen? I do not want to pick on it specifically, but the terrain did not, in my view, reflect the original battlefield. I suppose that seven windmills in 25 mm might well have over-dominated the landscape, but one or two, even scaled down mills would have made it more like Lutzen than not. I confess that, without the display panels giving the history of the battle, I would have assumed that it was just some English Civil War skirmish.
The next thing the terrain is supposed to do is, of course, add some aesthetic value to the battlefield. This is actually rather hard to achieve within the limits of what we use wargame terrain for, because, with the exception of demonstration game terrain, we want our terrain items to be flexible.
One of the hallmarks of most wargaming, I think, is that it does not consist purely of model railway type terrain, beautifully done and hand crafted for individual battles. In Fuzigore, for example, I hope that there will be many wargames, and those terrain objects I am slaving over at the moment will be reused many times. Therefore, they have to have an inherent flexibility to allow for that reuse.
To give an example, I could create (at least in theory, my artistic abilities are sadly limited) for the next battle, two carefully crafted Celtic settlements with additional trees, fields and whatnot. This would be fine for this particular battlefield, which is set in rolling agricultural countryside. But what about the next battle, which could be in hill country where the fields may not exist because the agriculture is pastoral?
In short, most items of wargame terrain need to have a trade-off between specificity, by which I mean that I want roundhouses for my Celts, and generalizability, by which I mean I do not want to have to buy and paint more roundhouses every time the battle is in a slightly different terrain.
Aside from all that, the terrain also has to be governed by the rule set. By this I mean that the items of terrain used on the table have to conform, in some way, to the way the rules say they need to. For example, in at least some of the Polemos rule sets, the size of terrain items is (in principle) governed by the base size adopted for the troops. A village has to be 30 mm by 60 mm if the basing of the units is so. This, of course, makes thing easy in judging whether a unit can hide in the village, but actually imposes a set of limitations on the terrain item itself.
Of course, the usual route to overcome this is to have the terrain mounted on a base and the base placed within a holder, so the whole thing can be modelled without irritating straight edges. In this way the visual aspect of the terrain item and the instrumental use of it within the rules are, in some way, both met.
However, the rules are imposing the constraints on the modelling. In many cases, this is not a problem. After all, in Fuzigore I can simply decree that all villages, fields, woods and so on are a certain size, due to, say, ritual requirements. In modelling real life battlefields this may not be so easy. To return to my Lutzen example, how many troops, in terms of bases, could hide in 300 houses and a castle? The answer, I guess, is a fair number, although in the battle itself they did not do so.
The upshot of this, I think, is that our wargame terrain has to cover two bases. The first is the aesthetic. It has to look right, in other words. The second is the functional. For example, to make line of sight rules work, we need woods with a sharp cut off. Real woods do not necessarily come to a stop at a defined edge, but our wargame ones must.
Finally, we need to pick out those aspects of terrain which make a historical battle “this” battle. Can a reconstruction as a game of Lutzen be Lutzen without the town and the windmills? These items did not have any particular impact on the battle, although I think the windmills were set on fire, as was the town, which did cause the Swedes some difficulty. But if these items were not represented (we could, after all, just make Bernard’s command job more difficult) are we still refighting Lutzen?