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GallopingJack Checks Out The Terrain Mat


Atlantic SeaScape Terrain Mat
Product #
Atlan6x8
Manufacturer
Suggested Retail Price
£84.61 GBP


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Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member writes:

"How did you get those wakes? Photoshop?"

Eh? Surely your ships leave a wake????


Revision Log
15 November 2006page first published

14,895 hits since 15 Nov 2006
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member writes:

I've been playing wargames over fifty years - and by then, one tends to think there is nothing much new going to come along. Well, not unless you are interested in the weird and wonderful branches of fantasy and sci-fi. Nevertheless, even for we conventional, historical gamers, new things do come along now and then...

While it's true that everyone has tried placing a blanket or cloth over their wargames table, most of those I've seen over the years were fairly basic and concentrated on the scenery that was put on them, lifting them into an attractive tabletop. I have seen green-, brown-, and desert-coloured ones, plus combinations of them, and indeed blue ones for naval wargaming. But never have I seen any that went too far down the road of trying to emulate the better types of scenery one usually only finds with specific terrain boards built to a particular style.

Of course, those who know me well are aware that I take a huge effort with my scenery layouts (and also make terrain modules to sell). I've been at that for many years, and have never lost my love for a nice tabletop layout. My horror at seeing the average ancient wargames competition game is well known, and I've had to be led out of convention halls in shock at times.

Therefore, it was somewhat of a surprise when I heard about the Terrain Mat. Here, at last, was something that looked like any and every wargamer could use to easily achieve what I spend hours slaving at. The photographs on the Terrain Mat website - terrainmat.com - were a bit disappointing because one could not get a really good close-up look. Nevertheless, the "overall view" photographs showed a series of tabletop choices, all of which looked very classy - so I made contact with the maker, Richard.

Now - although many know me for my land scenery, and masters of WWII items for QRF - the lesser-known part of my involvement in wargames is that I was originally a naval wargamer, and it is still my main interest. Within this category, some wargamers will be aware that I am also a maritime artist, and my work adorns various naval wargaming publications, is aboard various warships, etc. So, after a few email chats with Richard, it was a naval mat that was soon winging its way to Australia from the U.K. What he shows on his site is an Atlantic Mat, and the colours really caught my eye. However, would it be as good as it looked?

In My Hands At Last

On its arrival, I could hardly wait to remove it from its round postal canister and lay it out on the first table to hand.

Looking down

The visual result was stunning. As an artist myself, I spend hours trying to get the sea to look just right, and anyone who does maritime art will confirm that it is the hardest thing to achieve.

Therefore, I was in an immediate state of admiration that the creator of Terrain Mat was able to achieve such a realistic effect. The blending of colours was excellent, with sufficient light and dark to match what one does see from an aircraft when flying over the ocean. The effect of open ocean was further enhanced by the use of some sort of material to raise sections into wave crests, that were topped off with a light shade that included white, to cream, or pale blue or green. These sections are hard to the touch and appear to be some sort of spackle. The material used for the mat itself is a very tough sort of plastic or other woven synthetic material.

Seen up very close, the pattern of the cloth is visible. For some purists that may be a bit disappointing, but the up-side of this, is that when seen at normal distance (such as when sitting at the table), the weave patter adds to the ocean effect, making it look even more realistic. When standing back looking at the table, the weave pattern and the skill of the painter all blend in to make your tabletop area look like a real patch of ocean.

How strong it is was shown just over a week ago at a convention. The ocean mat was laid out on a table overnight in the hall, and some fluorescent lights and fittings fell from the ceiling overnight. Now if that had hit my usual tabletop modules made from railway grass sheets, it would probably have made quite a mess and at least torn the surface to bits. However, the only damage was some of the hard Spackle areas. These had cracked and popped off, leaving some very tiny blank patches. However, nobody seemed to notice because the under-colour still blended in. Later (after arriving home), I merely touched these over with some thick acrylic and after it had dried, the damage had completely disappeared.

1:3000 scale Italian cruiser on Terrain Mat

Being a sheet of material that is laid out over a tabletop, the mat was quite large, so for postage it had to be folded over. The folds looked a bit horrifying at first, but within days faded away to nothing. In fact, they pretty much disappeared altogether until my wife, trying to be helpful, folded the mat over while helping me unload things from the car on return from the convention. Unfortunately, that restored the folds, but I am happy to report that within a few days they had gone again. I now store it rolled up around a cardboard roll, so there is no danger of any more creases.

How heavy?

Well, it is sufficiently heavy to lay flat on the tabletop without folds forming. We had quite some gusts of wind coming through the window last week and the mat sat pretty steady even though there was nothing on it to hold it down, nor was it in any way fixed. Later in the day, the wind reached gale force and in that situation it did lift a little here and there before I slammed the window shut. I am therefore confident that these mats will stand up to a lot of breeze, etc., without upsetting your wargame. At the convention people brushed against it often and it barely moved. Some of it hangs over the edges, and the effect is very pleasing as the table edges are not so marked.

British Fulmars flying at wave height

I have not examined the "land terrain" versions, but apparently they can be adjusted for hills by putting objects under them just as was always done with the older blanket ideas. I tried that with my ocean one, and can see it is probably quite effective. The land terrain versions come flocked in what looks to be a realistic fashion. I am not sure how well they fit over objects placed underneath, but I can confirm that the one I have looks as if it would be OK in that role. I also laid out some of the QRF rubber-road scenery I had available, and was pleased that it too hugged the surface of the mat very well. This gives me even more confidence that the land mats are probably pretty good, too.

Now, every product has good points and bad points, so it is only fair I cover those. Firstly, I have heard several people on the internet complain about the price. This does seem daunting. To review this, I set about pricing the material used for the mat, and treating it with resin. Then the paint used, and the amount of time and effort it would have taken to make it. Of course, this also includes a very high level of artistic skill which is something hard to put a price on. My conclusion is that the material costs and time to produce the product would absorb a lot of the cost. Then, each one is handmade and an individual, exclusive piece of work unique to its new owner. As a maritime artist, I confess to being a little jealous of the maker in that he has achieved an ocean effect that takes me hours to achieve, but instead of doing it on a canvas of limited proportion, he has done it on one large enough to cover a full-sized pingpong table. Moreover, making me even more jealous of his artistic skill is that he has achieved a consistency across the whole thing that does not vary. That takes me hours with a painting and often involves a couple of days of looking at it critically, making alterations, etc. Yet here we are with an entire tabletop area perfectly done. Therefore, in the price of material and the artistic skill applied to it, the product seems to be priced quite fairly.

Also on the up-side is the visual effect, but I have already mentioned that. Just let me say one final thing in that regard. The games I have played on it so far have brought a new pleasure and interest to my naval wargaming. It has given the right 'look' to what I have been doing. The camouflage schemes I carefully painted on my warships over the years can now be seen to have purpose at last. The colours of the various national schemes are seen to better effect than in all the years I've had my models.

Down-sides

Some would say the cost. I am less inclined toward that for the reasons given.

The spackle-type material used in the painting process is very hard, and some of it does chip off. Last Saturday afternoon, I demonstrated General Quarters III on it, and my friend L. Les complained that some of the surface was rough and prickly through his shirtsleeves when he rested his elbows on my table. That did not entirely bother me, as I have been annoyed on more than one occasion when gamers have put their elbows on my laboriously built terrain and messed it up. If that deters people doing the same on the land mats, then I am quite happy about it rather than disappointed! I have noticed it myself when it has felt scratchy on my hands, but considered that a small price to pay for the authentic look.

Up close, you can see the texture of the mat

When considering price, one also has to take into account that the average player only needs one or two of these and they will last for years. Therefore, complaints about the cost should be seen as a purchase of a one-off thing, and an investment in excellent visual presentation for years to come. If one is going to pay lots and lots of money for miniatures and spend half one's life painting them, then they should be set down to fight on something that matches your effort. I'm just realising that with my carefully painted collection of ships I've had for decades. It's true that I always tried for a nice sea presentation, but it never occurred to me to go to the high standards Terrain Mat have done.

A little more disturbing is that I have noticed the surface - being a bit rough - does ‘pit' the surface of quick-play sheets. In fact, after only a few days of playtesting, my GQIII playsheets have suffered rather a lot. Nevertheless, I cured that by cutting out a bit of felt and laying them on that.

Additionally, the spackle-type material makes cups wobble and some objects not sit flat. Again, that has an up- and a down-side. The up-side being that it deters wargamers from putting drinks on my lovely tabletop!

On that subject, thanks to one of my grandchildren, I had the opportunity to see what happens when a drink gets spilt on the mat. Basically, nothing. I wiped it up and that was the end of it. The liquid (Coca Cola) failed to penetrate the surface and did not leave a stain. My wife also put a hot cup of coffee for me on it while I was out of the room, and - being there for five minutes or so before I returned - it did leave a ring. That was removed very easily, and now only two days later I cannot even see where it was.

I note that one thing about the slight roughness is that my cat Esmeralda, who has a habit of laying on scenery, turned her nose up at the slight smell of resin. Although she tried to ignore that and get comfortable, it did not work and she soon found another place in the room to curl up. I am sure a lot of wargamers would be pleased to hear cats do not like the surface! The resin does not bother me, but if anyone is allergic to it, these mats may be a problem.

Mat on a NATO-standard tabletennis table

Storage would only be a problem if you do not have anywhere to put a rolled-up mat. Mine is five feet wide and about nine feet long. So rolled up around a cardboard tube, and held with a rubber band, it easily stores standing on one end in a cupboard. In that form it takes up no more room than a broom, so storage is very much a plus. I love making scenery myself, but terrain boards are always a pain to store away. With Terrain Mat, one only needs to worry about the ‘put on' items as the mat takes up very little room.

Types!

Well, I have the Atlantic Ocean one, and that is what features in the photographs attached to this review. However, Richard tells me that he has provided them in Caribbean colours for wargamers doing pirate battles, and was confident he could do mats for the Pacific or Mediterranean, too.

The variety of land mats can be seen on his website. I find myself going back to look at the desert ones, perhaps because I spent some of my youth in similarly remote areas and do like battles in North Africa. All these land mats have add-on sections available - oasis for the desert, swamps and wetlands, crops, roads, streams and rivers. I have not seen them myself. To me, they look pretty good in the photographs. Once again, artistic skill comes through in these items, and I really admire the techniques the maker has used. One purchaser known to me did complain that they arrived damaged and had a tendency to curl up at the edges. Another tells me his are perfect and he has no complaint. Perhaps it is in the eye of the beholder.

The Verdict

In conclusion, I would have to say that for the ‘terrain challenged' these mats are ideal. They will obviously last for years and are very resistant to damage. Easy to store, easy to transport, and light to carry makes them ideal for taking to the wargames club with you, or simply stashing them away in a small flat where wargaming space is limited.

Considering the horrid brown tabletops with a hunk of felt representing trees or hills that we have all become all-too-used to seeing at Ancients competitions for many decades, one can only hope that some organisers will arrange for some small versions of these mats, and lift the visual presentation of their games.

There are also other gamers who really do try to make the terrain look good, but know in their hearts that they just don't have the feel for it. For those people, these mats are a solution to years of trying to find the ideal tabletop cover for wargames.

Italian ships at sea

I suppose I should have used British ships for the photographs, but these Italian vessels were close-to-hand and do show some colour. My latest thing is dispensing with the cardboard bases these ships have - to replace them with very clear Perspex, which shows the tabletop colour.