Islands in the Stream

Mantic's new Fantasy Naval Miniature Combat game Armada seems to be a different than other miniature games in that terrain is a minimal part of the game - and it is legitimate to play with none at all (often historical naval battles would happen in the open ocean (intentionally) as the admirals/captains of the fleets had enough issues maneuvering without worrying about running into sandbars or islands.

However there are scenarios that do use a bit of terrain, and it can make a more tactically challenging game.  The game (either the two player starter, or the book that comes with token sheets) includes some cardstock islands, sandbars and rocks.  But being a miniature game, we always want some improved (i.e. 3D terrain).

Some people get their hobby on and make their own  - and I have made quite a bit in the past.  However with this whole lockdown thing I have had a difficult time getting any hobby work done, and every time I saw someone post about theirs I would just get jealous, sigh, and move on.

So the next option is to buy some.  I thought I'd show what I've found available to buy, and who well it might work.

When I was doing playtesting for the original version, I very quickly got tired of playing with blank bases - so thought I'd get some of the old Wizkids Pirates of the Spanish Main constructible ships.  I also remembered seeing some pre-painted islands made by Gale Force 9 for the game.  Unfortunately these have been out of print (as has the game) for years, but then isn't that what eBay is for (and what better place to find islands than in a bay?)

So first the pros.  This is solid, well made, good looking terrain.  I actually like many of their "Battlefield in a box" pieces, and this is the same quality.  In addition each piece is cloth backed so it won't slide around regardless of the type of surface you are playing on.

However for me, the big con is simply the size.  Doing a little additional research AFTER I picked up some, I finally found that the Wizkids game was more 1/1200 scale, while Armada is 1/700.  As such these pieces are simply too small.  Of course this can best seen by comparing them to actual Armada ships.

As you can see, these are more than just sand bars - having mountain and forest on them, but they are smaller than the ships we are using. 

The second combined con is availability/price (which end up being tied together - as the harder it is to find, the more expensive it tends to be).  When I checked these they were going for at least $35 a set, and sometimes higher.  

The next idea was that Games Workshop made some hard plastic terrain for their Dreadfleet game a few years back.  Dreadfleet was meant to help scratch the Man-o-war itch many people still had, but failed and very quickly the few copies around rose in price.

I managed to pick up a few of the smaller islands, but they are even harder to find than the GF9 ones.  (Horde 'O Bits is where I managed to find both some islands and some ships from the game (for playtesting).

These are the smaller of the islands in the set, and are also smaller than the ships, though not so much as the GF9 ones.  They might work if you already have them, or can find them.

I then remember seeing that Warlord had a Black Seas terrain set - and since Armada is based on Black Seas (and uses Black Seas ships for Kingdoms of Men) this seemed like it would be a natural match.

This looked PERFECT, so I grabbed one.  But then it arrived, and I thought it was mispacked because something was missing - the islands in the picture.  I finally read the fine print and saw that those ARE NOT included.

Rocks, guns, a light house, and a Martello tower to place on our islands or short but which don't even have rules in Armada, some rocks, and two shipwreck markers.

The shipwreck markers are very detailed, and IF you decide to leave sunken ships as hazards in your game (which is NOT a standard rule) then could be useful, as they are based on the black seas models (3rd Rate and Brig).

The rocks however are perfect, like they were designed for the game (as they were).  They are close to the token size, and fit the ships well.

I'm not sure if this is worth the price of the whole pack at $48 for five rocks.

More web searching and I found Novus Design, who has 9 1/700 scale islands.  They even mention Warlords Black Seas and Cruel Seas naval games in the descriptions.

These resin islands are high quality, and a much better fit than the GF9 versions.  The two that are flat at first seem not appropriate, but once flocked then it isn't an issue.  What is more is the 'mountainous' versions - where the peaks once again are not taller than the ships.

The last ones I found are from a UK company, Amera Plastic Mouldings.  While you can order from the directly, being in the US that is a bit more challenging for shipping costs etc.  However it is also hard to find people that carry them.  I actually ordered mine from Noble Knight Games.

I wasn't familiar with the name, but once these arrived I realized I had a few of their fantasy buildings.  Those didn't have much detail, but islands at this scale don't need much detail.

These are all vacu-formed plastic sheets which will have to be trimmed (though I find that it is best to leave a little lip around the piece or else you risk damaging it, as the actual island is a little bit thinner than the surrounding plastic, so easy to accidentally cut.

These are the ONLY islands I have found that seem to be in the actual same scale as the ships.  The harbor is designed to fit the bases (more specifically, the bases from the out of print game Uncharted Seas).  The mountainous pieces are actually taller than the ships.  The ships look really good next to them.

Their best pro is also their biggest con for this.  While they seem to fit he models much better than others, however they may be too large to work in-game.  An example of this is for the plant the flag scenario, which has a harbor in the center of the north side of the 'board', and two smaller island on either side of it.  Below are two pictures of this setup, using the Amera islands and the card islands from the starter set.  These are the same area, as you can see the tip of the windrose logo on the mat at the bottom.

Islands this large in the game will have much more effect the ones in the base game.

So how do all of these compare to those in the game?

First, even the ones in the game (based on the art) are not the same scale as the ships.  The harbor piece has a village on it - and the buildings are the size or smaller than the guns on a ship - and a small ship (a brig) is larger than the entire village (a brig various between 75 and 165 feet - since these are small ships we would assume the smaller size - making the entire village less than 75 feet across (or 23 meters) - less than a third of a football field.

So scale is relative - it is more about gameplay than 'simulation' - which is actually true for ALL of Mantic's games.  (Honestly, at these scales the canons should be able to shoot completely off the table.  According to Wikipedia, a 36 pound cannon had a maximum range of about 3700 meters - which is over 2 miles!  Scaling the playing surface at 1/700 makes it less than 900 meters on a side - or about a fourth of the range of a heavy cannon. (I've always joked that artillery in Kings of War, if realistic, would be able to shoot at armies on OTHER TABLES)).  

The key here then is what works for the game - and we just assume the terrain that comes with it is what we should be trying to match.

There really two islands in the starter - a 4 piece one and half a two piece one.  Looking at the four piece island

The GF9 islands are much smaller - more the size of one piece of the island.

The Novus Design islands are better, being fairly close to the four piece, but larger than the single quarter

The smallest of the Amera islands really matches the four piece, which means the others are MUCH larger.

So we can then compare them to the larger 2-piece island

The other two islands are even bigger - so may be too big for games.  

I did take a shot of one of the larger Amera islands (without the harbor) along with the GF9, Novus Design and Dreadfleet island.

However ultimately it is always up to you and what you like the most and fits in with your terrain collection.  I hope this does give you some idea as to which terrain you would like to purchase, if that is how you want to go.

However, there is also one more middle ground that I have just found.  Rather than creating things completely from scratch, many people are using 3D printers to create the models - which then just require painting and finishing.

I was going to discuss those here as well - but this is long enough - so I'll leave that for next time.

Because it is all fun and games . . .