Do Wargames Rules Writers have a Eurocentric View of Terrain?

In a post on Twitter, @GodsOwnScale noted:

And one more thing. The trend to base figures with a half earth, half grass look. Where did that come from. Standing in the middle of the field yesterday, I didn’t see how that style of basing reflects anything in reality.

The Parthian General

What GOS is describing is the current trend in basing Wargame figures with a mix of soil, gravel and static grass, as illustrated with the picture to the left.

When I first started wargaming, bases were simply painted in green, one of two shades. There was a dark chalkboard green used and another was the what became the somewhat ubiquitous Citadel’s Goblin Green. Gobbo Green was a colour slightly lighter than the shade of the grass mat to the left.

Many wargamers creating Armies based around the 18th century armies still use plain, green bases, paying homage to the armies of some of the grandfathers of wargaming like Brigadier Peter Young, Colonel J. P. Lawford, Don Featherstone and Charles Grant among them.

We then started flocking bases. Initially this was with model railway flock, sawdust and the like and was a universal green shade. For variation, some brown acrylic paint could be mixed with the PVA glue prior to basing to create a kind of green lamington. Now, many of us base figures on textured bases and using static grass.

A hawk’s eye view of the Nubians

Bases were made to look more and more like the terrain the Army being painted was used to operate in (and yes, those Nubians to the right are 15mm – I do sometimes paint giant figures).

Given a dry environment, more sandy gravelly stuff was on  the base with the odd tuft a dry grass.

GOS lives in England and there is a reason that William Blake, when protesting those “dark satanic mills” built during the Industrial Revolution wrote:

I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

England is indeed a green and pleasant land. There is (mostly) constant water available to ensure the grass grows thick and green. The forests and woods are thick with trees that prevent light reaching the ground so underbrush really only appears at the edge of the forest, and that combined with the absence of light in the wood itself means that it is almost impossible to see anything actually in the wood from the outside.

A countryside ger from Sukhbaatar Aimag, south-east of Ulaanbaatar

However, outside of England, the land is somewhat different. The photo to the left is a ger (yurt) in Mongolia. This area is between the steppes of Dornod Aimag and the Gobi. The grass has a taste similar to chives, so the mutton herded here comes pre-seasoned.

The point is, that this is neither a green and pleasant land, although it is very pleasant, nor is it a desert, well leastwise, not this part of it anyway.

This segues nicely into the other part of this discussion, and what I really started to think about after GOS’s comment on Twitter. Wargame rules writers I was exposed to in my early days of wargaming were inevitably English or American, and the Americans tended to concentrate on the American Civil War, much of which was in the Eastern Theatre and therefore in green grassy lands presumably with forests similar to England.

It was always confusing for me to read about ambushes being laid at the edge of woods when with every wood/forest/bush land I had seen, I could see at least 100 metres into it. It was the same in many other locations I visited around the world. It was only after my first visit to the English countryside that I realised woods in England were such that you could ambush from within. Famous ambushes such as Teutoburger Wald and those of the French and Indian Wars now made sense to me.

When basing naval miniatures, I base them on a blue base because, after all, we all know the sea is blue. But on those trips to England and Scotland, the North Sea was far from blue, more a miserable grey colour. Surely, if I am painting and basing my World War I ships, I should put them on a grey sea base. Given that the sea colour is a reflection of the sky, and as I come from sunny Sydney originally, to me the colour of the sea is that nice deep blue of the Pacific.

Gravelly, grassy terrain on the base

As wargamers, we tend to see terrain through familiar eyes. I see forests through Australian eyes and therefore thin, and sea through the same eyes (blue). As for grass, well it may be green, or gold (OK, yellow) or brown but again, where I am from, it is thin and seeing gravel around it, or the grass patchy, is quite normal.

And as we have deserts in Australia (the well named Great Sandy Desert for one), deserts are sandy and more a pale brown than yellow or white.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so is the terrain basing underneath figures.


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One thought on “Do Wargames Rules Writers have a Eurocentric View of Terrain?

  1. John@justneedsvarnish 16 July 2020 / 4:58 am

    Interesting post! 🙂 I enjoyed reading it! I like earth/grass bases just for the contrast and most of my armies fight in “green” grassland anyway, so I can live with it! As far as water’s concerned I paint rivers/streams gloss brown. For the sea I used to use a gloss woodwork paint in a shade called “Jazz” which was blue with a grey shade and looked really good, but it’s no longer available so I just use Plastikote Harbor Blue and live with it!

    If you ever need to know what colour the North Sea is at the moment let me know and I’ll take a five minute walk to find out! It does indeed vary from a nice blue to a grey-brown, the latter when it’s coming in stormy!

    Liked by 1 person

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