Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

The "Missing" Terrain

As I was sitting here and thinking about terrain on our wargame table tops, it occurred to me that most table tops, and wargame rules, ignore one prominent terrain type: The depression, that slight fold of land that gives cover to a battalion to brigade of troops. Whenever one goes out and strolls the battlefields of the US or Europe, one is constantly struck by how little it takes to completely cover a large number of troops from either vision or fire effects, or both! waterloo was a revelation to me in that regard.

All wargames have rules to cover hills, ridges, even mountains, and their effects on vision and combat are well understood, as are forests, rivers, hedgerows, and structures, but the “lowly” depression is rather overlooked. Most areas of the battlefield lacking a vertical terrain element are treated as the perfectly flat and open area of fuzzy green where combat is not effected-and units of toy soldiers are victims of thundering die rolls. Yet, when we walk the fields where battles did occur, the area of absolutely flat, baize green, open ground is, as I said above, a rarity.

It is hard to go any distance on a battlefield without some obvious ridge line, or forest, blocking vision, but equally limiting is the modest 3-6 foot “swell” or the similar “dip” in the ground. Many a battle report mentions troops that suddenly found themselves in a “dead zone” where enemy shot and shell could not easily reach them. In some cases, they so completely fell from sight the enemy didn’t even know they were there! It was not unusual that this safe zone could be very close to the enemy lines, especially in the terrain of North America during the ACW.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of material on the War of Spanish Succession, and the number of quotes about troops finding refuge in a slight fold of ground, or cavalry closing on a line because its fire was somewhat diminished by a dip in the ground to their front that reduced their fire effect, are plentiful. Even as late as the FPW, the cover in the Mance Ravine was a godsend to the Prussians-and it was impossible to get them to leave it!

So, what I am instituting in my wargames from now on are irregular pieces of darker green felt usually with their long axis parallel to the contesting lines, but not always, placed in certain areas of the ever so flat tabletop, that denote a depression, a dip of ground below the general ground level denoted by the table surface. It can be rated just as other terrain as a Class I or II terrain effect, and may, or may not, have effect on movement. Certainly the more cover it gives the greater the chances that it would mildly impede movement. Its combat inhibiting effects, might be rolled for the first time a unit fires at another unit in the depression-so that neither side would know for certain its total effect prior to that first combat. It could also be a place that a scenario could “hide” a unit that the other side would not know about until it left the cover of that fold of earth. It would be another terrain element for an attacker and defender to consider, and would breakup the monotony of the billiard table battlefield.

Even better, it would easily illustrate an element of wargame terrain that has disappeared from view! How Depressing! Winking