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An Introduction to Wargames Terrain

Updated on November 28, 2016


If you’re a wargamer you’ll have come across all kinds of terrain features that you can use to decorate your battlefield. There’s a huge choice of pieces available, from hills and mountains to buildings and walls. Terrain is a great way to enhance your wargaming experience and add an extra tactical element to the games you play.

The type of wargame you play will have a big impact on what kind of terrain you use. If you’re a fantasy player, for example, you may choose to purchase models of wizard’s towers and orc dens. If you prefer sci-fi games you may instead decide to invest in ruined factories or alien strongholds, while historical gamers might prefer Roman forts or barbarian huts.

When it comes to terrain you have a choice to make: would you prefer to buy pre-made pieces or build your own? There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches, and depending on your budget you may decide to either buy everything, make everything from scratch, or do a combination of each. Most wargamers like to make some terrain pieces (such as hills, which are fairly easy) and buy others (such as more complex buildings and fortresses).

The size of your wargames table will also have an effect on what kind of terrain you want. If you’re using a standard 6 feet by 4 feet table for a 28mm scale game, you’ll inevitably need more terrain than someone with a 3 foot square table. Some players prefer to have everything already attached to the table to make the gaming area look more realistic, whereas others like to have a flat gaming area combined with separate terrain pieces that can them be moved around to create new battlefields for different games.

Natural Terrain Pieces

  • Hills are probably the most common wargames terrain feature. They are very easy to make and can also be purchased from a variety of different manufacturers in all shapes and sizes. Hills are great for blocking line of sight, as well as giving ranged troops extra visibility when climbing on top of them. They are vital if you want to make your gaming area look realistic, as perfectly flat areas are rare in real life.
  • Rivers are another common terrain feature. These are a little more difficult to make than hills (especially if you want to make the water look convincing), but thanks to a wide range of manufacturers you can opt to simply buy them. Many players like to purchase “modular” river sets, where the components can be rearranged into different configurations – this allows the user to have different river patterns every time they play. In gaming terms rivers help to restrict movement on the battlefield, meaning players have to think more carefully about how they manoeuvre their troops.
  • Forests are very common on wargames tables. They provide cover for troops hiding inside them and also block line-of-sight, making them great additions for almost any gaming table. Trees can be tricky to make, so it is often better to either buy them pre-made or purchase one of the many “Make Your Own Trees” kits available on the market, which come with specially made components and instructions.
  • Lakes tend to be less common in wargaming but they are still good terrain pieces to have, especially if you don’t have any river pieces. When combined with hills and plenty of evergreen trees, they create very effective alpine environments for either historical or fantasy settings.

Other Terrain Pieces

  • Buildings vary wildly in different settings, from medieval-style peasant huts and fantasy-style towers to space ports and alien bases for sci-fi games. Most wargamers choose to buy model buildings, but they can become expensive especially if you want to model a full settlement. With a little bit of practice anyone can make basic buildings from card or plastic sheet, and some scratch builders manage to create structures even more impressive than pre-made models! They’re great for giving your army somewhere to camp out, or for serving as objectives that need to be captured.
  • Walls and Fences are ideal for historical settings such as World War Two, while larger walls could serve as the boundaries for a wizard’s mighty castle! In most rule sets walls simply provide cover, while others allow you to climb over linear obstacles and even lay siege to large castles! Walls are not essential, but they are useful to have and they are very easy to make yourself.


These are the most common pieces of wargames terrain, but don’t think they are the only ones – there are many more available! Getting a few hills, walls and forests on your table will greatly enhance the look and feel of your wargames at only a small cost, so go down to your local hobby store and purchase a few pieces that would suit the style of the game you play.

What About You?

What do you think is the most important piece of wargames terrain?

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