When I'm mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds I come across countless posts, mainly by new players, that complain that their army, which they have spent hundreds of pounds/dollars on is removed from the board in 1 or 2 turns.
When asked how they set up the game most talk about what armies were used and what units were taken, not many talk about the terrain they used.
The terrain is one of the most important features of 9th edition of Warhammer 40k and getting the balance correct is very important. Too much and a heavy close combat army has too much advantage, too little and see your army get shot off the board in no time at all.
Having a balance is key, especially if you are wanting fun yet competitive games. Below I'm going to talk about how you should look into setting up your tabletop. I've used my 6' by 4' board as an example but these techniques apply to smaller boards very easily. Using these techniques should give you a fair and balanced fun game.
How much terrain to use
The Warhammer 40k rule book doesn't really explain what you should be doing to have a balanced tabletop, they tend to just show some fancy pictures of what tables could look like using their fancy plastic terrain.
This wasn't always the case and Games Workshop use to suggest that at least a good quarter of your table should have terrain on it. This doesn't include things like hills which in 9th edition don't really have much effect.
Covering at least a quarter of the table will mean that you have a good portion of the battlefield covered by something, eliminating that 'gun ally' where nothing can advance because of there is nothing to advance onto. It will also mean there isn't too much to make getting any form of long-range line of sight impossible.
The above image shows part of my terrain collection, I do own more than this, as I like some terrain variety in my games, but if you can cover at least a quarter with the terrain you have, regardless of table size, then you should have a pretty good game.
You will then spread this terrain out, trying to get an even set up on the table so that one deployment zone doesn't have a huge advantage over the other. Sometimes I like to make half of the battlefield, then set the other half up as a mirror image.
What type of terrain should you have on the tabletop?
Now before we get bogged down into what type of terrain 'counts as' what, please bear in mind that the descriptions for the terrain do not state that terrain traits or categories belong to particular terrain pieces. If you want to put the Obscuring trait on some large trees then you can do, there isn't anything stopping you from doing this.
You just have to make sure your opponent and yourself understand what terrain features your terrain has before you set up your forces and start to play your game.
Now I personally think you need between 4-6 Obscuring pieces of terrain on the board to make sure you get a good balanced tactical game. Remember that Obscuring pieces of terrain don't necessarily have to be Area terrain pieces. As long as part of the terrain feature is 5inch+ then it can count as obscuring.
Here is a typical piece of Obscuring terrain feature. This is how I set up my ruins (I use a card base and walls so that it's easier for storage and can change depending on what I need). With this Ruin having a base its very easy to see what units are Obscured. Some folks will have an 'invisible' outline for area terrain, which is fine as long as you won't be arguing over if your are 'in' the terrain or not.
The terrain feature here shows a large pipe piece of terrain. Its an obstacle on the battlefield and it's odd construction means you can (if you want to) give it various terrain traits in your games. This terrain could also be given the Obscuring terrain trait, meaning unless a unit is within 3inch then you can draw line of sight through the terrain piece.
This is important to make sure that one army isn't going to shoot the other army off the board in 1 turn. The Obstacles with the Obscuring trait are also important when it comes down to smaller board sizes. Some Area terrain pieces can be a little too big for the smaller boards and one simple move can remove the effectiveness of the terrain piece in one turn. It also helps in getting that 4-6 pieces of obscuring terrain number up, which honestly you do need in 9th Edition.
You will also need a couple of pieces of Dense Terrain. Having sections of the battlefield -1 to hit can drastically change how your games play. Now I won’t go into the maths on this but if really can make a difference. Trees are normally used in this role, but honestly, you can pick whatever. The rule book does state that the terrain piece needs to be at least 3inches high but (again) as long as you and your opponent agree you can get quite creative with the Dense Terrain trait.
You could state that the battlefield has only just been bombed, and any craters you have on the field also have the dense trait, representing fresh smoke and fire obscuring lines of sight. You can even do that to any ruins you have on the field, stating again fire and smoke are obscuring view. We have even given the dense trait to these terrain pieces in our games before. Stating the represent some underground smokestack or heat haze.
For the rest of your terrain set-up that can be entirely up to you. As long as you have at least two areas of Dense terrain and roughly 4+ blocks of obscuring terrain then your Games should come out fairly balanced and fair. I would also recommend a few pieces having the Difficult Ground trait to slow down advancing units. Sometimes putting terrain with these traits can make people think also more tactically when it comes to ‘deep strike’ units deploying 9inch away. That 9+ on 2d6 turns into 11+ and can force someone's hand into rethinking their strategy.
Hope this article helps you in your games of Warhammer 40k, I'll put out a few more articles talking about terrain in the near future. Until then, happy Wargaming.