Terrain is an important part of any table top game but it is almost always one of the most nebulous and under officiated portions.
There are arguments for and against strict terrain set up rules. In one camp people will argue that strict terrain set up rules are overly cumbersome, add unnecessary complexity, are never fair and would generally not be used as people have different terrain in their collections anyway.
 On the flip side, others believe that having strict terrain set up rules help further balance the game, prevent terrain irrelevancy and actually add a dimension of challenge and interest when it comes to addressing the table.
I certainly fall into the second camp, but I have yet to play a game that has terrain set up rules that are balanced or functional, so I’m going to try and come up with my own!

Just to make it clear, I don’t think this is a casual vs competitive play thing as even casual games are more enjoyable if both players feel they weren’t unfairly treated by the table. In a lot of ways, the method I’m going to suggest adds another game dimension prior to actually starting the game, and what gamer doesn’t like more game!
Before I get too far into this, with images and stuff, here is a legend of the terrain I used. It’s all my home terrain, so it’s a little limited:
legend
WHAT PP OFFERS
The current steamroller rules have a very small section dedicated to terrain set up and they are almost entirely left up to the TOs discretion with a few bare bones guide lines.
These are:
1. 6-8 terrain pieces of sizes 3 to 6″ in length and width
2. Most terrain should be comprised of unrestricted terrain
3. Unrestricted terrain pieces cannot be closer than 2″ to another terrain piece
4. Restricted terrain cannot be closer than 5″ to another restricted terrain piece
5. No terrain within 6″ of a table edge
6. A rather vague mention to TOs about not blocking huge bases out of scenario. 
This system ends up with tables that can look like this:
13621348_10153529557101394_1583500824_o
Or like this:
13589186_10153529557141394_1456423499_o
Both tables in the examples have the exact same terrain pieces but the first table favors a ranged game as the terrain is too spread out and not relevant to the scenario, whereas the second one favors a more melee oriented army with pathfinder. Both of these tables are completely legitimate ways to play but the issue is that almost all of the tables at tournaments and at home end up looking like the first one.
THE CONCENTRATION PROBLEM
With terrain spread out and very little relevant terrain in the middle of the board where the battle will take place, tables tend to favor the ranged aspects of the game over melee ones.
Why?
Human nature.  People tend to want to balance out and uniformly fill space and we react negatively to items that are more concentrated and cluttered. When looking at the second table, we naturally feel that there is too much open terrain and that the table is not ‘balanced”. So we spread things out more and fill up the table so it is pleasing to the eye.  Problem is the further stuff gets spread out the more terrain that ends up outside of the scenario area and the more irrelevant they become.
So you can  expect little relevant terrain on tables when you go to tournaments.
Is this a problem?
Yes, for the reason mentioned in the rule book on page 77:
13625046_10153529557236394_503188172_n
Problem with this quote is that it doesn’t address the concentration of terrain. Let me give an example:
On  this table we have 8 pieces of terrain, but the concentration is very diluted and very little of that terrain is relevant to the scenario.
13624795_10153529719646394_189089267_n
On this next table we have only 5 pieces of terrain but the concentration is much denser around the scenario area.
13624557_10153529722321394_1893711880_n
The result is that the second table makes for a much more dynamic and interesting game because the scenario is relevant to where the battle will be going on.
ADDRESSING THE PROBLEM
In my opinion, the loose guidelines provided by the steamroller document leave too much up to the players or TO which leads to tables filled with irrelevant and useless terrain. That is to say, there is either too much availability to manipulate terrain placement to benefit yourself or there is too much reliance on a third party to set up a table that is interesting and challenging to play on. Both systems leave players at the whimsy of human nature, which I already mentioned favors a visually balanced, evenly spaced table, that in actuality isn’t balanced in game terms.
Finally the lack of concrete rules for dressing a table with terrain leaves tournament players in the lurch when practicing. It’s difficult to practice when you don’t really know the nature of the tables that you will have to play on. I mean, we already know what most of those tables will look like,  but I think there may be a better way to approach terrain placement that will involve players more and make them feel like they were at least involved in the choosing of the battle field they are to play on.
Probably the most important adjustment that can be made to placing terrain is to push the terrain more into the middle of the board and away from the edges. The current 6″ restriction is just not enough and leaves a lot of terrain way out on the flanks were it is of little or no use to anyone. By pushing that restriciton to 10″ or 12″ we go a long way to making the terrain relevant to the scenario and setting an interesting and challenging location for players to wage their battle.
THE SUGGESTION 
Here we get to the meat of the article: a suggestion for a  more detailed way to place terrain prior to a game, both for casual/competitive practice play and for tournament play, I’m intending to try this out with my regular gaming group to see how it feels but I’m really looking to start a discussion and create awareness about this very important aspect of the game. Suggestions and feedback is encouraged! 
Prior to picking lists or rolling for first turn, players go through the following steps to populate the table with terrain:

STEP 1

Roll a D6 and determine the number of terrain pieces to be used:

1-2: 6, 3-4: 7, 5-6: 8

STEP 2

Roll off between the players to determine who will deploy terrain first.

STEP 3

Each player takes it in turn randomly generating a terrain piece and placing it on the table according to the terrain placement guidelines. If a player rolls a terrain result for which there are no pieces available, re-roll until a result is rolled that can be satisfied. If there are multiple variations of a type of terrain feature available (like a long hill or a round hill) randomize which one to use. Likewise if a specific result calls for a Rubble 5″ template, use whatever rubble feature is available that fits that size category.

Untitled-1

Terrain Placement Guidelines:

– No terrain within 12″ of a table edge

-Terrain cannot be placed within 2″of another terrain feature (multiple 3″ templates placed at the same time are exempt from this rule)

Restricted Terrain cannot be placed within 5″ of another Restricted Terrain feature

FOR TOURNAMENT PLAY:

TO’s definitely need to exercise some control over their tables at a tournament and frequently terrain limits will necessitate removing the random piece selection portion of the system.

To make this process tournament friendly, TO’s simply put the number and type of terrain pieces they want on the table for players to use BUT they do not place those pieces. When Players are assigned a table they simply roll off to see who places an available terrain piece. When it is the players turn to place a terrain piece they do not roll randomly to determine the nature of the terrain piece, instead their opponent selects one of the available pieces and hands it to them to place.  Players continue alternating in the fashion until all available pieces have been placed legally using the terrain placement guidelines.

All terrain must be placed by the end of the process, any terrain that cannot be legally placed must be placed were there is the most available space on the table, displace other terrain previously placed following the rules for least disturbance.

It would also be preferable to time this process so that players do not unnecessarily slow the process down. For example once the players have randomly decided the the order of placing, the opponent has 10 seconds to choose a piece, then the player has 10 seconds to pick a location for the terrain piece.

Here are some examples of tables I generated using this system. I assumed that one player wanted a table that favored ranged elements whilst the other player wanted a terrain concentration that favored a melee oriented army.

13632894_10153529768486394_2103114374_o

 

13621753_10153529788021394_352506462_o13632867_10153529557391394_109752397_o13579696_10153529777816394_1639266377_o
CONCLUSION

Terrain is very important because it not only can give essential benefits and advantages to good players but it also makes every game different and adds character and interest to the table. The way terrain is placed in the current way, with pieces being spaced out visually on the table, makes most of it irrelevant to the game being played.

By increasing the distance terrain must be placed from the edge of the board, terrain is naturally made more relevant as it is in the vicinity of scenario where the actual fighting will take place.

By involving the players in the placement of terrain you can simulate the generals trying to locate a preferable battle field on which to meet the enemy while at the same time investing the players more in the game and table.  Several of my colleagues believe that this could create an unbalanced and favorable table set up  but that is part of the point. Tables should not be balanced, balanced tables are largely irrelevant. If both players are involved in the creation of the table then they both have strategies and tactics they can employ when dressing the table.

A player that wants clear lines of sight and little cover in the middle of the table can place his first piece in the central area of the table if it is say a pond or a hill, to prevent his opponent from placing a forest. In tournaments the nature of players opponents choosing the piece to be placed by them should create an interesting and interesting interaction between what pieces a player would like to place and the availability of table location.

Finally, this article is intended to get discussion going on terrain, it’s usage and the rules for placement. I have devised a system that I think adds something to that discussion and I intend to test it out within my local meta to check its viability. I encourage you to comment, give feedback and start a discussion in your meta on the dressing of tables. Maybe together we can find a better way to make our tables and terrain more interesting and relevant to the game we love!