When the time for combat comes in an RPG the Game Master must decide whether they want to run it using the theater of the mind or on the table with a map or battle grid. While I usually use the former option, there’s something to be said for the latter. I’ve come to enjoy a good set piece battle every now and again with the wide variety of flip-mats, battlemats, tiles and other accessories made available to gaming groups these days. A good battle map inspires Dungeon Masters into plotting out interesting combats with bad guys taking advantage of the terrain. They also inspire players by using things on the grid in unusual ways beyond just grinding down the main bad guy.
Loke Battlemats sent along a sampler of their products for me to check out. I like collecting these sorts of products to have on hand when I need a “standing set” for an upcoming battle. Are they worth picking up when in-person gaming becomes safe again?
Battle Mat BooksThe Big Book of Battle Mats Volume II are spiral bound books that come in Big (12” x 9”) and Giant (12” x 16”) sizes. Each book in the series features a map on one page with two themed maps on every full spread. The pages are laminated to allow for wet and dry erase markers to be used during battles. The binding allows the book to lay flat, which allows for an expanded map across two pages that can be initially laid out or revealed should the melee spill into the area. Maps are built with a central entrance and exit to allow maps from different books a way to easily connect with other books.
Towns & TavernsThe other main format of the battlemat books are spiral bound 24”x24” books that look a little like a double album from your parent’s basement. They share the same laminate coating and feel a little sturdier while at the same time just as transportable as the Big books for Dungeon Masters who run away games. I got advanced copies of their Towns & Taverns series in this format.
This set was my favorite out of the Loke Battlemats that I own. The square maps felt much more versatile and customizable. They hit the right spot between a big set piece on their own and being able to be plugged together for a bigger experience. Even using the same map with different pages could change the feel from a cozy bar where plans for plotting against a lich are whispered to a gigantic rollicking inn just aching for a big old tavern brawl.
Futures Dark And Far Away
The company has also expanded into other genres. Most battlemats are for fantasy gaming, leaving players of science fiction games scrounging for grid options. The Giant Book of Sci-Fi Battle Mats (and its little Big brother) offer plenty of loading bays, spaceports and other locations for your rebels to battle against evil space empires. The company also offers cyberpunk options for tables that want to throw down with themed street gangs in their favorite dark future worlds with or without magic mixed in.
I’m glad to see options for multiple genres, but the futuristic mats highlighted my main criticism across all the Loke Battlemats I checked out for this review. The external maps are great but the interior ones feel a bit empty. Other battle maps of taverns and marketplaces have food on the tables and piles of gold scattered through different corners. One of the things I love as a Dungeon Master is watching a player squint at the map and then on their turn pick up one of the objects shown and use it in an unusual way. I still much prefer using a pre-built map to forcing players to decode my dry-erase chicken scratch, but it’s something I hope the company considers for their next series of maps.
Interior Dungeon Decorator
In the meantime, they’ve offered an interesting stop gap. Add-on sets like Town Trimmings full of tables, chairs and other set decoration. These sets are vinyl stickers that peel off, stick to the pages, and then stick elsewhere. Peeling and storing the stickers can be a bit of a hassle, but I ended up tucking them into the pages of the books as a decent solution. They can turn an empty road into a street market in a few minutes and offer a nice visual moment when a player pushes a cart and it actually moves rather than having a marker arrow drawn to indicate the player’s action. It also triggered a sense memory of playing with Colorforms as a kid and gave me a bit of joy realizing I still get to do that with friends and family.
If you use a lot of grid combat in your games, Loke Battlemats are an excellent way to build a flexible collection quickly and cheaply. Even if you don’t, having a book handy can inspire the Dungeon Master to think about an epic set piece combat that’s not tied to a specific storyline.
Miniatures provided by WizKids Games, Monster Fight Club and Wizards of the Coast.
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