Steel Sqwire16 Sep 2005 0
Serendipity sometimes brings lagniappe. As I was strolling through the vendor area at GenCon this year I ran across some nice folks who invited me to check out some items at their booth. I hadn?t really planned on stopping ? the last day of any con tends to see fatigue set in and that weariness was enough to almost make be balk.
I?m glad I listened to them, though.
It Folds, It Flips, You Can Even Write on It?
Steel Sqwire presently makes two items: a Flip Mat and a series of Area of Effect Templates. I?ll talk about the Flip Mat first. The Flip Mat has 1? squares printed on one side and 1? hexes printed on the other. Made from laminated card stock it is an inexpensive alternative to cloth-backed vinyl mats. I personally like the weight of a vinyl mat ? it doesn?t slide easily and rolls out flat the first time, but the price and ability to fold the Flip Mat into a very small rectangle will appeal to folks interested in saving money or ease of portability. After a bit of use the Flip Map?s folds smooth out nicely. The other advantage of the Flip Mat is that it can easily fit into a backpack, whereas the larger vinyl mats tend to roll into something resembling a cumbersome, oversized scroll. Unlike vinyl mats, the laminated Flip Mat allows players to write on it with dry erase markers (vinyl mats need wet erase markers), and if permanent markers are used it's durable enough to see them erased by simply using a dry erase marker to lift off the ink (see their website for tips on removing permanent marker). The Flip Mat is a good product. RPGers who have been searching for an inexpensive mat or one that?s easily ported will like it.
The Area of Effect Templates are used in calculating areas of effect on 1? square grids ? perfect for RPG miniatures, though they can apply to any game using a 1? square grid. When I saw them, my first thought was of my curmudgeonly DM, who tends to look skeptically at most play ?aids?. Invariably I?ll come home with some cool tool, gadget, or program from a con and will enthusiastically call him up only to hear him grumble about its shortcomings. Often he?ll have a good point, and while at times I think he?s a bit old fashioned, his operating philosophy, which is firmly grounded in practicality and efficiency, is a decent yardstick to measure play aids.
Our game of Dungeons & Dragons had been doing quite well without the use of templates. I play with a savvy crew and was convinced that if they felt templates were needed we?d have been using them by now. Typically we just count out the number of squares affected by something and scribble it down with a dry erase marker on our game mat. So at first I was reluctant to take them for review, but after a demonstration I agreed they had utility. So did my gaming group.
From the time the first spell was cast there was total agreement that the Area of Effect Templates were an excellent addition to our game. Whenever the mana starts to fly I?m constantly circulating through Area of Effect Templates. The reason for this is threefold. First, they are already measured for the effect we?re looking for. Second, they don?t require we move every miniature in the affected area. Third, they are convenient to store.
The Area of Effect Templates come in three distinct shapes: radii, straight cones, and diagonal cones. Each shape comes with several sizes. The radii come with 10?, 20?, and 40? templates. The straight and diagonal cones come with 30? and 60? templates. Because they are wire outlines instead of solid shapes they require few, if any miniatures to be moved in order to determine which part of the map is affected. In practice I found that once in a while a large or huge creature might have to be moved, but minis representing medium sized creatures or players didn?t need to be touched. Storing the templates is a breeze ? each shape comes in a sturdy plastic envelope which holds them for when they?re needed. Manufactured from steel wire about a tenth of an inch thick, the Area of Effect Templates can be purchased in plain steel or with a plastic colored coating. The plastic coating looks cool and I wish my review copies had been plastic coated ? it?s a superficial difference, but one that makes them a bit more attractive. I?m considering priming and painting my plain Area of Effect Templates not because I cannot abide the color of raw steel (it?s fine) but rather because I think it would be cooler.
A Must Have
The Area of Effect Templates are one of those simple ideas that, once introduced to a game, become indispensable. There is no question that having gamed with them once, they are now must-haves. I can easily see Steel Sqwire expanding its product line to include templates for round areas of effect as well templates for hexagonal maps. If I had any suggestions for improvement it would be to offer more sizes (for instance, a 30? radius would have been useful in the last game we played). The Area of Effect Templates have been a great addition to our game. They won?t save hours of time counting out the range of a spell, but they do expedite gameplay and now that we have used them I cannot imagine gaming without them.
About the Author
Jim Zabek is the Executive Editor for The Wargamer where he manages the content flow and publication dates for reviews and articles on the site. He has been a dedicated gamer since he was 10 years old. Beginning with Avalon Hill's Panzer Blitz and Starship Troopers, he quickly expanded his gaming scope to more complex games such as Dungeons & Dragons. He played early computer games on both Mac and PC platforms, though these days it's basically XP with the occasional boardgame thrown in to shake the cobwebs loose. Jim reads eclectically and occasionally even writes about some of the things he's reading or playing for The Wargamer.