Today we have a couple of battle map books from Loke BattleMats to review, for use when playing Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder or any RPG which uses a 1 inch square grid system. For variety this review focuses on The Big Book of Battle Mats Vol. 1 and The Giant Book of Battle Mats Vol. 2, though both volumes have a big and giant variant. Do they help bring locations to life, and is bigger always better? Let’s find out!
Using the theatre of the mind is fine for some when they play an RPG, but a grid can help remove ambiguity. No longer will players have to constantly ask the DM how close a specific monster is, or where they are located. While some will use paper maps or even a white board to sketch maps, Loke BattleMats is here to provide books full of laminated, wipe clean, maps. Other sizes are available, with the big editions having A4 (~12”x9”) sized pages while the giant versions are A3 (~12”x16”) in size.
Both Loke BattleMats books feature double page spreads that create a full location, though every page can be used individually for a smaller encounter or a map section. To enable the pages to be used in either way the books use 360 degree ring binder style spines. The design helps the books fold and lay flat regardless of if it is one or two pages that’ll be used. This solves the potential problem of a sloped gaming surface, that a solid flat book spine may have caused.
The Big Book of Battle Mats Vol. 1 is 58 pages, in the A4 size, totalling 29 unique maps. The included locations range from simple stone floors, ready for walls to be drawn, past a throne room, to a town center with a humble market. Some of these locations, such as the cemetery and the throne room, lend themselves more to the full double page spread being utilized. Others, including the inside of a tavern and a cave system, work extremely well as single pages.
There aren’t any direct repeats from the Big Book Vol. 1 to The Giant Book of Battle Mats Vol. 2, though some are similar. Still, there are a range of outdoor locations, ruins to explore and a few more unique locations. Coming with 62 pages the Giant Book Vol. 2 has A3 sized pages, with a total of 31 maps for players to use. It matters not which version players choose, both offer stunning and flexible maps. The art style lends itself to the range of environments depicted, helping them be brought to life. They feature enough small details, from cracks in the floor to scattered crates, to give believability without limiting the potential use for any individual page.
For running standard fantasy RPGs the maps included will be very well suited. Portraying green, slightly muddy outside green grass locations, ruins, town or village locations, interiors of castles or taverns – all can easily be used for quests in standard locations. A few “out there” locations are included such as snowy locations or a lava filled environment. There’s even a ship on the open water in the Giant Book. If you’re looking to run a campaign of say Icewind Dale Rime of the Frostmaiden, which is a wintery and icey location then the number of maps that could be used are slightly limited. While interior maps can be used anywhere, only a couple of maps have snow covered floors. Another example, included in both books is a lava based encounter map. It is enough for a party travelling through a cave that comes across a dragon’s lava filled lair, but it doesn’t offer much variety for adventurers constantly traversing a lava filled landscape.
Both Loke BattleMats products feature laminated pages that easily wipe clean. This isn’t in case an adventurer knocks a drink over. It means that whiteboard pens can be freely used on every single page. There are many uses for this that come from playing on white boards, that simply aren’t possible on paper maps or 3D terrain. Most importantly, it allows DMs to add additional information to the maps. Doors can be drawn in, opened or closed. Extra barricades or obstacles can be sketched for players to work around. Items that players need to collect or destroy can also be added, giving locations unique touches.
Drawing on the maps is also useful for spells and line of sight questions. If someone wants to know which enemies they can see you can quickly draw line of sight lines onto the map. Need to visualise a cone of flames, or know where a mysterious cloud of daggers extends to, just draw them on the map. Rubbing off the doodles, assuming a dry wipe marker has been used, can be done with your hand. Still, after a few games you’ll want to wipe them off properly, as some of the pen lingers making them otherwise appear dirty. One interesting inclusion that capitalises on this, the back double page spread of both books is blank, ready for imaginations to run wild. The Giant Book’s blank page is whiter than that in the Big Book, though neither has any features – so DMs can go drawing crazy.
The colours used between volumes don’t align perfectly, as they do depict different locations. This doesn’t stop them working wonderfully together. This could see a 2 page spread of a cave in A4 size (so A3 overall) on the side of a castle from the Giant Book, with them perfectly aligning grid wise. It could also just be another castle section jutting out part way along to give a building an L shape rather than being perfectly rectangular. The ability to create story locations with one book is strong. Having both to hand however exponentially increases the possibilities.
Being A4 or A3 size makes sense, though it isn’t without issue. Both sizes suffer from not perfectly being able to fit a 1” square grid on them. Around the edges of the pages the grid continues but the spaces are not fully there. There is enough of a space to balance a mini on though. Getting around the issue at the center of the page, the spaces adjacent to the spine are slightly wider than they should be to accommodate for it. The spine will always be an issue for large or above sized miniatures though, as they cannot easily straddle the spine.
Merely flicking through DMs will find it hard not to start forming plot points and multiple uses for rooms. In one session a small room of a castle could be a simple store cupboard. In the next session it could be the prison cell the adventurers have been sent to free a local from. The Loke BattleMats have a way of making things easy. They are one of the easiest tools for a DM to help create the atmosphere. All you need to do is flick through and open up a map and the encounter is afoot. Even the rings down the middle of the map are forgotten when playing, allowing the locations to be fully enjoyed by all.
Choosing which size to go for will depend on a multitude of factors, from storage to your personal gaming space. Nevertheless, if a group is looking to get only one book the Giant Book is the more appealing option. It offers A3 sized maps without a spine running down their middle, and opens out to offer maps twice that size. Players won’t always need more space but when it comes to above large sized miniatures, for example an adult dragon, they would struggle to not dwarf the individual pages of the Big Book. The Loke BattleMats truly shine when used together though as the combinations allow for a wider range of locations to be crafted. Regardless of how dungeon masters use them, The Big Book of Battle Mats Vol. 1 and The Giant Book of Battle Mats Vol. 2 are super quick and stunning ways to set the scene.
(Editor’s Note: The Big Book of Battle Mats Vol. 1 and The Giant Book of Battle Mats Vol. 2 were provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores! Find your local store here.)