Greetings Wargamers and Hobbyists, to what I am sure is my first product review on this site! Recently I was offered the opportunity to get hold of and review a Cigar Box Battle gaming mat, but before I dive in and do that, I would like to lay down a few ground rules on my approach to reviewing of products.
The thing to make clear is that my reviews will be honest. I will try to be positive and constructive about an item, but I won’t hide any negatives I have discovered, even if I have been sent an item by someone as a sample, and haven’t had to purchase it. If someone else finds a negative I haven’t mentioned, it will be something I either didn’t experience or just missed, which I will try not to do, as that wouldn’t make for a very useful review.
If I was offered a free sample product, I would rather politely decline the item altogether than gratefully accept something just because it was offered and then fabricate a positive article to hold up my end of the arrangement. I would also only accept and review something that interests me and that I expect to use. I won’t be accepting items to review and then sell them on for a profit. I’m not a salesman in my ‘real life’ job for good reason; I refuse to try to sell a product I don’t like or have no confidence in.
With that out of the way, on to the review.
Gaming Mats in General
As it transpires, I had already looked at gaming mats in the past and been hesitant, mainly due to the fact that many of the ones I had seen close up had a lot of ‘texture’ in their images, but which was only two-dimensional, and seeing as I had spent over twenty years trying to make gaming tables and scenery three dimensional, it took me a little while to come around to the idea.
Cigar Box Battle was one of the companies I looked a couple of years ago while looking at a lot of companies, but it wasn’t until Autumn last year I started looking seriously again. This happened to dovetail very nicely (perhaps spookily so) with my commencement of hostilities on the Bolt Action front. This timing was key. Other mats I had been looking at were more generic, as I had been looking for something that was as universal as possible for sci-fi and fantasy gaming, but just starting out in Bolt Action, the mats on offer from Cigar Box were right up my alley.
Cigar Box Battle Mat
I spent quite some time looking at the various mats on offer on the Cigar Box Battle site, and as I had already obtained two generic mats for gaming, I decided to go for something more specific to my needs of the time. As I mentioned, I was just starting out in Bolt Action, so selected something the range which seems purpose designed with that game in mind – the Europe Gaming Mat, in the 25-28mm version.
The first thing you will notice about this mat, and several from the range, is the style of image that the designers have gone for, which is more of an illustrative approach, rather than the lean towards realistic photo-quality terrain that many manufacturers seem to go for. This is a style that some gamers will like, and some may not, but there is a lot to be said in my view for the sheer quantity of detail already present on the mat which many gamers (myself included) will have spent time and effort adding to a plain grass mat, like roads, rivers and cultivated fields.
If you are happy with the style of the artwork used to create the mat, then there are nothing but good things to say about it. They also do some of the ‘photo-realistic’ type as well, but many of the set that suit historical games down to the ground is of the style you can see in the image above.
First off, the quality of the print is good. I couldn’t find any flaws anywhere, and the print is consistent across the mat as far as I can see. No blurring or stretching of the image anywhere that I have found.
Secondly, the material itself (a fairly thick, soft fleece, almost like a blanket) seems to have been a clever choice. I am the proud owner of two mouse pad gaming mats as well as this one, and thought the mouse pad style have great quality images printed onto them (one is muddy fields, the other is all cobblestones), and have a non-slip backing on them, they are both heavy, and need to be stored and transported rolled up in four foot tubes or boxes. This by no means a deal breaker, but the Cigar Box Battle mat by comparison is far more mobile.
I can fold the mat any way I want, roll it, store it in a bag, and it is a whole lot lighter than the mouse pad mats. Much lighter. The other fantastic thing that the material does for you, is that if you want hills on your battlefield, you can simply place something underneath the fleece mat, like a Styrofoam hill shape you have already cut, a folded or rolled towel, or anything else that gives the shape you want, and the gaming mat will pretty much just sit down happily on top with little in the way of creases or ridges appearing.
I am sure that the mouse pad mats, due to their relative rigidity just won’t do this, and I can’t see this being possible with a PVC mat either. The effects you can get are great, and I have grabbed a couple of example images from the Cigar Box Battle Facebook gallery to demonstrate this in action.
Now you might think, ‘Hey, if I start putting stuff under the mat, won’t that pull it in at the edges and not give full coverage of the table?’.
Not so. You see, one of my favourite things about this mat, over the mouse pad mats I have which are a perfect 72″ x 48″, is that the Cigar Box Battle mat is their ‘4 x 6 plus’ size. This means that the mat isn’t four feet by six feet, it’s actually about 4ft 8 inches x 6ft 4 inches, so you are actually getting more mat for your money. This serves the dual purpose of allowing you to put things under the mat to get hills, and it also gives you the choice to simply have a bigger battlefield altogether than with the straight up 4′ x 6′ mats.
The print itself, with things like roads, woods, water courses, etc. already printed on is a little bold – I have to agree. However, I have the choice to make use of these or not, just by placing terrain on top of what is already on the mat, so where you could be worried about pre-printed features being restrictive, they actually give more options without the need to have a complete modelled road or stream handy.
Adding in Your Own Terrain
My favourite option so far, and the one I feel gives the best balance of using the existing features of the mat, and taking it a step further, is when I add my own terrain pieces that work with the design. Like, adding in hedgerows and fences to highlight the field and road boundaries, and placing model trees on the wooded areas to make use of the pieces I have, and give the whole battlefield some height. I think that this allows the mat to be used to best advantage, and makes it look even better than without adding many additional terrain pieces.
Below are some of the photos I took, using the ten or so feet of hedges and fences that this mat inspired me to make, and which hopefully will help to bring my ‘World War II Northern European Theatre’ vision to life. I just wish I had some painted Bolt Action minis to out on it! That is all to come I assure you, as my British Airborne units battle against the German 9th SS across Holland.
The photos I have taken are of the mat laid out across our floor, and I have taken them in sequence from the bare mat right through to all the hedges and trees I have, plus a pond. Hopefully these photos will give some idea of how the mat gives an awesome base to build off into something I can’t wait to play some games over. I think I need a few more fences and hedges!
The more I put into preparing scenery and finding scenarios to play over this mat, the more excited I am to get playing, far more than with the other mats I have, which look great and are high quality, but lack the character of this mat. The more bits and pieces I add to the mat, the better it looks, but it is the mat itself that is the foundation for what goes on top.
Of course I won’t play all my games on this mat, as it is very busy, and will not suit all game settings, and had I not already got a couple of more generic mats, then I would have chosen something different, something more universal than this Europe mat, but since I did have mats to represent more broad settings, I could choose what I really wanted for this one, and something that inspired my hobbying.
Will I use this mat as much as possible? Yes. Is it the only mat in the world? No. But, the range that Cigar Box Battle out out that are of this northern European fields and lanes style are the only ones I have seen of this kind. If anyone knows of other manufacturers that make something that looks like this, please feel free to let me know.
Would I get another mat from Cigar Box? Yes, I would. Partly based on the quality of the one I have, and partly because they have other mats of this type that grabbed my attention, like the Beach Head mat for example (below), which would be amazing for amphibious landings of all genres, or the Metroscape mat for urban engagements, again suitable for various genres.
Cigar Box Battle do sell their mats online direct from their website, but you can also buy them from North Star Military Figures. Personally I have found the team at Cigar Box Battle very responsive and friendly.
Here is one of Cigar Box Battle’s short YouTube videos showcasing the mat I chose for Bolt Action set up for an entirely different period in history (Wars of the Roses I think), and it looks just as good.
Here is another video showing the mat set up for World War II, which may be on one of the versions of this mat in a different scale (yes, they make the mat in various sizes and scales!) – this video did a lot to make me decide on going for the Europe mat in particular.
Here we are then, the end of my review of the Europe Gaming Mat by Cigar Box Battle. I hope that this article helps anyone else looking at these mats to make an informed decision. The time I spent looking at their website, and online at what other people had done with the mat convinced me to go with this one in particular, and I have not been disappointed. Please let me know if you have any questions at all about the mat and I will gladly answer any queries. If I can’t answer, then I am sure the guys over at Cigar Box Battle will be more than happy to pitch in.
As always, thanks for reading.
The Eternal Wargamer.