Welcome to the first in a new series where we break down how we create each of our unique designs. Far from just cracking open MSPaint and swinging the spraypaint tool around a few times, a lot goes in to each mat.
From initial inspiration to multiple design iterations to finished product on your table, there are tons of little decisions that impact the quality of the final product.
Interested in learning more? Let’s get stuck in!
Our very first design, and still our most popular, the Industrial Zone was born from two things - our love of Necromunda and our frustration with trying to get ahold of the Games Workshop Zone Mortalis: Floor Tile Set
The tiles are somewhat legendary in the community, both for their clever design and amazing versatility… and the fact that for a months at a time they were simply never in stock. Many creators have done amazing stuff with the ZM tiles, and we wanted to make an alternative that could stand up to the original.
When we set about designing the Industrial Zone there were a couple things we knew we wanted:
- To maintain the overall look and feel of the painted Zone Mortalis tiles to make sure the mat was perfect for games of Necromunda
- Keep the ~2” grid that the tiles have to both make eyeballing measurements easier and ensure that players can still align their Zone Mortalis or alternative terrain easily
To satisfy these requirements, we looked to some of the incredible work by creators like Mortian Tank or Rapid Tabletop for inspiration on how people were creating their own little corners of the Underhive.
We also ended up creating what would become the foundation of our mat design principles moving forward:
Give each mat a distinct personality, and sweat the details
We’re not about simply slapping elements together in Paint or Photoshop, or grabbing a random texture and blowing it up to create our mats. Every mat should come from a place of purpose, with a clear vision for the finished product that isn’t just “I don’t know, some craters on grey dirt?” or “I guess a corrugated metal texture?”
Consider the format and sweat the details
While it represents a “real” place, a mat is a 2d surface. Therefore, we never want anything in the design that doesn’t make sense. Anything with verticality is capped at roughly knee height. When we want to add depth for interest, we consider what might be below the main surface, rather than above. It isn’t about realism so much as not wanting to give your brain anything that it perceives as wrong or off, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it. That’s why in the Industrial Zone you’ll see hatches, hazard stripes, and pistons in places that “make sense” but you won’t see representations of ladders leading up or random floor markings.
Create the opportunity for storytelling
All of our mats have small touches that allow players to tell a story and build their own narrative. In the case of the Industrial Zone, this meant things like the blood smear that leads… somewhere or lights that seem to be coming on. What created that blood spatter? What machinery is powering up? We don’t know, and if you just want to slap some terrain down and duke it out in matched play you can, but if you want to use the mat to create your own unique narrative, the design supports that.
Always Enhance, Never Distract
One of the reasons we started Skirmish Mats is because we were frustrated with how much time we and our gaming groups spent working on our minis — building, painting, converting, creating backstory — only to slap them down on something that looked like a stock photo of Mars from Unsplash. So we knew we wanted top tier designs, but in the end it’s the minis that are the star of the show and the mat should never take away from that or make it harder to read the game state when you’re playing. This is a tough balance to strike, but it’s core to our ethos and the Industrial Zone really nails it.
We started off simple, trying out a few different tile types to see what felt right. While we knew that most of the board would be a “standard” tile, we wanted to make sure there was enough variation while not being overly busy. The “air vent” style is a house favorite, even though it didn’t make it into the final design.
While this isn’t true of all of our designs, the initial pass at the Industrial Zone isn’t too different than what you see in the final product. We played with different hues to see what felt best, with an emphasis on making sure it felt grimy and worn down, but would still work with a variety of settings.
By the next round of iterations we had honed in on some of the key elements of the mat. You can see the loading dock area along with the new piston tile as well as the near-final version of all hatchways. We also removed some of the heavier grime and the largest blast marks, though this made a reappearance in the 44x30” version of the mat.
We always knew we’d need a splash of color on the final mat, so after tweaking the values of the blood spatter we punched up the hazard stripes to a proper yellow, and voila! The first Skirmish Mat was done!
The Industrial Zone remains our most popular design to this day, and we now offer it in our full range of sizes. The 36x36” version has become the Internet’s favorite choice for Necromunda, and we couldn’t be happier.