Wednesday, July 1, 2015

REVIEW: F.A.T. Mats from Frontline gaming and Tablewar

An end to the battle over terrain.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Frontline gaming provided one of the two mats reviewed at a discount, in exchange for product coverage. They did NOT mandate the nature of this coverage, or its contents.

Terrain is a tricky thing. We all love seeing beautifully painted models playing on a finished, cinematic looking table. But when it comes time to spend money, do you buy more models to complete your army or purchase terrain?

Add the fact that most of the options available cost as much (or substantially more) than a whole new army, and most players buy more models and play on an unfinished table. But let's face it, there's nothing quite as sad as expertly painted models charging up a hill made of books.

Enter Frontline Gaming and Tablewar's product, the F.A.T. mat. Launched last year on Kickstarter to community acclaim, the F.A.T. mat seeks to revolutionize tabletop gaming terrain by providing an affordable, practical solution to gamers' needs.

The mats, essentially gigantic mousepads with a printed landscape on one side, are the antithesis of every other terrain offering available. In fact, they seem designed to squarely address the two major disadvantages of existing terrain executions; cost and convenience.

Whereas GW's Realm of Battle is a disheartening $300 plus tax, the F.A.T. mat is $100. For less than the cost of a Battleforce, you can purchase a beautiful, themed play mat for your games. For the cost of a single Realm of Battle, you could purchase THREE unique arenas to fight on, from bombed out cityscapes to icy wastes.

And while GW's terrain tiles need to be painted and prepared with hours of work, and take up a large area even when stacked in their case, the F.A.T. mat is ready to play the minute it's rolled out of its included canvas carry bag.

As a product, it solves so many of the issues with other systems that it seems ridiculous. It's a third of the price of GW's terrain and a sixth (!) of Forgeworld's. There's no preparation or painting. It's an eighth the weight of plastic or resin tiles. There are no hills that cause "wobbly model syndrome". It takes a fraction of the storage space when rolled up. Comes with a sturdy, handled canvas carry bag that even includes a picture tag, so you know what mat is inside. And is available in over half a dozen great looking designs.

As a concept, it's so infuriatingly simple that you can't help but think, "why didn't I come up with this?!"


H.O.W. purchased two mats; Barren wasteland and Alpine. We've only had the chance to play a game on each, but the benefits are immediately apparent. Setup is fast, models look great on the tabletop and as an added benefit, dice rolling is mercifully quieter on the soft surface than on our Realm of Battle or Forgeworld tiles.

Though we do think the mats are revolutionary, they aren't without a few minor flaws. Given the material they are made of, the rubber odor was VERY strong when we opened the mats. Even after leaving them out for more than a week, the smell was noticeable. Eventually, the odor does fade, but it takes quite a while.

Secondly, when stored in the case for more than a week, the deepest part of the roll takes a curl that needs almost an hour to settle.

We also noted a slight difference in size between the two mats we purchased. Barren wasteland covered our regulation 4'x6' table perfectly, but Alpine did not reach the corner edges, leaving a sliver of the unfinished plywood surface of our table showing.

And while Barren wasteland looks incredible in every inch, Alpine's snowy surface suffers from a grey tinge that keeps the whites from looking truly frigid. We assume this is a manufacturing limitation, given how the mats are printed.

Lastly, when looking at the designs on the website, some are certainly stronger than others. While Urban combat zone 2 has a great, off-kilter layout, its detail is nowhere near as intricate as Urban combat zone 1, which includes great touches like flares that subtly mark out vanguard strike deployment zones. But given these minor quibbles, the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

- Affordable
- Prefabricated
- Quick setup
- Compact storage
- Convenient portability
- Multiple designs
- Ease of play
- Quiets dice

- Strong rubber odor
- Minor variance in size
- Whites not vibrant

We've been lucky enough at H.O.W. to play on everything from home made terrain tiles, GW's Realm of Battle and even a completed Forgeworld cityscape table, and can say without reservation that playing on frontline gaming's F.A.T. mats is the most positive experience so far. It's fast, easy, looks great, quiets the dice and doesn't have any of the sculptural details, like hills or craters, that look great in photos but make playing a nightmare.

We're happy to give the F.A.T. mat our highest recommendation. Frankly, we think it's the best solution for terrain available today.



  1. Hmm. Well, I suppose I'll have to give em a shot. Breaks my heart to think of not playing on those beautiful tiles, but the model stability and quiet dice are intriguing.

    1. I still have the tiles - they're too beautiful to get rid of, but I sure don't miss the wobbly models caused by all the blast craters and curbs.

  2. It looks cool, but the lack of raised terrain tends to break my immersion a bit. I know it's just in my head, but saying a model is behind a hill when he's clearly standing right in front of the enemy model just feels...odd.

    1. well, you can bring your own sculpted hills, of course, but having played on the GW realm tiles, I can say that they don't really add anything to the game, and the models just slide down them anyway...

  3. The FLG mats definitely make a handsome addition to your already gorgeous gaming room. I agree that some of the designs aren't the best, but a few of them are really, REALLY awesome.

    I myself like desert themes so I instantly snatched up their Barren Wasteland mat from the Kickstarter, and it's great. It's a bit too rocky and brown for my tastes, so I found another company that makes a similar type of rubber mousepad gaming mat here:

    They also have some other interesting terrain types that FLG doesn't, as well as a cool Chaos themed one. FLG still seems to be the king of the urban mat in the market though.

    I'm going to pick one up in the future for a brighter, more sandy alternative to go with the rockier Barren Wasteland. In the future I plan on getting some RoB tiles too. I think it's a great investment to have all these options for various types of games and photo shoots; there's no need to stick to only one type of product for your table.

    1. A few of those designs on the gamemat site are pretty decent. Thanks for the link. As for other terrain, we'll keep the forgeworld and GW RoB tiles at the studio as well. Variety is the spice of life, and all that...

  4. Another alternative company who do the same 'mouse pad' style mats, but with different graphics is from Poland, I've received mine and they are as good as you detail, perhaps cheaper for us across the pond. Thanks for sharing.

    1. My contact at frontline gaming has informed me that they have recently secured European distribution. Check the site to see if there is a price comparison. always great to have more options, though.