Table layout plays an important part of any game. Whether you are playing an old school game of Monopoly where the bank has to be laid out just right, or Flames of War, it all comes down to planning. Preparing a table layout with very little terrain isn't much fun and the same goes for having too much. How can you move around the board and find the enemy or have any fun? The answer is simple, balance. It's a fine line you need to learn, whether you are having friends over for a weekend gaming session, or you are setting up tournament tables, balancing terrain over a 6'x4' surface takes time.
Open sides with a little bit of everything in the center makes for a balanced table where there is something in every table quarter for either player. It also helps focus the action, as both commanders will be vying for territory. The biggest issue with setting up a gaming table is terrain, the simple fact is whether or not you have enough to make up a full table or even two without spending a lot of money. You may have a ton of buildings, but no roads, mountains/hills or any type of trees. What then? Being creative in your setup with a few buildings can make for an excellent table.
Desert tables can be barren, free of any clutter and it makes for some up close and personal fights over objectives.
Roads and a few buildings added to any table bring a little different feel to a table. Line of site becomes more of an issue, there are buildings for troops to take cover. Hills are a good way of stretching your terrain and filling up empty spots on a table, they're also very affordable.
Use your roads and hedges to cut your table into pieces, the best way is to make sure each table quarter has something in it. It sounds easy, but you can easily mess this up and end up with a table that has too much in one area. This causes games to be unfair and not a lot of fun to play. Both players should have enough terrain in their deployment zone to at least start some of their platoons in 'protected' areas where spotting aircraft or fast moving Recon units can't get to them in turn one. Of course, this also depends on how close to the front lines your opponent is willing to deploy his troops.
Having a small 'centerpiece' can also help. Here we have a few buildings, some roads and a fountain. Pretty much right in the middle of the table, helps break up the landscape of trees and rocky terrain.
A simple design, and very little terrain required to make up this table. Some linear terrain, a few area terrain pieces to hide your AT guns, and a pond keeps you from using it as an approach for assaults. Simple tables don't have to be boring ones to play on, even a fairly open table like this would be balanced for both players, each side offering something different but effective.
City boards are likely the only time where this a TON of buildings and debris on a Flames of War table. Truly a challenge to attack, but it's a defenders dream! Plenty of places to hide and cut off the enemy, small lanes of opportunity for you to get your shots in and skirt into a building or back around the corner. Be sure to discuss every building or rubble with your opponent, this type of table is open to more interpretation than any other table type.
Tournament tables are tough to do, you need to have a lot of terrain. Chances are your club or group of friends can each bring their stuff for a table or two. Add it up and you can host your own event, even if its just a club challenge or local event, playing on different tables is always challenging and will lead to new situations and new layouts you have likely never seen before. Each table will be unique, some are better than others. As long as they are balanced and fun to play on, that's the important thing.