Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Comparative Mat review

Sometimes, I have good intentions - but I'm too lazy to act on them!

Recently (a few months ago actually), I had placed yet another order for more gaming mats, and I decided I would write up a comparative review of some of the different companies. I never got around to finishing it - and now it seems it's obsolete! Looks like Fat Mats, by Frontline Gaming, are not even available any more. Oh well... I took all the time to take the pictures - so I might as well post it anyway! Scroll down if you want to skip right to the pics:

A couple of years ago a buddy of mine got a gaming mat for his X-wing games. It was a black mat with stars on it... simple stuff. He loved his but I poo-pooed the idea for "serious" wargaming, because I had always been a fan of 3D terrain boards.

Fast forward to today, and I am a full blown Mat addict. I think the turning point was when I read this review on a blog last year:


Now, here was a blogger who had always shown awesome terrain on his blog, but now he was extolling the virtues of game mats. I figured hey, if it's good enough for him, I'll give it a try!

Since then I've ordered from a bunch of companies. I've seen youtube videos of battle reports that take place on various mats, and read many reviews, but I hadn't noticed too many side-by-side comparisons of all the different mats out there. So... here is one!

I've ordered from the following companies so far: Urban Matz, Deep Cut Studios, Frontline Wargaming, Gamemat.EU, and Game Matz.

One company that I have not yet tried is Kraken Wargames. Ironically, it was the Kickstarter for this company that got Cianty into mats, and it was his blog which got ME into mats! However, I have not been able to find any way to order from them and have them ship mats to the USA. If I try to go to their web site, it forwards to their Facebook page. I found one retailer in Germany who is selling their mats, but who apparently does not ship to the USA.

Oh well! They will be a part of my mat collection some day I'm sure...

There is one other company I have not tried yet - Inked Gaming. The reason I am holding off on them is that they offer a custom mat service, where they will create your mat out of any image you supply. I really want to try it, but I have not been able to decide on an image! So until I do, my Inked Gaming order is on hold.

For now though, I've ordered "off the shelf" mats from all of the previously mentioned sellers and I figured I would share my thoughts on them, especially since a bunch of the guys in my local gaming group are interested in mats now!

First of all, for the most part, the mats are all very similar (with one exception, which I'll describe). I've ordered Mousepad style mats in every case, as some companies offer different styles - vinyl, fabric, etc. Cigar Box Battles is one company that I did NOT order from since they describe their mats as being made of some type of Fleece material. I did not want any cloth or fleece mats, because I don't want them sliding around on the table. I didn't want vinyl, because it can be difficult to get them to lay flat and they are sometimes very glossy.

So in terms of the material, I went with Neoprene (mousepad) from all the companies even though it is the most expensive option, and found that it's pretty consistent across manufacturers. The main difference between all of them is the design selection, price, shipping rates, and "extras."

The first company I ordered from was Urban Matz. I got the 4x4 Cobblestone, 3x3 Snow Territory, and 6x4 Grass mats. They came with their own carrying cases, which were labeled. Overall, these were good mats, and I was quite happy with them - happy enough, in fact, that they got me started on a mat ordering spree.

I could have ordered more from Urban Matz, but they do not have a huge number of designs to choose from, and I wanted to see what other companies had to offer.

The next company I ordered from was Deep Cut Studios. Their mats were of similar quality, but they have a larger selection of designs to choose from. One minor detail to note about their mats is that they have squared rather than rounded corners. Another thing to remember about their mats is that they do NOT come with cases. This was especially disappointing because they were the most expensive of all of the companies that I ordered from.

Gamemat.EU was the next company I tried. Their mats were similar to Urban Matz, good quality but again, limited selection of designs. Their mats did come with cases, which was nice.

After ordering from all three of these companies, I finally tried some North American suppliers in order to try to save on shipping. Frontline Gaming had good mats, and came with cases. Their cases also have the nicest labels of any of the manufacturers I had bought from.

And finally, GameMatz.com was the last company I ordered from. I think the universe was telling me to take a break from buying mats when I got these. I was excited to see that their web site advertised the mats as being "not just another mousepad." I thought... could these somehow be more awesome than all of the mats I had already bought?

I went ahead and ordered three, but they were a huge disappointment. The rubber material that backs these mats is not neoprene like the other mats, but more like a recycled tire rubber. It's very stiff and hard to roll up the mats. On top of that, the designs are not printed on a smooth silky fabric material like the other companies' mats are. Instead, it's on a "hairy" cotton-like material, which reminds me of some type of cheap commercial carpet. The mats will be prone to getting "pulls" in the material as terrain and models is moved around on them, I think.

A picture is worth a thousand words so here are the pictures of the mats:

These first mats are the ones from GameMatz.com, and my least favorite of the bunch. They have some nice designs, but I don't like the material. And they didn't come with bags! These are all 3x3 mats. The model in all of the pics is a 28mm Reaper Wizard.

They are difficult to roll up, and don't lay flat very well after being rolled up.

The fabric material that the design is printed on is frayed at the corners and edges, and looks like it will be prone to getting "pulls" as you move models and terrain around on it.

This is a 3x3 Swamp mat by Frontline. I liked the design, but there was a raised corner on this one design that refused to lay out flat, even after leaving it out for days.

Frontline mats also came with a logo on them, which I didn't like. It was not too obtrusive though. And they came with nice bags.

I loved the Frontline Urban mats! I got one of each design for Mordheim, in 4x4 and 6x4.

And finally, a 3x3 Frostgrave mat by Frontline as well.

Here is a comparison shot of the 3x3 Frostgrave mat by Frontline (the "Alpine" design), alongside the same size mat by Urban Matz. This is their "Snow Territory" design.

...And alongside another Frostgrave mat, this time a 4x4. This is the "Arctic" design by Gamemat.EU. They actually have a newer design now called "Winter Realm" which I like even better!

Another Gamemat.EU mat, "Forgotten Realm" design in 6x4 size.

This is the 4x4 Cobblestone map by Urban Matz. Love this one for Mordheim!

All of the neoprene mats roll up nicely.

Unlike the Gamematz.com mats...

 All of the mat companies should include a bag with their mats!!!

6x4 Grassland mat by Urban Matz.

Here are some mats by DeepCut Studio. They have really nice designs but seems to be the most expensive of the bunch, especially if you live in the USA. They had 3 designs that were meant to work together to create a continuous 4x12 landscape of ocean/beach/grassland though - this was too cool to pass up! They have a logo, but it's very subtle and doesn't distract from the design. They did not come with bags...

I only have an 8x4 table in my game room so I couldn't unleash the whole design together! But you see how each of them pairs up with the next one.

So there you have it, my current mat collection. It's only a matter of time until I get a few more!