I was trying out some new technology (for me): using printable
PDF tiles from Skeleton Key Games (SKG) for the battle mats. I
especially like the SKG tiles for a couple of reasons. First, the
tile graphics in the PDF files can be easily extracted (just
right-click and choose copy) and munged to produce custom tiles.
Secondly, the tile sets include thumbnail catalogs of the tiles, which
can easily be extracted and added to the tilesets of programs like
DungeonForge. This makes it a lot easier to design the map layouts
to begin with (virtual tile flipping replaces physical tile flipping)
and makes it easy to produce small scale maps for reference for laying
out the tiles on the table by exporting the maps from DungeonForge as
.PNG files and adding labels with the tile numbers with the GIMP.
(This is especially useful when using wilderness tiles!) On the
printed tiles I wrote the tile number on the back, again to make
things easier when laying them out on the table.
Overall the tiles worked pretty well. The worst problem was that the tiles tended to curve up at the edges, a common problem with cardstock printed on inkjet printers: as the large surface area of ink dries the edges curl up. This didn't prevent their use, and curling them in the opposite direction before laying them out helped, but I think I'll try laminating them and see if that helps. My first map designs using the tiles were not as interesting as I wanted, but the tiles themselves looked good and worked pretty well. The kids occasionally dislodged the tiles a little, but that was easily fixed, and once while dealing initiative cards I accidently slide one under the tiles, which got a laugh.
After we played I redesigned the maps to give a more dynamic environment, since I'm planning on running “The Eternal Nazi” for another other gaming group. I got a couple more of the SKG sets, and used GIMP to make three custom tiles. This let me make a much more interesting environment. Part of the problem I had with designing the map in the first place was inexperience with the tiles, but part was because the tile sets I had were heavily slanted towards fantasy, and I was constructing something more out of the “lost race” pulp adventure stories, set in the 1940s.
One thing that I'd like to see is a bunch of tiles with items that could be dropped on top of other tiles, like piles of metal barrels and so forth.
DungeonForge has a couple of annoying bugs, but it's free and works well enough, as long as I remember to save often and not put tiles against the edges of the map.
Todo: I'll try to edit more actual play details into this post when I've got a moment and my notes are handy.