Every time someone brings up battlemats (or battlemaps, if you prefer), I rave about Tact-Tiles. I’ve owned my set for over a year, and I couldn’t be more pleased with them. I’ve mentioned them before on TT, in Three Mapping Options, but they really merit a full review.
There are 4 pros and just 1 con to Tact-Tiles, and I’m going to lay them out for you in this review.
Tact-Tiles are modular, gridded dry-erase boards for use with miniatures — think of a hard plastic battlemat that comes apart for easy travel, and you’ve got the idea. Pictures will do a better job, though, so I’d recommend taking a peek at the Tact-Tiles website.
Tact-Tiles have 4 advantages over every other kind of battlemat I’ve ever used:
Durable: Tact-Tiles are made of hard plastic, and are
about 1/4″ 1/8″ thick. They obviously won’t tear (like a flexible battlemat might), and the plastic is pretty tough — they’ll last you a long time. Unlike wet-erase battlemats, they also don’t hold marker stains (which, if you’ve ever used a wet-erase battlemat, is a big pain in the butt!).
Configurable: Each 10″ square tile looks like a puzzle piece, with interlocking edges. This means you can make your map in any shape you want: one big square, a cross, a series of corridors, and so forth. Once the party moves on, you can also remove a tile, wipe it off, and use it to expand the active section of the map.
Portable: I bought the expanded set, which comes with a carboard carrying case, but even without the case these are eminently portable. Unlike a big pad of paper or a rolled-up battlemat, Tact-Tiles can be piled up in a neat stack and will fit in your backpack. (They are a bit heavy, but if they were much lighter they’d move around the table too easily during play.)
High Quality: The folks at BC Products went to a lot of trouble to make Tact-Tiles useful: The dry-erase surface is top-notch (I’ve never had markers leave stains on mine), the 1″ grid is slightly raised and uses a mix of thick and thin lines to help you break up larger distances, the lines match up well from piece to piece and the tiles are very solid.
Actually, just “con” — there’s only one downside to Tact-Tiles:
Price: Tact-Tiles aren’t cheap by any stretch, at $41.75 US + shipping for the basic set. The expanded set is $56.95 US, and a 3-pack of extra tiles will run you $15.96 US. That’s quite a bit more than comparably-sized — or larger — traditional battlemats, whiteboards or pads/rolls of gridded paper.
My set was shipped promptly, and came with something I didn’t expect but have come to love: little square foam sheets to separate each pair of tiles in the box. When I load my tiles back into the box, I separate each dry-erase surface with one of these sheets; in a year of use, I’ve seen no wear and tear on the surface or the gridlines.
I highly recommend Tact-Tiles, particularly if you’re not satisfied with your current battlemat. My set is easily one of the most useful items in my GMing toolkit — especially for D&D — and I can’t imagine going to back to flexible wet-erase mat (with their tendency to hold colors, particularly reds) ever again.
Update: I emailed Tom Belcher at BC Products to let him know about this review, and he wrote back with this tip regarding pre-drawing maps on your Tact-Tiles:
One of my favorite benefits of Tact-Tiles is the option of pre-drawing an encounter ahead of time and revealing the map one tile at a time. As long as you use the foam pads, the drawing will transport well, though you might have to do a little touch up.
Just let the drawing dry for about an hour before packing to let the ink completely dry. The key is the foam pads, they help prevent the tiles from siding (the siding action is what erases the ink). Also, position the set during transport so that the tiles won’t slide around or shake much.
Thanks for the tip, Tom!
November 2007 Update: I occasionally get email from GMs who’ve read this review and want to know where they can get a set of Tact-Tiles. Unfortunately, BC Products has disappeared from the web and appears to have gone out of business. I know they lost the supplier for some crucial component or process involved in making their tiles, and I assume they couldn’t find a way around that issue.
I sincerely hope someone else license them or creates an alternative, but at present I haven’t heard any rumors that something like that might be in the works. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!
Couldn’t agree more. In fact, Tact-Tiles were donated to our gaming care packages for troops overseas, and we’ve had excellent feedback from them.
My only wish is that they weren’t so easily erased. One wrong move with a miniature or a sleeve and there goes the map.
Other than that, I love my Tact-Tiles.
How well do you think they hold ink? The one complaint I’ve heard about these (and this may have just been with the inital release) is that the ink wipes off too easily, making it impossible to say, map things out a head of time, throw the map in your backpack, take them to a friends house, and then re-layout the map as the party explores the dungeon/traverses the forest/runs through the city.
Ken: I’d say they’re definitely not designed to be used that way — as Larry pointed out, the ink wipes off very easily.
I’ve never used an erasable battlemat that way myself, so I don’t see it as a downside. When I want to map in advance, I use pieces of 1″ gridded graph paper (cut from a giant roll) — the downside being that it’s tricky to reveal only parts of it. 😉
There might be something — along the lines of the little foam sheets that come with the tiles — that you could carefully place over your drawn-on tiles to keep a map unsmudged/intact until you were ready to use it, but if so I haven’t heard about it. Anyone?
Hmm, one BIG downside for Tactiles for me currently – not available yet in hex grid.
The ease of accidentally erasing white board is a downside to me (especially as I hate getting ink on my hands – that happens way more with white boards than with wet erase).
I’m also curious how well the puzzle pieces bit works. On a good flat table, it should be fine, but on a warped table, or dining room tables with big discontinuities where they pull apart to insert leaves, I could see a problem.
I’m curious about their lifespan. I still have my original Battlemat (the small size that you almost never see anymore). My first hex Megamat which saw extensive use in college is still completely useable (even if it has a few faint red stains).
The ease of expanding and moving part of the map is the one selling point for me. But really it’s only a minor point, especially with running Cold Iron where I don’t run big dungeons (and since I had forgotten that I still had my squares Megamat when I started running Arcana Unearthed, I bought a new double sided Megamat, so I have two each of square and hex – which has given me plenty of expansion room [and every once in a while, I pull out the small square Battlemat] the only complaint is that one mat is 1″ the other is 25mm – which shows over a large distance).
A big question will be if they come out with double sided boards when they do the hexes. If not, I’m looking at $240 to get the same area of both square and hex as I currently have. Quite a cost just to get a bit of flexibility.
I’m amused they compare themselves to Mastermaze though… Mastermaze is an entirely different product, even if it’s used for the same types of games. You use Mastermaze if you want 3-D feel.
On configurable, you left out the minor but sometimes useful point that tiles can be offset, due to the clever pattern of the interlock. This is very handy when drawing bizarre twists and turns on a big map (i.e. where you might run out of tiles).
I have one of the few “damaged” sets from the very first production run. The damage is a mar in the background of one tile. I don’t remember when I got it exactly, but it was immediately after release. (They released locally at our game store first, since the BC guys happen to live here. I even got to play in a game at a local Con with two of them.) So I’ve had a set almost as long as the tiles have been in existence. We play in the floor, and have had kids step on the tiles on numerous occasions.
I’ve had zero issues, except for the already mentioned easy erase. The BC guys offered to replace the damaged tile free of charge, but I decided it adds a certain character to the set. As far as I’m concerned, the one thing missing is for BC (or anyone, for that matter), to make up a reuseable plastic stand that will turn a paper counter into something more like a miniature. (I’m talking someting shaped approximately like a chess pawn, with the counter sitting horizontally on top–not one of those slot stands from the Steve Jackson games counters.) The paper counters being square and to scale means that they really don’t work well with the tiles. Since we generally use Lego, dice, pennies, and other such markers, this isn’t a big issue for us.
I love my set. I have had a problem with some gouges in the tiles. One looks like it was made by a pen. I also have scratches in some of the tiles. I think this is just from heavy use. I have had the problem with using them on a uneven table. I solved that problem by putting a piece of formboard under them. I’m hoping that the guys at BC will start selling in local game stores. Overall I’m very happy with the tiles and will be buying more at some point. I want to be able to cover the entire table we use with them.
We just bought a set for our GM; tommorrow night is their post-holiday debut, so I guess we’ll see how cool they are then.
Frank: Double-sided tiles sound unlikely to me, but that’s just speculation. I’d worry about the side that spends the most time on the table wearing too quickly.
CJ: I’ve never purposely mis-aligned my tiles — I’ll have to give that a try!
I also got an email back from Tom Belcher at BC Products that directly addressed Ken’s question above. I’ve edited Tom’s answer into the post.
Thanks Martin — it’s great to see that kind of quick response from BC! My group’s been considering these for a while, and I think I may have to re-add them to my GM wishlist.
I got these at GenCon last year – they were a big hit there – and love them. In one adventure where the heroes climbed a huge statue, I was able to use a couple of tiles to represent different levels of the statue (feet, legs, waist, shoulders, etc). I think it helped them visualize the scenario, better than anything else I’ve tried.
Another benefit I’ve seen used but havent tried yet is to use one of the tiles to track initiative – it’s a visual representation of the order of play that the characters can easily see. Also, any tile that you aren’t using for mapping is an instant whiteboard.
I’ll be getting more at GenCon this year.