Following a high profile and well-conceived kickstarter campaign a few years ago, Kraken launched a wide range of gaming mats for sale. They presently retail through the German company, FantasyWelt, for about the same price as high quality mats from other companies (about the same as special runs from Game Mat EU for instance -- which in turn is higher than their regular gaming mats or mats from Deep Cut Studio).
One of the key things that Kraken sells their mats on is that they really constructed genuine playing boards for their principle photography. Most of their mats has their basis in a custom board that has been specifically constructed for gaming. After building and painting their boards, they then proceed to photograph it professionally at high resolution multiple times over. After this, it enters post production where the individual photographs are stitched together and overlaid (if needed) to produce a final big composite image. This image then has some post-processing applied to it. Some of their gaming mats have more post-processing effects applied than others it seems. The bottom line though is that the final image for production in to a gaming mat is simply not one hundred per cent digital. It really is based on a custom board build specifically to be photographed and transferred to mouse mat material for printing.
It was on this basis that I decided I would make a purchase or two from Kraken.
Below is one of my purchases, laid out in partial sunshine in my back yard. This is the Alien Wasteland gaming mat. Clearly, it is Necron inspired in background from a first glance. But there is a whole lot more going on within the details here.
The first thing that strikes me about the mat is the sheer level of detail present. Unlike some rival products, the gaming mat is not simply a backdrop that is filled up with much bland detail -- I'm sure many of us know of featureless mats of green grass, yellow sandy deserts, or NASA produced pictures of the Martian surface from orbit for instance. Instead, since the gaming mat has been produced from a real textured gaming board, there is an incredible level of detail present here. This ranges from the grains of red and black sand that are clear in the board, through to the painting of the green highlights that streak across the plains.
My only real criticism is that some of the shadows and reliefs might have been implemented better. But to be honest, it really is not noticeable at all. Plus: it is actually what it should look like from a top-down vantage point anyway. Hence this is no criticism at all. It is actually a compliment that the photography is absolutely spot on and what it should look like in "real life".
Below is a close up of one of the plateau regions.
The shadows caused by the nearby "raised" plateaus are clearly visible here toward the lower right of the shiny molten looking sea portion. Speaking of that, it is very clear that a whole lot of work has gone in to the construction of the real life custom board that was produced for this photograph. Everything, and I mean everything here is just in so much detail. The game mat is just as much a piece of artwork as anything else if I am perfectly honest. The raised plateaus have been done tremendous justice with their green markings across the surface. I have no idea how the molten looking ocean was made, but that is a real highlight for me as well. It really is so well textured overall. As if that were not enough, the paint job looks splendid with the right combinations of what I presume are airbrush techniques, highlighting and some selective drybrushing going on. It really is just splendid.
How does it play though?
I subjected it to the best test that I could come up with. The daughter test. Jumping up and down on the mat and dancing and twirling all over it caused no real issue for it, and my girl was delighted with the mat. She wanted to use it herself for her own games (of Warhammer ... and of other games too). Full marks for robustness from me then. The rear of the mat is mouse mat material (I refuse to use anything else these days) hence the tumble of die on its surface is muffled rather than very loud. Additionally, any little spills of water on the surface of the mat can be rubbed / wiped away with minimal fuss.
Overall then, this is a very high quality product. I am highly pleased with this purchase and would certainly recommend these mats to my friends across the blogosphere and the gaming community.
My intent is to try to produce some pseudo-necron looking scenery in the longer term to go with this gaming mat. I'm thinking dark coloured monoliths highlighted by green streaks across their surface (see here for a much earlier prototype) or maybe even electronic looking devices strewn across the surface to make for a very alien feeling planetscape.