Counter Culture

Having been nestled firmly in the bosom of eurogames, I hadn’t realised how coddled and cosseted my experience of die-cut counters had been. So many times I’ve opened the box, lifted out a counter sheet and found half of the counters literally falling out of their surround, with beautifully smooth edges and delightfully rounded corners. Elegant, simple and effortless.

Having recently started to spread my gaming wings a bit, I’ve been delving into the murky depths of the wargaming genre. Not the full-on hexes-with-stacks-of-chits experience (well… I downloaded and printed a copy of Battle for Moscow, but that’s a pretty simplified, no-stacking version of wargaming), but more the fringe oddities of the genre: Labyrinth: War on Terror, 2001 – ? and Thunderbolt Apache Leader. It turns out that war-type-games, with their heavy roster of counters, chits and markers, aren’t quite so simple when it comes to punching out the pieces. In an effort to fit all the counters on, rather than having each counter perfectly, pristinely die-cut, they tend to be partially cut in crammed rows and left for the user to push out and pull apart, which leads to a plethora of beautifully printed square counters with horrible tufty corners.

So I suddenly understood what those odd-sounding BoardGameGeek threads on “counter clipping” were all about. To clip or not to clip? To remove these shabby tufts or leave the counters hirsute? I’d never thought about it before, yet I found myself with chits in one hand and nail clippers in the other. And it’s really rather satisfying.

Before and after – what a neat young A-10 pilot Thor has become!

Before and after – what a neatly groomed young A-10 pilot Thor has become!

It’s not just an aesthetic choice, though. Those who clip will go to great lengths to justify their sub-hobby – they’ll point out that it’s the practical thing to do when you’ve got a high density of counters in a small board area. And that seems to be true. Even in something as low-density as Thunderbolt Apache Leader, it’s still handy to de-mess your missiles.

With just a pair of nail clippers, I can fit more methods of killing onto my helicopter! Yay!

With just a pair of nail clippers, I can fit more methods of killing onto my helicopter! Yay!

It’s hard to strike the balance between just shaving off the tufts and turning the counter into an irregular octagon (note: I’m never going down the route of the dedicated radius clipper), and it’s nearly impossible to get complete consistency (note also: I really can’t be bothered to make a jig out of a filed-off CD case), but I can live with that. There’s something strangely soothing about the rhythm of going through a pile of counters and systematically clipping the chaff. With 352 counters to clip in TAL alone, that’s 1408 corners that need attention, so if anybody needs me…

clip… turn… clip… turn… clip… turn… clip… drop… pick up… clip… turn… clip…

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