Counter Culture: Clipping Counters

Continuing our examination of the physical culture of wargaming, we turn to counter clipping, that near-ritual compulsion some gamers have with trimming the nibs and bits off the sides of their counters to create a semblance of neatness and uniformity.

Before and After

Even though die cutting has become much more precise in recent years, with sharp blades and clean cuts leading to some publishers shipping games that have counters literally falling off the trees before the game is even opened for the first time, almost all counters still have some connective material remaining after they are punched or cut from the countersheet. Removing this connective material is the goal of counter clipping.

Ideally, these “sprues” are situated on the counter corners, as in the example above, where they can be easily removed, and most publishers today use this method. Some publishers, though, still insist on diecutting in such a way that the sprues are located at counter centers, making for a difficult removal process. The late and lamented Avalon Hill’s countersheets were typically center mounted in this way—though they occasionally were sufficiently misaligned that the diecuts wound up on the corner anyway.

Given the costs associated with purchasing dies, or the need to use whatever the contract die cutter has on hand, I can understand why some publishers remain with a center cut, but I feel that such cuts detract from the finished product. You can always tell where a center cut nib once was, even if you do manage to remove it somehow.

And why do people clip counters?

Practically speaking, counters that have little things sticking out from all sides are difficult to work with in crowded areas of a game map, particularly in games with the potential for high stacking densities like Advanced Squad Leader. The potential for Jenga-like tragedy when grabbing an unclipped counter in the midst of large stacks leads many to clip away.

When we speak of clipping counters, it must be stressed that we’re not looking to turn a square into an octagon. I’ve seen some counters that were turned into stop signs by an overzealous clipper. A more-or-less recognizable square is still the desired shape for a clipped counter.

But one can clip either for uniformity or for simple neatness.

Some gamers, particularly those who play games with significant limited intelligence or fog-of-war rules, prefer uniform counters, so that there is no chance that a counter with a slightly different corner rounding can be picked out of a stack. Uniform counters are also easier to manipulate with a pair of tweezers when stacked. Then, too, there is the compulsive need to have everything in order that also drives some to create uniform counters via clipping.

Clipping for neatness involves removing sprues and lightly “rounding” off counters so that they behave when stacked. Counters clipped for neatness tend more towards squares than uniformly clipped counters, albeit squares with up to four differently angled corners. Much less counter material is removed with this process.

The choice of clipping tool can affect the resulting counter as well. The tool of choice seems to be the humble nail clipper, producing a reliable cut time after time. Others, like myself, work with an X-Acto knife and trim the offending material away. Since I strive for neatness over uniformity, I like the control I have with a hobby knife.

A small cottage industry has sprung up around counter clipping, providing jigs or other labor-multiplying devices to speed up the process and make the cuts more uniform. A recent entry to market, the “Counter Culture Corner Cutter” promises the ability to clip eight counters at once.

Just like scanning counters, though, clipping counters is a means of engaging in the wargaming hobby without actually playing a game. You can familiarize yourself with the counters in a game this way and provide a neat (or uniform) kit to boot.

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