Counter Culture: Plucky Behavior

Total invested time: fifty-two hours. You and your opponent have been meeting regularly for weeks, massing forces, maintaining supply lines, conducting feints and probes. The counters are stacked nine high on the front, a veritable skyline of towering units. Finally, the time for the attack arrives.

Up goes the balloon, out comes the calculator to figure the crucial odds. You reach in to examine a stack, making sure you have enough factors to turn the vital tide; and whether it’s the coffee or the lack thereof, the beer or the surplus therein, your hand shakes. And, in slow motion…

A different kind of disaster at Caporetto.

Stack tumbles stack tumbles stack. An errant jitter bugs out all that work. The front is in disarray, counters everywhere. Was the Italian 30th Rifle in 4508 or 4509? Did I have a trench line in that hex or the one over? Was Eugen close enough to influence the battle? A victory lost, indeed.

Tweezers, my friends, tweezers are the answer.

Many of our explorations of wargaming’s physical culture thus far have had the possibility for opposing viewpoints. Some wargamers clip counters, others throw caution to the wind and play with counters punched fresh from a tree. But on this issue, there is no room for dissension.

In any high counter density game, particularly one played with half-inch counters on half-inch hex maps, tweezers (or forceps for the less squeamish) are a vital necessity, because our fingers are, almost uniformly, larger than the space that exists between stacks of counters sitting next to each other. Add in unclipped counters and you have an even more crowded workspace.

Only a moment’s inattention or a slight jerk of the hand will send counters tumbling in such tight quarters. Tweezers go a long way towards alleviating that inherent clumsiness. They also allow gamers to create tidy stacks of counters, further helping games with high densities.

An orderly stack is a happy stack.

Of course, I’ve seen damage done with tweezers, having myself dropped a pair onto a loaded map before. I bought beer for my opponent for the rest of the tournament for that gaffe. But on the whole, tweezers give wargamers the ability to deftly manipulate counters, whether singly or in stacks.

Even for games with less density or with larger components, tweezers serve an important function. Gamers are, shall we say, not notoriously fastidious, but even the most compulsive hand-washer accumulates oils on his or her fingers, and those oils easily transfer to game components. Tweezers let us handle counters without greasing them up.

My preference in tweezers is the forceps-style, flared out parallel to the line of the handle as in the image above. I find this style gives me the most control over a stack and, with a serrated inner surface, also provides ample agility for manipulating single counters. These tweezers are most easily found through medical supply stores, and indeed I got mine from a nurse.

I’m not a huge fan of the angled-head tweezer, which tends to have a needle-pointed grasping end angled out at thirty to forty-five degrees from the line of the handle. When people who use this style of tweezer reach in on a map, I’m always anxious about their “angle of attack” and the damage it could do to surrounding stacks. They also don’t seem to provide enough grasping surface for my comfort to really get a grip on a stack.

The only real danger with tweezers is that your opponent will not have a personal set and will wind up borrowing yours. All well and good until he starts absent-mindedly scratching his five o’clock shadow with it and bouncing it against his temple…

4 thoughts on “Counter Culture: Plucky Behavior”

  1. Luke, the counters are from GR/D’s March to Victory, covering the fighting in World War I from 1914 to 1916 on the West Front.

    I agree that they are striking counters — well laid out, solid font choices, just the right amount of gloss, and good color schemes. Fun game, too, though it takes forever and a day to play.

  2. Alas, I’m afraid not. I got my tweezers/forceps from an Europa-playing nurse in Canada back in 1999. I’ve done some fruitless searches for an online source, but I don’t know medical terminology well enough to actually find a source to buy them. Even when I find online medical supply sites, none of them provide the width between the tweezer tips, which I think is essential to finding a good set of counter tweezers.

    Might be worth finding a nearby medical supply store and going in to actually see what they have available, possibly even bringing some counters to do a test tweeze.


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