Once the counters of a wargame are punched and clipped, what does one do with the remaining tree, denuded of all its counters?
Now, before you answer, recall that we’re talking about wargamers here, people who willingly spend hours moving small pieces of cardboard from hex to hex or space to space according to rules both simple and arcane. Specifics matter to wargamers—it has to be la bonne pièce, no other will do. Completeness and accuracy in all regards are grails to wargamers.
So, the obvious answer, that one throws away the now-empty and useless counter tree, is not necessarily the correct answer, because the counter tree, whether laden or barren, is still a part of the game. On those occasions when a punched and played game is sold or bartered, can you honestly say it’s complete without including the counter trees?
Well, yes, you can, and I stopped hugging my trees a few years back, though I confess that when I sold my punched Star Fleet Battles collection about a decade ago, I included all the empty trees, some fifteen or so. And I bet the recipient appreciated them, even as he tossed them promptly into the trash.
I’ve never received an empty counter tree when I’ve purchased a punched game, so perhaps I’m an aberration in this regard. Am I the only wargamer who ever kept his trees?
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.
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?
Like many wargamers, upon acquiring my very first scanner, I didn’t turn to the big pile of photos that needed to be digitally archived or the sheaves of important papers documenting my life that would benefit from being duplicated. No, I grabbed a bunch of unpunched countersheets and began scanning away.
Initially, I was scanning as large as I could, with absurd resolutions, lossless file formats, and correspondingly massive file sizes. But then I had to ask myself just why I was making these scans.
Did I want to be able to print out a fresh countersheet in the event that I lost a counter, or was I simply interested in creating a reference copy? And if I just wanted a reference copy, why didn’t I just use the collective effort of the Internet, which had already put scans of most countersheets online on sites like iSimulacrum? Several game companies even provide counter manifests with their games as a matter of course, a practice that stretches back into the days before easy access to photocopiers and scanners.
Ultimately I came to the conclusion that making countersheet scans serves as a means of tinkering with the hobby, as many wargamers do when we lack the time to play the damn games. Whether it’s clipping counters or putting rulebooks into page protectors or reorganizing the Planos, we often play with our games rather than actually play them.