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Wargaming 101 – Prepping Your Wargame

You bought it.  You opened it up and reviewed all the glorious components following the method I outlined last week…so…what’s next?

It is now time to separate those cardboard counters from their frames.  As with most things in the hobby, this is largely a matter of preference, but I’m going to tell you the two most common ways I prep counters.  Both will leave you with undamaged and photo-worthy components for your game sessions.  The first is a quick punch and and clip method.  The second is a more surgical approach, but you won’t need the hands of a surgeon to pull it off.

Our Tools

Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll want to assemble some gear:

  1. Trays, Baggies, or some other storage container.  Not all of my games go into counter trays, but the vast majority do.  I am partial to the GMT Trays because the size of the “pots” inside the tray are just right for three counters abreast in most games.  DVG Games offers a deeper alternative, but they stand less of a chance to fit in DVG or GMT or any other game box.

  2. Label Maker – I label everything so that I’m not guessing at what counter tray goes to what game.  All series game counters look remarkably similar…so determining which counter tray goes with which game in the series can be a chore.

  3. Hobby Knife & FRESH blades – Whether you’re punching or slicing, you’ll start with the hobby knife to get the counters out of the frames or you’re far more likely to end up with tears in counters when the die cut machine didn’t do a complete job.  This is true regardless of game publication date.  I had trouble with Rifles in the Ardennes just last night!

  4. Nail Clippers or Oregon Laminations Punch – Back in the dark ages when wargaming was fresh and new folks just used fingernail clippers to trim the excess off the corners of their counters.  It was inconsistent until each wargamer got a feel for the process and left counters from newbie clippers looking like little stop signs.  Then Oregon Laminations released their 2mm to 3mm corner rounder and clipping excellence was achieved.  Whichever method you choose is personal, but if you don’t want to make your games suffer while you learn your clippers…go for the Oregon Laminations…pamper yourself a little.

Method 1 – Rip & Clip

This has been the method used for generations of wargamers.  You can punch the counters from their die cuts off the frame and then tear apart the rows by hand.  Once done, you’ll find your counters are dog-eared and don’t stack very well.  As a method to clean that up and to preserve the life of the counter by pinching the edges together compressing the layers of paper each counter is then clipped by fingernail clippers or some other device.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach.  In fact, I would venture to guess that it’s the dominant methodology for prepping games to this day.  It’s fast, efficient, and longtime wargamers have built up their own rituals around it.  Personally, I binge Netflix shows while I’m prepping my games and I think I watched all of Breaking Bad while prepping a huge chunk of my Advanced Squad Leader collection.

Here’s one thought you might consider that helped me get over the hours of prep-time for a larger game.  Rip & DON’T clip.  Yeah, I said it.  Go ahead and rip the counters apart and set up the game straight-away.  When you handle a game piece during gameplay go ahead and clip it.  It takes seconds and while you’re considering your move, you’re clipping.  This is a great way to play the game, clip the counters, and reduce that nasty lag time between shrink rip and playing the game.  You’ll work through the clipping and leave your between gaming clipping as a far more manageable task.

Method 2 – Slice & Dice

This has become my new favorite method.  Everyone can have counters with beautifully rounded corners or perfectly trimmed and angled corners.  What is better?  Not having to handle every counter multiple times.  How about, not having raggedy edges on counters?  What about getting from the counter frame to the game map quickly?

Here’s the trick…use that hobby knife you bought and cut from the inside to the outside.  In frame segment that contains two rows of counters, you’ll cut where they join first.  Next, you cut the outsides horizontal strips away from the frame.  Finally, you cut the two vertical sides.  Again, there’s a little trick here…overcut slightly on the corners to ensure that you get a good separation in the corners.  Just as it is with punching out counters and pulling them apart, the corners are the trickiest ones to get out.

I like to give my counters a quick visual scan to ensure they look crisp.  Will they be perfect?  Probably not, but they’ll be so close and they won’t have raggedy edges that you won’t care.  If aesthetics and quick shrink-tear to game play is your goal, slice & dice should be something you consider.


There are meditative reasons for the methods that wargamers use to prep their games.  Some folks have jars full of counter clippings.  Some have a favorite task they do while they punch and clip.  Others love the aesthetic look of the corner rounder.  Others still believe in the preservative effects of clipping/rounding.  Some (savages) never do anything other than pull their counters apart and play!

Whatever you choose…it’s up to you!

This article presents two methods you can consider if you’re interested in a brief comparison of the methods I’ve used and that seem fairly common in the hobby.  Tell me which method you use in the comments!

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