Without question what tabletop board wargaming and miniature wargaming are different creatures. Aside from the decidedly…”flat” appearance of traditional hex & counter wargames there is the time that goes into painting, prepping terrain, researching rulesets for different eras, and of course, tape measures! Both styles of wargaming, in my experience, are a lot of fun, but not a lot of outsiders realize just how many tools can be used in traditional paper and cardboard-based wargames to make the experience better.
Today, I’ll address five of these accessories that make my life easier. Realize, that this is a personal listing and that I look forward to hearing about the accessories you simply cannot live without in the comments below.
- Plexiglass – You know that stuff you buy when you want to make bird-feeders with a visible seed chamber or for other construction jobs requiring durable transparent materials? Well, wargamers use that to keep their maps flat and hold them in place. I have about 5 different sheets to use depending on the application. The two largest are 72 inches by 30 inches and I use them when I have a 4 map game on the table like The Battle for Normandy or Last Chance for Victory. Plexi is a cheap solution and a lot of wargamers find it to be fantastic. There are some downsides…it is hard to get in exact sizes when pieces of plexi need to be large. It is reflective beyond belief and makes photography without glare a challenge if you have overhead lighting. When you bump the plexi not only the plexi moves but also the map and sometimes the pieces. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a good game ended early because we just couldn’t bear to put the the proverbial Humpty Dumpty back together again.
- Reading Glass / Tweezers – I’m going throw this little combo in there for the fun of it because while these are two distinctly different tools they are related to overcoming some kind of physical limitation from either ham hands or what I’ll just call experienced wargamer syndrome. Tweezers help move those tiny counters around the map when they’re in tight spots. Not necessary for all games, tweezers are a lifesaver for something like Advanced Squad Leader where you have counter density that exceeds most other games. Reading glasses, can assist in reading those tiny numbers, pips, slashes, and dashes that litter an almost inconceivably small area that fits on a counter.
- Counter Trays – I won’t get into the holy wars of Plano vs. GMT vs. DVG vs. your system of choice. Suffice it to say that beyond removing counters from frames and whether/how to deal with corners there’s little to nothing that’ more divisive! Personally, I use GMT Games trays because they’re cheap, sufficiently sized, and stack well. Why use them? Well…what kind of barbarian would just leave their 1,680 counter monster wargame without some kind of easy to use organizational structure? In reality, there are a lot of ways to organize games, and I’ll go into that in a future article, but for now I’ll just leave it at storage is as important as the games themselves. After all, some games can take upwards of 2 hours to set up because of the number of counters that need to get laid out prior to play. Imagine if there was no organization!
- Hobby Knife – You can, of course, separate counters from frames pretty easily with just your hands. That dry feeling of the cardboard snapping in your fingers is delightful. However, you can also save yourselves some serious work dealing with dog-eared corners by cutting out the counters from the frames. In effect, the more you tear and rip, the more likely you are to start separating the layers of paper that make up the cardboard you’re going to use in your games. You could go as far as I did, at one time, and spray counter-sheets with matte varnish prior to cutting out of the sheets but…that’s a bit overkill, to be honest. Counters from the 1960s still look great even after hundreds of plays. That loving wear and tear on a game is a trophy, not an unsightly mess. What’s more unsightly is someone who has dog-eared their counters and the top printed layer is half-peeled due to muscling the counter off the frame. If you’re neet enough with it, you can even leave those corners squared if you so desire!
- Tablespace – Most strategy games are design to be played on a typical table maybe 30″ by 60″ for the game and the folks who will be sitting around and playing the game. Wargames, in some cases, will work great for this. No Retreat, most COIN games, and every one-map wonder can do it for the most part. However, wargames can have 4+ maps. When I play The Battle for Normandy, I have to use 3 banquet tables and a little side card table top do the whole thing. It’s a massive burden for home gamers or for a game store that wants to host such a game because you’re taking up 2 tables at a minimum and at times 3 or even 4. These monstrous games offer players an experience that falls well outside of a normal wargame and is the place where legendary play sessions are often born.
I hope these 5 (maybe 6…) accessories are something you can find in your game room or home. Again, having the right tools for the job can be important to supporting a positive play experience. Too cramped of a table is a mess as is knocking about all the counters when you just want that ONE stack in the middle! What are your favorite tools that should have made this list?