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Beyond the Map: good ideas, suggestions, and advice for a better gaming experience

Here we collect good ideas for our hobby – to enhance the gaming experience even more!

Do you have a good idea or an advice how to make wargaming more comfortable and entertaining? Don’t hesitate – tell us!


Clever Recycling

You certainly know this problem: what to do with a closet full of empty game boxes? Whoever sorts his maps, counters, and scenarios in an individual sorting system or stores them in Plano boxes etc., should consider the following:

If you cut out the boxes’ front side, you could glue it on a regular file or ring binder which can contain rules copies, printed articles, errata, scenarios, your personal material, notes and protocols of the respective game. By this you get a perfect presentation of its contents. This looks cool and is much better than throwing the empty boxes away…

When you are playing one of the Living Card Games from Fantasy Flight Games (Call of Cthulhu, A Game of Thrones, Warhammer Invasion), you can use the covers of the expansion packs (Asylum Packs, Battle Packs) as “Domain cards” instead of using the generic back sides of random cards. This provides for a nice authentic flair because the artworks are of a very high quality.

Of course only when the game as such uses Domain cards… 😉


Counter Compass

By rotating counters 90°, you always know which counter did what

One of the frequent newbie problems is how to keep track of which units already moved, which are in a combat position and which already fought etc.. This can be quite confusing sometimes, especially with larger maps, or is even killing all the fun (“you moved this unit already” – “I didn’t” – “and this already attacked” – “No, it didn’t, either!” – “Jeez, man, playing with you is a pain in the &%$§”).

Some games include markers to mark specific game situations (for example Lock’n Load) but this isn’t true for a) all games and b) not for all game specific actions. We had the same problems in the beginning and found a quite impractical solution – we marked counters which already moved or fought with counters taken from other games – which looked terrible and wasn’t very satisfying.

When we suggested this “idea” to Alan Emrich and asked him to include informational counters in his next edition of Totaler Krieg with which we could mark moved units (yes! we actually did!), he gave us a surprisingly simple advice from the wargaming community which solved our problem once and for all time (and in all games):

You omit the problem very elegantly if you turn a counter in a pre-defined way along the hex-sides (for example TK! – movement: turn 90 degrees – 1st combat phase: turn 180 degrees – 2nd combat phase: turn 270 degrees – reserve movement: turn 315 degrees). Once you finished your move, you reset all counters back to “normal” and it’s your opponent’s turn. By this you get precise information about every counter in the game regarding which actions it already did… by the way, this works with Cyberboard/Vassal by email, too, where you can turn a counter in any desired angle. Turning your counters will become your second nature soon.


Counters, Frames And Loud Curses!

How we punch our counters

This situation is common to everyone who buys a new wargame: you look at the counter sheets and enjoy the look of new, colorful and nicely done counters and markers. But before you can start playing, the wargaming company gods force you to do some work yourself by “punching” them out of their frames.

Ideally, the production machine pre-punched them in a way allowing you to easily separate the counters from their frames (for example games by Fantasy Flight Games which are pre-punched perfectly).

If this didn’t happen during production (a common problem), counters could fall out of their frames without even touching them or during shipping, or, on the other hand, you must apply force to push them out of their frames. Both variants don’t please the customer – a counter chaos is a nightmare (counters could be missing, damaged and must be sorted), and counters could be damaged while they are punched out in a forceful way.

Counters which are sitting tight in their frames tend to rip off their surface and / or after punching have ugly paper remains at all 4 edges. This isn’t only an optical problem but may hinder playing if you have problems grabbing the counter with tweezers or if the hexes are rather small. What to do in this case?

An instruction to professional counter separation (including illustrations!) in our counter-clipping article!


Perfectly clipped counters

The High Art Of Counter Clipping

But what happens if you didn’t manage to punch the counters in a clean way or if you buy an already punched game? What if you always have to look at these tiny paper remains? Then you probably want to do a little bit cosmetics and enter a popular flame war field: Counter clipping – yes or no?!

There are three fronts within the wargaming community regarding the treatment of counters – and people who brought this art to a high perfection. Information about these different factions and what they do with their counters in our article “The Art of Counter Clipping“.

If you are interested in more information on the history of counter clipping and in an alternative solution, read the article: “Counter Clipping: In search of a better solution” by Dave King.


Using a color scan or copy of a counter sheet is better than hand-drawing a missing counter

Lost counters – the Wargamer’s Nightmare

Each consim player must get used to the fact that most of these games use every single counter  (not  in every scenario, but you’ll need all counters to play all scenarios) and that most counters in your box are one of a kind. Even the sometimes included blank counters are the result of the production process rather than being included by the publisher on purpose.

If only one relevant counter (for example a specific military unit) is missing, you cannot play the game. Each replacement (for example hand drawn on small paper cards) will disturb the gaming atmosphere and not everybody likes this. This is why all consim players should follow this advice: before punching your counters, make a color copy or color scan of the original counter sheets!

This serves two purposes – first it allows you to always check if some counters are missing (especially important if you want to sell a game on eBay – no true wargamer will buy a game which is announced as “I guess the counters are probably complete…”) and on the other hand, once you lose one or two counters, you get the opportunity to reproduce replacements with a graphics program by using the original scans.

So keep in mind: scan first before punching!


The Easy Way To Save Paper!

Everyone knows these games which include a  pad with sheets of paper you have to fill out during a game. Some day these sheets will be used up and you have to make copies.

A simple method to avoid this, is to take one of these sheets and laminate it in laminate foil. You can now make your entries with a water-soluble, non-permanent pen. After finishing the game, you simply remove your writings with a moist cloth and have a fresh form for the next game.

You can also do this with many player aid sheets on which you check off boxes or items you don’t want to forget during play, or other important notes, for example when noting  HIP units in ASL – or everything else you have to note during the game and don’t want to archive forever.


The easiest way for protecting your rulebook is: don't use it, use a copy

Protect Your Game!

Everyone who attaches importance to keeping his games in perfect shape (=most wargamers), should get accustomed to copying the rulebook after buying a game for each player and to putting these copies in clear protective covering. These can be filed then. The original rules are put back into the game box where they remain untouched. This is a cheap and easy way to protect the original rules from wearing out (especially during the learning phase where you frequent the rulebook quite often). By using copies, you could read your rules as often as you like and even mark important parts with colors or write your own comments. Once you want to sell the game, you have a new rulebook which will certainly raise the price…

In general, as a wargamer you should buy a laminating machine (which isn’t very expensive today, you can even buy it in a supermarket sometimes). Then you laminate all charts, sheets, scenarios etc. – and your games are protected forever! Your games deserve to be treated with care…


Sanctity Of The Stack

In ASL, you can only inspect enemy stacks within your LOS

This is a very delicate topic. In many games it’s unclear if players are allowed to inspect the opponent’s stacks. If it isn’t forbidden by the rules, it is considered to be allowed – but from a “simulative” point of view this may lead to unhistorical situations removing a certain fog of war. What became clear in the actual battle once the enemy was close enough – the troops’ strength and their strategic deployment – isn’t a secret in wargames. Here the opponent knows the opposing forces and their distribution 100%. Thus he can plan his advance in a way his historical counterpart couldn’t. This may not be very important in most games, but it is an aspect you should at least think about.

In some games, for example ASL, the sanctity of the stack is defined by the rules: you may only inspect stacks which are within your LOS – which makes sense.

In games where this topic isn’t clear, you should agree before starting the game about how to deal with the stacks – simply to avoid nasty discussions once your opponent starts taking your stacks apart.

As a rule of thumb you should accept that the higher the game level, the less important becomes the sanctity of the stack. This means: In a tactical level game, you should handle this problem similar to ASL, because small groups move in cover. On a strategic level, where entire armies move over hundreds of kilometres, they could be discovered quite easily by plane. Inspecting the opponent’s stack simulates military intelligence and should be allowed.


Sheet Pockets

What to do with your large, laminated player aid sheets and charts you cannot (or don’t want to) punch and file away? A simple, but effective idea is to buy a large, strong envelope, cut off the upper third and glue the remaining “pocket” at the inside of your ring binder’s backside. You could fix this construction by adding tape to the envelope’s edges. Now you get a nice pocket in which you can store larger foils and sheets without the need of punching them.

A nicer (and more professional) variant is to use a so-called “fold pocket” you can buy in a stationary store. It consists of transparent plastic, is pre-punched and slightly larger than the average sheet of paper. It can contain 100 – 150 sheets of paper, which equals 1 – 1,5 cm. One pocket costs around 1 Euro. Material stored there cannot fall out easily, even if you move your files around.


Learning ASL is a challenging task

Don’t forget

The Easy Way To Learn ASL Rules!

Everyone who is learning ASL is uncertain not only about the large rulebook, but also about the fact that known rules are easily forgotten in the heat of battle. These can be simple things, for example the direction of the sniper movement – you repeated it endless times, but you have to look up the rule each time you play… or more complex things which are parts of actions in different phases. In my experience, as soon as I look up a rule, it jumps back into my mind and I remember it next time I play… but I tend to be unsure about it and look up the rule again then.

I then remembered the time at the university where I had to learn Icelandic and Old Norse, where I had the same problems with the grammar and the odd vocabulary (and the ASL language is a vocabulary of its own…). You know something, but you look it up anyway. I never before used the popular index card system, but when learning these two difficult languages, I depended on spending each free minute with learning. This is why I bought some boxes of index cards and wrote down the vocabularies. I then did the same with grammar and wrote down short sentences which reflected the grammatical context. This worked quite good and I could study my cards wherever I went – in the train, when waiting for the bus, while eating etc. without having to take my books with me.

The rules are very clear: "The FP base for an OVR is two FP for an AFV, or four FP for an AFV whose MA is manned and functioning and is not a MG, FT, MTR, ATR or IFE-capable!"

One day, when I was reading in the ASL rulebook, I suddenly thought that learning this game wasn’t much different from learning a foreign language and I remembered the index card system. Today, this system became my favorite tool for learning this consim and it works great. This is how the system works:

I have four different sets of index cards in the colors of the ASL rulebook: orange (infantry), green (terrain), blue (ordnance) and grey (AFV) – as the chapter colors in the rulebook.

Each time I look up a rule I tend to forget, I write down this specific rule in a short sentence on an index card of the respective color. In the upper left corner I write an abbreviation or term which indicates the topic, for example MOL (for Molotov Cocktail) and in the upper right corner I note the number of the rule. This allows me to look it up more easily and in addition you start to learn the rulebook’s structure – which speeds up looking up a rule in the future. In the right lower corner I write down where I got my information, for this isn’t always the ASLRB, but maybe the CSW ASL folder where I read a discussion and think “this is something I must keep in mind”, or I get an email by an experienced player. Any time I get valuable information about anything important for ASL (this doesn’t have to be a rule, it can also be a tactic about how to apply rule x or y), then I write it down on an index card and include it into my system.

The ASL rulebook is always on the gaming table

You start reading ASL related information in a more attentive way and get some new insights about the game. You don’t only improve your learning, but you also learn more about your own gaming practice.

With this method you won’t forget anything you once read, especially about things or events that don’t happen very often in a game. I carry my index cards with me and read them – this dramatically reduced the amount of rules I always forget in a game.

The main point is that learning ASL is actually like learning a foreign language. ASL possesses its own physics and inner connections between the rules which is something you have to discover and to keep in mind. This doesn’t work by simply reading the rulebook, but requires actual learning. So why not use a helpful tool which helps you learning other things as well?

Try it out!

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