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Subject: Are Newer Wargame Counters that Bad? rss

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Ken Feldman
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Lately, there's a thread (Let's have some love for older counters) with some nostalgia for old school wargame counters. A lot of the posting in this thread is about how bad new counter designs are.

Personally, I like the new wargame counters. Even some of the counters they're complaining about, like the World at War counters, are much better than the ones they're holding up as being far superior to what's being produced today. Here are a few examples of what I think are better counters from 21st century designs then their counterparts from the 1970s and 1980s:

Here are counters from World at War: Blood and Bridges:


Compare to counters from Assault: Tactical Combat in Europe – 1985:


And take a look at counters from A House Divided:
21st Century:



1980s:



Finally, let's compare some WWII naval games:

21st Century (Second World War at Sea: Midway):



Old school (Midway):



Now, the old counters are certainly functional, but I prefer the new counters, which are functional and look good. What do you think?


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Brandon Pennington
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I like the newer ones as well, but I haven't completely lost my eyesight yet

Some of the newer counters can be a bit busy, but at the same time aren't as boring to look at. I haven't come across a game yet that was unplayable because of the counter art.
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Brian Morris
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Graphics overall today are much better than they were 20 years ago. This is in part due to there being more competition in the marketplace. Back when Avalon Hill was the 500 pound gorilla in wargaming they owned 90% of the market. Therefore they didn't need to expend to much effort into graphics. Today while GMT is the biggest company there are tons of other companies like Columbia, MMP, Avalanche and others which provide competition for them. The result is the companies have to put out not just good games but good looking games.

I always look back myself at the Avalon Hill classic Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Plain counters and a very plain board. You would never see a game today published with such bland graphics.

On the flip side functionality should always be a priority. The counters and map should look good but at the same site should be easy to read. Take a look at the map for the game Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648. Beautiful map. Unfortunately some of the names on the map are done using a cursive font that is very hard to read. Looks good but I've played the game twice and in every game people have complained about having trouble reading the names on the map.

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Robert Wilson
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I prefer the Assault counters over the WAW ones, I find the newer ones are too busy , but saying that , I really like the The Devil's Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen 's counters, go figure!
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Ben Delp
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I'd just say that old is really not "better" than new, and vice versa, just different. I really find it to be that simple.

Part of the perceived "new counter bashing" is probably just a function of nostalgia, not real vitriol. Nostalgia always lends itself to curmudgeonly "back in my day" thoughts & stories, and I will give in to it myself sometimes. But really, new counters are just fine. If you have the technology to put a picture of a tank on a counter instead of an oval, well great - it's nice to look at. But there's nothing wrong with the NATO symbols. And when you're only dealing with two numerical factors, no need to get all tricky with the presentation. Simplicity will do.

Actually, if you're only dealing with two numerical factors, then there is a problem, but it's not the counters - you're game is too simple.

I think that new or old, our problem with counters from certain games aren't because they are new or old, it's because of two things:
1. They were poorly designed/produced for one reason or another; and/or
2. Individual taste.
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Stephen Wright
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For me there is no debate. I easily prefer newer counters over the older ones. The art on the newer counters is far superior and to me that overshadows the busy look. After a few plays with newer counters I find that I don't have any trouble remembering what all the different numbers are for.

I've noticed a lot of people point to Lock n Load's World at War counters as an example of counters that are too busy and hard to read. Personally, I think LnL makes the nicest counters on the market today.
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Bill Lawson
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Most of the time I prefer the newer counters ( I do like Nato symbols though). However sometimes they look ridiculous!!






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Bill Gates
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I would love to have the opportunity to buy a complete set of ASL counters updated to modern graphics standards (like what Critical Hit has done in their Berlin ASLComp product).
 
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Mark Crane
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Storms of Steel:


Panzerblitz:
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Stephen Harper
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Speaking as a wargamer who is older than dirt, today's counters are fine by me, and generally more preferable than those of 30 years or so ago.

I much prefer the counters from GMT's GBOH and 30 Year's War series over the old SPI Pre-stags. The counters from Devil's Cauldron are fantastic, and a good example of what modern graphics can do. I like LNL's counters too; the World at War counters do not strike me as too complicated. One could find complicated way back when too, with two examples that come to mind being GDW's Operation Crusader and the S&T mag game Lost Battles.

An interesting comparison to make is the first edition GMT Great Battles of Alexander vs 2nd edition "Deluxe" Alexander. From my standpoint, counters from the latter are preferred.

The original Squad Leader counters were sharp looking for their day, but now appear rather bland to me. Yes, the gameplay was fantastic. But if the game were to be re-published, I would definitely want its counters to be upgraded to today's graphic standards.
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craniac wrote:
Storms of Steel:


I actually find the counters for Conflict of Heroes to be pretty ugly. Fully functional, but ugly.
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Ben Delp
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ijanssen wrote:
Quote:
Actually, if you're only dealing with two numerical factors, then there is a problem, but it's not the counters - you're game is too simple.


I don't think anybody ever accused World in Flames of being too simple.



Yeah, I was just making a joke. Believe me, I COMPLETELY get your point.
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Michael Lavoie
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Yowza, Billyboy! Those Drive on Moscow counters are certainly ... what's a good word for garish? Wow. A great example of how a little restraint could have made a huge difference.
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Barry Kendall
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Ken, I agree with you. I think we're living in the Golden Age.

My main pet peeves (apart from my aging eyes, which sometimes require the stand/bend/stoop/squint approach to reading a counter halfway across the map) are:

Pastel shades lacking in contrast (ATO's map for "Into A Bear Trap" comes to mind).

Counters crammed with data that's too close to the edge for comfort--please, publishers, how about a 1.5mm margin?!

Dark-on-dark coloration (this is nothing new, but for Pete's sake, in this day and age it's well-nigh inexcusable).

Odd perspectives that clash with important game considerations (such as an oblique view of a tank in a game requiring facing determination).

Vertical pieces that reside in their own shadow (the wooden blocks in C&C: Ancients come to mind--I finally gave up and now lay them flat, which means I have Roman legionaries low-crawling across Gaul).

Die-cutting "shortcuts"--some publishers still have such wide attachment points on their counters that it almost requires pruning shears to cut the counters out.

OK, enough curmudgeonly venting. I remember a time when GDW's "Avalanche" game was considered to have some of the prettiest counters ever published. Black armor silhouettes on olive green or gray, for the most part. Back then, white silhouettes instead of black were considered to be expanding the graphic boundary.

This is truly the Golden Age.

The one counter innovation I'd been expecting for a long time--unit counters with a pivoting strength disc inside, showing strength/morale adjustments--was partly realized in the "Clix" collectible miniatures lines, but never seems to have crossed over into "serious" wargames.

Heck, we even have a "nurse" counter for a Bulge game ("Bitter Woods Deluxe").

I suppose that next, we'll see a reprint of "B-17" with a sheet of choose-your-own-plane-name "nose art" counters. Hmmm. . . .
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Seth Owen
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I guess I'll toss in a contrary opinion here, but I don't think all the trends in current wargame counter design are positive.

What IS positive is the near universal use of color for both decorative and informational purposes.

But what is negative is cramming too much information onto counters and a common failure to highlight game-critical information so it stands out. Many older games do a better job of that, frankly.

In the examples cited, I rather like the layout of Assault counters better, although having color icons would have been better and would be standard today.

In the case of the House Divided counters, the new ones are larger and prettier (but not particularly accurate) but the older ones are very crisp and clean and functional as well. I don't think there's a clear edge. (The new game's strong point is the map).

The old Midway game is a considerably simpler game than the new one it's compared to, so there's an Apples to Ornages problem. Within its complexity level the Old Midway counters work very well, with all game-critical information clearly visible.

I do think that too much small type is appearing on counters these days which is a problem now that many of us are no longer 25 years old.
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Ken Feldman
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mrbeankc wrote:
Graphics overall today are much better than they were 20 years ago. This is in part due to there being more competition in the marketplace. Back when Avalon Hill was the 500 pound gorilla in wargaming they owned 90% of the market. Therefore they didn't need to expend to much effort into graphics. Today while GMT is the biggest company there are tons of other companies like Columbia, MMP, Avalanche and others which provide competition for them. The result is the companies have to put out not just good games but good looking games.



There were at least as many competitors to AH in the 1970s as there are to GMT today. SPI, GDW, Yaquinto, Battleline, TSR, Metagaming, SimCan and Task Force come to mind immediately. I'm sure a little research would find at least twice as many. I don't think AH owned half the wargame market in late 1970s or early 1980s. SPI may have even sold more wargames then AH in the 1970s.

The big improvement in graphics is probably due to desktop publishing software. Graphics artists can do amazing things today that just weren't possible (or at least affordable) back in the 1970s and early 1980s.
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Steve Herron
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I like the counters of today but Billyboy is right about somethimes they can be overdone. The thing I like and look for the most is larger print to where I can read the counter without having to use glasses. I remember the one thing that turned me off about Hell's Highway was the size print on the counters. It was a great game but horrible counters.
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Michael Dorosh
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craniac wrote:
Storms of Steel:


Panzerblitz:


And you don't see a problem in looking at 50 of each type of counter on a map, and telling at a glance - quickly - where your tank company is located and how much air support you have overhead?

Seriously?

The Storms of Steel counters make you stop and think at each and every counter on the board. The PB counters are designed for instant recognition.

If you go to the first post in the thread, the House Divided counters are even worse, because the counters actually seem to blend in to the background of the mapboard itself!



Redmond Simonsen would be spinning in his grave!

The entire point of counters is not (just) to look pretty, but to provide recognition and a distinction between different unit types. The emphasis is on the latter. If you don't do that, you don't have a game.
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Wendell
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To quote myself,

Quote:
1. Is the counter functional? Can I read it easily and know what it is?

2. Is it attractive?

If 1 & 2, great. If only 1, okay. If only 2, unacceptable.


But sure, graphics nowadays are better and many counters are attractive. But let's avoid the over-the-top route the graphic designer took in that game Billyboy pointed out!

Oh and let's avoid black-text-on-dark-blue.


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Steve
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For me, for the most part, older counters are an eyesore and fugly. Good riddance.
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Michael Dorosh
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garysax wrote:
For me, for the most part, older counters are an eyesore and fugly. Good riddance.


What is your win-loss record at PanzerBlitz, out of curiousity, and what is your win-loss record at Storms of Steel?

 
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leroy43 wrote:
craniac wrote:
Storms of Steel:


I actually find the counters for Conflict of Heroes to be pretty ugly. Fully functional, but ugly.


I think the vehicles look good, but I think the images of the toy soldiers are pretty ugly. imho, ymmv.
 
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MichaelLavoie wrote:
Yowza, Billyboy! Those Drive on Moscow counters are certainly ... what's a good word for garish? Wow. A great example of how a little restraint could have made a huge difference.


+1

that artist name sounds familiar (eskubi). I will have to see what other games he has worked on.

 
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Bill Herbst
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I greatly prefer the new counters. I also like oversized counters like the CoH series.
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I don't believe that newer wargame counters are universally 'bad', although there are certainly some instances which are 'over the top' (in the bad sense ). However, as far as personal preference goes, I honestly prefer the 'old' counters in each of the comparison shown in the OP.
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