Monday, August 17, 2009

Tearing Down Games (And putting them back together!)

A while back, I mentioned there was a system Mike and I used to tear down and set up OCS games in progress. As we're currently hip deep in a Red Star Rising game, now's a good time to explain the system. Having it at your disposal may help you tackle longer games, as you won't have as much need to keep the game set up over time.

I found it in an old issue of Operations. I think it was the Gaming Techniques article in Operations #30, but I honestly can't recall.

This technique will work for any game that consists of 1/2” counters (only) and a map that has easily referenced hexes (or areas, or spaces, or whatever.)

The key to the system is a specific kind of ice cube tray that makes 1/2” ice cubes. These are referred to as “mini ice cube trays” or Pro Cocktail Mini Ice Cube Trays, or something like that. You'll also need some sort of recording device such as a notebook or piece of paper or Notepad or Excel on your computer.

Each tray has 90 spaces in it. You can see examples of what I'm talking about here. I've got four of these trays. The last time Mike and I tore down Sicily, it took 2 1/3 trays to hold everything. They're usually sold in packs of two for $5-7 or so.

To tear down the game, you do the following:

Take a stack of counters at a particular hex. (note the hex location) and put the stack into the top-left space of the ice cube tray. Orient the stack such that the bottom points away from you, and counters sit so you can read them. (This will have the edges of the counters pointing up as if you're laying the stack on its side.) Keep doing this until you finish the first row of six spots in the tray. You should also now have a row of six hex references noted down.

Go to the next hex on the map, and the next row in the tray. You should now be moving typewriter-like along your notation as well as the ice cube tray. If you fill up the first tray, go on to another sheet of paper (or whatever notation method you care about) and continue on into another tray. Labeling the trays wouldn't hurt.

You'll develop your own take on this system relatively quickly. I use the “readability” orientation of the counters to know which side of the tray is the “front” and can then match up the top-left of the tray to the beginning of my notes rather easily. It also helps keep track of which is the top of the stack.

There's a few tips/tricks I've discovered after having done this a couple times.

  1. Photograph the board before tearing down. You won't be able to verify anything but the top counter in a stack, but it will help you confirm “odd” placements when you're setting the game back up. Even the most meticulous record-keeping can be off by a hex here and there.

  2. Don't overfill the spaces in the tray. I think they can hold about seven or eight normal counters. If you need to, move on to a second space for tall stacks. You'll have a devil of a time getting them back out again.

  3. Having separate trays for each side can split the work and make teardown go even faster. It can even keep the fog of war in place if you care about that.

  4. Occasionally, there will be a counter that slips down and lodges itself into the tray. Save it for when you get the rest of the counters out of the tray and then work on it with nothing else in the tray to disturb. It's possible to damage counters that get stuck this way, so take care. Consider having some blank ½ counters around to put behind counters going into a slot on their own.

  5. Use tweezers. Don't even consider doing this without them.

  6. The system works better on games that have a fair amount of stacking, as it's easier to have four or six counters in a slot than one.

  7. I work across the short end of the tray, as it's easier to have fifteen rows of six columns than the reverse.

It took me about 30 minutes to tear down Sicily the last time and there were counters in something around 200 hexes. Setting the board back up took slightly less time as Mike took one tray and I took another. Once you get into the swing, it goes rather quickly.

I haven't looked around for solutions that will handle games with 5/8” or larger counters. It would be quite handy for games like Panzer Grenadier or similar that have larger counters.

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