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Gaming coins

I hate paper money.  Not American greenbacks, but rather the pink-backs, white-backs, blue-backs or whatever color money it is that comes with a particular game.  Inevitably, it gets bent, torn or mutilated.  Maybe all of the above.  Then, you are playing a great game with one of the major components in nasty shape.  I am talking about the aesthetics of playing a game.  Casual gaming with friends and family ought to be a great experience, not just competition.  Having nice components is like having great glassware — always using the same paper money for a great game is like always drinking wine from the red Solo cup.

Recently I purchased two sets of gaming coins for use with my games.  I picked a “Spanish Doubloon” style, which probably isn’t historically accurate, but has the value of the coins stamped into them in Roman numerals.  Other styles have fantasy creatures or other figures stamped into the coins.  I like having the values on the coin so that values are easy to remember, but then I am also locked in.  With other images, values could be reassigned to suit the game, but I will talk about that later.  I bought two sets because one set wasn’t enough for most games.  These are not a cheap accessory, so I stopped at two sets, though three would have been nice.  We have used them a few times, and they are very nice to use.

A less expensive option that I used before buying coins was poker chips.  I found some nice clay chips on clearance, and purchased them to use as money for games. These worked excellently.  They were not without their drawbacks, however.  There are three issues in using poker chips that you can easily deal with, if not just ignore.  I will briefly talk about them, and then help you get around them.

The first thing that comes to mind is the number of denominations used. With poker chips, you will have only four or five colors at most; some games come with more types of bills.  Monopoly for example, has denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.  That’s seven different denominations.  My poker chip set has four colors; I have seen sets with five.  Thinking about it though, is there really a need for all of that variety in Monopoly?  With a decent quantity of four colors of chips, you could easily play with denominations of 1, 10, 100 and 500.  Maybe 1, 10, 50 and 500 would be better.  With five colors, you can be more creative, perhaps using denominations of 1, 20, 100, 500 and 2000.  I cannot imagine that dropping the 5’s and 20’s will make much difference.

Another minor issue is the fact that everyone can see how much money you have.  In some games, that’s open information that everyone can see, in other games that information is closed.  Many times, that information can be played either way; players decide before starting.  If it needs to be hidden, screens can be made to hide poker chips, though that requires work that I am not willing to put forth (even though I make tuckboxes!).  A simpler alternative is to hide some of the chips in one hand.  My personal favorite is just to mix them up so that they are hard to count from across the table.  No matter the solution, it really isn’t a major issue.

How do players remember which color chips have what value?  This is probably the most bothersome concern, and it is also true with coin sets that do not have the values stamped in.  Yet even this isn’t too bad to work out.  My second favorite game, behind chess, is Acquire.  Acquire was designed by the late, great Sid Sackson, and has been around for over 50 years.  It has four denominations of money: 100, 500, 1000 and 5000.  So:

Red        =  100

White     =   500

Blue       =  1000

Black      =  5000

Originally, I thought that assigning them in patriotic order would be a great mnemonic for American players, but it wasn’t enough.   I ended up remaking the player aid that comes with the game.  My version of the player aid has monetary information right on it, giving each player a reminder right in front of them.

In fact, my paper money for Acquire is still in the wrapper.  We have always used chips, and everyone seems to like it better.  I certainly do.  Now, the ceiling fan can stay on in those hotly contested games!  For Monopoly, one could take a simpler approach, and just put out a bill of each denomination with its corresponding poker chip on top. 

I will add one more thing.  I had plastic poker chips I inherited from my parents.  The heavier chips I bought just feel better.  They were worth the minor expense, particularly since there are so many games that can use them. 

Do yourself a favor and try out some gaming coins or poker chips; you may even have some around the house.  I am confident that it will make a better experience for everyone at the table and prevent damaged paper money from ruining your game.

It’s Your Move!