Custom Poker Chips for Strategy Gaming

This has come up in a number of threads on BoardGameGeek, so I wanted to make a post to show off my awesome custom-made poker chips that I use for Euro/Strategy gaming.

I had a functional generic “dice-style” resin poker chip set that most guys get in their twenties for some occasion or another. Playing with those was certainly an improvement on using cardboard chits or (God forbid) paper money, but it had some drawbacks:

  • I would often have to remind people of the denominations. While 1s and 5s were easy to remember, were the greens 20 or 25? Was 10 black or blue? Thus, I was drawn to sets with printed denominations.
  • There are many games where the standard poker denominations do not make sense. 7 Wonders, for instance, denominated its money in 1s, 3s, (and 6s in Duel). Most strategy games do not need to account for a large amount of money, so small denominations would be helpful. Thus, I was drawn to sets with more small denominations. However, most casino poker chip sets are denominated $1/$5/$10/$25/$100. Staying with casino denominations meant that only the 1s and 5s would see much play. Then there were those pesky dollar signs.

I did a lot of trawling on PokerChipForum.com and ChipTalk.net where people put a lot more thought and energy into this than I was initially prepared for. (For instance, here’s an online toy you can play with).

To sum up my studies, I was left with two possibilities. The first would be to find a particular brand of poker chip (clay? China clay? Composite?) that met my needs and then design, print, and apply a custom sticker to each chip. This seems to be a route many are comfortable going. Look at this thread for some great results. The second is to find a place that would take custom artwork and print it directly to the chip. There are a lot of sketchy-looking services that will custom print poker chips that look like they are for novelty use. If I was going to pay real money for this, they needed to be quality.

Luckily, I was pointed to the Game On Chip Company who does small sets for individuals along with large sets for casinos. They make a consumer-level 39mm ceramic chip that met all of my needs and allowed both full-face and edge printing. So I fired up illustrator and here’s what I made:

chips

Next, I had to decide how many of each to order. I did a quick (ish) study by looking at the denominations and amounts of currency in fifty popular games and/or games I would often play. I know the 18xx genre is popular with many, but I’ve never played one (although I’d like to at some point!) and it was the only genre where a denomination above 50 was even remotely reasonable.

Rather than cut and paste all the numbers in my spreadsheet, here were some of the findings:

  • 1s are by far the most prominent denomination.
  • A few, but not many games use a 2 denomination. Isle of Skye, Viticulture, Concordia, Last Will, and CO2 are some examples. Many more use 3s, which was surprising.
  • Few games got high enough in currency to need 50s, but those that did supplied more of them than they did other denominations.
  • Using all of the currency in Acquire would require 2,416 units of money so whatever I printed had to have at least that.
  • The median amount of each denomination where it was included was (35, 12, 15.5, 15, 9.5, 9.5, 18.5) respectively for (1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50).

In the end, because of the minimum denomination orders with Game On, I decided to get 100 each of the 1s and 5s and 50 each of the rest. However, I plan on only keeping half the chips out at a given time as I had a nice oak 200 chip holder and that many chips would be sufficient in most cases. If playing something with a lot of money, I could swap in, say, an extra row of 50s for the row of 2s or something along those lines. Also, if chips got damaged, I’d have plenty of spares.

Without further ado:

IMG_3277 IMG_3278IMG_3280

I had a minor issue when my printing came back with a bit of a blue tint. This was most prominent on the 1s and 5s. When I talked to my representative at Game On, she said that was in the file I sent. I looked at mine and the CMYK was at white, but on her end it was this washed-out blue. The blue is still on the laurels on the 50s, but I’m willing to accept that. The Game On folks took my 1s and 5s as a return and reprinted them free of charge, which I appreciated. This meant I couldn’t use them at a big gaming party I had, but it was a small concession for an otherwise great product.

If I had to do it again, I’d probably add bolder and thicker numbers and art to the edge prints and I would probably go completely black for the background of the inlay as it looks a little washed-out in person.

It took a lot of work, but I’ve very happy when I get to use these. They make a satisfying clack sound, they stack evenly and well, and they are one-of-a-kind.

Edit: Peter Bhat Harkins asked me on Twitter how I chose the colors and symbols. I couldn’t really respond in 140 characters, so I’m adding it here.

The colors were mostly straightforward. The standard colors are White is $1, Red is $5, Blue is $10, Green is $25, and Black is $100. I just nudged these to the values I was using them for. I realize that I am slighly blasphemous in that regard because often light blue is used for 50s, but I wasn’t planning on making 100s and wanted to use black. In some instances, pink is used for $2.50 chips, so I used it for my 3. Pink is also my wife’s favorite color, so that was an easy choice. The 2 was the only one remaining. An article somewhere insinuated that $2 chips are supposed to be yellow, although I saw some lime green $2 chips. Yellow was more contrasting to my other colors and as an original Pittsburgher black and gold has some appeal to me, so I chose a yellowish-gold for my 2.

The symbols were much more fun. I wanted something that touched back to each number and related somehow to games for each chip. Here’s what I went with along with my own convoluted inspiration/reasoning:

  • 1 – Meeple. The meeple is probably the most Euro-gamey symbol there is. Since the 1 would be handled the most, the meeple had to go on the 1. Plus it generally represents the use of 1 action or resource.
  • 2 – Coins. Coins are used in tons of games, of course. To tie it back to the 2, I hid the Fibonacci sequence in there. The three instances have 1, 1, and 3. Include the large number 2 in there and you have 1, 1, 2, 3.
  • 3 – Cards. Cards are also used in tons of games. I just put a hand of three cards here. Nothing super-inspirational here, sorry.
  • 5 – Star. Stars have five points. Some games we really like use stars, such as King of Tokyo, Viticulture Tuscany, and Euphoria.
  • 10 – Scrabble “Z” Piece. This was probably the hardest one for me to find a symbol for. Since my first name is Zack and my last name is already on the chip, hiding a Z somewhere seemed like a good idea. My BGG username is zhiwiller. The Z is worth 10 points in English Scrabble.
  • 20 – d20. As my gaming tastes have shifted (matured?) over the years, I play less and less games with dice. However, nothing comes to mind with games and the number 20 as easily as the iconic Dungeons and Dragons device, the d20.
  • 50 – Laurel. Nothing is particularly fifty-like about the laurel, but it is often the symbol used for victory points. Since this would be my largest denomination, I figured it should have the grandest, most desirable symbol.

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