The best token sets are designed to fit with the game's aesthetic.
I had the opportunity this week to take a closer look at what the Art of War Studios design team was working on. It’s great to handle the finished products fresh off the laser bed, prep them for the table with some crayon and a buffing cloth, and finally get some games in and see the tokens finally being used. But seeing what goes into the design process is really illuminating.
At first, you imagine that it’s an easy process. You just need square or round counters with numbers on, right? Maybe a blank piece of acrylic or even MDF, with ‘+1’ or ‘stunned’ written on it in Times New Roman. That would do, surely? Well, it will certainly result in a token that’s of practical use. But the real skill comes in producing something that goes beyond that.
A Scatter Token for Warhammer Underworlds.
The best tokens on the market are ones that aren’t merely functional, but are also designed to fit with the overall aesthetic of a particular game system. Achieving this is an art form in itself. Players are spending serious money on boxed sets and miniatures, and investing a great deal of time assembling and painting those miniatures. They are also exploring the narrative side of these games. They read ‘the fluff’. They want their games, when played on the tabletop, to look like a part of a specific universe.
Star Wars players, for instance, know what that universe looks and feels like. So a token set needs to reflect that. If players are taking the time painting miniatures and building scenery to essentially recreate a cinematic vision on the tabletop, they don’t want tokens and templates that will pull them out of that immersive process and burst their bubble. It’s the same with games like Necromunda. The Underhive is such a richly designed space, inspired by a post-apocalyptic punk aesthetic, the artwork of 2000AD comics and crazy science fiction movies like Dune, that it requires tokens and templates that look the part.
Necromunda 'Ready' tokens with distinct colours and icons.
This also helps when producing content, of course. Social media allows all of us gamers to share images from our games, or full battle reports. Dog-eared old cardstock counters or scraps of paper with ‘blinded’ written on in biro might look a little unprofessional (quite endearing, though!) when you see them on Reddit or Twitter, but sharp, bold and aesthetically coherent tokens really pop on camera. Especially when they’re cut from eye-popping coloured acrylic.
Of course, token designers can never rest. New rules are released, requiring new tokens. Games undergo a massive overhaul, or a fresh IP launches to mass acclaim. Or tournament players request custom templates and tokens while event organisers might want something they can give away to participants to mark the occasion.
Something new in the pipeline... I wish I could tell you what these are for!
So token design has become a real art in itself. The best products not only provide hardy replacements for cardstock, but also help gamers create a more immersive and aesthetically pleasing world in which to play. And as technology develops and tools become cheaper, the boundaries of what’s possible are always going to pushed further and further.
Never again will there be a reason for gamers short of a specific token to do what we did in days of old - cut out pieces of cardboard and write ‘dead!’ in bright red felt pen!