When I play any board game that uses money, I’ll go and use poker chips in place of whatever money those games come with. And there’s a very good reason for that. Most board games come with paper money and paper money isn’t convenient. This holds true when you have a lot of money changing hands over the course of a game. You can watch my video below to find out why I prefer using poker chips or read on below:
Most economic games feature a lot of transactions. In Irish Gauge, people will be buying stock and collecting dividends. In Power Grid, people will buy power plants, buy resources, expand their network, and collect revenue. And when you have transactions on that scale, paper money becomes a liability.
The reasons why paper money is terrible is threefold:
It can take time to count, whether you’re tallying each slip of paper to buy a stock share or when you’re staring at your opponents’ banks to assess what they’re capable of.
Some paper money is of poor quality and clumps up together, making it annoying to transact back and forth.
And paper money is typically not durable. It folds far too easily and can be very delicate. A few sessions and paper money will show its wear and tear.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be stuck with using paper money. Many board gamers like myself prefer using poker chips for all of our monetary needs.
What I look for in a good poker chip set
If you’ve decided that you want to do away with paper money and replace it with poker chips, it’s natural to ask what poker chip set you should go after. And there’s no straightforward answer to that. It really depends on what you value out of a poker chip and what kinds of games you play.
I have my biases. But if I were to list it out, there are five basic attributes that makes for a good poker chip in my eyes:
A poker chip should be easily countable. That means the chip’s edge spots are really key. They should be easily differentiable from the rest of the chip such that you can look at a stack of chips and be able to assess the value really quickly.
I also like my chips to be denominated so that people who aren’t familiar with poker chip values in Vegas can easily tell how much a chip is worth.
I like chips that feel nice in my hands. They should feel smooth when I pick it up and down in a stack. There shouldn’t be any edges that rub me the wrong way when I pick up or put down a chip.
The build quality should be good. Poker chips should generally be flat and not wiggle too much when placed in a stack. And when you pinch it, it should not expose much of a gap.
And finally, the chip should be aesthetically pleasing. I like bright colors more than dull ones and my favorite chips tend to be bright.
Building My Poker Chip Collection
It took me awhile to find a set of chips that I was satisfied with. A sample of my collection includes everything from the really cheap plastic chips to plastic chips that are slightly better. But the ones I like are the better-quality China clays. And then, you can’t get better than the casino-grade chips.
Plastic poker chips are cheap…
When you look at what plastic chips have to offer, you get what you pay for. But if you’re not too concerned about build quality, then plastic chips might be what works best for you.
Now, these chips aren’t denominated, so you’ll have to know some poker conventions to determine their value. In most casinos, blues and whites are worth $1, reds are worth $5, and greens are $25. But board gamers might not necessarily know that, which may require you to create a guide to train them into internalizing the values.
For most people, plastic chips serve their purpose. But for me, I want something a little more from my chips. One big issue is that these chips aren’t built all that well. Some of these chips aren’t fully flat. If I put a stack together and press down on them, they’ll wiggle around. When I press one side, and then another, the chips will see-saw around. Finally, if I press and hold down one side and hold it up to a light source, I can see gaps within those chips.
The issues I’ve mentioned are more prevalent with the dice chips. So if you want a cheap plastic chip but one that’s reasonably well-built, I’d use the Bicycle chips. Although they’re also plastic, they hold up a lot better.
But if those points I mention aren’t concerns, if you don’t mind the fact that these chips aren’t well-built, they’ll get the job done. You can get yourself a set of 300 plastic chips for about 10 cents each, or $30 for the whole set. It’s a great price if you’re looking to get your feet wet in the world of poker chips. Buy through Amazon here.
Poker Knights Chips are OK
Next up, we have the Poker Knights chip set from Claysmith Gaming. Poker Knights chips are dollar denominated chips made from plastic that are marketed as clay composites. They’re pretty hefty; their weight comes from the metal slug that’s in each chip and that’s one reason why they feel nice initially. I bought my set of Poker Knights chips from Amazon for about $0.20 a chip. Although, they’re an upgrade to the plastic chips, these chips ultimately aren’t for me.
That’s because aesthetics are important. I prefer my chips to have some flash and dazzle to them and the Poker Knights chips don’t really do that. Their designs are dull. Sure, it has a casino look to it, but it doesn’t stand out. Now, if you don’t care about looks, that’s fine and if the issues with the Poker Knights were limited to that, I might not have continued my poker chip search.
The thing that really gets me with these chips is the quality control. Some of the edges are sharp and unpleasant to the touch. Maybe that’s because of the mold and how it leaves that sharpness behind. Either way, it’s annoying. Flatness is also an issue. If I try to press both sides of a chip to see if it see-saws, I can get it to wiggle back and forth. And if I pinch one side of it, the gaps start showing.
So with the Poker Knights, you get a serviceable chip with some quality issues. It’s not amazing, but it’s functional and you won’t break the bank getting a set. Still, I prefer something a little more, so these chips are out.
Monaco Poker Chips Get You Close to Casino Grade
Next up we have the Monaco poker chips which are as close to casino grade chips as you can get without springing for older, retired casino chips. These Monacos are made in the same factory as casino grade chips and the quality shines through.
First off, these chips are dollar denominated so you can see how much every chip is worth. That leaves little confusion to be had. The designs are also nice. The colors are bright and pleasant to look at. If there’s any place where the Monacos fall short, it would be the edge spots. The edge spots blend together when stacked, making it hard to distinguish and count.
But the quality control is excellent. All the hallmarks that you would expect from a casino grade ship are there. If I make a stack of chips and try to get it to see-saw back and forth, it won’t. It feels like a solid block. The same holds true when I try to pinch it on one side. It stays flat and you won’t see any gaps materialize.
There are two things that prevent the Monacos from being insta-buys. First of all, these chips are pricey. You’re not going to be able to get these for less than $0.85 a chip. And if you’re trying to put a chipset together consisting of 300 chips, that’ll add up.
An even bigger caveat is that it isn’t the best chip for board gamers. That’s because the denominations aren’t optimal for the games you play. With the Monacos, you can choose from a set of $1s, $5s, $10s, $25s and so on. The biggest obstacle to making this set workable is the $25 chip. A lot of games don’t really have a transaction amount of $25; a $20 chip would be far more optimal.
If you haven’t figured this out by now, I am referring to the train games in the 18xx family like 1830, 1846, and so on. Track building in the 18xx games requires a $20 chip which is not present in a lot of casino grade chips. Even through you can simply pay $25 and get $5 back, it’s still inconvenient, especially if you do it over and over and over. Because of that, I’ve settled upon the next set as my poker chip set of choice.
Bank Chips are my preferred Poker Chip for Board Games
Finally, we have the Bank poker chip set released by Apache Poker Chips. This set is marketed as China clays and it’s made specifically for board gamers in mind, especially for those who play the 18xx train games.
After using them, I really love these chips. They feel nice and the edge spots make it easy to count the number of chips in a stack. They’re also dollar denominated with a combination that’s ideal for 18xx games. The Bank chips are one of the few sets that have $20 denominations. I also really like the design. If you look at it really closely you can see a set of train tracks that circle around the chip inlay. It’s a great low-key way to state unequivocally that it’s designed for train gamers.
Furthermore, the quality control is solid. If you try to take a stack of chips and make them see-saw back and forth by pressing the sides, you’ll find that they’re not going to move much. And if you try to see if there are any gaps by pressing one side of the chip, those gaps don’t materialize, which says that this is a pretty flat chip.
Finally, these chips aren’t overly expensive. Sure, they’re more expensive than the plastic chips and the compressed clays I highlighted earlier but they’re not as expensive as the casino-grade chips. Casino-grade chips run about $0.80 a chip while these China clay Bank chips cost around $0.45, giving you the best tradeoff between quality and cost. If I had to do it over, I would get this set.
How many Poker Chips should I get?
Maybe you’ve decided that you do want to get a poker chip set and you’ve identified what poker chip set you want. The next question will be how many chips to get from each denomination. What should your chip distribution look like?
The answer to that is it depends on what game you’re playing. If you’re going to play Euro games that handle low dollar amounts, then maybe you don’t need that many chips. You can probably get by with a chipset of 150 chips. Here’s the denominations distribution that I would recommend.
Number of Chips
This should cover what you’ll need for most Euro games. Now, if you’ve decided that you don’t really want to have to trade up chips often, like turn in five $1s for one $5 chip, a 200 chipset might be right for you. For this distribution, I’d recommend the following:
Number of Chips
If you play heavier economic games, like Food Chain Magnate or an 18xx game, I’d recommend a 300 chip distribution. Here’s what I would use:
Number of Chips
This distribution will give you a bankroll of around $19,800 and will be sufficient for about 90-95% of the games you’ll ever play. With that said, the only cases where this might not be enough is if you play the really long 18xx games. But because you’re reading this for advice, I’m assuming you’re not at that level yet. Hopefully, you’ve found this to be helpful!