• Joshua Williams

Hating a Game Before the First Turn

I have a fetish when it comes to board games. It is irrational and very weird, but it is who I am, and I’ll be damned if I will try to change. Don’t get scared though; I’m not excited about the thrill of buying games; I don’t have a masochistic need to lose or win a game; I’m not attracted to, nor have I ever stalked any of the many board game personalities on YouTube; I am not one of those degenerates who enjoys the destruction of a game or it’s components (I’m looking at the legacy game fans). Instead I find myself infatuated with “new-in-box” games. The sensation of slicing open the plastic seal for the first time. I enjoy the slight struggle to remove the top lid, after it’s created a vacuum from sitting unopened for so long, allowing the first fresh air to the game since it was packaged. Right now I can smell the new cardboard, greeting me, saying “Thank you for purchasing me.”

And then the real fun begins. I find a comfortable spot on my couch, turn on my TV, and find a YouTube tutorial, and I begin the pain staking task of punching out all of the cardboard pieces. I make sure they are removed with a gentle, but firm hand, fearing the printed layer may rip otherwise, marring the artwork I will spent a lot of time relishing as I play the game. I then open all of the card packs, lovingly wrapping each card in the finest card sleeves I can find. I then make a coffee, wrap myself in a blanket, and read any and all rule books, taking note of the unique aroma that’s created as I flip through each page, committing it to memory…

Okay, I may have a problem…

But after the pieces are removed from the large cardboard sheets, cards are sleeved, rules are memorized, and I’ve watched a video tutorial enough times that I can’t remember if I’ve played the game or not, the only thing left to do is return everything to the box. And this is where my love affair with the initial purchase is over. From here, how well a publisher organizes the game box, or the ease of organizing it myself, through DIY projects or third party products, determines how much I will appreciate or enjoy a board game, frequently before I even play the first round.

Zip-lock bags, too many loose and jumbled components, a box lid that will no longer fully close, and/or a plethora of loose cards, are all examples of a publishers lack of fore thought to a games organization that makes me hate a game before I get a chance to play it. Do you enjoy grabbing a game from your shelf, but upon opening the box, realizing you have an hour of setup before you can even play the game, that probably lists a play time of between 30-45 minutes? How about when you’re ready to put it away, and you wonder if its worth it to fuss with the hundreds of tiny bags, or if you should just throw everything loose into the box, and burn it?

This is where my second obsession with board games begins. This is when I begin my methodical search for the perfect organization solution for each game, whether it’s the universally loved Plano box, the DIY foam-core storage, or the luxurious and svelte third party wooden insert. Or, if I’m lucky, I can sit back, doing none of the work myself, and enjoy the proverbial centerfold of board game organization, in a well thought out, and included storage solution by the game’s publisher.

This love affair started soon after I added the board game, Dinosaur Island, into my fledgling collection, and I realized the setup and tear down was a game unto itself, taking more time to play through than the intended game play. I sold the game before I was able to find a solution for this problem (my wife did not enjoy the game), but this was my first experience with the heart ache of owning a board game that I feared setting up, and the possibility to make it much more friendly to the average player, and it just snowballed from there.

It started with the most popular form of chaos simplified, the humble Plano box, and it’s many sizes, shapes, depths, compartment layouts, etc… This is still my preferred option for organizing and condensing most of my games, getting used frequently enough to justify keeping a small stash of empty Plano boxes near my game shelf. They are, quite literally, perfect, adapting nicely to almost any game. Most games get away with one box, with the larger components and less used items, relegated to those turtle-killing, small, P. O. S. zip-lock bags. If the board games box is big enough, and the components amounting in the thousands, you can easily add as many Plano boxes as you need, allowing for even finer tuning of the games sorting, separating player pieces, and frequently used pieces, from those just needed during setup, or specific scenarios. This is beautifully implemented within my game of Gloomhaven, where I utilize five Plano boxes, allowing me to drastically speed up setup time to under 10 minutes.

But for the games I really enjoy and love and spent a lot of money on, Plano boxes didn’t feel right, and I began to look into third party box inserts made of wood. These are from companies like Broken Token, Gaming Trunk, E-Raptor, etc…, coming in plain wood, pre-stained, and sometimes laser etched finishes. They always require assembly, sometimes some glue, occasionally a few easy to find tools, and a lot of patience and finesse making sure you don’t cause damage while assembling it. But, once it’s finished, the visual presentation and aesthetic is second-to-none when you open the game’s box and begin set it up, or tear it down. Each box is precisely measured to fit together perfectly, going into the box with no wasted space. It is a science; beautiful in the math, engineering, and spatial reasoning that was required to produce each insert. Do you have a game, with a few expansions, but wish it all fit into one box, and don’t mind spending an extra one or two hundred dollars on it? These wood inserts are exactly what you’ve been looking for.

Unfortunately, because of the materials used, the manufacturing process, and the frequently heavy shipping weights, the cost of this option is quite high, often equaling or exceeding the cost of the game you’re trying to make manageable. It’s for this reason that I only own one third party insert, the Gaming Trunk insert for Root and it’s expansion. This is also why I prefer the DIY insert method that’s made with foam core board, bad measuring, shoddy cutting, and many, many curse words thrown to the air.

I’m not going to get into the process of designing your own inserts, because I have always utterly failed at that. I’m not good at the math skills. What I will talk about are the inserts designed by far smarter people than I, who graciously make the plans and instructions readily available, so you can make it yourself. This is normally quite easy, as long as you have the right materials and patience, and will usually provide the same glorious sensation as the third party options, at a fraction of the cost. This is my favorite option, as long as I truly love the game, are willing to put in the hours needed to plan, cut, and build the insert, and know with absolute certainty that I will not be looking at selling the game a few weeks later.

My first experience with this DIY option was with my copy of Scythe. Take my advice, if you want to try building your first foam core insert, choose a smaller game. Making the insert for Scythe almost drove me crazy. You need a lot of patience as you will be making many measurements, and cutting a lot of pieces. Then you glue. Next step is to wait for the glue to dry, then you fit everything into the box, then you swear loudly when you discover you measured something wrong and it doesn’t fit; you cry a little, or a lot. But when you get it finished, and you see in in the box with all the components sorted, you can’t think of anything better at that moment, because you did this, with your own hands…

Except, maybe you don’t have to spend hours making an insert, or have to sell a kidney to be the cool kid with a third party insert, or have to keep a running stock of various sizes of Plano boxes. Enter all of the wonderful board game publishers that give a damn about the players experience from the point of opening the game, to closing it when finished playing, by providing us with well thought out, and included in the price, box inserts.

Normally these inserts only include a few component recesses, and some spaces for the cards. This only marginally makes the setup and tear down of the game easier. The best example of this in my collection would be Clank, which has excellent storage for the many cards used in the game, but still requires bags for the board components and player pieces. But, when done right, and without any sacrifices, these included inserts can, quite literally, take your breath away. Men At Work and Flick ‘Em Up, both games by publisher Pretzel Games are both remarkable examples of this. These games truly feel like a gift from the gods, as each component has a clearly labeled and individual spot in the box, allowing you to keep everything in the box during game play, and only needing to remove the bare essentials for any given moment of the game. And this is accomplished in a game that is relatively inexpensive when compared to other games with comparable component quality, and enjoyable game play experiences. It’s honestly unbelievable.

When I first got into the hobby, the long setup and tear down times just seemed like a necessary evil when I wanted to play a game. I understood that I needed to set aside enough time for not only the game play, but also this burden that no one really spoke about in reviews, in discussions, or on the back of the games box. It seriously drove me away from some games. I shied away from those large, epic games, because I knew that my friends and myself would tire of the game before we even made it to the first round. But, with more games going the premium route in both components and price, and the resurgence of the board game hobby, opening the doors for third party accessory creators and websites devoted to DIY storage options, I feel like there is no excuse, anymore, for me to find the time to get any game to the table, and quickly get to the fun part, playing the game and enjoying the company of my friends.

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