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How to improve your board game box – next level

Last year in October I wrote a blog post about the wooden box I crafted for my copy of the board game Dixit and some of its expansions. Since then, my game collection has grown even more, despite the fact that I still don’t get to play my games as much as I’d like.

Though I didn’t have quite as grave problems storing any of my other games as I did with Dixit, I am always slightly annoyed when I open a game box to a mess like this:

Look at that! Baggies everywhere, and some of the components are held together only with an elastic strap – and in my experience, those straps are broken the next time I open the game box. And for some more component-heavy games, even sorting out the mess in the box will take a long time until you can get a game going. Starting a game should be a smooth and seamless experience, not 5-10 minutes of figuring out what goes where.

So, what to do about that? Well, I spend a lot of time on boardgamegeek.com every once in a while, and during one of my BGG heavier phases, I discovered that there is a whole community of geeks who build their own inserts for board games. While some of them use other materials, by far the most popular material is foam core (aka foam board). It’s basically thick paper (used for crafts) with a core of slightly squishy foam. Yet it is very firm, while also being easy to cut and very lightweight.

To learn a little bit about the basics of foam core, I watched some YouTube videos about using it for creating board game inserts. I then went to my local crafts store around the corner and bought a bunch of foam core sheets (and a cutting mat). I started crafting my first insert right away, a rather simple one for the game Codenames. I thought it turned out rather well, so I moved on to the next couple of inserts. After my second one I had some trouble cutting the foam neatly, and eventually realized that the knife I used wasn’t sharp enough anymore. Here’s some advice if you’re interested in working with foam core: buy a new, very, very sharp box cutter, and have plenty of spare blades. After my 5th and 6th inserts, I’m already down two blades, having snapped them off repeatedly while creating only one insert.

So after these little problems were solved, I attempted my perhaps most complex insert yet; Power Grid. And this time, I even made a timelapse video of my creation process:

Rather than creating a fixed insert (like my previous ones), this one is actually a set of several removable inserts that can be used during gameplay. The bank, for example, always ends up a bit of a mess during a game of Power Grid, so that was what I created first for this insert, and then I build the rest of the insert around it. I added a tray for the resources, which can also be used during gameplay and conveniently separates the resources. Then I created one box per color for the player tokens, which can also be used during gameplay. Finally, the remaining tray holds the power plant cards (and the new cards, which are like an expansion). Here’s the final insert again:

Photo 08-08-16 16 10 10

It’s so neat and orderly! I wish all board games would just come with neat and orderly inserts, as I’m definitely not the only one who is bugged by this. There is a whole industry about this, as there are several online and/or etsy stores which sell custom inserts made from wood or foam core. But a lot of geeks are crafty themselves, and there is a huge GeekList on BoardGameGeek of people’s custom foam core inserts, who obviously all feel the same way about the rather crappy inserts that come with the games. That list a great place for inspiration, and I’ve consulted it for my own inserts and sometimes based mine on some of the ones I found there.

So far, I only made 6 inserts for my messiest game boxes and I’m very happy with how they turned out. Most of my other games are fine the way they are now, but I guess sooner or later I’ll be making new inserts again. If you’re interested, you can view all the inserts I made on my own GeekList of inserts.

During the process of creating these, I noticed how much of a waste of space most board game boxes are. 90% of the board games I have could easily use about 20-30% of the space they currently use. Sometimes even the actual board is a lot smaller than the box, which really makes me wonder why they needed to put the game in such an oversized box. However, even if the width and height of the box is defined by the board, there is usually a lot of vertical space that is massively wasted. The box for Legacy: Gears of Time, for example, would be fine if its depth and breadth was only 40-50% of what it is now. If I apply that to all of the games in my collection, I guess I could easily fit twice as many games on my shelf. But since that’s unlikely to ever happen, I’ll just have to continue saving space by crafting inserts that accommodate expansions, so at least those don’t take up any extra shelf space…

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