You’ve pulled the box off the shelf, set it on the table. Your friends watch with bated breath as your hands move to the cardboard lid, gently finding their grasp. The experience you’ve been highlighting the whole week, the whole month, the whole year is about to begin. There’s a slight squeak as the lid gives, as you push it up to reveal . . . a nightmare. Your gasp draws the group in, and at the sight, you notice the first furtive glances towards the door, the television, escape.
Game night hangs by a thread, and why?
The cards have seemingly come alive, scattering to the box’s corners, nestling in every available space. Some seem bent along the corners. Meeples have formed their own hybrid colonies with tokens, while the dice have vanished altogether. The rule book has folded up in fear while the player boards, their sharp edges guilty of slashing the haphazard plastic baggies you’d thought were invincible, have scrambled themselves about. A daunting setup time triples in front of your very eyes, and as you look up at your friends, the only thing you can muster is:
“It might be a minute.”
Lest such horror befall you on your next game night, consider a simple enhancement: Game Inserts & Organizers.
Assembling the Crew
Whether we’re talking about the wanton cash in every Monopoly version or the cube, dice, token combo in Space Station Phoenix, our beloved board games love to litter us with pieces. Depending on your luck and the publisher’s pocketbook, those bits and bobs may come with something serviceable to keep them collected. More often, though, you’ll find little-to-nothing in the box beyond a half-dozen baggies liable to tear apart upon first use. Or perhaps a black plastic holder that looks good until you discover it to be too tight or too loose.
Whether a solution to such sigh-inducing situations is warranted depends on your tolerance, and, most importantly, your time.
A good insert, several of which we’ll look at below, does more than keep your collection organized. It makes setup a breeze, shaving valuable minutes off both pulling the pieces out and putting them back in. The latter, you might think, isn’t so bad, but I challenge you to look at a Twilight Imperium table after a day spent burning a galaxy to the ground and not want a swifter trip to sleep.
So take a look at your messiest games, the ones you know you’d pull out more often if they didn’t induce shock at their sprawl. Then, too, peek at your most frequent plays: shaving minutes off the setup time for the simplest games adds up.
A search for game inserts can lead you to an organization buffet. Several companies make inserts for major games, while more boutique solutions can be found on Etsy, Kickstarter, or, should you have one, your 3D Printer. For the most part, though, you’ll find your most cost-effective solution coming in one of a few types.
Stars of the Show
These inserts take the inside of the box and replace it, putting in a custom configuration meant to keep your cards and cardboard snug for any trips—and ready to set up when you get there. Most inserts only require a small amount of initial setup, namely plunking a few pieces into place, and then you’re good to go. While any game makes a good candidate for this insert style, I’d nominate a few categories in particular:
- The big ones – your collection’s highlights. Whether that’s Star Wars Rebellion or Gloomhaven (or Frosthaven, for you lucky ones), getting these all-star experiences organized could mean seeing them once a month rather than once a year. You’ve already paid for the experience, tossing a relatively inexpensive insert on top can make all the difference.
- The messy ones – Oh deckbuilders, we love you so. Whether it’s Marvel Champions, Aeon’s End, or any of a hundred others, odds are a board gamer has at least one title with a few hundred—or a few thousand—cards. The initial boxes for these are often small, lacking any hope for keeping your heaping collection, well, collected. While the options for these often grow beyond ‘insert’ into full-blown box, you’ll save both time and space sticking your whole set into a single spot. It might feel a bit sad tossing out the expansion boxes, but trust me, that’ll fade really quick when those Dominion cards are in one place.
- The useless ones – We’ve all seen it. The horrific moment when your newest treasure comes home, the lid pops off, and there’s nothing more than a board, some punch-outs, maybe a meeple baggie and that’s it. Chaos reigns. Unless despair is a favored feeling, get these sorry games some help.
While some game inserts draw the line at the box lids, others extend out to the table. These bonuses make setup a breeze for games like Memoir ‘44, where a relatively static card hand is easier to handle with a stand.
Universal counter trays help corral rogue tokens, keeping chit-heavy games like Combat Commander moving fast—even games that come with trays of their own benefit from additional ones, making sure every player has their own stash within reach. Some other worthy looks for your collection:
- Battle Foam and mini-carriers – Want to keep that Battletech squad safe on the go, or just make it easy to yank out without digging through your entire mech arsenal? Look at these cozy options to keep your soldiers safe.
- Deckboxes – Whether it’s Magic: The Gathering, Flesh and Blood, Pokémon, or something else, getting a solid deck box makes joining any organized play a snap. Make sure to look at the larger options with room for sideboards or additional components so you’re not complementing that snazzy box with a Ziploc.
- Faction boxes – Not necessarily separate from the big stars above, but worth considering when looking at an insert. If a game has factions, getting an insert that lets you store each faction in its own mini box makes for faster setup and easier play. Look no further than Dice Throne for how this can make the experience an absolute snap.
Costumes and Set Design
Now you know what insert you’re looking for—but what type? Partly a matter of personal taste, there’s also a bit of assembly to consider. Here’s a rundown on the more common options:
- Foam-based – Soft and durable, these game inserts by the likes of Folded Space and Battle Foam cover the gray-slate look. While you’ll have to plug in and glue the pieces, and possibly snip the foam to fit your minis, and the end result is thicker than the options below, the reasonable price makes up for it.
- HDF – High-density fiberboard, offered by the likes of E-Raptor, gives a pleasant look while offering stiffer construction. Like the foam-based options above, these are a snap to assemble and slot into play. Often, no glue needed.
- Wood – The strongest of the bunch, Dicetroyers and the like make wooden inserts that look and perform great. The heaviest, and usually also requiring wood glue to put together, these are the premium inserts for your most prized games. (Jess note -Bonus, wood and HDF inserts carry a lovely, woody, campfire scent.)
Lastly, here’s a couple simple steps to follow to land on the right insert for your game:
- First, search your store to see what game inserts they offer. Sometimes, you’ll only have one option, making your choice an easy one.
- If there are no inserts for your game, consider the custom crafting options up above. You can make your own!
- If your game is popular enough to have a few options—if you find a brand not doing Terra Mystica, let me know—then decide whether price or look is more important. That’ll lead you to the best option for you, with one last hard check below.
- One gotcha before you click that checkout button: how do you feel about assembly? If the thought of gluing things together brings back kindergarten trauma, then take a close look at the insert and make sure it’s just plug-and-play.
And that’s it! Once you have your game nestled in its lovely new home, you can carry it with confidence—to your own table or your buddy’s—certain that it’s ready for showtime!
Written by Adam Knight
Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.
[ More from Adam: Card Sleeves for Board Games – Yay or Nay? ]