Anyone that has experience playing tabletop games knows how tricky it can be to organize the ridiculous amount of components that often come included. Modern board games tend to pack a pretty good amount of stuff into their boxes, be it tokens, chits, cards, miniatures, or any other manner of component. While sometimes, the game accomodates for its component overload with a well-made insert or pre-packaged solutions, more often than not you’ll have to resort to your own means to improve your board game organization.
Aside from making everything a little more clean, organizing your components has other perks–setup time is often greatly reduced when everything is organized and easy to manage. With some games that require a huge amount of setup time, this can be a boon to your game sessions. Here are six things you can do to improve your component storage situation:
1 – Ditch the Original Insert
Many games come shipped with pre-made inserts. You know what I’m talking about; they’re either flimsy, plastic affairs or made out of cardboard and less useful. In some instances, the inserts are designed for the game and do their job wonderfully. 7 Wonders, for instance, has a great insert that only starts to become cumbersome if you have all the expansionary content. Others, such as Catan’s, are terrible and should be tossed immediately. If you’re having trouble storing your game, first take a look at the insert and see if it’s actually helping, or making things more annoying for you.
Should you decide to remove the insert, you’ll obviously have a bunch of loose components laying around. There’s not really any way around this, but the options below all offer good solutions for dealing with pieces and making your box a nice, roomy living space for them.
2 – Rubber Bands
Works well for: Cards, cardboard pieces, hexes
Your cheapest and easiest, albeit least elegant solution to organization is rubber bands. Rubber bands can work well for games with plenty of cards and larger components. For years, my family and I used rubber bands to keep all of our Catan stuff together. You can buy a pack of rubber bands for a few dollars, and it’ll come with an assortment of them in plenty of different sizes. For Catan, this worked particularly well as it allowed us to keep all of the hexes together, as well as the large amount of cards, which come in two different sizes.
Another advantages to rubber bands is they allow you to group certain things together more elegantly than baggies could. Going back to Catan, if we’re playing Cities and Knights (which we usually do), there are a few more decks of cards than in the base game. If you want to easily separate development cards, commodity cards, victory point cards, and development cards, rubber bands can keep them apart much more efficiently than anything short of an organizer tray.
You might want a different solution if you’re particular about maintaining the quality of your components should you choose rubber bands. Although it hasn’t been a problem for me, tight rubber bands, if misused, can cause excess tension that pulls too hard on the component which might leave an indent if you’re not careful.
3 – Baggies
Works well for: Tokens, pieces, cards (sometimes)
Ziploc baggies are probably the most common form of organization, and you’ll find many games that come packed with them. Eclipse is an excellent example, which gave me more bags than I knew what to do with. Baggies are best with piece-heavy games. If your game has hundreds of little tokens, coin pieces, wooden blocks, or any other manner of small piece, putting them into baggies will save you a lot of time. Of course, this is somewhat obvious. Unless you have a box-insert or an organizer, how else would you store your pieces? Pretty much the only other alternative is leaving them scattered all over the box.
However, baggies can store all of your stuff pretty well if you find the right ones. Sometimes, a baggie of the right size can store certain components perfectly, that would otherwise be messy if you used the wrong size. At one point, I ran out of rubber bands so I started using spare baggies I had to store my Catan stuff. Some bags perfectly accommodated certain card decks. It worked so well that I haven’t gone back to rubber bands. However, if it were a bigger bag, it would be a less than ideal solution, as the cards would slip and move around within.
4 – Plastic Containers
Works well for: Tokens, small cards, miniatures
Although rubber bands can hold your cards and baggies do well with your components, what if you just have a ton of them? Imperial Assault is a game that comes to mind, which is stacked with little tokens of all different types, and about three thousand different decks of cards. Even that last statement was an exaggeration, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the right containers can go a long way in helping to ease the pain of setup and take-down. In the case of Imperial Assault, a nice little plastic plano box with a bunch of different compartments does an excellent job of storing all the cards and pieces without having to resort to a copious amount of baggies.
Containers are a wonderful compromise between rudimentary and elegant. They’re much more useful than bags and bands, but not quite as useful as foamcores, our next option. On the other hand, containers are relatively cheap, and don’t require a time-sink should you choose to use them. I had begun the process of making a foamcore insert for Imperial Assault, until I found a container solution that ultimately worked ell enough for me to abandon my project. It’s also worth noting that these can be great for miniatures, depending on the size. Everyone has different standards as to how pristinely their miniatures should be stored, but I found that my containers worked well enough for Imperial Assault for them to not take damage.
Pill capsule containers also work great for certain games. For more than a decade, little orange containers have stored the number tokens for our Catan games. This also has utility for games with a lot of circular tokens. Castles of Burgundy comes to mind, which is loaded with little miniature hexes. Capsules are particularly effective here, as Castles dictates that all the tokens have to be face-down on setup. This can be really annoying when you have to flip every single one over after you dump them out, but if you have a capsule, you can simply put them inside facing the right way, and then put them all on the table like they should be at any moment’s notice.
5 – Make a Foamcore Insert
Works well for: Everything
What? You’ve never heard the term “foamcore insert” before? Not to worry, as I don’t imagine it’d have much of a use outside of tabletop gaming. Within the world of tabletop gaming though, a homemade foamcore is one of the best (and cheapest) solutions to organizing your stuff. Not only that, but they can be extremely elegant, should you put a lot of thought into your design.
A foamcore insert is a homemade organizer that’s made with cut-up foamcore board (available at retail for a couple of dollars, and often can be found at dollar stores). You’ll use a razor to cut the board up, and then you’ll arrange it and ultimately glue it into a configuration that’s custom tailored for your game.
In the pic above, you’ll see that the compartments fit everything perfectly. Foamcores are not only efficient and elegant, but they also look great. Should you decide to create a foamcore insert, many people have uploaded foamcore templates for specific games that you can find online; it would be a good idea to google your game and see if any pre-made designs come up. From there, it’s a simple matter of measuring, cutting, and gluing together.
To be fair, your first foamcore insert might not be perfect. I did try making one once before settling on my current storage solution for Imperial Assault. I was surprised at how hard it was to cut a clean, straight line into foamcore, and I botched it several times. I eventually got the hang of it, but ended up abandoning the project when I became busy with other things. Fortunately, any given piece of foamcore board is pretty huge, so it leaves you a lot of room for trial and error.
6 – Buy a Pre-made Insert
Works well for: Everything (except your wallet)
A Foamcore is cheap, elegant, and aesthetically pleasing. However, what you save in money will be made up for in time. Making a foamcore takes a bit of effort, and if time is money for you, then a pre-made insert might be what you’re looking for.
This is essentially the opposite route of going foamcore—instead of saving money and spending time, you’re saving time and spending money. There are all kinds of options to buy pre-made inserts for your games. Functionally, they’re similar to foamcore as they are typically tailored for your game. Aesthetically, they’re usually a notch even higher, typically being made of wood or plastic.
The Broken Token is probably the most well-known provider of pre-made inserts (they sell a variety of components to complement your games), though a quick Google search for your specific game is likely to yield several different options. Wherever you look, be prepared to pay–many pre-made inserts cost close to what you paid for the game itself.
These are just a few of the ways that you can improve your board game storage. Whether you choose to go with bands, bags, containers, or an entire organizer, you can’t go wrong with adding a little bit of organization to your game. Got any ideas that we didn’t list here? Sound ’em off in the comments!