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Epic Losses

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  • Feeling it - Board Game Components

Feeling it - Board Game Components

O Updated
(Photo by S Migaj on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

If you have followed me for a while, you probably know that I like to have metal coins in games, instead of cardboard chits or paper money. Recently, I purchased the wonderful Iron Clays poker chips when I bought the deluxe edition of Brass: Birmingham and I must admit, I really like those as well. In this article, I want to talk about how board game components can change the enjoyment of a game - for better, or worse.

So let's start with money in games. If you haven't tried it yet, I strongly recommend you either try metal coins or poker chips. They're usually not too expensive to buy, especially if they're part of the deluxe version of a game, but they hugely improve the enjoyment of every game. Hearing the rattle of metal coins or the clink of poker chips alone is very satisfying, and the feeling of the cold metal or the smooth chips in your hand adds another level. You subconsciously think a little more carefully about what you spend your money on, because it's no longer just boring cardboard or flimsy paper, but heavy coins that make a sound as you pay them into the bank.

It's pretty much a no-brainer for me every time, but, of course, it's not always worth the extra expense. I do think that many coin sets you can buy separately are just too expensive. So it's only when I buy a game that it's worth it for me. Also, consider using real money in your games. Using pennies of your own currency is usually a good, cheap option. Often you can also buy old Chinese coins really cheaply. That's what a friend did and they really made playing Rising Sun a lot more fun. It added another way of tricking your opponent into thinking you were placing a lot of coins during the war phase, when in fact you were just rattling a bit for effect.

There are other components that do improve the game experience, in my view. Chunky wooden tokens or even custom wooden meeples are often a great addition too. They're very tactile and often add a lot to how the game looks on the table, especially if they come in large quantities. Every time I open the Carcassonne box, the flood of vividly coloured meeples is just wonderful to behold, and the game wouldn't be the same if there were wooden cubes on the map instead of meeples.

Speaking of wooden cubes, they aren't any worse than meeples, of course. They are the quintessential component in cube rail games and they are often great for all sorts of area control or resource management games. They are great on a dual-layer board and it feels wonderful slotting them into the empty spaces to indicate your strength or other status. Again, it's very tactile to hold a bunch of them in your hand, slowly turning them over, while you decide where to place them on the map, for example.

Dice are another great component. The sound they make when you roll them, either by hand or using a dice tower, is very evocative. Some might say they're too noisy, but I do like them. Games that use dice as workers combine the great feeling that you get from holding cubes with the noise of rolling dice. It's a win-win. Colourful dice are even better, as they have such a great visual appeal.

I do think that many games would just not be the same without their components. They would feel a lot less interesting and exciting. I think of Splendor for example, where the poker chips that stand in for the jewels really elevate the game. If these were just cardboard tokens, it would be a much less interesting game. I guess that's why the Steam version does include the clank of the chips, so that players get as close to the feeling of the real poker chips as possible.

I have intentionally left out minis in this article. I do think they look amazing and a game like Rising Sun would be a lot less interesting without them. Plonking a huge dragon onto the board and making the table shake slightly as you do so is an amazing feeling. Painted miniatures can look amazing and painting them is a hobby in itself. However, I also think that we do have a bit too much plastic in our hobby. So even though I can fully understand the fascination with plastic miniatures, I also want to encourage the use of wood and cardboard instead of plastic whenever possible and sensible. I actually think that wooden components are often undervalued, but for me, they have a very important place in my heart, probably because I grew up with them.

So how do you feel about components in board games? Do you also think they can make a game better? Or do you care very little about them? I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

There Will Be Games
Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #325408 10 Aug 2021 15:20
I’m really into components. I appreciate beautiful or thematic pieces to play with.
But I also greatly enjoy components that have been created with thought as to how they function.

Things like recessed player boards. The way the order dials stack in Star Wars Armada. The planning tray of Samurai Swords. The stat slider from Mythic Battles.

Components are a big part of the experience for me.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #325409 10 Aug 2021 15:31
I've become much more component focused, but only for games I play a lot and already enjoy. It doesn't inherently make games better, but it does enhance the zen playing experience of a classic to play with aesthetically pleasing components. It's why I'm critical of my own purchase of fancy kickstarter enhanced components before I even play the game; this effect only kicks in with great games for me. I spend so much time at screens that playing a game I love with great components is time for me to disconnect from that type of interaction. I play a good amount of TTS too so I'm hardly a luddite but I get a different vibe from it.

Wingspan and Petrichor come to mind as extremely aesthetically pleasing component games that did nothing for me at all.

edit: it goes without saying that I have become wealthier too since I was a dirtbag grad student; that might also be driving this.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #325410 10 Aug 2021 16:27
I'll echo n815e and Gary Sax here, board game components are an enjoyment multiplier but scale based on the quality of the game mechanics. They can make good games great and great games amazing; however, it's very rare, particularly given modern manufacturing quality, for components to make a good game bad (or a bad game good for that matter). Board gaming is a physical, social and visual hobby, if you remove the appeal of the physical elements you'd likely find board gamers playing video games instead.

Two games that stand out in my memory in terms of the components improving the experience: Oath's Kickstarter edition and Parks. Both games are extremely solid games who's appeal would be evident if played on prototype components but the lovely art and meeples in both games elevates the experience through their physical presence.

In addition to the aesthetic benefits of good components, good components can actually enhance gameplay. I've been considering investing in some quality poker chips. There's a reason 18XX gamers replace paper money with chips - making change eats up an inordinate amount of time and using chips can save you 30 minutes per game while also letting you survey the board state clearly.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #325412 10 Aug 2021 16:29
^I bought some of those silly boardgaming kickstarter poker chips (iron clays?) when they want on a fire sale a few months ago. They're very nice for the price, I'd be horrified if I had bought into the actual kickstarter, but you might see if they're still being clearanced anywhere near you.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #325421 10 Aug 2021 18:44
More and more I could not give less of a toss to be honest. It's not that I don't appreciate a good looking game, I can for sure, and have aesthetics that I like more than others; and one of the things that I enjoy about Boardgames is in fact the physical nature of them. But pure aesthetic quality makes little to no difference to me when it comes to enjoying a game, with the one exception of clarity. It's not that I'm that "the game is the only thing that matters" snob, I don't think, but more that I've got more into PnPing and proxying things so playing with bits of paper and bits and pieces from other games are just fine. I've got several games that are some of my favourites that my kids drew with textas on scrap paper. I've always liked my theme to come through via the mechanisms, and that's really just solidified for me. So yeah, metal coins really do not make a difference me at all. Wooden cubes would be fine for Carc. The cheapest of cheap plastic dice is absolutely fine. Cardboard tokens are totally fine.

Of course I'm pretty much a minority, and so, those proxied games and dodgy pnps and things I have don't get pulled off the shelf because for others they aren't as interesting. But for me, eh. I'm often left cold by things that are supposed by others to be amazing.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #325426 10 Aug 2021 20:15
I’ve come the the conclusion that the physicality is meaningless to me. What remains is how the parts convey information of game state, which on occasion amazes me.

Some of my favorite games are really cheesy printings. I wouldn’t trade my AH50 copy of Acquire for any of the other ones. Super easy to assess the board, and one of the hotel chains is named Sackson. I value that more than plastic buildings. And it cost me $15 new.

But I’m a cranky old man. I’m even older than Gary.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #325427 10 Aug 2021 20:24
Yep, the physicality of the game that I enjoy is more the state of physicalness - i.e., it's a thing which only happens because we move the pieces around, and the game state is created by that movement. Whether or not it's a beautifully shaped piece of wood and thick cardboard with bucolc artwork or moulded plastic on nerd-fantasy or a lego brick on a piece of scrap paper, it doesn't bother me at all.

And yes, in many cases, a cheap aesthetic I actually do find appealing all the same.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #325428 10 Aug 2021 21:30
I’ll add that I’m the type of person that prefers to read physical books and I’ll even buy nice editions of them. Reading a beautiful book - hardcover, smith sewn, bound in cloth - is more enjoyable to me (if the book itself is good).

It’s not that I consider a game with quality components as inherently better than one without, or that gameplay takes a backseat to art. I love miniatures, but there are loads of games with great miniatures that I won’t touch because they aren’t good games.

For me it is a heightened sense of enjoyment that comes from an activity I love using physical components that are well designed for usability and/or aesthetics.

Like the experience gained with food, certain objects will immediately put me in a happier place. The marbled blue and red action dice from War of the Ring set the mood. The association with friends and fun that those dice trigger in my brain will make any session of that better.

The Big Damn Crate is not only a fantastic way to store, organize and minimize the space needed for Firefly, it also has a look and feel that set it apart and says “this game is special to its owner”.

One of my favorite game components is actually not one that I would ever use in any game. I have a hand carved, stone d6 that is about two thousand years old. Holding that die in my hand connects me to gamers from thousands of years ago. It is a crossroad of my lifelong loves of gaming and history. It’s just a d6, but it’s also an amazing vehicle of love, imagination, traditions and culture, wonderful times with people you adore and frustrating moments of brushes with fate.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #325429 10 Aug 2021 21:40
Wow, that's really cool!
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #325431 10 Aug 2021 22:59

n815e wrote: One of my favorite game components is actually not one that I would ever use in any game. I have a hand carved, stone d6 that is about two thousand years old.


I need a photograph of this object, your home address and a description of where you keep it please.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #325434 11 Aug 2021 05:07
I'd argue that the PnP aesthetic can also be a conscious choice with respect to components that impacts enjoyment. For example the folio games published by Nate Hayden/Cave Evil require you to cut out the cards and assemble them which contributes to the whole experience and helps to create an emotional attachment before play has even begun. When you play one of those you know you're playing something boundary pushing even if the choice of components may have been a cost saving measure.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #325435 11 Aug 2021 06:00
I love tactility and aesthetics in boardgames - probably in most things in life - and will try to find the best price/point for myself, but I am not one for buying expensive add-ons if the existing components are fine i.e. I like paper money, I'm not American so don't have a fascination with poker chips (I bought a small case poker set about 15 years ago, it was very cheap, that has nice heavy chips but I have not re-purposed it for any game, seldom even think about it) and metal coins are nice but not that much nicer.
I do love great artwork in games, more-so as I get older, and for the Awaken Realms masterpieces Tainted Grail and Etherfields I have bought sleeves to protect and prolong the life of all those incredible cards.
And I don't have an issue with plastic, we're happy buying it for everything else in our lives so I'm suddenly not going to pick on boardgames as the martyr, and unless the game says all wooden components have come from recycled wood then there is not too much difference (note I am a massive recycler at home, my main rubbish bin goes out very infrequently as a hell of a lot of my waste, including food, ends up in the recycling bins, so it's not out of indifference but just why am I selectively picking on one item).
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #325436 11 Aug 2021 06:14

sornars wrote: I'd argue that the PnP aesthetic can also be a conscious choice with respect to components that impacts enjoyment. For example the folio games published by Nate Hayden/Cave Evil require you to cut out the cards and assemble them which contributes to the whole experience and helps to create an emotional attachment before play has even begun. When you play one of those you know you're playing something boundary pushing even if the choice of components may have been a cost saving measure.


Yeah for sure. I genuinely do like that aesthetic of the home made thing. I rarely do a "good" job, but that just gives it a bit of a punk rock vibe, or something, and I appreciate that. Far from boundary pushing (come on Nate, release the files for Rocky Mountain Man already) I think my favourites I've made though are the Koljeka one I did for which I printed everything on paper and then glued it all on to cereal boxes with craft glue and then cut it up with scissors. I mean, it looks like rubbish, but it kind of suits it. I enlisted the kids to make a track for Heimlich and Co and it's just a piece of printer paper with their dodgy texta drawings on it - they chose what the buildings would be. But bringing it out to play is kind of fun.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #325437 11 Aug 2021 06:21
Since you already have a set of poker chips, I'd recommend trying using them as a replacement for paper money. Many who have have reported that it, surprisingly, speeds play -- presumably due to the greater ability to identify denominations.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #325438 11 Aug 2021 08:40
I actually kind of like the paper money visually for sure, and tactilely. And its denomination is static, whereas poker chips need to be reassigned their values depending on the game.

The paper money that comes with the game looks like part of the game instead of the poker chips which appear as a bolted-on object intruding in the mix.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #325439 11 Aug 2021 08:49

Gary Sax wrote: edit: it goes without saying that I have become wealthier too since I was a dirtbag grad student; that might also be driving this.

Well if you're going to humblebrag your own comfortable financial status, then the rule is Gary Sax now has to buy each of us a new game. I, for one, will be choosing one with a load of blinged-out tactile enhancements!
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #325440 11 Aug 2021 09:32
On the topic of game money, flinging around the stacks of paper bills in Millennium Blades is great fun. Having to assemble all of those wads of cash was... less fun. But worth it.

I am, to a degree, a fan of games that have something in the box that doesn't serve much of a real purpose. For example, the mountain standee that came in one of the Epic Spell Wars games. It didn't do anything, other than be ridiculous.

Other great components of note: the monuments you assemble in Lords of Hellas, the Rambo knife round tracker in Rambo, and the infection scanner in Nemesis.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #325444 11 Aug 2021 10:05
The paper money thing is useful in games where you make tons of transactions but it's by far most important in games where you *must* know, at all times, how much money your opponents have before doing actions.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #325449 11 Aug 2021 10:53

hotseatgames wrote: ...
Other great components of note: the monuments you assemble in Lords of Hellas ....

Yes ! (I have recently dry-brushed mine, as a non-painter, and they look fantastic as monuments now)

hotseatgames wrote: ...
and the infection scanner in Nemesis.

And YES ! This is a brilliant part of the game ... and I saw something similar done in another review of a game, Middara perhaps, where they have a large campaign book and all the secret or 'not to be read at this stage' is in the same colour-mix hidden format and you had to hold a 'scanner' over the text on the page to read it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #325502 12 Aug 2021 13:19
Art is more crucial to me than components. I'm not completely indifferent to the heft of a fancy poker chip or the wonderful texture of the debossed map tiles of Space Hulk 3rd, but the right art can do a much better job of establishing the setting and tone of the game. Painted miniatures can enhance a game, but most people never get around to painting their minis, and those unpainted minis add almost nothing to my enjoyment of the game. The unpainted minis can even potentially create a bit of confusion, depending on the size of the minis and the amount on the table at any given time.