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  • Essays
  • Bits and Pieces - Board Game Accessories

Bits and Pieces - Board Game Accessories

O Updated
(Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

Once you've been delving into the board game hobby for a while, you discover there is more to it than just the games themselves. There is a whole swathe of board game accessories that lures you deeper into the rabbit warren of our wonderful and amazing hobby. In this article, I want to look at some options and give you an idea of what you can add to your collection to make your gameplay experience even more exhilarating.

If you've followed my blog for a while, you will probably know that one of my favourite board game accessories are metal coins. Whenever I can afford to, I will always purchase the deluxe edition of a game, if it comes with metal coins instead of cardboard tokens. The clink and clank of metal on metal is enchanting. The weight of the coins in your hand is soothing. Adding to your coin balance is much more satisfying when you can hear the coins and feel their weight, as opposed to game money that is cardboard or even paper. At the same time, paying for things feels a lot more painful, because you can almost literally feel your money stash getting lighter.

Suddenly, the money in a game plays a much more important role. It's like the One Ring that is its own character and has its own mind and desires. Metal coins really enhance the gameplay experience and I do really strongly recommend you consider getting yourself some.

However, even though buying separate sets of metal money is very enticing and some of the designs you can find when you peruse suppliers such as Board Game Extras or MeepleSource are just amazing and possibly are the perfect fit for your favourite game, they are also usually quite pricey. So maybe consider using actual money, maybe from another country, in your game instead. It's likely to be cheaper. Also, there are many listings of decorative coins and tokens on various online shopping sites that will provide a good hoard of metal coins, as long as you don't need a lot of different denominations. Ultimately though, buying a deluxe version of a game that includes metal coins is the better option, in my view.

Speaking of deluxe editions, when I purchased Brass: Birmingham, I chose the upgraded version because it came with poker chips. These weren't just cheap poker chips either, but the now-infamous Iron Clays. Again, you can buy them separately, but it's also more expensive compared to buying Brass's deluxe edition. Irrespective of how you get hold of them though, using poker chips in games is nearly as good as using metal coins, if not better, depending on the game you play.

Any games that have a stock market or similar will most likely benefit from poker chips over metal coins, while the latter are great for games where you purchase multiple goods to trade, if that makes sense. For example, I've got the metal coins for Clans of Caledonia and also Genotype and they really enhance the gameplay a huge amount. The poker chips for Brass are a must, but they are also a gamechanger for games such as Luzon Rails.

Another essential, in my view at least, are dice trays. Of course, that's only for games where you roll a bunch of dice. Dice trays come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but I would always recommend you ensure that wooden ones or trays made from other hard materials do have a soft inlay, such as felt, for example, otherwise the noise of rolling a handful of dice is going to become annoying very quickly.

I think dice trays are essential for games like Oath, Tharos and Wingspan, of course, which does come with a dice tower that functions like a dice tray. So, yes, if you think having a dice tower is something you want to try, because you find it hard rolling lots of dice, then a dice tower can take the role of a dice tray, again bearing in mind that there is some sort of noise buffering built in, so nobody gets a headache.

Being able to contain dice and reducing the chance of them flying everywhere, knocking over components or jumping off the table, never to be seen again, is very useful. It also means all the dice are kept in one place and you can pass the dice tray around if everyone is drawing from a shared dice pool for example. Speaking of passing around, dice trays can also function as component storage for the same reason, which is a great feature.

The last thing I want to talk about are realistic resources, but before I do, let me just touch on card accessories. Many of you love card sleeves. For me, they're a waste of plastic. I much prefer a well-loved and worn deck of cards than having to pay good money for good sleeves and adding to the pile of plastic our hobby already creates. However, I do understand how relaxing it can be to sleeve a large deck of cards and how it gives you the opportunity to look at every card in detail. You get a real feel for the cards.

There are also card holders, which can be useful. Some board game tables, another area of board game "accessories", which I won't go into, come with built-in card holders. They can be really useful, if you find it hard to hold cards in your hand or if the game expects you to somehow manage fanning out 20 or more cards, which is going to be a struggle for most of us. Personally, I've not tried card holders yet, but they're definitely worth looking into.

So, after this little excursion, let me return to realistic resources. I would argue they are nearly as important as metal coins or poker chips, but they do rank a level below those. At the same time, I think I would put them above dice trays or dice towers. A game with realistic resources does look really stunning on the table. However, I do know that many of these upgraded resources are made from plastic or resin, so they're not my first pick. I'm thinking more about custom wooden tokens. In a similar vein, custom wooden meeples are, of course, something to think about too. I think when a game comes with these, it does look a lot more interesting on the table and makes it much easier to identify the function of these components in the game.

Finally, don't worry, I've not forgotten minis, but all I want to say about them here, is that I think they are another source of plastic in our hobby that we should try and do without. I do understand that miniature painting is a hobby in itself and I don't want to deprive people of this past time, but I also ask us to find a balance for our hobby and think about whether a bunch of plastic miniatures is really necessary to get an amazing game experience or whether custom wooden tokens or even cardboard standees (except, they also usually have a plastic stand, unfortunately) would do a job that's nearly as good and is more environmentally friendly.

So, this was my quick excursion into board game accessories. Now it's your turn. Have you found certain accessories to be absolutely vital? Are there certain games that just need a specific upgrade or that you just had to buy the deluxe version of? Please share your experiences with and thoughts about board game accessories 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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Virabhadra's Avatar
Virabhadra replied the topic: #327655 02 Nov 2021 21:17
Is it less wasteful to buy a second copy of a game than it is to sleeve the first one?

I never used to sleeve my cards, and I've never had anything really horrible happen to them. However, I have noticed the way that certain card finishes fade and wear, and in the past few years I've started picking up rarer games (e.g. Cave Evil) for which replacing the whole game, much less a single card, would be basically impossible.

I also refuse to riffle shuffle any of my cards, and sleeving them helps immensely with that. Box wear/damage doesn't bother me much, but I endeavor to keep the components pristine unto the heat death of the universe.

Oh, I have a dice tray and I love it. Makes getting games played in bed or on the ground a cinch.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #327660 03 Nov 2021 12:44
I used to never sleeve cards, but on some of my most played games I began to notice that there would be edge wear and markings that made them sometimes easily identifiable. Combined with also buying expensive games, or some card quality being inferior (quickly showing wear or so thin they could use some reinforcement), I became a sleever.

I draw the line though at coating everything in plastic or using coin capsules to keep tokens.

I like nice accessories and they help the urge to spend on games without buying more games.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #327664 03 Nov 2021 13:07
I understand sleevers, but I tend to think of it as something to resort to. I don't have any apriori idea of what is going to get played 50-100 times, which is when I start to notice card wear problems. My spirit island copy is in extremely bad shape these days. I figure if it gets in too bad of shape (minor powers are in ROUGH shape) we'll sleeve it just to get rid of identifiability.

I should probably get enough sleeves to sleeve my arkham LCG player decks. Like 100 or so... may still do that, I dunno. They get shuffled a lot due to card powers, the nice thing is that you really only have to sleeve them once per campaign and then trade things in and out.
Virabhadra's Avatar
Virabhadra replied the topic: #327672 03 Nov 2021 13:49
Oh yeah, do neoprene mats count as an accessory? I will always take that where it is an option. I could carpet a house with all the neoprene in my collection.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #327678 03 Nov 2021 14:25
Waiting for damage and then sleeving to remove identifiability is generally my routine. Bad for the resell market, but reselling board games is kind of a pain anyway.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #327679 03 Nov 2021 14:29
I tend to sleeve after I've played a game once or twice ; by then I know if I will keep it long term or not. Some games with cards don't see a lot of shuffling/handling and I'll leave them unsleeved. Given the unpredictable nature of print/shelf life for wargames I tend to err on the side of caution and sleeve. Sleeves when bought in bulk are fairly cheap so I tend to always have a ton on hand.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #327684 03 Nov 2021 15:07
I really should sleeve a lot of my card games. I regret the wear that's happened with some of my older stuff or those games that were repeatedly played by MTG players used to sleeved cards, like Chaos in the Old World. The finish has clearly come off some of the spells cards in that one. They're not identifiably worn, but they're worn. One of the little details I really appreciated about Lovercraft Letter was that the cards came with nice, thematic sleeves, including some extras. I should really get some for games like Guildhall, The Crew, and Bloody Inn.

I know there are probably some pages on BGG that identifies what size various games need, but I'm not entirely sure how to find them.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #327685 03 Nov 2021 15:13

Jackwraith wrote: I know there are probably some pages on BGG that identifies what size various games need, but I'm not entirely sure how to find them.


boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/164572/card-sleeve-sizes-games

And

www.sleeveyourgames.com/

Are the two resources I use.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #327691 03 Nov 2021 16:19
Thanks for that second link . Easier than going thru a fucking 228 page BGG thread.
Virabhadra's Avatar
Virabhadra replied the topic: #327699 03 Nov 2021 18:54
SleeveYourGames is a great tool and it's right 99% of the time. I made a project of sleeving most of my stuff at once, and it was super handy to be able to check off all the games I'd chosen and have the site spit out a "you need a total of X size sleeves, Y size sleeves, and Z size sleeves for your collection."

The flip side of doing everything at once is that I definitely ended up with sleeves that don't seem to fit components to any game that I own. I can't even tell where they're supposed to go. And the Yucatan Narrow sleeves the site recommended for Buffy the Vampire Slayer were too tall by half an inch - an easy fix with the papercutter, but still annoying. If you're careful, though, I think that kind of thing is easily avoidable.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #327700 03 Nov 2021 19:54

Jexik wrote: Waiting for damage and then sleeving to remove identifiability is generally my routine. Bad for the resell market, but reselling board games is kind of a pain anyway.


I’m always amused that people who spend hundreds of dollars on paraphernalia each year are concerned about resale value of a game they’ll likely play seven times.

I sleeve as repair only. And to make cheap-ass print and plays.
n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #327702 03 Nov 2021 21:12

Msample wrote: Thanks for that second link . Easier than going thru a fucking 228 page BGG thread.


You can easily go to any specific game’s page, look at the geeklists and sort by hotness. That will take you directly there.

Or just hit the show titles only button on the list and follow the numbered link to the entry.
Erik Twice's Avatar
Erik Twice replied the topic: #327737 05 Nov 2021 19:19
A pack of sleeves costs 1 to 2€ and makes cards last forever. To me it's just horribly wasteful to damage your games when so little money can make them remain in perfect shape.

It doesn't take long for cards to become marked, either. You can very easily damage cards just by shuffling a couple times. Any game that has a coarse finish like Brass or Tragedy Looper will get marked fast. And any game with subpar components like Terraforming Mars wouldn't have lasted a week without sleeves. Also, while it might not be "game-ruining", most games with cards have hidden information on them and it sucks to recognize a certain card or event is going to appear because the card has a crease.

Cards will also pick up gunk and grease from both the table and player's hands. It's disgusting to pick a game only to see cards stick together becaus they are dirty. Sleeves don't tend to pick dirt so it's yet another problem they solve.

Even if you don't play a game, why risk damaging it? It's a game that can make another person happy, that can be sold, given away or just enjoyed again. To me it's automatic to sleeve.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #327738 05 Nov 2021 20:14
The copy of Terraforming Mars I play on has at least 30 plays and its cards look fine.

If you want to sleeve, sleeve. But it’s not a panic to do it. Terraforming Mars might not be a bad choice because it’s good enough to warrant 100 plays.
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #327745 06 Nov 2021 18:27
Is there a better card material? I feel like a game that DEMANDS constant shuffling should have cards with enhanced durability. Kinda like those acrylic gloom cards maybe.

Another high tactile game component are those GMT block games with all the stickers. A soothing few hours assembling armies is an odd value add to that series.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #327746 06 Nov 2021 18:54
I sleeve all of my games. It's not for longevity. Maybe it started that way but I've let too many games go over the years to worry about that anymore. It's specifically because I like that the cards always look brand new. Just an aesthetic thing that I enjoy every time I play.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #327749 06 Nov 2021 22:00
I get genuine aesthetic enjoyment from work cards. I don't go out of my way to make that happen of course, but there' something about an old box and scuffed cards that just speak to me. Of course there is an issue if cards are identifiable, but in truth that rarely matters in my situation - we don't go in for hundreds of plays of the one game - and if it did it's not hard to get work arounds (draw from the bottom of the deck instead of the top for example).
Dr. Mabuse's Avatar
Dr. Mabuse replied the topic: #327751 06 Nov 2021 22:13
My copy of Cosmic Encounter is WORN. My game group and I have played dozens upon dozens of games and not one card sleeved. If you look at the side of the main deck you can tell which cards are the oldest due to slight yellowing, but no one is arsed enough to closely look when the deck is sitting there.

My favourite pre-owned copy of a game is Up Front (Avalon Hill) that I bought from an older gamer over ten years ago. It smelled of cigarette smoke and the rulebook was highlighted. He said he played the crap out of it was ready to let it go. I've played it close to 20 times and have never sleeved it.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #327752 06 Nov 2021 22:21

Dr. Mabuse wrote: but no one is arsed enough to closely look when the deck is sitting there.


That’s been my observation as well.
mtagge's Avatar
mtagge replied the topic: #327753 06 Nov 2021 22:27
I find that if you have quality sleeves games that require constant shuffling of small decks go smoother. I'm thinking of Journeys in Middle Earth where each player has a deck of 15-25 cards that they shuffle a dozen times each play. The base cards would get played every game, character cards only if that person is picked, and role cards depending on what part of the campaign you are in the base are added and advanced as you progress.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #327755 06 Nov 2021 22:32
Apropos of this thread, I finally bought some sleeves for Spirit Island. We've had ~125 plays and our minor powers are marked up really bad and starting to get iffy structurally, we played a couple times this weekend and had a hard time shuffling. While I was there ordering sleeves for minor and major powers I went for just enough to sleeve up two arkham card game player decks.