Box inserts are a pain in the neck to the gaming industry. I mean, what could be so trivial? They’re only boxes and only cardboard, so what’s so special about that? Well, it turns out, as gamers, we are somewhat particular about our box inserts. Who would have guessed that people who spend ages planning and scheming to make the most out of each turn would be fussy?
For non-gamers this is going to seem like a weird topic to write about; however, box inserts are a genuine source of controversy within the hobby. We spend a lot of money on games, and the last thing we want is for them to be badly stored. This has led to a lot of gamers being very specific about what we want to see when we open a box. Yes, “we”, I include myself in that group.
Essentially, what we want to see are well-organised boxes that have space in them to store everything perfectly. Is that so much to ask?
Yes? Pah! Well, let’s have a serious talk about inserts then.
It is possible that, as gamers, we have been spoiled. In the old days of Monopoly, everything would be bundled in a box with just a few slots for the papercash. That was what passed as good insert design, which blew our minds. When Scrabble came along with a green bag (!!!) it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Granted it was part of the game, allowing for the blind drawing of tiles, as opposed to an actual box component, but it was something, and we loved it.
Then, with this recent renaissance of games, we have seen boxes that have spread across the entire range of insert goodness – from naked boxes to the fully fledged box with everything in its perfect place.
Then we see this –
Yes, the Lords of Waterdeep box. Everything, in that box, has its place. Everything is exactly one or two millimeters larger than it needs to be to ensure ease of use. The meeples have their own rows based on colour, and even the 100pts marker tiles have their own slots. That slot has a little indent in it to allow it to be pushed out easily and oh wow – this is an amazing box.
I mean, look at it. It’s beautiful. Look how organised it is.
So yes, modern gamers have, to some extent, been spoilt as to what to expect when they open a box. Lords of Waterdeep is (in my opinion) the pinnacle of great design, but there are plenty of great boxes out there. T.I.M.E Stories also has an amazing box, and as do (not quite to the same extent – but still 9/10) Betrayal at House on the Hill and Mysterium. They are beautiful boxes with plenty of room for everything inside.
Plenty of Room For…
That being said, there are plenty of examples in the industry for inserts that are just outright awful. For this, I think there needs to be a distinction made. Firstly, small Indie games, we have different expectations for. We don’t always expect them to have awesome inserts when the game itself is just a small budget production. Games are, after all, about the gameplay and the box insert comes second to that.
That being said, games like Splendor have caused quite a bit of controversy in the gaming world. This is not because Splendor has a particularly infamous insert – it’s just freaking huge. This has led to gamers wanting to create space on their shelves and coming up with condensed versions. Splendor falls into the category of “games with okay inserts that could have been done better”.
Games like Descent, The Game of Thrones LCG, Arkham Horror, and X-Wing, however, have notorious designs for not storing things well. The avid gamer may realise something familiar about those four games, and that is they are all made by Fantasy Flight. FFG keep their inserts very basic, and they do this to keep costs low. The reasoning is all well and good, I suppose, if it makes the games slightly cheaper, however, for Descent (in my opinion) this is taken too far.
The Descent box is frustrating and one of only a few boxes (to this day) where we have actively thrown away the insert. This is because it is designed to store the game when everything is in flat pack, not when everything is popped out of the cardboard. It genuinely matters, as it means the box never really shuts properly again – which is really freaking annoying!
So What Makes a Good Insert?
That aside, I think there are a few rules to creating awesome inserts that should be observed, and this is where this article reaches a peak. We’ve had a bit of a discussion and we think this list comprises sums it up. These are our guidelines for companies who want to create great box inserts for game boxes.
- Nothing Should Fall Out When You Put The Game Box On Its Side – Most gamers have to get pretty creative about how they store games, which often means a game being stored on its side (or occasionally upside down – I store my Fluxx boxes this way – long story). Nothing should fall out when a game is on its side. Period. Nothing is more annoying than having to store a game flat because things fall out, taking up valuable gaming-shelf-real-estate.
- Baggies Should Be Included – There is nothing wrong with a game needing baggies to store tokens and counters; however, if they are needed then they should be included. Don’t make me go around the UK Games Expo looking for baggies because your game box is a mess. No-one sells them – and I mean, like, NO-ONE sells them.
- Keep The Box The Right Size – Okay, so this is more one about the box itself than the insert, but boxes should be the right size for the game. Don’t do a Splendor with an un-necessarily huge box, but do allow space for expansion packs where possible, if the expansion isn’t big enough to need its own box. The Smash Up box is a perfect example of this. It’s got ten spaces for expansion decks in it because the expansions would be a pain to store otherwise. Kudos Smash Up.
Those, I think, are three ideas I would use for guidance for box inserts – but then again, what do I know? I’m just a gamer and a blogger.
So, there we go, a brief look at box inserts. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.