Why, Why, Why?! #9: Get Rid of Box Inserts

Seriously? Who OK'ed this?
Seriously? Who OK’ed this?

Why, Why, Why?! is a series of highly subjective, perhaps personally charged, and often provocative statements about the board gaming hobby.  At least they’re always worth debating.  Maybe you agree.  Maybe you don’t – but that doesn’t mean they’re not true!  And because I’m fair and balanced, I also draw upon the diversity of experience that we offer you here at iSlaytheDragon to present the “other side.”

Today we address…

Get Rid of Box Inserts – or “He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans!”

Organization.  The very survival of Civilization depends upon it.  Since the first days in which hunter-gatherers settled down in agrarian communities, humankind has always gravitated toward structure in labor, learning, finance, and law.  A lack of clear organization creates breakdowns in society, chaos, and the United States government.  And no one wants any of those!  So believe me, I totally get the desire behind those little, plastic, vacuum-formed game box inserts.  In theory, they’re the perfect solution for organizing all of your boards, tiles, chits, cubes, tokens, pawns, meeples, cards, dice, and money to prevent that embarrassing Chaos of Bits upon opening your favorite game.  But for the love of all that is good and decent, who designs those things?!  They’re completely and utterly impractical.  So make sure you’ve a well-stocked supply of assorted plastic, re-sealable baggies of various sizes.  Because you need to get rid of those box inserts and here’s Why, Why, Why?!

1. They’re not practical.  With a few rare exceptions, trays are hardly as useful as advertised.  Even if the tray is specifically designed for the game, cardboard bits never actually ride smoothly within it.  There may be a place for everything, but everything will not soon be in its place!  They’ll pop out and slide around and escape their little “homes” no matter how neatly they stack inside when you put it away.  Whether jarring loose as you jostle the box during transport; or if tiny elves mischievously mess with the bits inside, those chits, tokens, dice, and cubes are going to get loose – the smaller in size, the more likely.  And for the bits that stay in the bottom, you have to dump the cursed thing upside down to get them out.  Even a fancy tray, like the one in Small World with its nifty lid, still isn’t practical for adult gamers, because our fingers are too fat to dig out the tokens.  Besides that, there are gazillions of games with trays obviously produced for another design’s components.  These often send me into Hulk-like rages.  I mean, why even bother?!  It’s clear this isn’t going to work!  Oh, there are more issues.  Slots for cards become too thin once you sleeve them.  The thin plastic is easy to puncture or dent.  And storing the game on its side becomes problematic.  In short, even the coolest trays are deceiving, at best – and at their worst, openly mocking.  I can hear them laughing at us as I type…

2. Expansion makes them obsolete.  Even with inserts that I may begrudgingly – begrudgingly – agree are half-way useful, an expansion quickly outdates it.  Unless you keep all expansions and the base game stored separately.  Which is lame.  That’s just more stuff to carry.  Seasons, Dominion, Small World, Lords of Waterdeep all come close as examples of inserts that serve a practical purpose…until their unending expansions come one right after the other.  Then, as you stare back and forth between your new piles of bits and the base game’s vacuum tray, a lonely tear develops in the corner of your eye.  And at that point you may just realize that expansions are bad, too, as I’ve said all along

3. They’re expensive.  Finally, whenever I’ve heard developers and publishers talk about requests for useful box inserts, their overwhelming response is, “That takes money.”  Indeed, this would be why publishers re-use tray molds for other titles.  But while that may be cheaper than a custom design, it’s a needless expense, nonetheless.  Because it doesn’t work anyway!  I have a solution.  Get rid of the insert altogether.  Instead, invest the expense to upgrade components or jazz up artwork.  Better yet, with the money you save sans tray, knock a little bit off the old MSRP…

I really do enjoy opening a new game.  Don’t we all?  The sweet aroma of fresh cardboard and cardstock is relaxing and rejuvenating.  Punching tokens and unwrapping cards can be almost therapeutic.  Sifting through all the bits, spreading out the board, and leafing through a brand new rule book is like exploring a new world.

On the flip side, when I open a box and see a divided, vac tray sitting there in all its evil, my relaxation turns to stress.  Therapy gives way to anger.  And I can’t see past the pink haze which my blood-red eyes cast upon the black plastic.  “Why,” I scream to the gaming gods, “Why?”  This isn’t going to work, now really, is it?  But pity me not.  For once I’ve calmed down the next day, I squee with delight of another sort.  For it’s then that I may vent my fury by visiting wanton destruction upon the poor, unfortunate holders which I so loathe.  The healing may begin.

And then, in quiet solitude (oh, who am I kidding – I have six kids), I take out my stock of plastic, re-sealable baggies and set to the task of organizing and bagging all of the components like a proper, civilized man is ought to do.  Because then – and only then – there truly is a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Ah, now that's much better!
Ah, now that’s much better!


And now for another view…

Don’t Lose Hope, Good Box Inserts Do Exist – or The Wonders of an Insert Done Right

We’ve all had our fair share of experiences with bad box inserts.  It looks like it’s supposed to be functional and you put all the bits away in the various crevices but you’re nervous, will everything still be in it’s proper place when you open up the box again?  Do you think you can stand the box up on it’s side to fit nicely on your shelf?  Probably not, better put it in that stack over there with all the other games that you don’t quite trust to stand upright.  You walk away and before you know it someone picks up the game to check it out.  “What’s this one about?” they ask inquisitively.  You can only look on in horror as the flip the box over to look at the back.  You can hear the bits shifting around, falling out of their neatly packed arrangement and mingling into a big mess that you’re going to have to sort out.  You cringe.  Once the game is returned safely to it’s proper position you sneak back over and open up the lid ever so slowly.  Oh the horror, it’s worse than you could have ever imagined!  Cards, tiles, meeples, bits, pieces, rules – all jumbled together into one big mess.  And what is that piece?  I don’t even remember that being in the box!  In your anger you rip out that insert and start tearing it to shreds.  “Why did you do this to me [game publisher redacted]?” you cry.  I trusted you!

Now I know what you’re thinking dear reader, “Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to be the other side of the argument?!”  Well I just wanted to say that I’ve been there to, I know what Jason is talking about and I understand.  But here’s the important part… I still believe in the box insert.  I’m not content to just throw out my box inserts in a rage and bag everything in an oversized box (though I sometimes have no other choice).  I don’t want to become complacent and start saying “Ho hum, another bad insert. Nothing will ever change. I better just expect bad inserts from now on and then I won’t be disappointed.”  Oh no, I will continue to believe in the dream of the good… no GREAT box insert.  The one that holds everything tight and you can let Joe Curious Gamer pick up that box and shake it all around without batting an eye.  Time to wake up!  You deserve that perfect insert and you’re not going to get it by listening to Jason, giving up, and busting out the little baggies.  Behold!

Upside Down Box

Oh no, is that box of Seasons upside down?  No, don’t open it up!  I can’t bear to look…

Good Insert

Wait, what is this?  Everything is still in it’s proper place, there is hope after all!  Now that is what I’m talking about.  You deserve good box inserts and here’s  Why, Why, Why?!

1. They can be incredibly practical.  I bet there was a time when you thought box inserts were a good idea.  Back when you weren’t so jaded.  Well you were right to think so and when an insert is designed well it can be extremely useful.  True, you can say that bad inserts aren’t practical but nobody wants a bad insert.  Why do you think people ask for storage solutions or design their own custom trays?  We’re so desperate that we successfully fund storage solutions on Kickstarter.  We want a good way to store our games, we really do.  I bet if they started putting good inserts in games people would stop throwing them out.  Rather than saying “why even bother with inserts if you can’t get it right” let’s try “please give us a great insert, it’s important”.

2. That was really my main point but I guess I’ll talk about expansions.  We like to complain about boxes being too big for everything that comes in it.  Then some expansions come along and we complain that now everything doesn’t fit in one box.  It’s hard to please everyone but a clever design can work around these issues.  It’s true that games aren’t always designed with an expansion in mind but it’s still possible to make boxes or inserts that can adapt to growth (or simply release an expansion with an updated insert).  Take deck building for example.  Just because Dominion didn’t get it right doesn’t mean it was impossible to do.  Thunderstone Advance and any number of other next generation deck building games now come with lots of space, trays, and dividers to keep things organized.  We asked for better storage solutions and we got them, image that!  Give us a good insert and bring on those expansions.

3. I just like them, ok?  I will almost always give an insert a chance because I really want them to work.  I will go out of my way to make them work rather than just throw them out and leave everything bagged up in an empty box.  It feels so wrong.  And I’m especially happy when a game like Seasons comes along and the insert actually works without any effort on my part.  I bet there’s a small part of Jason that likes inserts too.  I know you’re in there somewhere Bruce Banner.  If money is the only barrier I’m guessing people will show they’re more than willing to pay for a better product.

Race For The Galaxy Storage
With only a little bit of work I can make this insert functional!
Race For The Galaxy Storage 2
What do you know? It all fits in there and I didn’t have to throw anything out!

Who’s with me?  Stop shrugging and throwing away your inserts without a second thought and start asking for something better.  Together we can make better inserts a reality.  Now let me just beg more publishers to listen.  Pretty please guys!

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

Discussion10 Comments

  1. Another point in defense of box inserts: a good box insert not only stores and organizes your tokens, but it provides structural support for the box itself, causing it to be sturdier so boxes can be stacked on top of each other awhile protected against the dreaded “cave-in”

  2. I prefer useful inserts to no inserts, but not every insert is useful.

    Which games do you guys think have great inserts?

    I’ll nominate a few. Airlines Europe’s insert is excellent, sorting all of the bits and keeping them in place even if the game is flipped or shaken. Libertalia’s insert is also very good, holding each individual deck separately. The Ticket to Ride insert is great, but that’s Days of Wonder, so it goes without saying.

  3. Related to futurewolfie’s point, I think one point of inserts from the publisher/retailer point of view is that they ensure the game box isn’t caved in when you buy it, and the bits haven’t been flung around the box during shipping.

    These game boxes can travel at least halfway around the world to get to their destination, so there’s going to be some abuse in transit! Without those inserts, wooden tokens could get split, punchboards can arrive with tokens fallen out of the sprues, and the box could be misshappen or split.

    That said, it doesn’t forgive the Queen-style user-assembled insert, which divides the box into four areas. Those usually doesn’t help me, and they do nothing in transit, either.

    I wonder if fulfillment services would consider using balled-up paper or Amazon-style air bubbles instead of inserts? Would that be cheaper?

    (BTW, I too am an unrepentant insert pitcher. I keep the inserts to maybe one out of every hundred games!)

  4. Just got my copy of Fantastiqa Rucksack edition and a couple of expansions. I looked at the insert, looked at the expansions, then tossed the insert. It just wasn’t any good for what was needed. It worked relatively well to contain the pieces just for the base game, but adding anything to it made it useless. Now looking to make some tuckboxes for the game and expansions for better organization in the box. I think the box size is quite a bit better – the original was pretty large, mostly for the board. Eliminating the board and concentrating on the essentials does make for a more compact game – just wish the insert had been planned with expansions in mind.

  5. Thinking a bit further – I do keep most of the inserts and use them, but sometimes they just get in the way or don’t do anything other than keep the box intact during shipping/storage. Race for the Galaxy and Star Wars LCG come to mind here – huge box, small amount of cards, cardboard to take up space. I know that both would get more full with expansions, but that’s still a lot of space taken for the base games.

  6. Pingback: Today in Board Games Issue #210 - Secrets of the Lost Tomb; AWE Interview - Today in Board Games

  7. Jessica, Galvanized Studios

    You’re so right! Most game box inserts are terrible. We made a custom box from the Container Store to condense our eight boxes of Catan (including all the various expansions, extensions). The inserts are worthless most of the time and very frustrating! Now we’re working on our first game and trying to figure out the packaging and, you’re right, the insert is expensive! Maybe we don’t need it? But, what’s worse – plastic inserts or tuck boxes for decks of cards?

    • Personally I like tuckboxes for cards – when you remove the insert you need a way to prevent those cards from going everywhere. The main issue with tuckboxes is that if you sleeve cards they no longer fit.

      One solution I frequently use is baggies. I have a collection of hundreds of plastic bags for storing parts. Often the bags that come in games are huge, so I switch them out with smaller baggies I got from a craft store. Then, when I get a game that has no good way to store cards, I use the larger baggies to put cards in and keep them from flying around everywhere and getting mixed up or damaged, and baggies often have the flexibility to store sleeved or unsleeved cards. Of course if there are too many cards to fit it can be difficult to get them in and out…

  8. Pingback: Hump Day Dump: Unmanly Wargaming, Ranting (again) about Box Inserts, and a Tour of the “Shed” man’s Shed

  9. Pingback: Hump Day Dump: Unmanly Wargaming, Ranting (again) about Box Inserts, and a Tour of the "Shed" man’s Shed – Board Gamers Anonymous

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: