My Agricola sorted with plastic cups.
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Board Game Inserts/Game Trays – Why Use Them and Which to Choose

If you visit any forums or groups devoted to board games, there’s one frustration shared by almost all players. Inserts. Something, that in most industries would be considered just an element of packaging, here becomes an important part of the product, and improves the way people interact with it. Sadly, inserts are often not only designed wrongly, but get completely ignored and not included in a game box.

Why Do Players Care So Much About Inserts and Trays

Why so many board gamers complain about inserts? Aren’t ziploc bags enough?

Imagine unpacking a huge euro-style game where the volume of meeples equals a medium sized sequoia. Each of 30 meeple sets needs to be sorted back to 30 ziploc bags after you finish your game.

A certain game with no insert included. This one’s actualy pretty small so it doest’t hurt so much.

To avoid nightmares like that, some smart guy invented inserts. Sometimes they’re included in game boxes, sometimes may need to be bought separately or made by a player with his or her own hands. Gaming related FB groups and forums are full off DIY insert photos, which often look like small pieces of art.

Well made inserts help with segregating various elements, factions, sorting meeples by colour, hold different card types, figurines, markers and everything else you can imagine. They also make the set-up much quicker. From my experience: a good insert solution for Gloomhaven can save you 30-40 minutes of setting up the scenario and putting it back to the box later on. With the regular box you usually spend more time on set-up than actually playing.

Game time also become shorter, as players can easily take all the elements they need each turn straight from the box, instead of looking for them all over the table. This also helps in teaching new people how to play, as the game feels more simple. Finally: inserts protect the components and make games transport friendly.

Insert / Game Tray Types

Over the course of the years, tabletop game players and publishers  have invented many ways to store their wooden, plastic and metal treasures. Here are the most common types.

Wood

2-part wooden insert for Caverna. Image from BGG.

One of the most common insert types you can find on online board game stores is made of good old wood (e.g. birch). Thin plywood sheets host elements necessary for assembling the inserts. You use them like a punch board – take out all the elements and assemble them together with a special wood friendly glue. The entire process may take some hours to finish. If your DIY skills are good enough, you might get a really sturdy box, that can also, unlike a majority of inserts, be painted on and decorated. Verdict? If you’re patient and good at DIY stuff, wooden inserts might be the way to go, but they are sadly one of the most expensive options on the market.

Foamcore

DIY insert for Aqua Sphere. Foamcore.

Foamcore is another material often picked by people looking for custom inserts for their games. It’s lightweight, and when done right, great to hold all your stuff together. Apart from the retail ones, it’s also possible to create your own.

While making your own insert you may still need some minor DIY skills, but it’s miles easier than working with wood. Everything can be done with a good cutter and some rulers to help with measuring and precision. There are also many insert schematics for specific games available on board game forums.

Evacore

Some companies also offer inserts from a material called Evacore – a type of laminated foam with thick walls. It feels more durable than foamcore, but not as heavy as plywood. Still, they need to be glued together, but it seems easier and this type of insert is almost twice as cheap as the wooden one.

Plastic Inserts

Insert/Game tray from Dead Man’s Doubloons. Plastic.

Some companies include these by default. Definitely one of the most comfortable options, but they’re not that common on the market, unless a publisher adds them. They can also be modular and have special, translucent lids allowing for even easier set-up and more protection. CMON games often have these, and they make titles like Blood Rage really durable.

Plastic inserts use box space to the fullest, include small square holes for dice, tokens and anything else you can imagine. They’re great at holding all minis and components in place and offer plenty of protection.

Cardboard

Wodny Szlak. A game with a neat, cardboard insert included by the producer.

These are usually made by the creators of the game and included by default. If they fit the product, it can be a great, lightweight and unexpensive solution. And some scissor and glue pros can always try to design their own.

Plastic Cups

My Agricola sorted with plastic cups.

Finally: 2 solutions for people who want to save money and have no MacGyver DIY skills. A bunch of plastic cups (my Agricola ones are called Combibox) available on various tabletop gaming accessory sites. They come in various shapes and sizes so picking a set that will fill you box is not so hard. Some can hold cards, smaller – work for tokens and other elements. This one’s easily the least expensive solution, but sometimes the sizes are limited and few final meeples may not fit inside.

Nut and Bolt Containers

Gloomhaven – tokens and cards held in nut&bold containers.

And a solution that’s neat for traveling or organizing a game that has too many similar elements. You can buy these things in every tool store, and they’re usually used for holding nuts, bolts, jewellery and other small objects. This solution works wonderfully for my Gloomhaven, but you can’t fit the containers back to the original game boxes.

What Makes Inserts and Game Trays Good?

So what every good game insert tray should have? Most tabletop gamers have a specific set of requirements. Surprisingly, many inserts on the market, especially these included in actual games lack a huge amount of these features. So what makes an insert tray good?

Official Takenoko box insert.
  • Simple assembling or preferably no assembling at all.
  • Designed with certain games in mind, so that elements don’t fall out or fly all over the box (my Takenoko has this problem).
  • Planned in a way that allows for fast and easy set-up.
  • Designed in a way, that allows playing straight from the box.
  • Modularity is fine, especially when some elements may be taken out of the insert and used as e.g. card holders.
  • Places to store cards that take sleeves into account (one of the most common and frustrating mistakes when designing inserts).
  • The insert should fit into a game’s original box.
  • Reasonable pricing, especially when it comes to shipping. Most insert makers are based in the US and shipping to Europe really hurts.
  • Including space for planned future expansions, promos and exclusives, so the game still stays inside one box. One recent example is the insert for Chronicles of Crime that had space for 2 future campaigns.
  • Good quality and sturdiness.
  • Proper colouring, especially one that’s fitting the game it’s made for.

In the end you have to take your specific needs into account. Are you planning to travel a lot? Have detailed minis that need extra protection? Want some part of the game (like your hero in a dungeon crawler) be placed in a separate, modular box? Unless you have some good DIY skills and patience, plastic and foamcore inserts sound the best and to our surprise – are least expensive. They may cover not so many titles though. You can buy a wooden insert for virtually any game, but for people who prefer plastic, choices are very limited.

Now, we’d love your opinion on games that need inserts the most. Click our short survey below to share your suggestions 🙂

>>>GAME INSERT SURVEY

>>>UPDATE: RESULTS ARE IN!

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