The Board Game Box Review
Okay, I’m taking Space-Biff! across the threshold into true nerd territory. This is nerdier than a sixteen-hour game of Runewars, a GLaDOS pumpkin, or dressing up as characters from RAGE… alright, less nerdy than that last one.
I’m writing this because if there’s one thing I can’t stand (and trust me, there’s at least one thing I can’t stand), it’s poorly-designed board game boxes. That’s right: When the box is too big, too small, won’t play Tetris with other games, or falls apart after a year, it really ticks me off something mighty. And I’m sure there’s at least one other person out there who feels the same way. Cue The Board Game Box Review.
A Note on Scoring
Here on the Space-Biff! Board Game Box Review, we’ve worked for decades (or at least the German class that I spent thinking about this instead of learning el Deutsch felt like a decade) to discover the best scientific method for scoring board game boxes. We hope you find our metric simple enough:
★ One star is pretty bad. This game was possibly designed by Fantasy Flight, or perhaps by someone wanting to topple Fantasy Flight from their poorly-packed and misproportioned throne. An extreme Plano makeover may be necessary. Good Plano boxes can fix some of the worst board game packaging, but one star scores indicate that even Plano Makeovers may not be enough.
★★ Two stars means fair. The packaging is pretty good, and if there’s a problem it can be easily solved through Plano magic or a bit of creative shuffling. This is a decent score, and if your game earned two stars, you can figure out how to send me royalty checks via the “Contact” section up near the top of the site.
★★★ Three stars is the ultimate in board game packaging. Only two of our seven games managed to pull out three stars, and one of them only by the barest amount. This score cannot be bought (but two stars can, totally). It must be earned.
Please note that I love all of these games. In fact, some of the worst-packaged games are among my all-time favorites. But when I buy an excellent board game, it should be stored in the finest of boxes. And since normal people can’t afford the four hundred dollar special edition made of lacquer and leather and tusk-ivory, it’s time to voice our dissatisfaction at how poorly some of these amazing games have been housed. So let’s start with some stinkers!
Small World — ★ (Days of Wonder)
Now, you may already be noting that I’m picturing two standalones. Yes, Small World and Small World: Underground are two separate games, but the many expansions that are designed to go with either “starter” copy are hard-pressed to fit into even the extra plastic box (which came with one of the expansions). There are some folks who have reportedly managed to crush these components into a single box, but those people were exposed to gamma radiation at a young age. At any rate, even if I were able to work some box voodoo, the original Small World would get a lonely star for this reason:
The Small World tray is flat-bottomed, meaning that your army chits are going to get trapped like a potato chip salesman in a slot canyon, and only those with long fingernails or the foresight to string a piece of floss under each compartment will be able to get them out.
I’d probably give Underground two stars if I considered it a game of its own, but Small World works best when you have dozens of races and powers floating around. So one star. Sorry, Small World. We can still be friends—with benefits if the Priestesses or Amazons are out.
Runewars — ★ (Fantasy Flight Games)
My love of Runewars is no secret, but my hatred of its box has been until this very moment. The problem is that it’s two sizes too big. Even with the dozens of fine components that come with the game, once they’re punched out and sorted into baggies, they occupy only about half of the box. Which means that stacking this oblong leviathan on your shelf is not only tricky, but may lead to the box caving in if it’s stacked upon.
The expansion, Banners of War, fills out the box a bit, but not entirely. I’ve found that a couple of stacked Plano boxes has helped, but the tradeoff to well-protected figurines is that the lid doesn’t close entirely. These are epic problems for this epic game.
Summoner Wars — ★ (Plaid Hat Games)
Summoner Wars—possibly my favorite game of all time—comes in many different sizes. Two of the starter sets come in fairly compact boxes (uncomfortably small, and they struggle to contain the growing number of expansions), while the Master Set comes in a strange box that’s too long in every possible direction. I long to see the shelf that this box fits comfortably atop; currently mine tabby-lounges on our piano.
Even worse, if you choose to chuck the starter sets and expansion deck boxes and pack everything into the Master Set box in hopes of whittling down this immense game to a manageable traveling size, you’ll find that the box is so roomy that your cards will become a huge mess unless you do something drastic, like assembling some custom tuckboxes:
Sadly, this barely manages the sprawl. Sorry, Plaid Hat Games, but you need to figure out a way to safely store these hundreds of beautiful, brilliant cards.
Mage Knight — ★★ (WizKids)
Mage Knight is a rich experience. It may be tough to figure out, but ultimately everything fits together, and you can even play solo. Which can even be said of the packaging. I was stymied at first. The box isn’t very big, and there are plenty of components. I finally figured out a solution:
By cutting most of the larger plastic insert away, I was able to fit everything into the box, including all the cards with sleeves (the cards are quite thin). Problem solved easily, meaning that everything was packed tightly into a plenty sturdy and decent-sized box. Two stars earned!
Cyclades — ★★ (Asmodee)
This is another example of a box that’s too large until the expansion appears (in this case, Cyclades: Hades). However, unlike Runewars, that expansion fills the box completely. Even better, a single Plano 3600 fits in there perfectly, protecting the figurines while still filling up the box enough so that it won’t collapse into itself when something heavy rests atop it.
Ghost Stories — ★★½ (Asmodee)
Ghost Stories comes in an acceptable box, though at first glance it isn’t anything special. It’s average all around—normal size, a need for baggies to hold the figurines, and cardboard of ordinary heaviness. Nothing much to complain about. What elevates it to two-and-a-half-stars status is the expansion. See, the developers must have realized that there were so many additional components that they wouldn’t fit comfortably in the base game’s box. So they put it in an additional box, but did something so simple with that extra container that I’m astounded that everybody else hasn’t adopted the practice.
My goodness. What a kindness, what a mercy. We can fit the expansion right on top of the original box without taking up double the space. Good game, Asmodee.
And a drumroll, please, for the grand winner of the first Space-Biff! Board Game Box Review…
Lords of Waterdeep — ★★★ (Wizards of the Coast)
The reason that the Lords of Waterdeep box is so astounding has nothing to do with the fact that the art is even better than most of the great stuff we’ve already seen. It has nothing to do with the unique folds of the box, which I’m unreasonably enamored with:
No, the real reason this packaging has left me breathless (in fact, so much so that it’s the single reason that I decided to write this article) is this:
Everything fits into this box so snugly that it makes me want to wrap up in microfiber blankets and down comforters on a winter day in front of the fire and pretend that I’m one of the game’s meeples.
Now, you might be looking at those components and thinking, “Why son, those look mighty snug indeed. Perhaps a mite too snug. Perhaps a mite tight. A feller may need a woman’s fingernails to get them there pieces out of that there box.”
But no. No. Look at this picture, and you’ll understand why every board game box maker (who does that, by the way? The designer? The printer? Some tubby consultant?) should go out and buy this game and charge it to their research account.
Yes, you push down on the components and they pop right up. Folks, I present the board game box revolution, and the grand prize winner of our first Review.
And now that you know all about my obsession for finding the finest board game boxes, please tell: what board game boxes do you recommend? How can we help our friends in the board game industry properly protect our components? With enough effort, I think we can start the movement. It’s already started, here, today.
Posted on April 12, 2012, in Board Game and tagged Board Games, Cyclades, Ghost Stories, Lords of Waterdeep, Mage Knight, Runewars, Smallworld, Summoner Wars, The Board Game Box Review. Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.