The Board Game Box Review

After all that effort to remove everything teasable from the shot, I forgot the Skechers. Fine, tease away.

The board game boxes under review on our first installment of 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!

And it's even less compact than this. For photo reasons, we removed yet another sheet of components.

The most compact I've managed to make Small World.

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:

This was also apparently one of my wife's engagement photos.

The better plastic expansion and Underworld trays (on the left) compared to the flat-bottomed tray of Small World (on the right).

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.

After writing about a hundred of them, I'm out of captions for Runewars. Sorry.

The epic-sized Runewars box.

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.

This is about as organized as my desk.

The interior of the box, after protecting the pieces with two Plano 3600s.

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.

Tagline: This box isn't big enough for the six of them...

The Summoner Wars Master Set, one of the game's three starter sets—and the largest.

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:

We were making these when my sister's boyfriend came over. Boy, he thinks we're losers now.

My beautiful custom tuckboxes, which make the contents too big for the box. Le sigh.

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.

Pictured: four Mage Knights struggling to fit into the box.

Mage Knight, by the dreamy Vlaada Chvátil. Fantastic game. Okay boxing.

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:

This was a true Mage Knight's solution.

Solution: chopping the larger plastic insert in half.

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!

Especially the hoplite at the bottom-right. "This... is... CYCLADES!"

Polyphemus expresses his annoyance at the Cyclades box. Thank goodness it has defenders!

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.

As you can see, everyone is quite pleased with the state of these boxes.

Ghost Stories and one of its expansions, White Moon.

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.

Yes, this stuff excites me inordinately.

The White Moon box atop the normal Ghost Stories box. Amazing!

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…

I keep mistaking the O in "of" for a smiley face though. Which would be... okay. But maybe a quarter star off the score.

The pretty Lords of Waterdeep box.

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:

This is a hard one, so... thirty space pennies to the first person to identify what dvd set is in the background. Hint: embarrassing.

Wow. So different.

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:

I haven't even played this game yet. But the box, the BOX!

A place for every part, and every part in its place.

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.

I was thinking the peace prize, but the economy prize would be fitting too. DOUBLE PUN ATTACK!

Would someone *please* hand the man his Nobel?

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 , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. digitalpariah76

    You’re right, that IS a toughie. Desperate Housewives?

  2. I just played Small world the other night and had to have my wife get a couple of pieces out for me. Good thing she keeps those long finger nails!

  3. digitalpariah76

    Also, the Dixit box is nice. Sturdy box, nicely printed insert that serves a purpose (the scoring track) and all the components fit well inside the tray. And I hear that one of the add-ons fits into the tray too.

  4. I never noticed the alt texts on the pics. Its like you’re hiding away your best jokes!

    Okay, so to answer the Quiz question: If it isn’t Desperate Housewives… Gossip Girl? 7th Heaven?

    And as for board game boxes… I don’t own many, but Dominion was pretty well packed. Separate little slots for each set of cards so they don’t mix together.

    • Neither of those guesses win either. But yes, good guesses!

      I gave away my copy of Dominion (heresy, etc.), but you’re right, it had a fantastic box. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to separate cards into their own stacks, and the Dominion box did that for me. I wonder how well the expansions would go with it, or if they just need their separate containers?

  5. If I were an eligible contestant I would win the 30 space pennies, and speaking of boxes, that dvd set is one of the goofiest ones I have ever seen.

  6. Came here from Dice Tower News, and I must say, amen to this. Not sure if I’d give Ghost Stories that many stars, but I could not agree more on Summoner Wars. Amazing game, but hauling it around to my game group is like carrying an anvil, heavy and wrong shaped.

    Anyway, I hope someone takes note of this. I’m getting so tired of playing “tetris” with my game shelf.

  7. I’m sad to say I haven’t found a good game box by your standards. Khet does a great job at protecting pieces and being sturdy but it’s HUGE. The worst offender (easily a half star if Summoner Wars master set is only 1) is Resident Evil deck building. I’m not sure exactly what the box tray is supposed to do and the top has slots that trap cards and risk damaging them unless you turn it over.
    What about Death Angel? It’s compact and fits all the cards and tokens,I just don’t know where I’d put an expansion.

    • I suspect I’m a bit more picky than average when it comes to board game boxes, though I’ve seen plenty of complaints. I really do mean a two-star rating as largely complimentary, just not perfect.

      Part of the problem is that I’m running out of easy space for game storage, and I have too many boxes that can’t be on the bottom of a stack, or that don’t fit well with other games, or that need Planos to safely store all the pieces—problems like that. And with expansions a lot of these problems are compounded. On its own, the Summoner Wars Master Set would probably earn two stars (not three, since it’s still an oblong monster and the card trays aren’t roomy enough for sleeved cards). But it’s a game that’s designed from the ground up to be expanded, and despite its size, the box didn’t come with enough space to comfortably store the extra factions and reinforcements.

      I don’t know about the other games you mention, but I agree about Death Angel and I’d most likely rate it generously. As you say, the size and storage are fine so far. The one expansion I have (Mission Pack 1) is only about 20 cards, so everything still fits easily. You could probably squeeze in three or four similar expansions before the box would have to lose the insert, which would create a third column for cards. So two and a half to three stars, subject to change if the expansions burst out of the initial box.

  8. “How can we help our friends in the board game industry properly protect our components?”

    This one’s easy: Start including tuckboxes for the cards for your games! Also, make sure they’re big enough for sleeved cards.

  9. Just do a little remodeling if you don’t know what to do with your board game boxes. Make a new wall, build a fort in your living room or obstacle course to get to the bathroom. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this as a mission statement from Fantasy Flight Games on their monolithic boxes. Just watch out for Franco “Two Fingers” Fedicci from Fortune and Glory. That bastard will get you every time.

  10. Small World is the only one of those I own, but yeah, oversized or undersized boxes can be pretty annoying. Small World I’m not sure is the best example, since everything fits until you start adding expansions (although as you said, it can be difficult pulling all the pieces you need out of the little container).

    I’m actually somewhat a fan of the box for Roads and Boats, since with the plano to hold the bits and the &cetera expansion, everything except the roll of plastic just barely fits (and I use a plexiglass anyway, since it works a lot better). Only trouble is the box seems to intimidate people…

    • I’ve never tried Roads and Boats, but I’m glad to hear a plano makes it work. I’ve only played one crayon rail game, and its name evades me, but now this Roads and Boats looks tempting…

  11. There i was, googling ‘is ghost stories packaged in cardboard’ and which website should appear third on the list? Spacebiff! Question answered……awesome.

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