We examine the best ideas in game box storage but mostly I gripe about the ones that drive me bonkers.
People complained that I just store my games wrong, but I don’t know what they’re talking about.
I have a very particular pet peeve. It drives me completely nuts when you can’t get the game back into the box after you play it. Or when there is absolutely no organization, so that the game box is a jumbled mess and takes over 30 minutes just to set the game up again. But on the flip side, I truly love it when then game developers put real time and effort into creating a box storage solution that is a marvel of engineering, design, and even artistry.
So, let’s poke fun at some of my favorite (and not so favorite) games that have horrible box design. And celebrate those games that went the extra mile and put as much love into the game box as they did the game. We’ll save the worst for last and give you the good news first.
Top 5 Best Game Storage Design
Frankly, there are a number of games that do a decent job stuffing their stuff in a box. The quandary facing proper game box design can be divided into 4 challenges plus some extra credit for aesthetics: Components, Multiple Decks of Cards, Large 3-D structures, & Expansions. All of the Top 5 solved at least one of these problems with aplomb and there were several runner-ups in each category.
5 – Imhotep
The Diamond Component Well
In the days of yore when Parker Bros. ruled the land, box design was a simple affair; a 12 x 20 box, half the size of a foldable game board, with all the other stuff on top. No plastic baggies, no silly inserts. And we were satisfied.
Those game are gone replaced by individual game boards and personal play areas filled with chits, cubes, coins, and other tchotchkes. But how to store all these pieces after they’ve been removed from the standard 11” punch out board?
One solution uses the Pythagorean Theorem of the hypotenuse to create a near-perfect 7.5 diamond to contain all those game pieces and allows the game board(s) to remain flat on top and act as a cover to minimize component rattle.
Whether it is a no-frills affair to save costs as used in the runner-up, Fealty by Asmadi Games, or the distinctive high production of the winner, Imhotep by Kosmos, the diamond well is a simple and elegant solution to an age-old dilemma.
4 – Dixit
The Dreaded Card Game
Card games are the worst! To store, that is. If just left to their own devices, all cards will inevitably form a mosh pit in your box, becoming hopelessly, bruised and battered. To combat this, people have resorted to baggies – the good, multiple custom boxes – the bad, and rubber bands – the ugly. Rubber bands are the devil!
And games with hundreds of cards are especially prone to jumbilitis, and very few publishers bother to put any effort into card storage. But these three really put all hands on deck to solve the problem.
I shuffle between all three about which one is the best.
Both Dominion by Rio Grande Games and Sushi Go Party by Gamewright do a great job of keeping those wayward cards in line and organized. They even provide dedicated slots to separate the cards into their various categories, making set up and play much easier. Unfortunately, Sushi Go fails miserably if it is stored vertically, and Dominion leaves no room for any of its expansions.
So, the winner by default is Dixit by Libellud. Surreal, cerebral, and more insightful than a session with Sigmund Freud. And the box design is a dream.The cards stay in place, there is room for 3, maybe 4, compulsively purchased expansion decks, there’s dedicated space for voting tokens and those adorable beeples (bunny meeples), and the indentation for the scoring track keeps everything tight and secured. And, before you start, I’m sure there is a correlation between my absolute love of the game and its exalted status in game box design. My only improvement would be to move the tokens and beeples to the voids under the cards, allowing more room for MORE EXPANSIONS!
Speaking of surreal, there is no place more surreal than Bunnyhenge in Newport Beach, California. It is truly worth the pilgrimage.
3 – Steam Park
The 3-D Dilemma
Remember when board games were strictly 2-D? And the only three-dimensional objects were the dice and the player tokens?
Not anymore. These days, you got molded plastic mountains, dice towers, quality-of-life tile dispensers, you name it. But once you build the damn thing, how do you get it back into the box? Some games make you assemble, disassemble, and reassemble ad nauseum. And some have said, “Screw it! Just let it stick out of the box.” But we’ll get to that. However, some games really thought inside-the-box when it came to geometry.
I really enjoy the tile dispenser included in the Game of the Year version of King Domino by Blue Orange Games. It is one of the few “Upgrades” that actually improves the game. And they did a great job redesigning the box so that everything stayed in place. But there is a fair bit of dead space, and they didn’t build a home for the scoresheet, so like Emperor Commodus, I’m on the fence with this one.
Atmosfear the Harbingers by Mattel is my favorite horror board game and is in my Top 10 All-Time Best list. It has a lot of 3-D components, including multiple player racks, a large molded central Hub of Hell, a huge hexagonal board, a Well of Souls and absolutely everything has a home. It even has space for the original VHS tape. (It is an old game.)
But the best 3-D storage has to be Steam Park by iello, the best (and only) steampunk themepark game ever. The game has 18 3-D rollercoasters that fit just perfectly in the box. Not to mention dozens of 3-D concessions stands, several decks of cards, bags of meeples, and numerous other tokens. I almost put it in the running for the number 1 design. As for the game, I give it two thumbs up, my boys give it two white-knuckled screams, and the rando single-rider behind me just stares off into space, ruining my photo.
2 – Alhambra Big Box
These days, every game is released with a mandatory subsequent expansion, if not several. Now ignoring their diminishing returns and intrinsic value, which game box is best designed to handle such a plethora of diverse components? Especially once they release the ubiquitous all-in-one or Big Box edition? There are many games that do a good job, but my contenders both come from the same company, an All-Star in box design, Queen Games.
To start, the base game of Kingdom Builder is better designed than Alhambra and can even hold the first expansion, Nomads, without any issue. But when it comes to the game’s Big Box, Alhambra is the best architect in town.
The Alhambra Big Box packs in 5 expansion and did a phenomenal job of arranging them into distinct individual compartments. This allows players to mix & match their own preferred version of the game. For example, I don’t like the “vizier” cards, but I love the “city gates.” With this edition it is easy to choose between the base game, with any or all expansions with ease.
In contrast, Kingdom Builder’s components are larger, and it’s amazing that they were able to fit everything inside, but there is no division amongst the 4 expansion. So, if you don’t like “Marshlands” for example, you’ll have to exile those pieces yourself. So, for my money, it’s Alhambra’s Big Box by a mile.
1 – Wingspan
One Box to Rule Them All!
My choice for Best Game Box design came down to two. The Runner-up is Fog of Love by Hush Hush Projects. You and a partner play as the two love interests in your very own romantic comedy. Will they live happily ever after or implode in a shattering break-up? Who knows?
What I do know is that the box is the most luxurious game box I’ve ever seen. Just opening it feels exciting; this is the sturdiest cardboard box I’ve ever seen, and it feels more like opening a giant jewelry case than a trivial board game. And inside is a perfect bouquet arrangement of all its various, glorious components. But there is one box that just had MORE!
Wingspan by Stonemaier Games is not only one of the best games of all time, (you be quiet, Shit Up & Sit Down!) but it is the most perfectly packed, most dense game ever. Forget about silly inserts, every square centimeter is filled with components. There are game boards and card trays; chunky dice, action tokens, food chits, and adorable egg meeples; plus an enormous amount of cards and even a 3-D dice tower.
Yet everything nestles together perfectly. And still it had just enough room to fit in the European Expansion. (Although just barely; I don’t know what to do with the forthcoming Australian one.)
So, there you go. Chock up another award for Wingspan. Game Night Blog’s Box Doesn’t Aggravate Me award. Congratulations on your DAM box award. But enough of that, let’s get to the complaining.
Bottom 5 Worst Game Storage Design
There are lots of games that missed th mark when it came to box storage. There may even be other games out there that are even worst. These just happen to be the ones that I had in my closet.
5 – Reef
Missed it by that much.
We absolutely love this game by Next Move Games. It is a perfect family game that teaches worker placement and pattern matching all while stacking the most tactile plant meeples ever created. And the designer, Emerson Matsuuchi, is the nicest guy ever. But…
Okay, here’s the deal. The box is 10 ¼ inches square. The cardboard punchouts fit perfectly in the box. But the individual game boards are blob-shaped and roughly 6 ¼ inches square. Yet, the insert to store them in is only 6 inches wide. So, no matter what you do, the divider will always bow outward by ¼ inch. The fault is compounded by the fact that there is over an inch of dead space, unused at the bottom of the insert. Yes, I am that pedantic.
I met Emerson, and I asked him about this. His response was a mix of frustration and resignation. He replied, “Ugh. I know. It drives me nuts.” Oh well, better luck next time. Still a great game though.
4 – Catan
You’ve had 25 years to get this right!
I just do not understand the design philosophy behind the Catan series. To start with, the box cover is orientated vertically, but when you open the box, the insert is clearly supposed to be horizontal as indicated by the Catan logo. But this is just a silly quibble that doesn’t affect the storage, so let’s talk about that.
At first, it seems like they did a good job. There seem to be spots for all the various component, carefully stacked on top of another. The roads and villages go under the Ocean frame pieces, the cardboard tokens go under the hexagonal tiles, and the resource cards go under the reference cards. Great, except… that all these pieces should be stored separately so the box provides a number of baggies to store them in. But once you do that, then the frame and tile pieces no longer fit flush in the box.
But wait there’s more. Remember those resource and reference cards? What about the Victory Point cards? Where no they go? They don’t fit anywhere! Any place you put them, they will end up all over the box, completely undoing all the work that went into designing the box in the first place.
Now this isn’t a huge deal, except that the game has been around since 1995, and Catan Studios have had over 25 years, and numerous reprints to figure it out. Combine that with the fact every single expansion demands to be stored separately and their unique box dimensions refuse to be stored neatly on any game shelf, it makes me want to yell, “Grab a pitchfork, the villagers are revolting!” (Yeah, and I hear they stink too!)
3 – Machi Koro
Too much box, not enough game.
I swore after I did my review of Machi Koro by Pandasaurus Games that I would never talk about it again. But here we are.
When you first open the game, it looks great; stylish, dynamic. But then you realize that the insert is 75% air. The entire game could fit inside a box ¼ the size! I’ve been duped! I thought I was getting a full board game, and all I got was a deck of cards and some coins. WTF!
I know that the packaging of the foreign version of this game is properly sized to reflect their culture’s emphasis on function and minimalist space. And sadly, this box is also an indictment on stupid ‘Mericans and our wasteful hunger to super-size everything. But, c’mon!
One could also argue that the “air” would be filled with expansions, but since I didn’t like the game enough to ever buy one, it will forever sit on my shelf, undeservedly sucking up valuable oxygen. What a sad, terrible waste of valuable resources.
2 – Betrayal at House on the Hill
Betrayal at House on the Hill was created by Avalon Hill but the current edition is by Wizards of the Coast. Improper grammar aside, Betrayal is a cool and creepy gateway game into the realm of RPG-esque Horror, sorta like a PG-13 Call of Cthulhu with a neat gimmick where one player will go bat-sh!t crazy and try to kill the other players.
The game has great production value with room tiles, unique dice, painted figurines, a multiple decks of cards, and 149 tokens. (NOT 150, that would be crazy!) At first glance, the box seems perfectly designed too. Everything has its place; cards, tiles, rulebooks, even separate cubbies for the tokens and figurines.
But I swear my game is possessed. Despite all my efforts – stored flat, horizontally, handled like a canister of plutonium; every time I open the box it looks like my son’s bedroom. There’s just stuff everywhere! And those 149 tokens? I gotta count ‘em every time to make sure none have escaped! I think that my game pieces are secretly alive, a la Toy Story, and they just freeze whenever I open the box.
Now, I could use plastic bags to suffocate my pieces into submission, but there are no Ziploc bags that fit the intended areas, plus the devs released the game with zero baggies. They knew. Oh, they knew!
There are lots of games that suffer from this condition (How do like them Apples to Apples?) but Betrayal is my most egregious example.
1 – Fireball Island
Ugh, the absolute worst!
Fireball Island: The Curse of Vul-Kar by Restoration Games is a fun, fast, silly, and unpredictable game. You run around a giant 3-D island gathering treasures and snapshots while dodging an active volcano and the other vindictive players. The game may be a blast but the box is a beast!
First, the quality of the cardboard is the worst. I’ve seen tissue paper with more tensile strength. Second, the game is large, so big that it won’t fit properly in whatever shelf, closet, or cave you store games in. Plus, since it is so big, you’ll want to put it on the bottom of the stack, but you can’t because the wafer-thin cardboard will crumble under any weight. You can’t even hold the game from just one end or the box will collapse, spilling the game onto the floor.
Then there’s the inside. There is no insert so everything just rattles around the cavernous space. You would think that with all this room you could at least fit the game back into the box. Nope! Unless you have a degree in structural engineering or are the reigning champion in Tetris, that sucker ain’t gonna fit. You’re always left with one half of the box 2 inches higher than the other. Argh! Wherever it’s time to pack this game, I run out of the room faster than Indiana Jones being chased by a boulder.
Look, any game that requires a 5 minute YouTube tutorial just to store your game is bad box design. Or you could get the Fireball Crate and solve all your problems for only $85. What?! $85! That’s more than the cost of the whole game! Bad, bad, greedy, and bad.
So, what did I miss? What are your picks for the best and worst Game Box Storage Designs?
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