Jayden W, emailed to ask,
What are your MUST HAVE gaming accessories?
Thanks for the question, Jayden,
This is actually a follow up to Jayden’s first question about box inserts that we answered back in August. Check out Are Box Inserts for Board Games Worth It? here on the blog or listen to Episode 4 of The Tabletop Bellhop Live – Insert Tab A for our answer to that question.
As I mentioned back in August, there isn’t anything you absolutely need to play your games. Well besides the games themselves and players. But there are some things that can really help you enjoy those games more.
We also discussed his topic on Tabletop Bellhop Live, Ep 17: Accessory to Gaming. Feel free to check that out too!
Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Short Answer:
To directly answer Jayden’s question, the only things you MUST HAVE to enjoy playing a game is the game itself, some players (or maybe just you if you are playing a solo game), and somewhere to play. None of those I would consider accessories. You don’t need accessories. That said, there are probably some you want.
I am all about speeding up game set up, getting to gameplay quickly and then being able to focus on the game while you play. To help with all three there’s nothing better than having some way to organize the game components during play. I personally use shallow wooden salad bowls for this. I started off with only two (which I originally bought for use at SCA events) and spent many years slowly adding more to my collection as I found them. I’m up to about 12 now and that’s more than enough for most games (though not The Colonists).
What I dig about my bowls is that they look nice, they are very shallow so you can see into them and it’s easy to get bits out of them, and they have a wide flat base so are not easy to tip. Even if you do tip one, because they are so shallow it usually just means some of the bits spill out, and you don’t dump the entire thing.
So if you are going to pick up any kind of gaming accessory the first thing I would pick up is something like my wooden bowls so that you have some way to store and sort game components during play.
The Long Answer:
As noted above, you don’t actually need any special accessories to enjoy your games, but there are some you may want. So I’m going to take a look at some of the gaming accessories I own and some I don’t and talk about what value they add to your game night. Some are definitely more useful than others and some are also way more costly than others. It’s going to be up to you and your group to make the decision on whether or not a particular accessory is worth it.
Also, I’m not going to talk about Box Inserts here as I already have an entire blog post dedicated to that topic.
This is my number one accessory recommendation. Having your components organized not only helps speed up gameplay but can also help with set up and tear down time.
Over the years I’ve seen a wide variety of options for sorting your game bits during play. The wooden bowls I talk about above I found at resale shops like Value Village. Whenever we go anywhere, my wife and I try to stop and check out second-hand shops like these. You can also find these style of bowls on sites like Amazon but they aren’t cheap, which is why I recommend checking thrift stores.
Another tool I’ve used is a muffin tin. Yes, a muffin tin. I first started using a tin to sort dice for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but I have also used it for board game components. The great things about muffin tins is that they stack so are easy to store and can be found dirt cheap.
What I see used more often than a muffin tin are silicone cupcake liners/baking cups. These come in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes and are very inexpensive. Personally, I find them a little flimsier than I would like. I find people often spill bits out when trying to grab their pieces as the walls collapse at very little weight. I have seen firmer plastic versions of these, a local gamer has them but I’m not sure where to find them or where he got them.
If you are into chit and counter wargames you have probably seen and used a Counter Tray. These are so popular, that most wargame publishers sell them on their sites along with the games. While designed for holding cardboard chits they will work for other thin components. I’m thinking this may be what I need for The Colonists. One of the things I dig about counter trays is that they come with lids.
Similar to counter trays for wargames there are a few companies out there making sorting solutions specifically designed for tabletop games. Game Trayz has their Treasure Trayz. Zen Bins has their own Two-in-one Token Trays. These are also plastic but designed to hold more and to stack for easy storage when the game is done.
My last suggestion is to check out Etsy. There are all kinds of very cool handmade component organization solutions people have come up with. Like these Bit Trays specifically designed to help put the bits back into baggies when the game is done. There are a lot of game specific options but also generic items great for a variety of games.
Keeping Everything in Place:
Have you ever experienced the Earthquake of Catan? When someone either bumps the table or accidentally pushes something into your Catan board and moves the tiles all over the place? This was such a common problem that newer versions of the game now come with a frame to put around the board to keep everything in place. But what if you don’t have a frame or play other games with tile-based boards?
Shelf liner to the rescue! Of all of the game night tips I’ve shared over the years, this one is by far the most popular. It seems like every time I share a picture of a game using some shelf liner someone will comment about how brilliant it is to use a non-slip surface for gaming on.
I first started using shelf liner back in the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons days, when I was using the licensed Dungeon Tiles to create my in-game maps. I actually bought mats in a variety of colours so I would use blue for sea/water based maps. Brown or green for outdoor maps. Black for dungeons and pretty much everything else. I still use shelf liner for dungeons but nowadays that’s when playing Gloomhaven.
An Earthquake of Catan is what first inspired me to use these with board games. Now I put one out for pretty much any game we play but they are most useful for modular boards and tile laying games. I actually can’t imagine playing something like Isle of Skye or setting up Wasteland Express Delivery Service without one.
Sometimes called Drawer Liner, Non-Slip Netting, or Grip Liner you can find this stuff pretty much everywhere. At any kitchen store, hardware store, Walmart, Amazon, etc. Check your local Dollar Store as well, Dollarama in Canada tends to carry it on and off and when I find it I usually buy a couple of rolls.
So now that your boards and tiles are staying in place, what about the components on the boards? This one also goes back to my D&D days. For years I’ve been using Stick-Tac to hold chits, counters, scenery and more in place on my game boards. I personally use some blue stuff that I’ve had for years which I think is Fun-Tak. As far as I can tell there isn’t really a difference between the blue and white. The stuff I have I have had for years and years. More than 20. So you basically only ever have to pick up one pack.
HEADS UP: If you do use stick-tac make sure you remove it before you put your game away. If you plan on leaving a game set up I also recommend removing it. There is some oil that is used in the adhesive putty that will sink in and stain your tiles over time. This does take a while, weeks, but it’s worth taking the time to remove any adhesive you use just in case.
I don’t know what it is with games and crappy money. People have been hating on paper money since Monopoly, yet companies continue to use it in their games. The most common replacement for paper money in games is Poker Chips. A local gamer introduced me to using Poker Chips during a public play event where we were playing Power Grid and I was hooked after just one play.
Now there are a ton of different options out there at a huge range of prices. Personally, though I’m in love with the Iron Clays from Roxley Games. These came with my Kickstarter copies of Brass Birmingham and Brass Lancashire but you can buy them separately. These are high-end chips that don’t have the usual Casino iconography on them (no card suits or d6s). Instead, they are much more generic which I really like.
Some people do like their paper money and there are plenty of other alternatives to poker chips. Actually, there are some really cool ways to replace the money in your games, things like metal and plastic coins, acrylic crystals and more.
I highlight a bunch of these options in my Money Money Money Gamer Gift Guide.
Board Game Bling:
Pretty much all of the above suggestions are things that will actually improve your games. Make them easier to play, decrease game time, help with set up, etc. Now this section here may not actually make gameplay better it does make the game experience cooler. I’m talking about adding some bling to your games, making them more immersive or visually pleasing.
I’ve got an entire Gamer Gift Guild on Board Game Bling and I’m not going to repeat the list here. On that post, you will find fancy game mats, replacement components, light up dice, fleet movement stands, PRG tools, and more.
Just know that there are a crazy amount of people out there making awesome things to bling out your game collection.
Game Room Bling:
Instead of just improving how your games look, how about improving how your room looks?
One of the most important things in your game room, after the actual games is the table you are playing on. Personally, I have a nice big 8″x4″ boardroom table in the center of my room, but what I would love is a custom game table.
There are a lot of companies now offering custom board game tables. Check out The Table of Ultimate Gaming and the huge number of options at boardgametables.com. What I like to see is that there are more and lower-priced options starting to show up on the market. In particular, I have been impressed by Game Toppers which offer table tops you put over top of your existing furniture.
Something else you can do to improve your game room is a swap over to programmable LED lighting. My game room is all set up with Phillips Hue Lights.
These are great for being able to change the light to enhance the mood of the game we are playing. Even when just playing a strategy game, I love being able to set the lights to “Read” which ups the brightness and makes colors easier to distinguish.
It’s when I’m running RPGs that these lights really shine. With the right app, I can have the lights go dark and flash bright like a thunderstorm, or I can have them flicker like a hearth fire or cycle through blues and greens for an underwater scene. You can even tie the lights into the speaker on your phone or sync them with sound effects or music.
Check out Episode 7 of The Tabletop Bellhop Live – Tech at the Table for other ways technology can enhance your game night.
So Many Awesome Accessories:
At this point, I’ve already talked about a ton of stuff and I think this may be my longest blog post yet. As it stands, I probably could have split this up into multiple posts. There are just far too many cool gaming accessories to talk about.
I didn’t even get into transporting your games. Solutions like the awesome Quiver card carrying case that we are going to feature in our next giveaway, or seeing just how many games fit in a Cajon Bag. I didn’t talk about Dice Towers or Dice Trays. Dice Bags, GM Screen and lots of other RPGs items got missed. Even though I talked about game collection organization last week, I didn’t get around to talking about Cube Shelves.
Really, each of these topics could probably be their own blog post. Heck, maybe someday they will be.
For now, I hope I’ve at least given you some ideas of some great gaming accessories. While none of them are literally Must Haves there are some like component organizers and grip mats that I think are pretty darn close. Then there is a slew of other stuff that is just nice to have. It’s up to you and your game group to decide exactly what you really want.
So what gaming accessories do you own? Let me know in the comments below!