Steve D, emailed to ask,
I have about 150 games and currently I’m sorting these on my shelves in alphabetical order. This way I can find a game quickly on the shelves but when I get a new game sometimes it takes some work to get it in order. I want to resort my collection and I’m wondering how do you sort your games? Thanks!
Thanks for the question, Steve. Steve is one of our Tabletop Bellhop Patrons so we are answering this question sooner rather than later.
This is an excellent question, and something that everyone ends up having to deal with as their collection grows from a handful of games to shelves full of games. I don’t know anyone who has gotten into hobby gaming and hasn’t started amassing a growing collection.
Check out Ep 16 of Tabletop Bellhop Live: #Shelfie for more on this topic.
Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. As an associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
The Short Answer:
I have a lot of games in my collection. Right now that collection is organized the same way Steve has his collection organized. I try to keep my games in as close to alphabetical order as possible but then adjust for box size.
My game room is filled with bookcases and I try to group games alphabetically by bookcase. So the first bookcase has all the games that start with numbers going up to the letter B. The second bookcase has games starting with C to D, and so on. On each individual shelf, games are sorted by box size.
Big, long, thick boxes go at the bottom. These include The Fantasy Flight Coffin Boxes for games like Starcraft the board game, and the old Games Workshop 3D Roleplaying boxes for games like Dark Future.
The next shelves up, hold those medium sized square boxes. Usually, the standard square boxes that I wish all board games came in. Here’s where you find most Stronghold games like Terraforming Mars and the new Fantasy Flight standard size they use for games like Fallout.
Due to the width of my shelves, I usually have some room left over for some bookshelf sized boxes. These are also what you will find on the higher shelves. These are the boxes companies like Mayfair, Rio Grande, and Avalon Hill have been using for years. Here’s your Puerto Rico and Saint Petersburg.
The top of the bookshelf is usually where I toss odd shaped stuff. Either huge games like Mechs Vs. Minions or games that come in tins like Forbidden Island. Let’s just take a moment to note: I hate games that come in tins and dumb shaped boxes designed to catch your attention at the store.
All of this sounds great in theory and doesn’t quite work in practice. I’ve got a “D” game on my “A” shelf just because I found the perfect slot to Tetris it in to save space. Then there’s the problem Steve is having: My shelves are full. Every time I get a new game I end up having to make a hole, and to make a hole often means having to rearrange not only the shelf I want the game on but one to two adjacent shelves or bookcases. It can really be a pain.
One final note: I keep my games horizontally. I find that works much better for keeping the components where I want them. Even with high-end box inserts, I find keeping my games on their side causes stuff to shift around. To me the speed it takes getting the game from the shelf to set up and ready to play is very important to me and one of the factors in how often a game gets played. So I would rather keep my games stacked, potentially causing some bowing in boxes or me having to stack and unstack things rather than have things on their side.
The Long Answer
I’ve already talked about how I organize my shelves, but there are lots of different ways to organize your collection.
I’ve seen a ton of different ways to sort your games from visiting local game stores and cafes, and playing at other local gamer’s houses. Then there’s all the podcasts and tabletop media I consume, where it seems like everyone has their own way of storing their games.
I’m going to take some time to look at some of the more popular ways people organize their tabletop game collection. I include some Pros and Cons for each method.
I already talked about this in The Short Answer. You put your games onto your shelves alphabetically as best you can. Where I have seen a lot of variation here is how you do this when you split the games over multiple shelves. Do you go A-Z left to right then top to bottom spread over all your shelves or do this per shelf? Does A-C run across the top three shelves of two or three bookcases or is A-C all one bookshelf. I go with the later, so each bookshelf is a subset of the alphabet.
Pros: Easy to find games, you always know where to start looking.
Cons: Different box sizes make it very hard to keep things in strict alphabetical order. Adding a new game can be a real pain.
While board game box design is definitely not standardized there are, thankfully a handful of standard sizes you will come across often. I’ve seen a fair share of collections organized this way and it always looks very neat and orderly. In most cases, I’ve seen boxes are organized by size, so all the bigger boxes go before or below the smaller ones. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen cube shelves with at least one cube dedicated to small tiny boxed games.
Pros: Optimizes space. You are going to fit more games in a smaller area.
Cons: Can be difficult to find a specific game, you have to remember what size box it came in.
Publisher or Designer
I decided to group these as the pro’s and cons are all pretty much the same. Here you are grouping your game by some value criteria. So you put all the Alea games together, then all the Asmodee games, then all the Artipia games, etc. Or you really love Stefan Feld so all his games are together, next to your Eric Lang collection. I find sorting this way feels good for some reason, but it has its problems. It’s great for those designers and publishers you know well. The ones you are always going to remember, but what about those one-off games? The one-shot wonders, or independent games. Where do they go?
Pros: Great for keeping groups of games you enjoy together and easy to access. There’s a pleasing curated feel that I like to a collection like this.
Cons: What do you do with the leftovers? What if you forget a designer name or publisher. Usually only useful for you to find games, but people visiting or using your collection could be lost.
System or Mechanics
This is how I keep my RPG collection. I have all my books and boxes sorted by system. All the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is together, I’ve got an entire shelf just for Earthdawn stuff and an entire bookshelf for Dungeons & Dragons. Then I break things down by Edition. So all my 1e Warhammer stuff is first, then my 2e Warhammer stuff, etc. Same goes for D&D. The top shelf is D&D 5e and 4e, then I have 3.5 stuff. The bottom shelf is all OD&D and boxed sets.
I have seen people do this with board games as well. Systems aren’t as common in board games but I have seen people keep all their Train games in one section. It’s more common with game mechanics. Where someone will have all of their deck builders together and all of their worker placement games grouped.
Pros: Keeps everything that you may need for one game in one place.
Cons: Similar to grouping by designer, publisher, you need to know the systems and mechanics and it’s hard to sort all the outlying games/books.
This is how Geektropolis Cafe had their games sorted and I thought it was brilliant. Now, this is especially true at a game cafe where player count is usually the starting point for deciding what to play but I think it’s a legitimate way to sort your home games as well. What Big J did for Geektropolis was to go off of the recommended player count from boardgamegeek and not the numbers on the side of the box and then went by the max recommended number. So even if a game could play 4, but was best with 3 you would find it on the 3 player shelves. I’ve actually considered using this method myself and if I ever curated a collection at a store or cafe this is probably what I would go with.
Pros: Makes deciding what to play easier and quicker. Great for when others are picking games from your collection and public places.
Cons: Figuring out exactly where to put a game can be hard, especially games that are good at multiple player counts.
This is an interesting one that I love the concept of but would take far too much work for me to find practical. You sort your games based on the last time they were played. As games get played they bump other games up (or down) the list. This is a great way to curate your collection and either get older games played more often or realize that you no longer have interest in a game and then can remove it from your collection. I have seen some interesting variants of this where it’s combined with the other methods. The most useful one, in theory, is putting a note on each game colour coded using post-it notes. So you can look over your collection at a glance and see the play status. If you swap up the post-it colour every month you can quickly see what has sat the longest.
I do this in a very small way with my Piles of Shame. Games I haven’t played are stacked off my shelves and only get put onto my game shelves once they get played.
Pros: Great way to curate your collection and remind you to get classics you enjoy to the table. Also good for figuring out what games you can safely eliminate from your collection.
Cons: Almost impossible to maintain if you have a large collection. Can involve lots of rearranging and reshelving.
This is another sorting method I rather like. I first heard about it on a podcast I listen to where someone kept their game collection split over two rooms. One room was their game room which had one short Kallax shelf. The other room was more of a storage area with no place to play. What they did was fill the game room shelf with the games they were excited to play right then. The rest of the games stayed in the storage area (I don’t remember if it was mentioned how that was sorted). So when people came over to play they only saw the games the host was most excited to play.
You could do this with a full collection as well, sorting the games so that your first shelf or primary bookcase was all the games you really want to play.
Pros: Filters your game collection to something manageable making game selection quicker and easier. Highlights the games you really want to get to the table.
Cons: Hot games would constantly be rotating and would have to be moved in and out of the main collection. Could be labour intensive.
This is how my kids store their games and how I used to when I didn’t own that many. They go on a shelf and when I get a new game it goes next to or on top of the old one. Over time the games are sorted in the order we got them. This generally works great at first but once your collection grows makes it hard to find games. There’s also the variant of this where people sort their games by the release dates.
Pros: When you get a new game you just put it on the shelf. No thinking needed.
Cons: What do you do when you run out of space. When exactly did I buy that game? Not sure where to start looking.
There are almost as many ways to organize your games as genres of games to collect. There’s no way I could mention them all here and I’m sure someone reading along is cursing me for missing their method.
Some of the methods I’ve seen that I didn’t think needed a full write up:
Board Game Geek Rating – Biggest problem: ratings change, do you re-arrange your collection each time a game moves?
Colour – Looks amazing but now you have to remember what colour box a game came in. Also has the same problems as alphabetical.
Game Time – I dig this one. It’s similar to player count. The big problem is game time is so dependant on player count. Maybe combine with player count, that may work.
Weight – Could be BGG weight rating or by actual physical weight, if using the physical weight you want the heavier stuff closer to the floor for your sake and your shelves.
The Best Answer
Sorry to say it but there is no best answer. The best solution for you is probably going to be a combination of one or more of the above systems.
I’ve never found a perfect method to sort my games. I combined a few of the above systems and it’s worked pretty well for me. I think collecting games by box size is integral for saving space, but after that, it’s pretty much up to you.
For me, I’m not as concerned with how the collection looks as much as fitting as many games into my game room as possible and then being able to find the game I want to play quickly. So I sort mainly alphabeically but then by box size to try to save space. If there’s a choice, I group similar sized boxes together so as to fit more games onto my shelves.
A Tip to Save Some Space
No matter what method of storage you use you are eventually going to run out of room. It’s always a sad day when that happens, but I have one thing for you to consider before buying more storage or purging some games. Look at some storage solutions for the games you own.
It’s often possible to combine games and their expansions into one box, especially if you use things like Plano or Box Inserts. It’s also possible to group series of games together, and sometimes you can even eliminate a game box completely and swap it for a smaller storage solution. Take a look at my Are Box Inserts for Board Games Worth It? article and check out my A Place for Everything and Everything in it’s Place Gamer Gift Guide for some ideas on how to condense your existing game collection.
So how do you organize your game collection?