Are box inserts for board games worth it? – Ask the Bellhop

Are custom box inserts worth it? A discussion on board game box inserts, what they are good for, where to buy them and tips on how to build them. Do you need one for your boardgame? #TabletopBellhop #boardgames #tabletop

Jayden W. asks,

Are custom inserts worth it? For instance, my group has been playing a fair bit of Rising Sun with all the goodies (like 4 boxes worth of unpacking), and it takes about 10 minutes to set up and nearly 20 or 30 minutes to put away properly. I’m wondering if inserts can help with the clean up.

Thanks for the excellent question Jayden.

When I first heard about custom box inserts I was a bit skeptical. They aren’t cheap, and my first thought is that I would rather save my gaming budget for more games. But then my wife bought me a few inserts for Xmas one year and I fell in love. Inserts do two main things that I value. First, they let you fit more into one box. Second, which is directly related to the question, they reduce set up and tear down time.

EDIT: You can listen to us discuss this topic on the podcast as well: Tabletop Bellhop Live Podcast Episode 4 – Insert Tab A

Disclosure: Some links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The short answer:

I hate to say it but the honest answer is: it depends.

The Keyflower box insert from Meeple RealtyThe one thing you have to realize is that things like custom box inserts and organizers are never necessary. They are an added bonus a perk. Something that can improve your game but aren’t required to be able to play and enjoy the game. If you are a gamer on a budget it’s probably going to be better for your game group to pick up another game rather than improving the ones you have.

That said, if you have a game you play a lot, your groups favorite game, a game you are going to get to the table over and over again, then yes, it can be worth it to invest in some accessories for that game. Being able to fit everything you need to play in one box makes the game both more portable and easier to store.  Reducing set up time means more time actually doing the fun part: playing the game.

There are still some things to consider though. What inserts are out there, the cost and if there is a simpler solution. Read on, for a deeper look into these topics.

The long answer:

Box inserts and other game improvements are a luxury. Well actually all games are a luxury but adding extra bits and improvements to a game you already own, that plays just fine now, is even more of a luxury. As with most luxuries, if it’s something you enjoy and you can afford go for it! But it’s worth trying to be smart about it too. Some inserts are more worth it than others. There are a few things you should be looking at to determine how far you want to go and sometimes the best answer is just to leave things how they are.

What do box inserts do?

Custom box inserts do one thing, they organize your games. They give you a place to put things. Good ones give you a place to put all the things, including things that come in expansions. This organization should lead to two positive effects.

Broken Token custom box insert for Battlestar Galactica1) Improved storage. The game should become more compact, easy to transport and store better on your shelves. The best example of this that I own is an insert for Battlestar Galactica. This insert fits into the core game box but has dedicated space to hold not only the core game but all three expansion boxes! For those of us without much room to store our games, this is amazing. This means that my BSG collection now takes up 25% less than the space it used to take up. Added to that everything is neat and organized and in the original box, so it still looks good on the shelf. Sure I could just toss all the components in a big freezer bag and it would take up less room, but come on. No one wants to go through their drawer of baggies when trying to decide what game to play.

2) Quicker set up. A good box insert does more than just give you a place to put all your bits. A good one is designed to actually enhance gameplay. The best inserts include things like trays to hold resources, boxes with each individual player’s components in them or even special holders to display game components so they are easier to see during play. What all of these things do is speed up both set up and sometimes even gameplay itself. There’s no sorting through components or dumping things out on the table. You just take the resource trays out and put them on the table. You just pass each player their player box.  The Meeple Realty insert for Keyflower is a good example here. In addition to having a place to put everything and fitting the core game and all the expansion in one box, it has specially designed resource trays that make getting to the contents simple. Then there’s this pull out frame that holds the extension tiles for the Merchants Expansion up vertically so they are easily seen by everyone at the table.

Added to this it’s becoming more and more common for the companies who make these inserts to include some bonus items. These often include first player markers and wooden or acrylic replacements for bits that are cardboard in the original game. Personally, I see these as an added bonus. They are nice to have but not necessary.

Do I need a custom insert?

As mentioned above you never need one, but I’m talking more specifically here. If a game is quick to set up, doesn’t have a lot of components or already has some form of insert there may be no reason to pick up something more. It’s the old adage of: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

I own a lot of games that are perfectly fine with just baggies to separate the components. The actual value I would gain from a custom insert just isn’t worth the cost. A good example of this for me is Terraforming Mars. There’s just not enough different things in that game for me to justify buying something to sort everything out. I have each player’s components in a baggie, I’ve got a baggie of resource cubs, a baggie of forest/city tiles, a baggie of special tiles and lastly a baggie with set up stuff (the first player marker, the terraforming level markers, etc). It takes less than 5 minutes to dump these into bowls and start playing. There’s no need to have the resources sorted into 1s, 5s and 10s. There’s no reason to have the 10 special tiles sorted out. Now I do own overlays for the player boards, but that’s a different topic. As for a box insert. I don’t think you need one at all.

There is also another much more cost-effective solution for sorting game components. Plastic Storage boxes. Plano is probably the most well-known brand though I find you can usually go with other lesser known brands that are cheaper. These are the containers you find in the tool department for sorting screws or in with the fishing tackle. They come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes and many are fantastic for sorting your game components. Plano, in particular, is so popular that there’s even a geeklist on Boardgamegeek about what Plano you need for what game.

Where do I get custom inserts?

There are a growing number of companies entering this market. It’s still relatively new and it seems like everyone is taking a shot at it. I’ve personally bought inserts from four different sources, which I will mention here. Just know that there are many more out there and it’s well worth shopping around before you buy to make sure you are getting the best value for your money.

Etsy – There are a huge number of people selling a growing number of ways to improve your games. Inserts are just a small part of it. Prices on Etsy are all over the place. I’ve seen different sellers selling nearly identical patterns for hugely differing amounts. What I have found Etsy great for are local sellers. I’m in Canada and buying from the US stores and getting things shipped here can really suck. With Etsy I can buy within Canada.

Meeple Realty – I’ve only bought a couple inserts from Meeple Reality so far but I have really liked what they have done. I’ve found that their inserts have more flare than other companies and they tend to include more things to improve actual gameplay, but this is sometimes at the cost of storage. For example, resource storage will have a door that folds down for easy access or the tile holder will be in the shape of something that fits the theme (like a boat for Keyflower). The ones I own were harder to build and all have required gluing. I would go so far as to call them fiddly.

Daedalus Productions – I personally don’t own anything by Daedalus but they make the best looking wooden inserts on the market. They spend more time on making inserts that look great. They even stain the wood before shipping it to you. The thing is you pay for these additions. Daedalus inserts are some of the most expensive out there, but I do have to admit they are also the best looking.

Game Trayz are light plastic inserts that give you a place for everything without adding weight to your board gameGame Trayz – Inserts from GameTrayz are very different from the others I’ve mentioned in that they are injection molded plastic.

There’s no assembly required. You just open them up, pop your components in and go. I personally prefer the chunky solid feel of the wood inserts, but I can’t complain about the functionality of the GameTrayz inserts. They have the added bonus of being very light and adding almost no weight to your games.

Folded Space – Folded space does foamcore inserts. These have the advantage of being much lighter and much cheaper than other box inserts out there. The disadvantage is that the foam is much thicker than wood so the insert itself takes up more room and glue is most definitely required during assembly. I own the Folded Space insert for Gentes Deluxe and I’m very happy with it. It’s great for storage as well as for use during play.

Make Them Yourself – This is by far the cheapest option. Before these specialty companies existed people would share box inserts on boardgamegeek all the time, most designed to use foam core. Well, that DIY community still exists and it’s rare to find a game without a pattern for you to copy. Of course, you could always just design your own.

Building your new insert.

The Gloomhaven town box insert from Meeple Reality for the most popular board game in the world
Except for the plastic Game Trayz inserts, one of the things that may turn people off from custom inserts is the fact that you have to build them. Some people are going to enjoy this lonely fun, others are going to hate it. I’m on the fence. I have found some fun to assemble, while others were so frustrating that I had to give up part way through and come back another day.

There are some basic things you can do that will help:

  • Read the instructions. Seriously! Don’t just look at this pile of wood and assume you can figure out what goes where.
  • Keep checking back to those instructions. Just because you built box A, B and C doesn’t mean box D which actually looks the same is. I made this mistake on a Core Worlds insert where I put a piece in upside down and had to file down a tab after I was finished.
  • Buy a rubber mallet. A good insert fits together very tight and snug. Despite how well you think you can hammer things together with your closed fist, the first time you get a nasty splinter you are going to regret not using a mallet (trust me, I know this from experience).
  • Don’t use a hammer! No matter how light you think your touch is, this is thin birch wood and it really doesn’t take much to damage it. (yep, I made this mistake too).
  • Tape is your friend. Regular clear tape. Every corner, tape it. It helps hold things square. It’s quick, it’s easy and tape has no drying time.
  • Don’t be afraid to use glue. I almost never use glue, it’s not needed most of the time, but it won’t hurt anything and will make the final product more stable and secure. Standard white glue is all you need.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need a custom box insert, but you might want one. Good custom box inserts do two main things: they make your game easier to store and they improve set up and take down time. Great inserts go a step further and actually enhance gameplay in some way. It’s going to be up to you and your game group whether these things justify the cost. If there’s a game you play a lot and it’s a pain to get out and set up, then sure it’s probably worth it. If being able to get to a game and get it out quickly makes the difference between a game getting played rather than sitting on a shelf, then it’s definitely worth it. As I’ve said many times, the game that hits your table is always better than one that doesn’t.

Have you picked up any custom box inserts for your game? Did you think they were worth it?

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3 Responses

    1. Thanks for the comment Chris.

      It appears you are right. For some reason I’ve been thinking they were all the same stuff I used to buy at the local hobby shop to make Warhammer Scenery. It is 1/8″ Baltic Birch.

  1. Thanks for bringing up how foam inserts are lighter than wood. I want to make all of my board games weigh less so I can take them with me to more places. I’ll look into having foam inserts made for all of them.

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