The best ways to sort, store, and protect, tabletop gaming miniatures – Ask The Bellhop

As the board game industry seems to be swapping away from wooden cubes and meeple to plastic miniatures, many of us are struggling to figure out what to do with all of the miniatures we own. Along with that, there are those of us that are actually into miniature wargaming. We all need ways to store and protect our precious minis.

Roger Brasslett writes:

What are your suggestions for sorting and storing our hundreds of minis?

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Miniatures are becoming a more and more common component in board games.

One of the big changes that has come to board gaming in the last ten years or so, is the growing number of miniatures that are included with our games. For many years cubes and later meeples were good enough to be your characters, troops and units. Nowadays it seems the market greatly prefers having miniatures. 

As for this increase in miniatures to our hobby being a good or a bad thing, that’s up to you and your group to decide. I personally have mixed feelings on the subject of miniatures for tabletop games.

While I do love a nice detailed miniature, especially when representing a specific character or baddie, for some games I actually prefer abstract markers like cubes. Take any of the Academy Games wargames for example. I love 1812 the Invasion of Canada and have no problem with the units being represented by cubes on a map. Then again, I don’t think Cthulhu Death May Die would be half the game it is without the amazing miniatures.

The greatest advantage abstract cubes, chits, meeples, and cards have over miniatures is that they are easy to store. You can just toss them back into the box (preferably in a plastic bag, a plano container, or some other board game storage solution), and not have to worry about them getting damaged.  This isn’t true of miniatures.

Miniatures usually need some form of protection. Many miniatures have all kinds of thin and fragile pieces and parts. Bits that can easily be broken off if they come in contact with other miniatures and/or game components. 

I will admit that the level of this problem does vary. Companies produce miniatures out of all kinds of different plastics, resins, and even metals, some of which are better designed to be handled carelessly. For example, the miniatures in Battlelore, or Memoir 44 are made of a more flexible plastic that won’t easily break. For those games, and those types of miniatures, you can actually just toss them back in the box, That is the exception not the rule, most miniatures, especially ones that require any assembly, are going to need more protection than that.

Along with the potential of being fragile, a number of people take the time to paint their miniatures. Miniature painting is a hobby all on its own, as well as being part of the tabletop gaming hobby. Once you get into dealing with painted miniatures you are looking at a whole new level of protection being required. 

Once you get into the realm of actual miniature based wargames, games where collecting army miniatures is part of the hobby, you don’t tend to have things like game boxes to put your miniatures back into. Similarly, many board games have expansions, which when added to the game no longer fit in the box. 

Below I’m going to take a look at a variety of different ways you can sort, store and protect your tabletop gaming miniatures.

What are some of the best ways to store and protect your minis?

Put your miniatures on display – This is my preferred way to store many of my tabletop gaming miniatures. I take them out of the box, assemble them if needed, maybe even paint them (though it’s been a long time since I’ve taken part in that part of the hobby) and then put them on display around the house. 

In my game room, I have a nice wood and glass display cabinet that I use to display my best painted miniatures. It has the advantage of having a door on it to keep dust out. The rest of my miniatures are just displayed on open shelves on bookcases. I’ve got a shelf for my painted fantasy miniatures, one for my sci-fi miniatures and a bunch of shelves in my computer room for my unpainted miniatures.

The advantages of having your miniatures out on shelves, or in some form of display cabinet, include: being able to show off your collection, ease of access, and the ability to see all of the miniatures so you can easily find the one(s) you need.

Some disadvantages include: unless your display has a door that can close the miniatures will gather dust, dusting miniatures is not fun, having all of your miniatures out on display can take up a ton of space, the miniatures aren’t with the games that need them and, if you want to play the game somewhere other than at home you need to find a way to transport them.

Keep them in the box for the game – I do this for many of my board games where the miniatures are made of a material that won’t easily break, and where I haven’t painted anything. The minis get sorted and stored with the rest of the game components. Sometimes publishers even include a storage solution for the minis with their games, which is always appreciated.

The advantages of keeping your minis in the box include: having everything right there when you want to play and the fact that the minis will be easy to transport if your game night isn’t at home.

Some disadvantages include: a high chance of miniatures getting damaged depending on what they are made of, running out of room in the box (especially with miniatures that need to be assembled or when you add expansions), and the fact that you can’t show off your collection.

Check out this Rising Sun box insert from Go7 Gaming!Use a custom box insert – This is a step up from just putting the miniatures in the box. I’ve shared my thoughts on box inserts in the past, and in general, I’m a huge fan of them. There are a number of companies that are putting out inserts for games with miniatures that are specifically designed to protect the minis. 

The advantages of using a custom box insert include: having everything right there when you want to play, ease of transport, and excellent protection for your miniatures.

Some disadvantages include: the cost (custom inserts can be very expensive, sometimes costing even more than the game itself), the need to assemble the insert which takes some skill, added overall weight to the box, no way to show off your collection and the potential problem of the insert becoming obsolete if an expansion is released or you pick up more miniatures. 

Use a generic miniature hard case – A number of companies put out generic miniature cases. By generic, I mean that they aren’t designed for a specific game and are meant to hold a variety of different styles and types of miniatures. Most of these have plastic shells with foam trays on the inside. The trays have rectangular slots for putting your miniatures in. I own a number of these from Reaper Miniatures and they work pretty well. 

The advantages of using a generic miniature case include: they are good at protecting most miniatures, they can hold a large number of miniatures, some include locks to protect your miniatures from theft, they often have handles for easy transport, and you can usually find them for very reasonable prices.

Some disadvantages include: the fact they are designed for holding standard “infantry” sized miniatures, trays are often made of bubble filled foam that can catch spiky bits and protrusions, they don’t hold miniatures tightly so they can bounce around potentially causing damage, and you can’t show off your collection.

Use custom foam trays for specific games/miniatures – Most games are popular enough that there are companies out there that make foam inserts for cases designed for specific miniatures and specific games. Some of these can be bought on their own and others come with a case as well. These foam inserts have cut out slots to hold very specific miniatures, holding them snugly so that there is no chance of jostling. I first remember seeing these get popular when Star Wars X-Wing was just taking off. 

The advantages of using custom foam trays include: excellent protection for your miniatures with no chance of them bouncing around or contacting other miniatures or components, as well as all of the advantages I’ve already listed for a  hard case above.

Some disadvantages include: a much higher cost than standard foam trays, the chance a snug fit will cause paint rub, no way to show off your work, and the fact that these are made for specific models and won’t generally fit any others, this can be a problem if you are constantly changing up which miniatures you use. 

Make your own custom foam tray – Due to the large variety of different sized and shaped miniatures out there finding the right type of foam tray for all of your miniatures can be almost impossible. One solution is to either cut your own foam or pick up some pluck-foam. Puck-foam has a layer of foam pre-cut into a grid pattern. You just pull out the bits you don’t need and are left with a space appropriate for your individual miniature needs. You can find Pluck-Foam in all kinds of densities and thickness.

The advantages of creating your own custom tray include: all of the advantages of using a miniature carrying case with foam along with the fact that by doing it yourself you should be able to hold and protect any miniature of any size and shape, no matter how unique. 

Some disadvantages include: potentially having to cut the foam yourself, you won’t be able to show off your work easily, and the fact that once you’ve modified the foam you are stuck with what you have which could be a problem if you change up which miniatures you are using. 

Make a diorama or display board – Creating a custom scenic board to display and transport your miniatures is something that is very popular with Warhammer and Warmachine players, but I’ve also seen a few people do it for board games. Once you have your assembled and painted army, team or whatever, you go on to build a scene that holds all the miniatures. People often use magnets and such so that the minis stay on the board. The best display boards combine the display with a way to close them up and transport them. 

The advantages of creating a display board include: a great way to show off your miniatures, keeps the miniatures all in one place, protects the minis as well as showing them off, and if designed well enough can also be a great way to transport your miniatures as well as store or display them.

Some disadvantages include: a large amount of skill and work is required to make such a display, the fact that it will be made for a very specific army or set of miniatures, and, depending on the size of your set of minis these displays can take up a lot of room and can be even harder to store than just the miniatures themselves.

Mount and store your miniatures on magnet boards – People do this by putting magnets on the bases of their minis and then placing them on a metal board, or by putting magnets on a wooden board. A very cheap alternative to this is just using a metal baking tray. Along with these metal boards, there are a number of different carrying cases that can be bought or made where the trays just slide in and out. 

The advantages of using a magnet board include: excellent protection for your minis keeping them apart from each other, a decent method of transport as well as storage, and depending on how you store your trays you should be able to easily see and find all of your minis.

Some disadvantages include: magnets can lose strength over time, non-DIY versions can be quite expensive, metal trays can be heavy, and magnet boards just don’t look as cool as a full battle board diorama.

Use plastic storage containers like Plano – Plastic storage containers and/or tackle boxes from companies like Plano can be another great option for storing and transporting miniatures. You can get storage boxes in a number of different sizes and shapes so you can store all kinds of minis whether you just need a handful for a skirmish game or you use a full tackle box for your entire Star Wars X-Wing collection.  For an extra level of protection, I recommend putting some foam in each compartment. 

The advantages of using Plano and other plastic containers include: clear lids so you can see what is inside, generally very reasonably priced, a wide variety of shapes and sizes, most have customizable storage slots, many of the larger containers come with handles for easy transport, and many containers are small enough that they can fit back in the main game box. 

Some disadvantages include: the fact that the miniatures are not actually held in place and may bounce around and get damaged, and these containers don’t really let you show off your work.

Pack and transport your miniatures quickly and cheaply with egg crates – This is my lifehack for this article. Something I used to do, all the time, when running D&D at the local game store, when I only needed to bring a couple dozen miniatures with me, was to use egg crates for transporting my miniatures. The individual cups keep the miniatures from banging into each other and the soft cardboard worked about as well as foam to protect the minis from damage. While I wouldn’t want to store my collection in egg crates, they are great for a quick, cheap and easy transportation solution.

The advantages of using an egg crate for temporary miniature storage include: the fact you probably already have some egg crates at home and if you don’t you can get them cheap, they protect miniatures about as well as many of the standard cell foam trays, and the fact they are easy to transport.

Some disadvantages include: while they will keep miniatures apart egg crates aren’t going to work as well as more expensive custom storage options, egg crates aren’t the best for storing miniatures as they don’t stack very well, you are also limited in what size miniatures will fit into the egg crate.

A note on storing scenery and terrain – On our podcast where we discussed the topic of storing miniatures, we also talked about ways to store and sort terrain and scenery. Check out the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast Episode 92 – A Small Problem (which won’t go live until May 26th) for the full discussion. 

The main suggestion we talked about was here was to head to your local hardware store and look for things like tool and hardware storage bins and containers. I myself use a number of Stanley hardware storage boxes to store miniatures and terrain tiles. These are basically larger, deeper, versions of Plano boxes. Most have customizable bins and trays that you can rearrange to fit any number of different hobby items. Hardware bins are another suggestion we had when looking to store larger miniatures and things like scenery. 

What do you do to store and protect your tabletop gaming miniatures? Do you have a solution we didn’t think of? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

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4 Responses

    1. Hey Glenn,

      Thanks! It’s something I’ve been doing for years and I haven’t really seen other people doing so thought I should share. It works really well for transporting a couple dozen miniatures or less.

      Thanks for the comment,
      Moe T

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