New to the Table

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Dicey Discussions #2: Ugly in the Box

Patrick Cox
United States
South Saint Paul
Minnesota
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The Great Heartland Hauling Co.A while back I started on a conversation in the forums called Great on the table, ugly in the box. It was just a very brief mediation on games with awful packaging. I wanted to highlight one moment in the overall experience of playing a game. I love that board gamers think bigger than just wins and losses and remember things like aesthetics and the tactile feel of components. (Check out fellow bloggineer
John Shepherd
United Kingdom
Ovington
Northumberland
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on a little meeple sliding into a little car in the latter half of this post. It’s nothing like the visual cacauphony of colorful cubes in caustic cars that my seven year old may enjoy, but you know the satisfying physical feeling of sliding that meeple into that little mooncar is so much nicer.)
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Fearmobiles from Final Flight's Monsters on Board. They're an upgrade!

I was trying to highlight as part of the gaming experience the moment when the box is opened. We all like to spout opinions about the art on the box (using subjective words like “beautiful” as if it’s objective) and people love to talk about everything inside the box from the writing in the rulebook to the thickness of the cardboard. But there’s a moment right in between, after everyone at the table has been drawn in by the striking cover art...
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...which is then removed to reveal...
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Blah.

It felt like an opportunity was being missed to draw people further in, to heighten expectations, to delight, maybe even to inform. (This, by the way, is exactly what I see my role is as a blogger. I’m a blogging box, blogging on boxes.)

And so I posted my post and got back the very intelligent response that inserts are designed for shipping, not for table appeal. Which I’m sure is a very informed response. But still.

At one point, games were boring and boxes were boring and then people did better. I say designers can do better! And so I open for you a few boxes and invite you to listen to the ensuing “Oh!”s of delight and “Ewww”s of just pure disgust. And I bet, gentle reader, you know what I’m talking and I hope you’ll share some examples, too.


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Photosynthesis This is partially about the organization and partially about the aesthetics. The colors are beautiful. The fact that the trees all fit fully assembled means it’s quick to set up and take down. It also avoids hitting the viewers eye with a jumbled mess. The beautiful colors would be far less impressive if this looked like an unassembled jigsaw puzzle in a box. It also avoid baggies which would obstruct the view of the colors. 7 ahhhs.


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Viticulture Essential Edition This thing walks a weird line between the baggie method and a plastic insert. There’s an insert underneath that gives the components some useful organization, but then it’s covered by a bunch of stuff in baggies that don’t fit in the insert! It’s two organization system and neither one is done well. That insert has sections with curved bottoms to hold straight edge cards. I just don’t get it. 3 ewws.


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The Quacks of Quedlinburg gets props for thematic integration. The organization is just OK, but the theming looks great, draws you in. That the trough dividers are not just white demonstrates how the moment the box is opened is more than just utilitarian. People are watching. Design delights and draws them in! 5 ohhhhhs!


I showed Anachrony above. This perfectly fits the “great on the table, ugly in the box” idea. I don’t like that baggies have come to be accepted as an organizational system. Baggies are garbage. I mean they’re literally disposable packaging. And to me this box looks like garbage. It’s certainly not enticing. Barries also slow down set up and clean up, or play if you don't unbag them. I’ve tried throwing out garbage—I mean laying out the baggies—where I want the resources and other bits to be when I play, but having to fiddle my fingers into their wee opening to get something out is not convenient. But the alternative is to unbag everything into some sort of bin or heap before playing, and then bag it all again after. All games in the baggie system: not attractive, not convenient, barely functional. -3 ohhhs.


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Barrage This is the only game I ever bought an insert for and I did it out of love. It’s from Folded Space. Barrage might be my favorite game to play, but it was the absolute worst box to open in front of people. It has so many components (there’s a whole other layer of compartmentalized little bits under what you can see in the picture) and it came with no storage system at all. Not even baggies. It was the ugliest in the box by far (I’m talking 10 ewws) and it took forever to set up. (Very easy to put away though). So I got this insert and now my life is fine. When the insert arrived I knew I wouldn’t have time to play this game anytime soon. It’s a beast. But I still took it all out of the box, built the organizer, and put all the components back in the box, and back on the shelf for another month or so. But when I finally took it all out of the box to play again….Ohh the ahhhhhs….


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Scythe This is what my copy looked like when I opened it today to take its picture. It never looks as good as the picture on the box.
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1 ewww. But 1 Ohhh for the picture, and the mech case. But then minus one ohhh because the mech case takes up too much space.


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Bites This is the most disappointing box. The components in this game are fantastic. Chunky ant shaped meeples, two ply tiles with each ply cut differently to make a 3D effect. The bottom of the box is designed to look like a picnic basket and the top like a red and white checkered tablecloth. So much thought went into it all. It’s published by Board Game Tables. They actually make tables and the care of the craftsman shows through in a lot of their games. I love playing this game in great measure because I enjoy handling the components. How disappointing to just throw all that work in a box like this, even with a loose deck of cards. This is the Candyland of today: sweet and messy. 4 ewwooohhhhhewwwww’s.


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Back to the Future: Back in Time This is completely about aesthetics and theme. The organization underneath? Who cares? This gets 10 “Ohhhs!” from the Back to the Future fans when this box is opened. (I’m not a fan at all, but gamer recognize game.)


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The Great Heartland Hauling Co. I appreciate that this little game did so much to organize itself. It’s neat and tidy and efficient, just like a game about a trucking company should be. I just don’t understand why it comes with three extra baggies. You know how I feel about baggies. I feel like the little game is overcompensating. 1 Hmmmm?


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Mint Works I mean….that’s just delightful. 2 please!


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This Ultra Tiny Epic Kingdoms, but BGG only recognizes Tiny Epic Kingdoms. I would never include in this already needlessly long list a card game. This one only looks like a card game, but tucked away in this regular poker card sized box is a deck of cards, a rule book, 70 wooden cubes, and a (ultra tiny) tower! The cubes all fit perfectly (in a baggie) when they are all laid out in one layer. Hard to ohhhhh when no one can see what it’s side when you open the box, but still there's something very satisfying about it. 2 oooohhhhhhs.


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Fire in the LibraryFire in the Library. One last themer. Book lovers rejoice! The organization does what it does, but the book design saves the day! 1 Aha!
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It looks like a book!
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