Resources for Little Plastic Bits: eNasco
If you are a game designer and are interested in little bits for a game, unless you're planning on making a first attempt at wide publication (at least 500 games, say), or you plan to design 100 games eventually, bulk plastic bits suppliers are not for you. In fact, many will refuse to ship anything less than wholesale, because that's what they are: wholesale retailers. Recently some outfits, like Plastics for Games, has started offering non-wholesale bits, but most of them want wholesale. You want them, too, usually, because of the prices.
Needless to say, if you are a gamer trying to outfit a game cheaply, wholesale retailers are definitely not for you.
Whether you are looking for bits for the latest Cheapass or Steve Jackson non-trimmed game, or just want to make your own gaming prototype, then eNasco may or may not fit your needs. They have come up a couple times on the 'Geek and other places, like the Games Journal, which is where I first heard of them.
eNasco and any other education resource that wants to help out with young kid's math, in fact, tend to be somewhat the same, although service may vary. I have been fairly satisfied with eNasco in the past, as they always ship things out very quickly. Their catalog is huge, but their selection of bits for gamers is modest---but adequate for many gamer needs.
The plastic bits gamers are interested in tend to be under Education Materials, and are called "Math Manipulatives". Usually you want the ones called "counters", 'cause they're supposed to be things that kids use for counting, sorting, and stacking, etc. But there are also dice, tiles, tangrams, etc, in other categories. eNasco tends to be a little bit weird when categorizing their products, so exploration of unlikely categories can be useful.
Here is, currently, the link for the Educational Materials -> Math Manipulatives:
This link will probably be wrong in a few months, because eNasco resorts their catalog every once in a while, and whatever does it is not nice to ID numbers. They do this partly because their catalog changes in about that number of months. The plastic bingo chips you want today may not be there next year, but there are a few staples to be had (you will never *not* see centimetere-sized cubes, for instance.)
You will like the following subcategories:
Counting & Sorting
- Chips (transparent, of the bingo variety. They have stacking chips somewhere else, but rarely here.)
- Counters (animals, bugs, different-sized frogs... oh, hey, they have the old Focus-style checkers right now!)
- Cubes (plastic, wood... you want "Rainbow Cubes" or "Centimeter Cubes". Centimeter cubes are divided very very evenly by number of colors, even though the buckets are just a mix of them. It's strange but very neat. 2cm cubes are a bit big, but not without their occaisonal uses)
- Teddy Bear Family. Three different sizes, three different colors. But they are teddy bears.
- 1" plastic tiles are under Plastic. Somewhat big for many purposes, but not if you're doing another tile game like T&E.
- Not sure about the size of the wood tiles under 'Wooden'. They look similar to the plastic tiles. But if you're prototyping, you still want the 1" plastic. They come in all colors, so you have to take that into considering if they'll be hidden information for players.
- they have blanks and polyhedrals of all sorts. Hmm, how weird, they don't seem to have blank d6 in stock, just blank d12.
- Oh, wait, blank d6 are under 'Operations dice' for a reason I forget.
- only if you want a ton of double-six sets in different colors.
- only if you need weird tesselations made up of different colored woods.
The overhead materials, by the way, are usually transparent and usually very flat.
Some things are only locatable through keyword search.
If you do a keyword search for "stacking counter", you'll also find the clear version of the tiny Bingo chips. The opaque version is no longer around. You will get MANY of the chips, trust me. I think I got 150 each of ten colors originally.
You may also be interested in the keyword search "blank playing cards', but these are not the kind of cards you can print out. They're more for writing on with permanent ink pens. You want the cards that are *smaller* than 3.5 x 5 inch, usually. There are better resources for blank cards, though, particularly ones you can print on.
Keyword searches used to be terribly slow, but they've speeded up since last I used their site. Good job!
As you may have noticed, eNasco doesn't have quite the coolness of bits that, say, Plastics for Games can give you, but they are in the US and they are affordable for the most part. $0.02 cents per little plastic cube is not bad, although a wholesaler can give you a better price---for 10,000 cubes all the same color, that is. Hence the practicality of eNasco for the smaller gamer or prototyping designer.
The eNasco guys hail from the Midwest, so if you live on either side of the coast you'll be waiting for your bits. But if you're in the Midwest, they're just right. I have sent them queries in the past, which they respond to slowly, but eventually. Otherwise, a nice company for math teachers and gamers in the US.