When my wife and I first played Lords of Waterdeep we immediately knew that we had to own the game. After just one play I placed an order for not only the game, but also the expansion, and an upgrade kit to replace the fighter, thief, cleric, and wizard cubes with little meeples. Since then I’ve purchased the Broken Token insert for the game and I’ve backed a Kickstarter campaign to replace the money chits with metal coins. I have yet to receive those coins, but I hear they are almost here!
In the end I’ve spent more money on upgrades for Lords of Waterdeep than I have on the game itself. Companies like Broken Token, Meeple Realty and Meeple Source have made a business of upgrading your games and many people are more than willing to shell out the money to make their favorite game their own.
Game upgrades seem to come in three flavors (in my opinion); aesthetic upgrades, efficiency upgrades and protective upgrades. Some of the options will span multiple categories which is smart because then you are able to entice both groups of players.
Board game inserts have long been the bane of the gamer. Much of the time a new game comes with just the box. If you are lucky the publisher will toss in a set of baggies so that you can keep the pieces sorted out. Perhaps the publisher will use a box insert. At the base level they put a couple of folded cardboard risers in the box so that you have a trough to place the bits and a raised section on which to place the board. On the higher end of the spectrum you get a vacuum-formed plastic insert which is designed just right for the bits of the game. Lords of Waterdeep, for example has a form-fitted plastic insert. It has spots for everything and is among the better of the inserts that come from a publisher. However, these can be a problem as well as box is made in such a way that when you tip the box on it’s side, and the lid opens even a smidge, then all of the contents just start popping out of their places. In addition, these formed inserts rarely provide enough space to add expansions into the same box. On the other end of the spectrum you have The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade which comes with no box insert at all, yet has something like seven separate decks of cards. My biggest pet-peeve from game publishers is the lack of a way to keep a deck of cards together. Cardboard tuck-boxes can’t be that expensive. The answer of course is to have a custom box insert. A very popular approach is to make your own insert out of something like foam-core, which is great for those who are crafty and good with a hobby knife. The photo is a custom insert made by BGG User ds108j for The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade. If you look at the foam-core inserts that I made for my X-Wing miniatures, you can plainly see why the laser-cut wooden box inserts made by Broken Token are so popular. Thin wood is laser-cut with incredible precision to form a frame and compartments inside the original box. Many times they include removable compartments for multiple layers and/or easy access to bits that are usually left in “piles near the board”. These inserts in my opinion cover all three categories of game upgrades as they strengthen the box and keep the bits in place during transport, they have a place for everything making it super-efficient to set up and tear down your games, and they look really, really cool!
A common aesthetic upgrade is the meeple. The meeple upgrade that I bought for Lords of Waterdeep was simply tiny meeples in the proper colors, but since then I’ve found kits which have meeples shaped like their appropriate character, and even ones which are painted to reflect the character. Meeple Source sells shaped and painted meeples for a variety of games. Upgrading the other bits such as resource tokens is also popular and Stonemaier Games offers boxes of resin bits to upgrade many of your favorite games. Do you want an actual oil barrel for Power Grid, because they’ve got them! Most of the time this is a purely aesthetic upgrade, but I can say that the mini-meeples definitely help in the flavor of Lords of Waterdeep, as it is so easy to just resort to calling the cubes by their color. The meeple shape helps you remember that these are adventurer’s that you are trying to collect, not just colored cubes.
Metal coins are also becoming more and more popular, and Kickstarter campaigns pop up for them all the time. Many games on Kickstarter add them as an upgrade or stretch goal. Other games sometimes off them as a promotional item. Krosmaster Arena has metal Kami tokens which they provide to players as participation or victory prizes in their organized play system.
Painting the miniatures is yet another aesthetic upgrade that players utilize. By painting your own minis you can make the game truly yours as those minis are now unique in the world! These are from BGG User Roolz for The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac. I’ve painted minis in the past, my brief foray into the world of Warhammer 40K, but I’m definitely not that person any more. I just don’t have the skill or patience.
By far the most common method of customizing your games is to sleeve the cards. While this can provide an aesthetic improvement by adding graphics to the back of the card, the primary purpose is to protect your cards from wear, spills, and grubby fingers. It depends on the quality of the cards of course, but for any game that requires constant shuffling of said cards (Star Realms, Flip City), I think it is imperative that the cards be sleeved. In fact, when I picked up Star Realms: Colony Wars, I played one game with the cards un-sleeved, and they were already showing wear… and I wasn’t playing with a kid or someone that doesn’t respect the games, this was just through completely normal play.
Whether for aesthetic or protective reasons, pimping the game has become part of board gaming, and you can expect to see more and more things hit the market so that you can add some bling to your games. Even manufacturing machinery is making its way into the average home. Not too long ago I backed a crowd funded project called Glowforge. Glowforge is a laser cutter and engraver. “Aren’t those box inserts laser cut?” you might ask… Yes, they most certainly are. With the Glowforge I can start to make my own box inserts, dice towers, I can cut out my own custom meeples, or I can make this amazing Catan board! While I would like to say that my mention of the Glowforge is purely for informational reasons, I have to fess up and state that I have an ulterior motive. I do not work for Glowforge, but I have a vested interest in it’s success, and if you are at all interested in one, then we can help each other out immensely. If you use my referral link, then each of us will receive $100 off the price of our Glowforge! (Bear in mind that this is a crowd-funded device which has not yet made it to initial backers. I believe the estimated delivery date for new orders is by the end of this year.)
I’d love to hear more about what you have done to bling out your games, so feel free to post a comment!