Technology is a wonderful thing. The tabletop gaming industry has been affected by advancements in technology in myriad ways: from games driven by apps to wholly-digital games or versions of games. Today, however, I’m going to discuss something else brought about by technology: inserts.
It’s actually quite fascinating how a few thin sheets of laser-cut wood can be assembled into trays, containers, and compartments, sometimes of incredible intricacy. I often wonder how the various companies go about designing and fitting so many parts of varying sizes into boxes ranging from small to large, or even replacing the boxes entirely. I feel like it would be a fun puzzle to work out.
Functionality of inserts and crates varies from game to game. Sometimes they just help you organize the bits and bobs better, or help streamline setup/cleanup, and sometimes they are designed to allow combining expansion or extra content into the base game box. There are even inserts for artist cases that replace your plethora of boxes and expansions with a single easy-to-carry and easy-to-organize storage solution.
But are inserts always good? If there is one available, should you be looking to acquire it no matter what? I’m going to discuss some times you may want to get an insert but also some times you may not want to.
Times for an Insert
Inserts shine when they improve quality of life for the players or owner of the game. Whether allowing you to store expansion content in the base game box or giving you trays to organize bits, they have to provide an improvement to be worth existing. The best inserts do a combination of these services, and some games are made so much easier to play with the convenience of the inserts and trays.
The Terraforming Mars insert above, for example, makes the game incredibly easier to play by providing replacement player mats with cutouts for the cubes. The game’s mats are just flat and you have the cubes sitting on top, so any bump or even just a breath of wind can slide the cubes around making you lose your place. The insert makes itself worthwhile for more than just that, as well, as it also has the usual card compartments and removable trays for bits.
If there’s something about the storage or setup of a game that just doesn’t work for you, or makes it annoying to bring a game to the table, then it may be eligible for an insert upgrade. There are several big companies, The Broken Token and Meeple Realty being my usual go to, that provide a plethora of options. There is some overlap between companies (TBT and MR both have Gloomhaven and Dead of Winter inserts, for example) but for the most part they have different offerings to allow for a wide variety of covered games.
Here are a few games I’ve gotten inserts for that I highly recommend: Anachrony, Gloomhaven, Flash Point, Dead of Winter (and The Long Night), Pandemic, Terraforming Mars, Roll Player
When Not to Get an Insert
In most cases, for the majority of the games I have that inserts are available for, if I can afford to get the insert and it seems worthwhile then I usually do. However, that is not always needed or correct for everyone. Sometimes inserts are just not worth it.
For example, Meeple Realty has overlays for the player boards in Azul that basically just hold the tiles in place and have wells that the score marker slides in. Having played Azul, the tiles are hefty enough that they don’t move without a serious bump and the score marker is easy enough to keep in place, so for me and my gaming group the overlays aren’t really worth it.
Additionally, I recently acquired Trickerion and its’ small box expansion and there’s a really nifty insert available for it that has a cool book (that opens!) which holds some of the components. However, I passed on getting this insert because I know there’s a large box expansion in the works for Trickerion that adds solo play so I’m very likely to back it when it gets to Kickstarter. It doesn’t seem worth it to get an insert that won’t fit the new stuff, so I’m going to wait and see if they come out with a revised one for everything, or an additional one for the expansion big box, before I commit to getting anything insert-related.
Unlike the inserts I’ve gotten, I’m not going to list off games you shouldn’t get inserts for, because it really comes down to you and your preference and opinion. I just wanted to highlight some things that I think about when I’m considering whether to invest in an insert (especially considering some of them can be pretty pricey).
Generally, inserts as a whole are an improvement and a great companion to the tabletop gaming hobby. They aren’t always necessary, and they aren’t available for every game, but usually they make the games they are available for better. I don’t regret any of the inserts I’ve gotten, there are maybe a few that weren’t as useful as I was anticipating but they are still better than the standard inserts.
Do you have inserts for your games? Are there ones you love, or hate? Let me know in the comments here or on social media!
Scott – The Solitary Meeple