Rick Thornquist: Box Insert of the Year

by Rick Thornquist
April 1, 2011

There are a lot of game awards.  Lots and lots.  Too many, actually.  It seems that every two-bit game group, web site, blog or podcast has some kind of game award.  And who gets the recognition from these awards?  Those highfalutin’ game designers.  They end up getting all the glory just because they created the game.  Ridiculous.

There’s lots of other people besides the designers who are responsible for these games.  Publishers, graphic designers, artists, editors, and many others.  They may not get the awards, but at least they get credit in the rules.  Even playtesters get credit in the rules.  Check out the credits of Le Havre sometime – half of the population of Germany is in there.

Yet there is one person who makes a huge contribution to the games yet receives no recognition whatsoever.  Yes, I’m talking about the box insert designer, uh, person (or whatever they are called).

These purveyors of plastic, these masters of molding, these, I can’t think of another one, do something that all the other people can’t (or won’t) do.  They keep our games organized.  They keep the cubes, the meeples, the money, the boards, and everything else away from each other and in their rightful place.  They should receive accolades for their work, yet they toil in obscurity.

It’s high time the box insert design designer guy got his (or her) due.  Therefore, I hereby announced the Opinionated Gamers Box Insert of the Year Award (TM).

Yes, the OGBIOTYA, or, as I call it, the Boxy (TM) (or, perhaps, the Inserty) will be awarded to the game with the best box insert that was released in the current gaming fiscal year (Essen to Nuremberg).  I will be taking nominations (see below) for the award plus nominations for the Boxy Hall of Fame, for previously released games whose box inserts deserve recognition.

I will start us off with a nomination for this year’s Boxy:  Tikal II

In recent years, the art of creating box inserts has waned.  Publishers, in the interest of cutting costs, have given us box inserts that don’t even fit the components of the game (I’m looking at you, Alea) or worse, generic box inserts with baggies.  Some games even don’t have a box insert at all!  The horror.  Tikal II has returned us to the golden days of box inserts where a molded plastic try with individual wells holds the pieces snugly in their place.  Tikal II also has given us an innovation in box inserts – molded plastic numbers beside each component that corresponds to the components in the setup guide.  Bravo, unnamed box insert girl or guy designer.  Bravo.

And here’s my nomination for the Boxy Hall of Fame:  Domaine

Most good box inserts are functional.  And then there are some that are works of art. Domaine’s insert is both.  This one is two layers of inserty goodness, the bottom layer holding the pieces and the coins with the top layer holding down the bottom layer with the map tiles and the board frames.  It would have been easy to just do it all in one layer, but the insert person decided to do it the hard way, and it came out splendidly.  My hat is off to you, box inserter, you know, whatever.

Please contribute by giving your nominations for the Box Insert of the Year Awards or the Boxy Hall of Fame in the comments section below.

And, on behalf of all gamers, box insert designers, we salute you!

Other Opinionated Gamers:

Ted Cheatham: At a first thought, Rum and Pirates had that great case for the bits.

Wei-Hwa Huang: Hall of Fame nomination for goes to Valley Games’ Titan, made all the more impressive by the fact that the game was produced in China and not Germany, meaning that the insert needs to deal with components of somewhat shoddier quality.  An insert has to be just right so that the pieces are tight enough that they won’t fall out even if the insert is fully turned upside-down.  And the biggest problem with inserts is that they tend to fit just fine before you punch out the cardboard, but once you throw those frames away, there’s extra room for all the pieces to fall out of the insert.  Titan solves this by having the box be smaller than its contents. Ingenious.

Dale Yu: Hall of Fame nomination to Dominion.  (Yes, obvious disclaimer here as I am one of the developers of the game).  The molded plastic insert helps keep the cards orderly and easy to access.  Furthermore, the wells are deep enough to allow you to store the game on its side without worry that the cards will escape from their appointed slots.

I would also second the nomination for Tikal II.  While the insert doesn’t give the players any more choices to make during the game (sadly), it does make it easy to identify the pieces and quickly/efficiently put them away afterwards.

Patrick Korner: I’d give a hall of fame nod to Big City, whose multiple-tray insert is a thing of wonder. For a game from this past year, well, it’s hard (impossible?) to top Tikal II.

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36 Responses to Rick Thornquist: Box Insert of the Year

  1. Wookie says:

    You need to post some photos, especially if you award box insert.
    This is silly

  2. JeV0 says:

    my nominations are for :
    Pirates! by Knizia/Ravensburger, the boats fit, the forts fit, the dice fit individual.


  3. Thygra says:

    For the Hall of Fame I would nominate “Seaside Frolics” from 1986. I don’t know if hyperlinks does work here, but I try it: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/173215/seaside-frolics
    There are 42 compartments for 42 different kind of small postcards, and each compartment is numbered and additionally labeled with the same colour than the corresponding space on the game board! So I could imagine that Tikal II was inspired by Seaside Frolics. ;-)

  4. Larry Levy says:

    For the Hall of Fame, I nominate the original Tikal. It was a wonder of modern gaming engineering when it first appeared and it’s still one of the best inserts of all time.

  5. What do you all think of Sobek (and last year Jaipur)? Same publisher, simple cardgames, but the box inserts are really “BIG”!

  6. Chris Cormier says:

    Yes, I think I need a picture too. Great article though.

  7. Bob Scherer-Hoock says:

    Those of you who haven’t yet seen Tikal II must see it just for the insert. It really is that good. And I’m not being silly. I’ve actually hauled Tikal II to game get-togethers where I knew there was virtually no chance it would get played just to show off the insert. (OK, maybe I’m being a little silly.) Then I bring out 7 Wonders for comparison. Which one LOOKS like a game of the year?

    Actually somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I remember hearing that the packaging does have an effect on Spiel des Jahres voting, and I’ve always thought that one measure of a publisher’s intent to push for a Spiel nomination was the quality of the box insert. Which I suspect is why there actually IS an insert in the second edition of 7 Wonders.

    Tikal II is a throwback to the old (by which I mean mid-’80s to ’90s, but including Pirates) Ravensburger games that always had a place for everything. (In contrast to the recent Ravensburger square-box games – Asara, Seeland, Diamonds Club – that come down to 7 Wonders and Fantasy Flight levels of inserts.) Too bad the Tikal II box itself is so relatively flimsy.

    Other good inserts: I agree with those who have mentioned Big City and Seaside Frolics; I disagree on Domaine (turn the box over and everything mixes terribly). And I’ll add Tobago, the Carcassonne Big Box games and, especially, the Alhambra Big Box (a place for everything, including numbered compartments for each expansion – eat your heart out Fresco).

    Not a silly subject at all.

  8. Paul Jefferies says:

    What a great idea! I’d better go home and pull the lids of some of my games before I make some suggestions.
    But I also think there should be a box insert ‘Turkey Hall of Fame’ too…for the worst box insert ever! This would eliminate all those games that came without an insert…and would be directed toward those games that came with one that didn’t work AT ALL. Two spring to mind immediately: The recent reprint of Dungeonquest, and Mission Red Planet. Both were frustratingly hopeless.

  9. David Chappelle says:

    The competing award is the ‘Stakies, for best published game errata.

    -who has a calendar on his computer

  10. Chris Van Auken says:

    Great idea Rick!
    Got me thinking about one of the thing that has always bothered me about inserts – No one has managed to design an insert with card ‘wells’ large enough to allow sleeved cards to fit back into the ‘wells’. In this day and age, seems like a no-brainer to me. Any insert that does this would certainly be at the top of my nominations list.

  11. Ryan B. says:

    Wow. Out of my rocking chair so early. Sooooo…..

    Is there anything that Dale will NOT nominate Dominion for? (disclaimers included)

    Other than that… oh my gosh, what a brilliant, timely, relevant and topical post… however tongue-in-cheek it may be. My first point is the cost of plastic. Certainly realizing that as petroleum prices have risen the corresponding cost of the production of plastics has risen as well.

    That said. Still… indy publishers have raised the rough average price of a game from $40 to $50 in the last couple of years. Which is about a 25% increase, all told. I think that covers the cost of plastics production.

    But the value of a molded insert is much, MUCH underestimated nowadays. I realize with scale of production, Hasbro is able to crank out the $15 game without too much of a sweat. But if I’m paying $50 for a game, I don’t want to have to show off a game in baggies. I HATE baggies and everything they represent. Down with baggies! (LOL) Give me a well-designed, molded plastic insert any day of the week. Sometimes, this actually figures into whether or not I will purchase a game.

    So I’m glad Rick called at least some attention to this topic, albeit in a light hearted way.


    My nomination is for…. drum roll… yup you guessed it… all Days of Wonder games, who have resisted the urge to cut partial corners on production values.

    So I guess we all need to ask the question:

    Is there anything that Ryan will NOT nominate Days of Wonder for? (BTW, I am not affiliated to Days of Wonder in any way whatsoever… other than the fact that I am a big fan of their company and that I am Eric Hautemont’s personal butler.) : p


    Ryan B.

  12. David Reed says:

    I would nominate the insert for Thunderstone: Wrath of the Elements. It is the best box configuration for a deck-building I have encountered thus far – it actually works with sleeved cards!

    Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon are both pretty good until/unless you sleeve the cards.

  13. Tikal II definitely gets the nod for this year. An amazing insert!

    I have to disagree with Dale on the Dominion insert for Dominion. I’ve decided to throw all of mine out in favor of cutting up my extra “blue” cards as dividers and adopting an AEG Thunderstone-like alphabetical storage solution. Pretty drastic measures! I much prefer the AEG way of storing cards for deckbuilding games… I suppose you couldn’t call it an insert then and wouldn’t be up for the Boxy!

  14. Larry Levy says:

    If we’re citing pet peeves, mine is when a well that’s provided for a deck of cards is the perfect height for the plastic wrapped cards that come with the game, but which ignores the fact that the height of that deck will expand *significantly* once the cards are unwrapped. C’mon, publishers, this isn’t rocket science! I know you want things nice and snug when the game ships, but if the well is no longer usable once the game is opened, what’s the point?

  15. Frank Hamrick says:

    I nominate Catan: Germany. Nice individualized cut-outs for each monument/building (though it sometimes is an exercise in patience to figure which one goes where); and individual depressions for each set of playing pieces, trays for the resources, etc.

  16. Frank Branham says:

    Earth Reborn.

    It is a massive sprawl of tiles in 7 different Tetris like board tile shapes, tiny long door counters, crazy one-use status counters, cards, minis, dice, a cloth bag of tiles. And there is this complex, multilevel insert for everything that actually works.

    They did something cruel and evil and did not include a packing doc, then teased everyone to try and guess how you were supposed to fit the game in the box before noting that the best guess had gotten it 95% right.

    I did kind of want to set them on fire for that…but it is a nice insert.

  17. I do not think a tray itself is worth a prize such as the Boxy © as it should be standard supplied with every game, but a prize for overall production (components, rules, tray) could be a good idea. In my review on Tikal II I also discussed the tray and cited Sébastien Pauchon’s view on it:
    Nice to have you back writing about games, Rick!

  18. Willi B says:

    Dominion works well for the game (or expansion) by itself. I think that many of us Dominion owners would like a single box that held and transported all of the cards and expansions in a better way.

  19. jeffinberlin says:

    Maybe I’m too much like Frank Lloyd Wright, but I like game designers who, like true Renaissance men (or women), think about the whole package.

    That’s why I would nominate “Chateau Roquefort” and “Das magische Labyrinth” among others that make the insert part of the game. Or perhaps this could be a special award, along the lines of the different SdJ awards?

  20. Denis B says:

    Dale actually nominated Dominion? I second the opinion that Thunderstones expansion packaging is leaps and bounds better than Dominion. The stack-o-boxes my Dominion collection has become is actually so unwieldy we mostly pick two or three expansions max for playing.

    Also I’d like to second the nomination for Tobago, logical and clear placement spaces for all pieces, and no head-scratching involved in packing stuff back in.

  21. Bob Scherer-Hoock says:

    Just had another good insert come to mind: Mississippi Queen. In addition to a form-fitting place for the river tiles and steamboats, each of the fair ladies has her own, err, manhole.

  22. Ryan B. says:

    22 responses for a box insert column. Is that an Opinionated Gamers record? Admittedly, it was definitely a left field throw from Rick but on a great topic. Now lets just get rid of the wooden blocks, throw the meeples off an iron bridge and start putting some thematic plastic into the games… and we are on to something. : )

    Boy, I gotta say I love being in the commenter role vs. writing column. Definitely, a lot more freedom on this side of the fence, to be sure. At any rate, I think my all time favorite packing insert is Mystery of the Abbey. Every time I open that box, I think wow…. cool.

    Ryan B.
    “A fun game starts with fun people.”

  23. Ryan B. says:

    BTW, is it me? Or did anyone else look at that picture of Denis B. when he posted and thought, “Oh wow, Owen Wilson likes boardgames?” (LOL)

    • Denis B says:

      @Ryan I guess the small gravatar could make me look like [insert blonde celeb here], but in reality I’m far from a Wilson lookalike.

      I guess the topic is just something most people have an opinion on, no matter their gaming preferences. So maybe that’s the reason for this much response?

  24. Hanno Girke says:

    From a publisher’s side:
    We learned from our customers that “no insert is the best insert”, and “inserts just hide the amount of air in the box”.
    Plus, without the insert, the retail price of a game is approx $1-2 less.

    Therefore, I nominate all games without insert for your Hall of Fame.

  25. Doug Adams says:

    Easy, this has to be a tie between Earth Reborn and Thunderstone Dragonspire. Both amazing. You can stop commenting for this year now :)

    For Hall of Shame, Big City – just awful. Binned very quickly.

    • Ian Noble says:

      I second Earth Reborn’s amazing insert. Even with tons of cardboard, everything fits just right. Makes it so much easier setting up scenarios!


  26. Ryan B. says:

    See Hanno,

    Just my personal belief and I certainly am not saying I am representative of the group posting here: But I think publishers that leave out the box insert are just being cheap. As I see it…. I mean seriously, who looks at a game, especially in the IT and engineering demographic, which it seems most of the gamers come from and thinks “Nah, I don’t want any organization in this box. Just throw everything pell-mell into the white space.”

    Me thinks not. And I think I can afford the extra buck to get a level of org in my game.


    Owen (errr, Denis B.)

    Love your movies, man. : ) I mean…. I love your box insert opinion, expressed above. To your question, I think you are spot on. Box inserts ARE important! And we’ll chalk up the “Owen Wilson thing” to the tiny size of the gravatar. (LOL)

  27. Ryan B. says:

    In fact so important, we now evidentially have a very prestigious award around it. And I heard it’s already got a TV deal bigger than the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals.

    Just beware of the Russian judge scoring Dominion all perfect 10’s.

  28. Ryan B. says:

    Or for that matter the French judge (me) scoring Days of Wonder 12’s …. out of 10. (LOL)

    And no, I’m not really French…. even if I do aspire to want to retire in a little mountain hut somewhere in the Jura. : )

  29. Ehrm, Ryan B.: couldn’t you just start your own blog? Then we wouldn’t have to read all this nonsense. And: get sober!

  30. Ryan B. says:

    The short answer to your question, Richard: No.

    But I’ll strive, henceforth, to TRY and be more interesting… like you.

  31. David Lund says:

    While Ryan and I seldom see eye to eye on much of anything game related, I have to agree with him that the first two Hall of Fame inserts that came to mind for me were both from Days of Wonder.

    Every time I play Small World, I marvel at how well designed the insert is. I love the removable token tray! (Although I know not everyone does.) And while I think it probably doesn’t get them a nod for a Boxy this year, I do think they deserve props for putting a well designed expansion tray in with the recent Be Not Afraid expansion.

    The other DoW insert that I think is Hall of Fame worthy is the insert for Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. Not only did it hold a host of wildly shaped pieces relatively snugly, it was also molded in a way that really captured the feel of the theme with its sandy color and textures. Some nameless insert engineer deserves some love for that design!

  32. Mallgur says:

    I think Jager und Samler should be nominated.
    Not only does the insert have room for all the components but the publishers even ask you to keep the punched-out sheets so as to place them beneath the insert therefore giving it the necessary height in order to keep all components in place even if the box is stored on it’s side. Brilliant package design.
    And the game is nice too.

  33. Miguel says:

    Jamaica has a fantastic box insert. The box looks like a treasure chest, when you open it the rules make it look like the chest is full of gold. The insert has functional wells for the three currencies and a perfect spot for everything else used in the game. The treasure chests are even hidden in a secret compartment!

    Hands down Boxy hall of famer

  34. Tom Vasel says:

    Dominion? Really? Great game, but there’s a reason that there are tons of threads on how to put in better boxes, and yes – Thunderstone does it MUCH better. Still waiting on the Dominion storage box.

    Days of Wonder does do a great job – Cleopatra is well done. I also like Pillars of the Earth, Colosseum, Tikal II, Jamaica, and Sobek.

    At the same time, having no insert doesn’t bother me. Just provide some bags, please. No insert and no bags says “we are cheap”. Giving us bags, at a couple of cents per bag, somehow makes the lack of insert less problematic.

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