Bagging Monthly #2: Bag Size Consistency

Welcome back to the only regular Opinionated Gamer column that provides an in-depth look at boardgame storage practices, techniques and guidelines. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe the other OG columnists didn’t all clamor to write this first, but they seem to lack the conviction necessary to tackle such an important topic.

If you read last month’s article on bag quality, you know that the Bagging Monthly Certified bags: Uline’s 4 mil bags (http://www.uline.com/BL_211/4-Mil-Reclosable-Bags) come in a wide variety of sizes. But (unless you’ve clicked that aforementioned link), you probably didn’t know that exactly how many sizes you can get those bags in: Ninety-three different sizes, ranging from the “keep your original Through the Ages round pieces in bags” 2”x2”, to the “bag your boxes” 30”x30” size.

With all of those sizes available, you could conceivably have the right-size bag for every component type in all of your games (including boards and even inserts, if you were so inclined). And while there is something almost magical about bags that are “just right” for every size component, it isn’t realistic to expect that from both a financial and practical implementation.

First, you’re just not going to have all those different sizes available. Assuming you did a shared-purchase arrangement with your gaming buddies, and ended up with 200 bags of every size, that would cost you $4,532.40. If you’re like a few of the Opinionated Gamers and don’t have any friends (I won’t mention names so that Dale, Larry and Frank won’t get upset), and you have to buy a case of each size, that’ll set you back $10,720. And that doesn’t include shipping (these bags start to weigh a lot when you order them in bulk). Realistically, you’re probably only going to have 5 or so sizes available to you.

Second, while finding the right size bag for every component is doable (and in my experience, somewhat delightful), it does take time. But that time when you’re doing the initial game bagging is acceptable; it’s what happens the next time you put away the game that you should be concerned about. Because you’ll have a pile of bags (usually in the box) and all the game pieces scattered on the table. And after a hard-fought game of Trajan, with its bajillion pieces and mind-numbing gameplay, you’ll have to match up pieces to bags. Screw up one bag (putting pieces in it that could have fit in a smaller bag), and you’ll start a domino-like progression of mis-storing that’s akin to an old-time Clive Barker horror short story about those hedge clippers that clearly have a life of their own.

Third, if you think you have trouble re-bagging your game, think of how difficult it would be for someone else who’s playing your game without you. They’ll (hopefully) do their best, but undoubtedly that careful, exacting system you put into place initially will also go off the rails, and you’ll probably have a heart attack the next time you open the game to discover several empty bags and dozens of loose pieces floating around the box, maybe with a handwritten note that says “bags weren’t the right size.” Of course, you could avoid this scenario by never letting anyone play your games unless you’re playing them yourself…

So if it isn’t realistic to have “the perfect bag” for every component, what is the right combination of bag sizes for your games? There are three guidelines to keep in mind when choosing bags:

  1. Use the fewest bag sizes possible.
  2. Start determining bag size using the biggest sets of pieces first.
  3. Add a new, smaller-size bag if you have more empty space than filled space in the current sized-bag.

The first guideline to keep in mind while choosing bag sizes is “fewest sizes possible.” Now of course, you don’t want to take that too literally, or each game would be filled with the largest bag size needed for the biggest set of components, with tons of wasted bag space. But you do want to use the fewest bag sizes possible. Ideally, one bag size for each component type is great, as long as the components fit into the bags well.

The second guideline is to start with the biggest pieces first when determining the initial bag size. You might have to bag a deck of cards (highly recommended) or a set of large wooden pieces. Start there, and then see if any other components fits into that size bag without violating the third guideline, below.

The third guideline is to add another size bag once the empty space in the bag is noticeably greater than the used space in the bag. A giant bag with tiny components not only looks silly, but takes up more room in the box than it should. In the case where this would introduce a single bag, it’s probably not worth having a new bag size. Once you need two or more “smaller” bags, it’s time to break out the next bag size.

Following these three guidelines ensures that your games will have the fewest different size bags possible while still having sizes that make sense for your pieces. Of course, these are guidelines, and there’s always a stray game where it might make sense to modify these guidelines. Use your judgement, and always think “what would the good folks at Bagging Monthly think about my bagging?” any time you need to make a tough bagging decision.

Featured Bagged Game of the Month: Die Macher

Die Macher is well known for its abundance of pieces, rules, and great gameplay (as well as a fairly long play time, ranging from 3-5 hours for most groups). To help keep your game time as low as possible, proper bagging is a must. The image above shows one such bagging method that’s sure to keep game setup to a minimum the next time you play (and it’s fairly easy to put away, too).

If you have the original or Hans Im Gluck version (recommended over the Valley Games version, though that one is certainly serviceable), you’ll have a bunch of German language pieces, like the rules, reference cards, and scoresheets. Take a deep deep breath, and

Throw them all away.

It may sound blasphemous, and if you’re a sprue-keeper you probably can’t even conceive of doing such a thing, but a healthy game collection does not contain foreign language items you’ll never use. I used to rationalize it by saying “If I ever sell this to someone who is a native German speaker, they’ll want those rules/pieces,” until I realized (1) am I really going to sell the game to someone outside the US, or inside the US who isn’t a native English speaker? and (2) I was being stupid.

These components not only add weight to the box making it even harder to shlep around (and increasing the odds of throwing out your back while retrieving it from a high shelf), but most importantly, they add unnecessary clutter to a game that’s already overflowing with pieces and your English documentation/player aids/scoresheets. Once you’ve gotten rid of the foreign stuff you’ll never, ever use (don’t think about it, just do it!), you can also throw away the 5 extra blank square tiles you’ll never, ever use.

First, let’s talk about the things you can’t bag. The boards, including the four elections boards, the scoreboard and the cards board, all should be placed at the bottom (not top) of the box, with the bagged pieces resting on top of them. The election boards in particular are known for slight warping, and keeping them under weights will help deter that (or at least keep it to a minimum).

Next, put all your native language rules, reference cards, and scoresheets in the box. You could bag your scoresheets, but they’re big enough not to and if you pack your box as suggested, you’ll be able to retrieve them easily enough without doing so. I made my own full color Die Macher scoresheets, which you can find in the files section of Die Macher on BGG.

One of the reasons that Die Macher is the Featured Bagged Game of the Month this month is because despite the crazy number of different pieces, you can bag the entire game using just 4×4 bags. The toughest thing you’ll run into is making sure you have the player “sets” correct, as shown below.

Each player bag should contain all wood pieces of the same color, along with both player sets of cards and tiles. All of this fits snugly into 4×4 bags, and makes setup a breeze (I love just tossing a bag full of player-specific pieces directly to a player instead of having to find things and sort at the beginning of a game).

Next, put the state cards in their own bag, and the corresponding state tiles in another. No need to sort either of them.

The money takes up more space, and here’s where things get a little dicey. I’ll admit that it’s tight to get the money to fit in the 4×4 bags (each denomination in its own bag). Not tight enough to damage the money of course, but you’ll need to fan out the cards as shown below to have them fit comfortably in those size bags. Again, faced with the alternative of four larger bags just for the money (or a single very large bag for all denominations), this is clearly the right way to go. In Die Macher, you’ll want separate piles for each denomination anyway, and this way they’re split up and ready to stack.

The issue cards, both plaform and individual, should be bagged next. These are easy to mix up (and you definitely don’t want to do that), so be careful when putting these away, insuring that one set of cards has a single illustration and the other has a set of four on each card.

Finally, the remaining cards/pieces are bagged as well: The opinion poll cards fit nicely in a bag, the miscellaneous tiles fit in another (no reason to separate the dopplers from the round counters from the “no coalition” tile), and finally the dice go in a separate, clearly (at this point) oversized bag. It’s acceptable to use a smaller bag for these dice, but not necessary. In fact, you’ll speed up cleanup by a few seconds by not having to figure out where to allocate the “small” bag if you don’t use one, so using a 4×4 for the two dice is a great exception to the rule #3 (no bag with more than 1/2 empty space).

So there you have it. Consistency in bag sizing saves you time and effort, and looks sharp in your box as well.

Next month in Bagging Monthly: Bagging New Games on the Road

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4 Responses to Bagging Monthly #2: Bag Size Consistency

  1. rthornqu says:

    Love Bagging Monthly! Keep ’em coming, Ted!

  2. godfeather says:

    If you want to have different sizes of bags you can use label maker to print out the components and the amount that goes into the bag. It’s not a bad idea anyway, since it makes it easier to preserve the structure and you can count if there is a missing component.

  3. WalterVF says:

    I’m so jealous you have the German 2nd edition of Die Macher… I’ve been trying to get my hands in one of these.
    Great article!

  4. Dator220 says:

    I might have to take up the call and start another competing column call “Plano” Monthly. You see “bagging”, like Worker Placement or Deck Building (copyrighted by Designer X) games are so 2005-2009, I live in 2012 and using sound scientific methods, the new and improved method of organizing your game bits is called “Planoed” (invented and copyrighted by me). For me this isn’t something new, I’ve been using the Planoed (and perfecting) the system sense the days of Caylus.

    The system is simple, instead of bags, you use Tackle Boxes; yes I didn’t miss-type that. In more general terms, you would say any plastic box with individual compartments (compartments ≠ 0) will satisfy the requirement of game bit storage needs. The two major players are Plano Molding and Flambeau tackle boxes. I was going to call the new system “Flambeaued”, but I can’t pronounce Flambeau to begin with, but “Planoed” just rolls right off the tongue. Any generic arts and craft boxes from B&M stores also qualify.

    Like bags that come in many sizes, so do Plano boxes. The notation is based on the # of compartments.

    The # of compartments can range from 1 to the 30’s or even higher with flex compartment boxes. But bags are waterproof! Don’t worry, waterproof boxes are available. Which seems a little stupid if the boxes come from the fishing industry, the fake bait is going to get wet anyway, why waterproof it?

    Though not required, the Planoed system can be enhanced with a simple label maker. Some games are a bear to organize but using a label maker can help other dumb gamers understand where bits are supposed to go when putting the game away.

    The final nail in the coffin on using bags came when Agricola burst on to the game world. Using bags was just stupid and very impractical but when using the Plano System your world of organizing game bits was mind blowing exciting with the future (and the past) wild open.

    Final note, while I’m snotty and high brow when it come to bagging games, bags do have a place where they are extremely useful, and I still use bag when need calls for it.

    Later,
    Adrian Larson

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