Better Bits: Top 5 Favorite Game Upgrades

While there are many other gamers who have been in the hobby a lot longer than me, the hobby sure has changed substantially since I got involved nearly 7 years ago. One of the most notable changes is the quality of board game components. The days of bland cubes and cardboard chits are a thing of the past. Stretch goals have given creators a chance to push the limits of practicality for the sake of providing gamers with a “premium” experience. I, for one, am not opposed to higher quality components, as long as the added price tag is justifiable. Below are my top 5 favorite different game upgrades.

5. Miniatures

For the most part board games are made of cardboard and wood. The more thematic games in the hobby, such as dungeon crawlers and war games, need a little extra to help to bring the experience to life. In order to accomplish this the experience goes from 2D to 3D. Plastic miniatures go a long way to give a more realistic feel. Not only does the game pop on the table, making it more attractive visually, but it also makes it easier to visualize what is happening in a 3D space. The latter reason is probably why miniatures haven’t become quite as essential in euro games, they’re just not as necessary for the experience.

Unfortunately, things in 3D take up more space. Games that include miniatures come in bigger boxes, taking up valuable shelf space. Also, there isn’t really a good way to store miniatures except for a vac tray, taking up even more space. I suppose you could always throw the insert away and bag all the minis, but this will make it nearly impossible to find the one goblin archer you need, forcing you to dump them all out on the table.

4. Custom Shaped Wooden Pieces

I am a big euro gamer. These types of games aren’t normally known for their thematic immersion, and for the most part I’m ok with that. But when converting two gold and five stone into a new building, I feel a greater connection to my action when I’m exchanging wooden bits shaped like stone and gold, as opposed to just dumping a handful of grey and yellow cubes back into a supply pile. And don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the meeple, but if my worker can be shaped like a farmer in Agricola or like an explorer in The Quest for El Dorado I’m not going to say no.

There really aren’t any downsides to these types of upgrades. Although, somtimes publishers try to get a little too detailed when it comes to some wooden bits, making them overly fragile. And so every so often you may open up a new game just to find one of these pieces has broken in two between the time it was boxed up at the factory and when you cracked it open. Luckily most publishers are pretty good about having spare bits on hand and will happily send out a replacement after contacting them via their website or email.

3. Dual Layer Boards

Nothing is more annoying than having someone bump the table and watching all your markers go sliding out of place, unsure of where they were originally. You might ask, “Come on, how often does this really happen?” And you’re right, it doesn’t happen that often, but it sure does suck when it does. Dual layer boards are when two pieces of cardboard are glued together, with the top one having slots punched out that hold the bits in place.

Not only is it practical, but it is also quite satisfying continually placing pieces into these perfectly sized slots. It reminds me of those children’s puzzles where you have to put the cube in the square hole and the sphere in the circular hole. I wish more games came with these not only for player boards, but for the main board as well.

2. Metal Coins

Boy, oh boy. I sure do love metal coins. There is something so satisfying about playing with metal coins. It be the fact that it adds a sense of realism to the experience, as if you were actually spending your hard earned money on that shiny new piece of tech. Or perhaps it is just the tactile experience of clinking you coins as you nervously watch wait for it to be your turn again, praying your opponent doesn’t take the action you so desperately need. Perhaps it is a combination of the two.

Either way, I think this is probably the one thing on my list that I’d have a hard time believing someone would prefer not to have. The only real downside to metal coins is one of the positives. The weight. While the heft of a handful of coins feels great while playing, the weight it adds to the box can make transporting the a real pain and it can put unnecessary strain on the game box and any insert.

1. Game Trayz

When looking at a Kickstarter page few things will peak my interest as greatly as the mention of Game Trayz. The inserts that they make are top of the line. I feel like some publishers try and replicate these themselves but they always end up being somewhat of a disappointment. Once again, there is just something satisfying about having a spot so perfectly designed to fit the games components. Game Trayz make the experience of putting away the game almost as much fun as playing it.

And as a huge advocate of sleeving cards, I never have to worry if the insert will hold sleeved cards if I see that it is being done by Game Trayz. I also know that when it comes to setting up the game, it will be half the time it normally would be if everything was stored in a normal insert, and nearly four times as fast as if it was all just stored in baggies. Set-up time may not seem like that big of a deal, but if I know a game sets up quickly and easily then it will definitely be more likely to make it to the table on any given night.

There you have it. Those are my top 5 favorite game upgrades. What did I miss? Am I wrong about any of these? I’d love you hear your thoughts on the subject.

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