Picture this; you invite the new neighbors over for a casual get-to-know-you evening of gaming. Before they arrive you already pull out your new favorite game, Wingspan. It’s both casual, engaging, elegant, and stunning. They are running a bit late, so you decide you’d speed things up by setting up the player boards and dealing out starting hands of cards. Just as you are finishing up the doorbell rings. You open the door and much to your dismay they decided they’d be “good guests” and bring the snacks. One of them is holding a bowl of cheese puffs while the other is sporting a plate of chicken wings smothered in barbecue sauce. This is truly what nightmares are made of.
The best way to salvage a situation like this without making anyone feel awkward would simply be to have sleeved your cards long ago like any prepared gamer would. Granted the dice, player pieces, and player boards might be in some danger, but those are slightly easier to clean than cards. Either way, you can now rest easy knowing that if by some twist of fate one of your guests picks up their hand of cards smearing cheese dust all over them, when the game is over and everyone is gone, all you’re going to need to do is slide off the old sleeves and slide on new ones. There is a certain peace of mind that sleeved cards can bring to a gamer that literally make them worth their weight in gold, copper, precious stones or whatever it is that you may use for purchases at your FLGS.
Unless you’re completely crazy like me, not all games are worth sleeving though. So I figured that I’d held you out a little by giving you some advice on which games to sleeve and what sleeves to use. But before we jump into that, let me explain some of the downsides to sleeving you cards. First, it can be addicting. Once you start you may not be able to stop. Then again, that may just be me. Second, unfortunately not all boxes and inserts are designed with sleeved cards in mind. It breaks my heart to throw out a well designed insert to a game just because the card well isn’t quite deep enough or wide enough to hold all the cards once sleeved. Third, it can get very expensive. Sleeves aren’t cheap and by the time you’ve sleeved a larger game you could’ve probably bought another small game or two.
Ok, so given these negatives, what games are actually worth sleeving? I’ll group these into 3 different categories; the must sleeve, the good idea to sleeve, and the not worth sleeving. So let’s begin with the must sleeve games. Typically these games require the information on the cards to be kept secret or hidden. The reason being, one of the worse things things that could happen to these cards is that they get a crease or a giant smudge making them easily distinguished from anywhere around the table. This category includes social deduction games (can’t have others knowing you’re the traitor before the game starts), cooperative games that rely on a hidden hand of cards (limited communication is irrelevant when you already can tell what everyone is holding), and lastly small competitive games designed completely around the cards (I’m talking about trick-taking games and such).
A few examples include The Resistance, Coup, Dead of Winter, Hanabi, The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, and Skull King.
Next up are the games that are definitely worth sleeving but depending on circumstance may not be worth it. Deckbuilding game have a lot of cards and so sleeving them can be pretty expensive, but given the amount of shuffling that happens the cards can take a beating. Not to mention the starting cards used every game will wear out faster than others. I would also lump into this category drafting games. The excessive amount of handling of the cards can lead to a lot of wear. The other type of game here is merely games that have a large deck and will see players holding a hand of cards for extended periods of time. You might might say, “But don’t games with large decks cost a lot of money to sleeve?” Sure, they do, but I should also mention that sleeved cards are actually easier to shuffle than non-sleeved cards. You merely split the deck and then using the corners of one half you kinda interlace them into the other half. It really is quick and easy.
A few examples include Dominion, Aeon’s End, 7 Wonders, Sushi Go, Wingspan, and Downforce.
And lastly the games that I don’t necessarily recommend sleeving, unless you’re crazy like me, are the ones that use cards merely as pieces on the board or create a tableau in front of players. These cards are rarely handled and are usually just shuffled once at the beginning of the game. The only real reason to sleeve them is to keep a level of consistency thoughout your collection or because you can no longer stand handling or shuffling sleeved cards, regardless of how minimal it might be.
A few examples include Dinosaur Island, Splendor, Codenames, and Point Salad.
There are a lot of different sleeve brands out there. Each have their pros and cons. Fantasy Flight sleeves are a good option, but can be pretty expensive and often tend to be a little too long for most inserts. Dragon Shield are way to expensive for board gaming and should be reserved for protecting those $50 Magic cards. Mayday is nice because it offers two different types, premium and standard. Premium are a good price but are often miscut, while standard can feel a little cheap and flimsy but are the best bang for your buck. Paladin Sleeves are also super nice but fairly difficult to get your hands on. Sleeve Kings though is the best of both worlds for me coming in packs of 110 and offers a decent thickness that both protects the cards and still fits well in inserts and boxes.
Hopefully you were able to get something useful out of this article. If not, that’s ok. I once remember reading a post on BGG that claimed that playing with sleeved cards was like sitting on your grandmother’s sofa, the one with the protective plastic on it. It just makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable. So sleeving isn’t for everyone, and that’s ok. But if it is for you I’ll leave you with one more bit of help. Below is an exhaustive list of sleeves needed for almost any game in existence…your welcome.