You’ve assembled the scalawags, the backstabbing bunch who’re nonetheless your crew mates on Libertalia’s pirate plundering adventure. Mad Eye Dan, black patch in action, rolls a coin between his knuckles while you send your own horde dashing from your palm into a thick clatter on your table. A sound no cardboard token can match. Sure, you might be playing a game, but the loot you’re fighting over feels very, very real.
They litter our games by the thousands, these tokens. Cardboard chits, occasionally spiced up into wooden bits or something flashier — Century, Golem Edition, I’m looking at you — form the mainstay of our hobby. Unfortunate, then, that these miracle bits are so often relegated to the blandest beige, rough-cut circles or primary-colored discs. At least Terra Mystica gave us a fun purple-pink for its million little power pieces.
Should you wish to transcend the mire of “meh” when it comes to your cardboard, however, there exist options aplenty to bring your golden girls into the golden age.
It’s the Money, Honey: Which games deserve upgrades?
When you’re taking a look at your collection and wondering where to apply a bit of glitter, look first to your heaviest hitters, the games that you’d pull off the shelf every night if time and friends were limitless. Upgrading components is all about adding spice, glamour, and glitz—and that’s worth little if you’re not getting the fancy fun to the table. So with that in mind, when entertaining a boost to the board games, here’s a simple tack to take:
- Draw up your top five games that you play from your collection
- Then a second top five games that you wish you played.
- Yes, it’s fine if a game is on both lists. In fact, that makes it an even clearer target.
- Look at each game in question and mull, preferably over a drink of choice, what to bling and zing.
- We’re talking dice, money (paper, tokens), game board, meeples, or just about any physical component.
- Bonus points if the piece gets handled often or takes center visual stage. If you’re going to upgrade something, you want it to be seen or used, not stashed away in the box most of the time.
- Once you’ve got your list, get a rough figure for how much you’re willing to spend on a given upgrade. Like we mentioned with sleeves, spending more than the game itself costs to turn cardboard into copper might not be the best play.
With your list in hand, it’s time to get to scoring some sweet, sweet supplies. Here are a few easy board game accessories and upgrades that’ll likely cover the games on your list!
Coin for the Commons: Upgrade your cash
By volume, money must be the most common game component. It’s everywhere, whether you’re slinging stacks of cash in Millennium Blades or counting doubloons in Dead Reckoning. If you’re looking for the best literal bang for your bucks, consider upgrading your cardboard currency.
At the same time, if you’re looking at your shelf of money-grubbing games and wondering what it’ll cost to spruce up all those components, consider instead a cost-effective upgrade that’ll cover multiple titles in a single, sparkly package:
- A single, solid metal coin collection can be stored near the game table and busted out whether you’re snarling through Libertalia or conquering the wilds in Scythe.
- Poker chips or heavier iron clays make for a great premium currency for games that demand denominations, like 18 Chesapeake or Container. You’ll feel like a magnate sliding those chips between your fingers.
- If you’d rather keep using a game’s original tokens, but want to spruce up the feel or keep them safe, coin capsules make a nice “token sleeve.” Just keep your box space in mind.
[ Read: Game Inserts — Organize Your Box! ]
Roll out the Red Carpet: Dice!
Ah, dice—the quintessential board game accessories. Few things feel better than knocking these puppies around your palm and letting them rip across the table, watching as they scatter your pieces around, fly into dark, spider-webbed corners, and splash into unsuspecting food and drink. Should you want to calm that delightful chaos, though, there are a few options:
- Consider dice trays. Available in just about any theme you can imagine, these small, easily stored scallops serve to keep your most aggressive rollers in check, their dice nestled where pips can be counted without fear.
- Dice towers are a bit pricier, a lot larger, but remove rolling from the equation all together, something that might be nice if you’re playing with folks who keep a literal thumb on fate’s scales. Like trays, these come with just about any vibe you can imagine, offering a spectacular way to drop some cubic destiny.
- Go metallic. Buffing up those dice from plastic to shiny steel or something similar gives every roll some extra weight, letting you play the most epic version of Chutes ‘n’ Ladders your toddler’s ever seen.
Ditch the Board for Something Better: Playmats
Cardboard’s had a good run, but for your best games it’s worth considering a new surface entirely. Playmats—usually made of neoprene—are getting more and more common, and they turn your staid cardboard into a soft, grippy surface perfect for cards, tokens, and dice. If you’ve ever wandered by a Magic tournament and wondered at what those players slapped down for their decks, this is it.
- Some games benefit from special playmats just for them, like the spice-infused (not actually) mat for Dune. Many others, though, can work with a generic mat. Plop the board in the center, have your players drop their pieces alongside it and get the mat’s benefit, all while protecting the table underneath.
- Neoprene mats can roll right up like a poster, so they’re easy to store in tubes or slotted into shelving. You likely won’t be able to fit it in the game’s official box, but don’t let that deter you from giving these board game accessories a look.
It’s a Miniature world, and we’re all just living in it
I know, I know, the hobby’s drowning in gray plastic. Rather than see it as a problem, though, consider it an opportunity! Pick up a paint brush, some primer, and with a few sloppy swipes, you can upgrade your favorite game’s bland meeples or mono-color discs into a crime against art.
- Generic fantasy and sci-fi minis can slot into just about any game, replacing basic components with atmosphere and style. Your Clerics in Lords of Waterdeep can look the part, rather than vanishing into a colored cube miasma.
- Meeples themselves can get the upgraded treatment, with designs or stronger colors to suit your players. Why simply be red when you can be Agricola’s newest neon blue farmer?
Get Going In Style: Transport and storage
If you’ll be moving around with your collection, the last thing you need is your towering stack of fun tumbling from your arms and into the path of that oncoming cyclist, Uber driver, or angry dog-walker (you know the ones). Save yourself the pain and potential lawsuit by getting your collection from place to place the safer way:
- Look at snagging one a board game backpack if you’re regularly hauling your Gloomhaven adventure from spot to spot. It’ll hold the game box and more, letting you keep your hands free for the pizza.
- Some flexible bands can help keep those pesky lids in place too, ensuring that even if you take your board game collection off-roading—who doesn’t?—that your pieces will be where you left them.
- If you’re devoted fan of the Imperium or bring a rebel fleet’s worth of x-wings with you to game night, consider foam travel packs. These nifty board game accessories will help keep your figures from knocking into one another, ensuring the battle stays on the board rather than in the box.
Seek out Synergy: Save time and money!
Shopping for component upgrades need not be a bit-by-bit affair. Rather, like getting new powers for your hapless god in Spirit Island, hunting for synergy can save you time, money, and stave off that nasty hoarding blight. All of the above enhancements can cover multiple games, so when reading over your games-to-upgrade list, plot out what buys work best for the bunch.
Then, once you have your fancy components, consider slotting them in a separate box near your board game table. Once the group makes the call, you can reach right over and snag the perfect upgrades, saving you setup time in the bargain.
Lastly, glitzy board game accessories are a great gift idea. If you know they love the game in question, getting those fancy coins or a unique playmat is an easy win come birthday or holiday time. They might even thank you for not giving them another rule book to read or large box to store.
So when Mad Eye Dan makes his move, scoring that sweet, sweet plunder, you can bet everyone will remember those golden coins getting pushed across the table. At least till the next turn, when you steal them all away!
Written by Adam Knight
Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.
[ More from Adam: Game Inserts — Organize Your Box! ]