One of the worst parts of tabletop gaming is setting up. You’ve got to dump out all those bits, sort ’em into neat piles, give everyone their starting supplies… especially when you’re playing something meaty that takes a few hours to play, the setup can take quite a chunk out of your game night.
The best way to combat this is by storing your board game bits in a neat and organized way that’s easy to get out and put back. Most stock game inserts don’t cut it in the long run, especially once you get into expansions, and pieces tend to spill out and get mixed up if you ever bring your game outside your house.
Entire companies exist to sell customized trays and inserts, and if you can afford the bang, that’s certainly one way to go. But what if you don’t have the cash just lying around, or you’d rather put it into more games? Maybe you’d rather not buy a specific custom insert for every game you own. Or maybe your game doesn’t have an insert designed for it yet.
Many gamers know about Plano storage containers or similar brands. Those can be great, but I’ve also found that, while usually pretty good at keeping bits organized in the box, they don’t necessarily make it easy to get things set up quickly, especially if you don’t have tiny fingers. It can be tough to find one that works for the size of game pieces AND still fits back in the box, which we need to store boards and rulebooks and such.
Fortunately, there are a few other options.
Baggies are probably the cheapest way to keep your board game bits stored. Most games don’t come with enough, or come with weird sizes that don’t make sense with the bits you’re trying to store. If your baggies are too small, you can’t store the bits. If they’re too big, it becomes messy and clumsy to get everything out.
I highly recommend getting a box of 2in x 3in baggies (that link gets you 500 for $5), although they come in various sizes. This will last an extremely long time, and the 2×3 size works for most board game bits without being too tight or excessively large. If you want to store cards, you might consider getting another box of baggies large enough to hold a standard deck of playing cards.
However, there is another way to make sure you have a lot of bag size options. A lot of games come with baggies, as I mentioned, but they’re not always the right size. So what I’ve done is take baggies out of games and replace them with the better-fitting 2×3 baggies, and then I save the various sizes I remove. Over the last few years I’ve collected a huge variety of bags just by saving those I didn’t need. Some games ship their boards or other large components in a larger resealable bag that you don’t necessarily need to keep using. And if you ever decide to spring for a nicer insert for a particular game, save all the baggies you replace so you have them for use later. Over time you’ll have quite the variety of bags in your collection and you can use whatever fits the best without having to buy a bunch of different sizes.
I have found over the years that it can get tedious to un-bag all your components in order to play, and then re-bag them again at the end of the game – if you can even remember how things were sorted. I’ve been looking for a middle ground – something that works a little better than baggies but isn’t as expensive or bulky as Plano. And I found it… in the grocery store.
Did someone say food?
Typically I’ve looked in the tools section or the craft store to find storage methods – after all, beads and nails are two real-world things closest to board game bits, so you’d expect to find similar storage methods. That’s where Plano comes in, and even the baggies.
But one day, by a twist of fate, I stumbled on these:
Yes, that’s food in those containers, but it doesn’t have to be.
There are a lot of things to love about little plastic storage cups like this, but the best part is that you can use them to keep things neat and organized while playing. You don’t have to dump all your tokens out, just arrange the containers as needed. They’re small so they don’t take up a lot of space, and you can fit a bunch of them back in the game box easily. Still, they’re bigger than those Plano storage compartments, so you can still reach in there and grab your pieces even if you have large fingers. It keeps components accessible and neat while playing, so things don’t get spread all around or mixed up or lost.
Since they’re plastic, you can use a label maker to mark what belongs in each cup, or just write on the cap with a permanent marker. And, perhaps most importantly, they aren’t too expensive – the set pictured above is, at the time of writing, only $9 on Amazon for a pack of 20. That’s less than 50 cents a cup. You can use them for any game that has tokens and they work just great!
In case circles don’t work for you, there’s a small rectangular option. If you need something a little bigger, either for larger components (like mini’s) or just a larger quantity, here are some larger deli cups, which can stack 2-high inside a standard game box.
I’m still on a quest to find better *large* rectangular boxes for card storage. At 5″ by 7″ (approximately) this option is functional but not ideal. I have found small rectangular storage boxes that are the perfect size for cards at the craft store, but those are more expensive.
All of these at current prices are less than 50 cents a piece. But keep your eye out; you may be able to find something similar at a local grocery or household goods store.
But Wait! There’s More!
I’ve got one more neat little storage container option:
These are coin tubes, intended to store – you know, coins. But they’re also great for certain types of board game bits. Cubes or round tokens work perfectly, and these tubes are very compact. I have a friend who uses something similar to store his Catan hex number tokens.
And again, the picture above is a set of 50 for $22.74 at the time of writing, still less than 50 cents a pop. There are plenty of variety packs of these, so if you’d rather get more nickel-sized tubes or quarter-sized tubes, you can! And if you happen to have coins somewhere in your house, you can measure your tokens to make sure they’ll fit nicely before you buy.
In the End…
There’s no one best way to store game components. Your preferences are probably different than mine. As for me, when I have a game with a lot of parts I like to get it on the table and ready to go as quickly as possible. It helps if it’s just as easy to pack up. Using plastic storage like these can really help keep your playing area clean and functional. I hope you find some that work great for you!
Disclosure: iSlaytheDragon is part of the Amazon Associates program. If you use any of the links in this post and make a purchase on Amazon, we get a small credit. We are in no way affiliated with any of the manufactures of the products mentioned above.