FDQ: Minis or Cubes


It’s an age-old topic of debate. Games come with a variety of parts. Sometimes tokens are relegated to printed cardboard circles; some games resort to classic meeples and cubes to represent various elements of the game board. And then some companies, attempting to pack in as much flavor in the components themselves, fill their boxes with detailed plastic minis.

The idea of minis excites many gamers, but some just wish the parts were simpler and the games were cheaper. So, fellow gamerites, what do you think? What is your preferred style of game component?

@Futurewolfie says:
I know that @Farmerlenny will probably hate on the minis, but honestly, I love ’em. I love theme and flavor in games, and detailed plastic minis just add a whole lot to that. Starships in Twilight Imperium? Awesome!  Knights in Shadows over Camelot? Sweet! Zombies and heroes in Last Night on Earth? Dude!

I realize there are drawbacks, and I can certainly understand why someone might prefer wooden parts; the colors are more distinct and easy to check at a glance, and minis definitely add to the cost of a game. Not every game needs minis—in Carcassonne, for example, it would be pointless to have minis instead of meeples (which are sort of like wooden minis anyway; they have such personality!)  Ascending Empires, while we love starship minis, just wouldn’t work—the disks are needed for flicking. Fortunately, detailed stickers fill in some of the flavor so we’re not stuck with plain colorized cylinders.

But you know what? Last Night on Earth would just not be the same without the minis. The crowds of zombies help the story and enhance the flavor. Battlestar Galactica’s Viper and Raider minis may not be entirely necessary, but the ship designs are visually distinct and again, it adds to that Galactica feel. Twilight Imperium just wouldn’t have the same feel if you have different sizes or shapes of cubies to represent the different types of ships in your fleet.

And over time, I think the cost difference between meeples and minis will shrink. As the board game hobby overall grows, more and more games will be purchased, and games will get bigger print runs. Bigger print runs means smaller cost per game—and the costly part of detailed minis is creating the original mold. Heck, even wooden tokens are getting more detailed and unique, with animeeples, vegemeeples, fruitimeeples—all sorts of meeples coming in various shapes and sizes. Woohoo! I love this stuff!

@Farmerlenny says:
@Futurewolfie only gets it half right (which is half more than normal, by the way) when he says I will hate on minis. I don’t hate on minis. Minis are kind of cool…when they aren’t used as a mask for shoddy game design. That I don’t like most games that include minis isn’t a judgment on minis themselves but on a certain type of theme-rich gameplay that ignores the more important aspects of game design: decisions, downtime, and a preference for simplicity over convolution.

To me, cubes are serviceable, and most of the time that’s enough. I opted not to upgrade my copy of Agricola, being perfectly content with discs and cubes. I don’t need sheep that look like sheep. I make my living by reading: I can imagine a story overlaying drab bits if I want to. But most of the time, my games don’t need the extra layer. What’s the story in Ticket to Ride? I don’t care. The decisions are interesting enough that I’m not thinking about it. If I want a good story, I’ll read a book. I play games for different reasons. I’m so boring that I came this close to not applying the included stickers in my copy of Belfort. But then I realized that @Futurewolfie cares about such things, and since he is the person I’m most likely to play it with…

All of this being said, however, I am not immune to the draw of fancy components when they are paired with a good game. Show me a beautiful game (with beautiful mechanics to match), and I will likely be putty in your hand. I’m sure this is nine-tenths of the reason I purchased Troyes, and one-half the reason I haven’t traded away Fresco. It was also what kept me on the fence about El Grande and what keeps Stone Age hitting the table again and again. I have a soft spot for beautiful games and components, whether made of wood, plastic, marble, or glass.

But I’m also plenty happy with my original Director’s Cut edition of Kill Doctor Lucky, which I taped together myself.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. I love minis! They are wonderful!!! But, if the game sucks, I still won’t play it. However, in games like BSG (which I love), I like the fact that the vipers look like vipers instead of red cubes.

  2. While the kids and I will play with both, truly fun and great thematic tie-ins and flavor require minis! Cyclades is a superb example in this department – each player’s miniature troops and boats are a different mold – that just rocks! They could have used cubes like other euros, but went first-rate. The French designers have some great euro-y games leaning toward AT on theme and production – makes for fun and engaging games!

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