I haven’t done any measuring, but a lot of good boardgames are coming in humungous packages. Struck by the gargantuan boxes of Gloomhaven, Twilight Imperium and other boxed behemoths, I began to wonder whether boardgame boxes were actually increasing in size as much (and as fast) as I suspected.
Quite by surprise, I stumbled over part of the answer on Jamey Stegmaier’s blog. While I’d heard how interesting this blog was, I wasn’t expecting to see the finer points of board-game-box-construction addressed in detail . . . but there they were, in an entry labelled: “Kickstarter Lesson 241: Customers Are Not Cows”, from January 1 of this year. It concerned the KS project for Tuscany, an expansion for Viticulture (Jamey’s first game, rated 7.7 on boardgamegeek as of this writing).
Jamey was determined to knock the socks off his customers with his big-box expansion; he fit all twelve — TWELVE! — expansions into the box. This gave players the option to experience all the expansions together at once, one at a time, or in whatever mix-and-match combination that might suit their fancy on any particular day.
I marveled at this incredibly ambitious tack, but naturally wondered: with that much material, couldn’t it have been released more profitably over several years, one bit at a time? Jamey’s answer (right there in the blog post) was this: “I didn’t want our loyal customers and Viticulture fans to feel like we were milking them, constantly asking them to buy one more thing. . . despite my truest intentions, if customers feel like I’m trying to pull a few hard-earned dollars out of their wallets without an end in sight, that’s all that matters.”
Another surprise was just how directly this fed into the matter of box size. It turns out that a surprisingly common question for customers to ask designers is: “Will all the expansion(s) fit into the original game box?” And most people asking this question would prefer everything to fit into a single box . . . which makes sense, since we all have limits on shelf space (and bag space too, when we bring our games to conventions, a friend’s house, or . . . anywhere, really). And that, of course, leads to the question of “Why don’t most game publishers make the original box big enough for all the expansions?”
Actually, there’s no single reason why any game has a box of a certain size (for example, bigger boxes cost more to make and to ship). But it’s not just a question of money: a smaller box, given similar contents, is going to be more resilient overall to damage during shipping. There’s also the fact that the future is hidden about just how many expansions any given game is going to actually have, let alone how much volume that all future expansion sets will need in their boxes.
And as it turns out, many gamers throw their expansion boxes away, even for well-loved games. The Stonemaier Games blog took a poll on this in March 2017: it found 50.1% of respondents saying that they “usually” or “always” toss them out. The other half checked in as doing so “never”, “rarely” or “sometimes”.
Maybe a better game just deserves a bigger box? Before purchase, the game’s box is the most direct advertising tool for in-store purchases.
In a recent discussion of the WGF panel, we seem to detect an overall trend that today’s board games are getting bigger (along with their production runs, and of course their boxes). As our own panelist Ed Povilaitis puts it, “As the board game market gets bigger, so will production values. Especially for anniversary editions of old favorites, and other special projects.”
Kickstarter Lesson 241: Customers Are Not Cows. Blog at stonemaiergames.com. January 1, 2018.
One Box to Rule Them All. Blog at stonemaiergames.com. March 16, 2018.