My DIY Storage solution for Print-and-play board games (and/or small games)

A “big box” setup to give more “oomph” to those PnP games on my shelf

I’ve been looking a lot into PnP (Print and Play) board games lately. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that the designer/publisher of the game provide you with pdf or image files representing the assets of the game, which you’ll have to print and assemble by yourself.

I don’t score high in the “dexterity” department. Printing a few things is ok. As soon as scissors and glue are involved, though, things get complicated. Some PnP games are “easy enough” to print at home, others have turned out to be a nightmare for me, and I sometimes wished I had simply bought the professionally produced version.

Whether simple or complex to assemble, my PnP games all have a few characteristics in common, that turn out to be a problem for me, in particular as a “collector”:

  1. They overall look ugly and amateurish. Not the game content itself, which oftentimes has really high quality assets and art, but rather, the way I “produced” it, on regular printer paper, sometimes printed in black and white to save on ink… and when additional assets such as dice or tokens are needed, very often I won’t have anything that really matches the theme of the game. Yes, PnP games clearly look “home made”, and sometimes it can push people away from even giving them a try
  2. Storage solutions for them are all over the place, and depending on “what I could find at the time”. It might be a tuck box that was lying around, a ziploc bag, or any other bag that happened to be here, rarely a professional-looking box. In many cases, knowing what game is inside this or that tuck box relies mostly on memory. This makes displaying/storing these tiny games a nightmare. For a very long time, they had been sitting at the top of my desk, while I was wondering how I would integrate them into my board game collection.
The situation I’m trying to solve

There are lots of DIY options to store and display PnP games in your board game collection, as discussed for example here on BGG. I’m in particular very fond of the “VHS Box” solution (picture below). I think it works well in many cases for small-to-medium games, and allows to have some homogeneity in your storage which is a huge plus for me (I really like the idea of the games looking like a collection more than many separate tiny things…)

Using VHS Tape boxes as storage for PnP games. Picture by Ghislain LEVEQUE on BGG

VHX Boxes is probably the solution I would have chosen, if I still had VHS tapes lying around. Which I don’t.

As I was pondering what would work for me, I realized I wasn’t sure exactly what my goals were. So I decided to write them down (and I encourage you to do the same, as it might lead you in a different direction than me).

  1. I want my PnP games to be reasonably easy to store, not in too many boxes/bags of various size
    1. Ideally they would look like some sort of collection, look “professional”. (quotes are important here as I want to stay realistic given my terrible skills at anything involving craft)
      1. How to accommodate for multiple sizes? e.g. card games vs games that require to print A4-sized sheets?
    2. The result needs to look “ok” in my existing game collection, not “that area in the corner I never want to look at because it’s so messy”
  2. I want my PnP game to be easy to recognize from the storage, without having to look inside or having to remember “what that bag was for”
  3. Realistically, I will add new games, and possibly remove some PnP games as I get bored with them, so the system needs to be flexible/modular/easy to repeat.
  4. I’d rather use stuff that I have lying around at home, than buy anything
  5. I prefer cardboard and wood to plastic. Plastic cases look “cheap” and remind me too much of storage boxes for our kids’ cheap toys. I don’t like plastic, for many reasons.
  6. I should be able to store the result horizontally or vertically, depending on fluctuations in my storage strategy.
  7. I need to keep my expectations in line with my poor crafting skills

The “VHS” solution checked a lot of boxes for me: modular enough, doesn’t require heavy crafting skills (print a nice looking cover for your game and you’re done), looks and feels like a unified collection with a semi professional result, and is pretty modular (easy to add/remove games from the collection). It does not accommodate for A4 format though, but more importantly, I did not have VHS boxes lying around, and I was certainly not going to intentionally buy old VHS tapes just to keep the boxes. IT’s what I would have chosen though, had I had those boxes available.

I ended up with the following result. For all intents and purposes, I would say people reading this should consider this a prototype. There are many things that can be improved, which could be achieved with skills, time, and a bit of money. And which I might do eventually, but for now this is what I’m doing.

My solution is a “big” box (a bit larger than A4) with handmade cardboard compartments of various sizes, to store smaller games as well as A4-sized sheets. Foam separators scavenged from some other game’s expansion box help pad the result and leave room for growth. On the outside, I’ve taped card sleeves that were lying around the house, and which are used to showcase the games inside the box. I’m not claiming it’s anything groundbreaking, but I’m surprised at how much thought I had to put into this before achieving something that matched my needs, so I’m hoping it (or the thought process that lead to it) will be helpful to someone.

What my solution achieves:

  • My PnP games are reasonably easy to store without too much hassle, while the “closed” result still looks appealing enough, with its “big box = big game” feel, and pictures of the games outside.
    • I’m particularly proud of how “ok” it looks next to the rest of my collection.
  • There is modularity:
    • The Box can easily store 9 PnP games of medium size, and from what I can see could easily go to 15-20.
    • The inserts being of various size allow me to choose which compartment to use depending on the size of the game, and there is about 3cm space between the inserts and the top of the box, which is used to store A4 sheets, like what regular board games do to store the board or the rules. Overall, the box can be used to store anything from small “wallet” card games, to A4-sheet-only games, and possible massive “here are the components, here is the big board” games as well.
    • The card sleeves on the outside allow me to easily change the outside “thumbnails” so that adding and removing games doesn’t mean I have to reprint everything for the outside to look nice. That’s probably the aspect of the box I’m the most proud of
  • It was doable with my poor crafting skills

What could be improved:

  • It doesn’t look awesome, in particular due to the low effort I put in beautifying the cover. With low to medium effort, the whole thing could look nicer. I think printing a whole “background image” instead of just in a few areas, to hide the whole cardboard brown color, and tape, could go a long way. I’m just too cheap to print that much stuff for now, but I might change my mind eventually. Maybe painting the whole thing?
  • The box in itself could probably be sturdier (made with better cardboard), and the inserts look more professional (made with foamcore). All of this costs money and involves things I don’t have at home, so I do not plan to do it for the time being. But for example, using the box from an older board game could be a solution (I have a box of Pandemic Legacy lying around but it was way too big)
  • I realized after making it to fit one of my shelves, that the box is about 3cm too tall for my main board game shelf. It’s not a big deal as I was intending to store it in my “secondary” shelf which is a bit taller, but I think I should have/could have gone with something just a bit smaller

My DIY Storage solution for PnP Games – How To

The pictures probably show how obvious this was to make, so I’m a bit ashamed to give a “how to” here, but hopefully this can be useful to someone around here…

The box

The box in itself was probably the hardest part to make. Ideally, you’ll have a board game box lying around that you can repurpose. Otherwise, you can make your own. To make mine, I loosely followed the custom telescoping boxes template described here. They use cereal boxes, I instead used some cardboard I had lying around. The main difficulty is to make the lid a bit bigger than the box, but not so big that it could “fall off” easily in vertical position.

Speaking of vertical position, I think that for vertical storage, the box has to be deep enough, compared to its height. My A4-format box is 7.5 cm deep, and I feel this is a minimum for vertical storage, I could have done with 1 or 2 cm more.

The lid has to be the same depth as the box. This is important so that it doesn’t fall off when stored vertically. A lot of commercial boxes have a small lid, which makes them ok for horizontal storage, but absolutely not appropriate for what I’m trying to achieve.

Box takeaway:

  • Making a sturdy boardgame box with stuff lying at home is definitely doable (see link above) but the result won’t be as good as getting an existing board game box lying around. Commercial solutions from Amazon and the like are not good as the lid is usually not deep enough.

The insert

The insert inside the box was built semi-organically. I knew I wanted some separators inside the box, but I also knew I didn’t want “too many” of them, to keep some flexibility in what I could put in the box. I decided to go with two separators, to make 3 “sections”, 1 of which (the one at the bottom) slightly bigger for mid-sized games.

I also had to make sure the separators where not as high as the box depth, so that I could keep a zone at the top of the box for A4 components. I went with 5cm separators, which leaves 2.5cm at the top. All of these measures were extremely approximative, and it didn’t matter.

The insert is about 3cm smaller than the box, to leave room for A4 sheets.

It’s worth mentioning here that one of my A4 “sheets” is actually reinforced with cardboard, and as such it helps preventing components from falling from the tiny compartments to the bottom of the box, when closed. A bit like the “board” in typical board games helps with that as well.

The separators themselves are made of 2 bands of cardboard attached with tape (one wasn’t sturdy enough). That’s it.

After making the separators I realized my box wasn’t sturdy enough. So I took another large cardboard piece, that is used to add rigidity to the back of my box, and another band of cardboard that I stuck at the bottom, like a “third” separator, to help with vertical storage. As I did this, I realized I had made a typical insert, and I was satisfied with it. It can be taken off of the box reasonably easily, although I do not intend to do that very often.

Insert takeaway:

  • It did everything approximately, and it kind of worked out, as long as my measures were not off by too much
  • making a “full” insert with a back to which the separators get taped, isn’t hard, and adds a lot to overall sturdiness
  • Everything worked out great with regular tape and cardboard. I’m sure I could have used professional glue and foamcore, but maybe not needed for a first time 🙂
  • The insert should be lower than the box depth by a few centimeters, to allow for A4 content at the top of the box.

The Cover of the box

Card sleeves allow me to change the games as needed. Crystallo isn’t PnP, by the way, but as a small game with a bag as its default storage, it was a perfect candidate for my box!

This is where you can get creative. I wanted the “modularity” I explained above, so my solution was to glue a “clear file” to the top of the lid, and then insert whatever printed picture I wanted in there. To take it one step further, my “printed cover” is actually a printed sheet with 9 card sleeves taped to it. I can insert/remove printed cards representing the games, at will.

On the side of the box, I also taped 3 card sleeves. This gives some level of flexibility into how I show what’s inside the box.

The rest of the cover of the box itself, I’m not super satisfied with. I should probably have stuck a background on the whole thing before taping the clear file. That will be for version 2.0, I guess 😉

Games mentioned in this article

Black Sonata
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)
Under Falling Skies
Check on Amazon (affiliate link)

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