Collectors are people who like to be nervous. Who are addicted to the thrills of worrying. And having a collection, of anything, regardless of its financial value, brings in a continuous supply of reasons to worry. Chief among them, its very protection.
And board gaming being a hobby almost entirely made of cardboard, the threats abound. Games are full of components that are small, delicate, even flimsy. Components that can easily be damaged. Or lost. And they are to be constantly manipulated. Over prolonged periods of time. By many clumsy, careless, distracted or excited people. Sometimes, strangers. Sometimes, kids. Sometimes, God forbid, every collector’s nightmare, the game-slob.
But it does not stop there.
When you decide to store your precious games away from all that harm, it doesn’t get any better, apparently. Game boxes are just cardboard too, after all — and quite thin cardboard, at that. They cave in. They bulge. They split. Burst open. Sunlight can make their art fade away. Moisture can damage them from the inside without you even realizing. At best, the shelves themselves give them scars, wear marks and frayed corners.
See? Everything to keep a collector happy.
This is where game box sleeving comes in. The term game box sleeving, or sometimes board game sleeving, encompasses several collector’s
symptoms techniques that vary in severity effectiveness, like board game and component sealing, or coating. The goal is the same as it is with card sleeving: to add an extra layer of protection to game boxes (and components like tokens, tiles or boards) against most hazards of a board game’s life: wear, scratches, dents, stains, humidity or spills. But a 12″ x 12″ box is not the same as a 2.5″ x 3.5″ playing card, is it? So board game sleeving generally requires collector-grade inventiveness and motivation.
Plastic wrap. The most common and cheap method to “sleeve” a game box — at least its top and aprons — is to keep the original shrink wrap on the the box lid. This is done by cutting it carefully before first opening the box. And then tightening it with scotch tape, like so:
If you won’t use the original shrink wrap, you can always buy polyester film and cover both the lid and the box bottom. Some will line the shelves with that kind of film.
But then again, using regular tape makes some collectors cringe. It is likely to dry up, warp, and turn yellow. And its cheap glue might seep through and permanently damage the inks and cardboard.
Some re-shrink. They’ve equipped themselves with large (at least 20″) sealers and they seal their game on-demand.
Contact paper. By comparison, covering box lids with the same type of adhesive film used to cover books seems to be a sound, tried-and-true approach. Covering a box is a little more involved than covering a book, however; and you’ll need to know what you’re doing. Contact paper that is too thick, or applied too tightly might cause cardboard to warp. And since it cannot be removed without damage, you won’t have a second chance to adjust it properly — beware of those air bubbles.
Plastic bags. Yes, apparently, some gamers will store their game boxes in large zipcloc freezer bags. Or in vacuum sealer plastic bags. It is cheap and easy, and will definitely protect against wear, dust and humidity. As for the aesthetics of it, well… at best your game shelves will look like they belong in some evidence room.
Varnish. A little more radical solution, sometimes used by gaming clubs, board game cafes, or any of those places where cardboard, greasy fingers and liquids can repeatedly come in close proximity. The theory is that varnishing allows to make cardboard if not waterproof, at least water resistant. It is done by applying on game boxes (as well as other components) a thin layer of glue, or spaying protective coating of the kind used in fine arts to protect drawings or paintings. In practice however, contrary to paper or canvas, cardboard has thickness. Varnish can’t do much against water unless all edges are sealed. And here again the coating must be chosen with care; some can become cloudy or sticky.
In short and as always, the best approach is to first sort out your priorities, and then live up to them. If a game box in mint condition is more pleasurable to you than a game that’s enjoyed and often played, chances are you are more of a collector than a gamer. Then the best solution to perfectly protect your games is redundancy. Don’t fret — you’ll still have plenty to worry about.
However, if you’ve come to terms with wear marks, and see them as a healthy sign that your games fulfill their primary role of being played and bringing fun, and if you feel awkward treating a 40$ piece of cardboard as if it were a Civil War artefact or drawing by Rembrandt, you are a gamer more than a collector.
In any case, just have fun.
Do you protect your game boxes? If so, how?
References and Further Browsing
- Board game sleeving, by MissMerc007
- Varnishing games, by Snakes & Lattes
- Waterproofing Board Games, by The Pumper Jones Tabletop Gaming Network
- Sealing Tiles, by The Pumper Jones Tabletop Gaming Network
- How do you protect board games? by Mike Donovan
- Remove shrink only from the bottom of the box, on Boardgamegeek