5 Board Games With Great Components for $33.01 or Less

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Great components are critical to board games. Hardcore gamers pride themselves on mastering games with unique gameplay and complex rules. We all love beautiful art and many of our purchase decisions are made based on pictures we see online.

But that said, nothing can beat great components. Much of the draw of board gaming comes from the physical experience, and so much of that comes from the components. Fiddly pieces can ruin otherwise great games. Likewise, great components can make simple games memorable.



A lot of times, the quality of components in a board game is determined by price. After all, miniatures and custom pieces tend to be expensive. That drives up the cost of the game, sometimes to a prohibitive level that no gamer is willing to pay. For example, you have great games like Twilight Imperium that cost over $100. Most people aren’t willing to pay that.

Great components are not just the playthings of the wealthy, though. Today, I want to show you five great games with great components that can be purchased for $33.01 or less. For gamers, these games are sure bets. For game developers, they’re great case studies in achieving excellence on a budget.

Please note: you won’t find affiliate links here. The Amazon links I’ve provided are purely for your convenience!


1. Santorini – $19.89


Coming in at $19.89Santorini is a fantastic abstract strategy game with a cute theme. It takes 30 seconds to learn and it’s a shockingly brainy game that punches way above its weight class. I’ve spoken at length about why this game is so great, but it bears repeating.

The stackable plastic towers provide an incredible sense of value for what you pay. Games with this kind of table presence often cost $50 or higher, and I am genuinely baffled at how they managed to pull this off. It’s not just for show either, physical height achieved by stacking pieces is a critical part of the gameplay.

If you take anything away from Santorini as a game developer, it should be as follows. Great components can give your game a physical presence that people will remember for a lifetime. Even years after its release, Santorini is still enjoyed by many and talked about a lot.


2. Photosynthesis – $33.01


Not everyone can make custom plastic pieces for their board games. The skill level and the start-up capital needed to make that happen are prohibitive for a lot of indie game developers. You can still go a long way with nothing more than cardboard. One of my favorite examples of cardboard used creatively is Photosynthesis.

At a price of $33.01Photosynthesis delivers a staggering amount of value. Like Santorini, Photosynthesis is a competitive abstract strategy game. The trees are the main draw of this game, which are used to gather light, plant seeds, and crowd out other trees.

The trees themselves consist of nothing more than interlocking cardboard. They ship flat and you assemble them yourself. They’re pretty sturdy and they last a while. Normally components like this would be used for decoration, but Photosynthesis uses them smartly as actual gameplay pieces. This creates a really cool effect wherein you and your competitors assemble a multicolored forest of cardboard trees.


3. Forbidden Sky – $19.99


Forbidden Sky blows my mind. It’s easily the most challenging of the Foribbden games. What strikes me about this game is not the gameplay mechanics themselves. No, what shocks me is that it’s only $19.99.

Why is this shocking? Quite simply, the game consists of electricity-conducting magnets and a light-up rocket ship. This is in addition to your standard board game fare: cards, tiles, and so on. Granted, it can be a bit fiddly sometimes, but I respect the ambition. It’s not often that a game makes me say “wow,” these days – and Forbidden Sky did just that!


4. Colt Express – $31.49


I’ve spoken about Colt Express, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played it. However, I remember this game plain as day. Like Photosynthesis, you assemble larger parts out of cardboard. In the case of this game, which somehow only retails for $31.49, you build an entire train.

Much like Santorini, physical height is important in this game. Your characters can be inside the train as well as on top of it. Great components allow this game to represent complicated information in a simple and approachable way. That’s a magic trick if I ever saw one.


5. Ca$h ‘n Guns – $31.75

Original photo by PZS69 found here. (CC BY-SA 3.0)


Speaking of armed robbery in board games, Ca$h ‘n Guns is only $31.75 on Amazon. It remains one of the simplest, funniest party games even years after its release.

The theme is funny, the art is serviceable, and the components are fine. What really makes this game stand out is a single brilliant component – foam toy guns. Pointing fake foam guns at other players is a crucial part of this game – inseparable from the whole experience. The physical comedy of this makes the game worth every penny.


Honorary Mention: Splendor – $35.79

Original photo by xDAllaNxD found here. (CC BY 3.0)


Okay, okay – Splendor might be $35.79 on Amazon, making it a misfit for an article with “$33.01” in the title. I included it as an honorary mention because Splendor is a great board game devoid of the typical gimmicks that you associate with great components. Splendor is simple – it has cards and poker chips. Really, it could not be simpler.

Your board game may not need large plastic pieces, cardboard constructions, or foam props. You can still achieve excellence with your component design. The cards and the chips in this game are so high-quality that you know the game is going to last a decade of heavy use. It’s generally really well put together, sturdy, and accessible.


Final Thoughts on Board Games with Great Components

Great components can be the difference between a good game and a fantastic game. The physical experience of playing a board game is so important to gamers. As a game developer, you need to remember this from day one of your designs. As a publisher, you can make great components without breaking the bank. These six games provide excellent examples of great components at a low cost.

Why Gamification Makes Everything Else More Fun

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Gamification has become quite the buzzword lately. The concept is simple: through gamification, you take the elements we associate with games – point scoring, competition, rules – and apply them to something else. Businesses have fallen in love with this concept because they’ve found that gamification works wonders for motivating people. But why?

That’s a complex question. For that reason, I’ve brought in Sean Fallon, Founder & CEO of Smunchy Games and User Experience (UX) Designer extraordinaire. His background in UX has given him a keen sense of what motivates people to take action.

By looking at game design from this new angle, we hope to help you understand why board games are so playable and what that means for other aspects of our lives. Without further adieu, I’ll now turn it over to Sean.


Why Gamification Makes Everything More Fun



Why Gamification Makes Work Fun

Gamification is a fantastic tool. Using it when users have to complete mundane, repetitive tasks is always a good idea. A better way to understand gamification is through game design- whether that means playing a game or designing one.

Why does gamification make everything else more fun? This is a question that many have asked in the UX design space, where many are looking for ways to incorporate it. However, they always seem to treat gamification as an afterthought, and that can be one of the largest mistakes they make.

People sometimes think of gamification as something that isn’t needed or is secondary to other “important” features. If gamification is implemented and is also the core concept that is designed around, it will drive amazing results that keep people coming back and enjoying whatever they’re participating in. For example, people have more fun with gamified work and often put in more effort!


Gamification is Motivational Magic

Gamification is a win all around. When used in business, it means higher quality results for the company. These results are obtained purely because the person putting forth that effort was having fun and forgot they were doing mundane tasks.

Gamification really is a fascinating concept that dramatically increases productivity. As one of the old sayings go, “time flies when you’re having fun.” It’s true. When we have fun, we focus on what we’re trying to do.  Think of another common adage: “love what you do and you will never work another day in your life.” This is also true to some degree and revolves around having fun.

Why do we make games for children when it comes to education, completing chores, or doing a task that they wish not to do? Are adults so different that they aren’t allowed to have fun with what they’re doing?

Games provide a way for us to accomplish tasks we never thought we’d be able to accomplish before. More importantly, that sense of accomplishment makes us as humans feel great. It allows us to push forward, making another round of fun go by until we’ve accomplished the task. This cycle then repeats.


Board Game Design Makes You Better at Business (Because of Gamification Principles)

So why bring any of this up? What’s the point?

I’ve been designing and working with tabletop games for the last 5 years. In fact, I would encourage anyone who is in the UX design profession or planning to get into it to play more tabletop games, or try your hand at making your own – even if it’s just to understand the process.

The reason I suggest this is because whenever it comes to my UX design work – whether I’m designing an application for a massive Fortune 10 enterprise client or I’m working on a tiny card game – it’s important to understand these user experiences. While game design is clearly different than application design, it is absolutely a wonderful way to stretch your UX muscles.


A Practical Example

For example, a card game may have 40 cards, all different abilities, skills, thoughts, rules, and forms of actions. These play out in many different experiences for the players involved. This type of journey mapping, from a mechanics perspective, is extremely helpful when understanding the feelings and emotions the players may go through during the game. This is a treatment we apply to a journey map, turning it into an empathy map. You can further pare down journey maps and empathy maps to very specific scenarios and instances which create many playtesting questions. Playtesting in this stage of game design is related to user research in UX design.

These processes are similar in many different forms of design. The reason why this particular process for game design can bring a user “ delight” is that it allows the UX designer to think beyond the experience. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not. This is because it breaks the designer out of their structured experience shell and into the creative process. Allowing the UX designer to think beyond the immediate experience at hand shows the designer the big picture – the end to end experience. When practiced in this way, we take all of these thoughts, experience, journey maps, playtests, and user research; combining it into this nice package of creative thought. In this particular case, gamification.

This gamification package is a box filled with fun. Because of the exercises in both game design and application design, the UX designer can apply gamification in such a way because they’ve been able to stretch those UX muscles in game design. Everything becomes more fun for users/players in the end and brings us full circle to the effort put in by others – and makes it more fun for the UX designer too.


Final Thoughts

If you take anything away from this article, take this away with you: gamification is used best when trying to focus the user’s effort into accomplishing any task set before them.

I want to end this article with a little game. Go back through this article and count how many times I use the words “fun” and “UX”. Once you have the number of each of these, add them together. Take that number and add your birth month to it plus the number of letters in your first name. Then find your favorite board game on Board Game Geek and leave a comment with that number and that game.

Kickstarter vs. Retail: Distributing Your Board Game

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Kickstarter vs. retail: it’s an epic battle for the ages. We live in a world where over $165 million of the tabletop game industry’s $1.5 billion was raised on Kickstarter. Obviously, retail’s going the way of the dodo. So it goes.

Not so. Retail is a lot bigger than Kickstarter, but Kickstarter is a lot flashier. In reality, both forms of distributing board games serve different purposes.

As someone who’s keenly interested in your motivations as a board game creator or business owner, I must confess there is no one-size-fits-all answer. How you respond to the matchup of “Kickstarter vs. Retail” is very dependent on your goals. For that reason, I’d like to weigh the pros and cons of both.


Kickstarter vs Retail


Kickstarter Distribution Pros

Let’s start with the obvious pros of Kickstarter. First and foremost, there are far fewer formal restrictions on what you can and can’t make. You can make products that wouldn’t fit in well in a traditional store. Kickstarter basically lets you create what you want as long as it doesn’t violate their Terms of Service and there’s a reasonably good chance you can fill orders.

Kickstarter also doesn’t restrict whether you can go to retail after the campaign. Many creators have launched their Kickstarter campaigns and wound up in retail stores later. You may very well take the same path.

If it were a battle of flashiness and attention-gathering, Kickstarter would win Kickstarter vs. retail. Retail has its advantages, and we’ll cover those later, but no one can deny the sheer rockstar excitement of launching a Kickstarter campaign.


Kickstarter Distribution Cons

Lest you think Kickstarter is a beautiful dream, let’s go over the ways it can be a nightmare. First, it’s an enormous amount of work. I have a 70-something article series on this site that’s been pulling in traffic for almost two years. That’s how much work it is to run a board game Kickstarter. This is not something to take lightly – it will eat up your free time, a lot of money, and you may have to sacrifice some other things you want.

“But that’s the cost of freedom, Brandon!” Perhaps, but a lot of time, freedom isn’t really what it looks like. Retailers report to customers, and if you go through a retailer then you report to them. Take the retailer out of the picture, sell directly to customers, and you report to the customers. The customers are your boss. They’re above you on the org chart.

While you can choose your customers by making different types of products, you will ultimately have to make a product that people want. For board games, that means making a game that a certain set of gamers wants to play. When you create a game for a specific demographic of gamers, that means you’ve achieved the holy grail of business: product-market fit.

Achieving product-market fit means tweaking components, arts, and gameplay to suit your audience. You have to match or exceed customer expectations. Retailers have to do this, too, but often it’s easier to figure out what you have to do to please them. They’ll either tell you outright or you take photos of their shelves and figure out what kind of products they sell.

Finally, there’s one last major issue with Kickstarter campaigns. When the campaign is over, you may lose your audience if you’re not careful. This is less on an issue with retail stores who can passively sell your games on an ongoing basis. Two years after you get into Barnes & Noble, you’ll still be selling games. Two years after a Kickstarter campaign, there will probably be no meaningful engagement on your project page.


Retail Distribution Pros

Once you’re in a retail store, you’re pretty much good to go. Some stores will buy inventory outright and some will buy on consignment. But in neither case will a purchasing manager buy something that’s not likely to sell. They are gatekeepers who are attuned to their markets’ desires.

When people see something in a physical store or even a big name retail store online, it makes it seem more legitimate. That means retail distribution is a good way to reach the “Never Kickstarter” crowd, which is bigger than you think.

Most importantly, you only have to please a handful of retailers to stay in business. You don’t have to deal with hundreds or thousands of gamers. You simply have to please a few retailers. Isn’t the simplicity a relief?


Retail Distribution Cons

Kickstarter is complex, but accessible to the masses. Anyone can launch a Kickstarter campaign, but not just anyone can get into a store. Unfortunately, retail distribution is managed by gatekeepers. You have to know who to talk to in order to get anywhere.

So how exactly do you get a hold of purchasing managers anyway? To tell the truth, it’s not hard but it does require finesse that most people don’t have. You have two options. Option one: find out who purchases games for the store you’re interested in and cold call or email. You put your best foot forward and potentially get the door slammed in your face. Option two: get a mutual contact to break the ice. If you’re well-connected and savvy with tools like LinkedIn or Twitter, option two is more attractive and accessible. If you’re not, option one is your fallback.

What do you say when you get them on the phone, though? Well, depends on who you’re talking to and which store it is, but there are some common throughlines. For one, they probably want you to finish the game. At the very least, you need a prototype and at the most extreme, you need the game printed and warehoused. Anything less and you’ll probably be ignored or brushed off.

Last but not least, each store has a different market and stocks different products. Your products must meet their market. Instead of on an individual level, you must achieve product-market fit on a store level. Otherwise, why would stores with tight margins spend valuable shelf space on you? The best way to figure out what works well in the store boils down to two methods. One, ask directly – starting with cashiers. Two, observe what’s already there and make something like that, but a little different.


Final Thoughts on Kickstarter vs. Retail

There’s no silver bullet. Kickstarter vs. retail is a question that must be decided on based on your needs and your business’s needs. By spelling out the pros and cons above, I hope you can make a more informed decision 🙂