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 $19.89, Santorini 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 $33.01, Photosynthesis 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 – $31.75
Speaking of armed robbery in board games, Ca$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
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.