Board games have been wildly successful over the last decade. In a world with abundant entertainment options, including video games, it might seem strange that a throwback hobby has done so well. Much of this success comes from the physical presence provided by board game components.
There is a lot of debate online about which components are the best. As with all questions of opinion, there is no objective answer. However, for a publisher or designer seeking to make their own games, there are trends that can be followed!
How I Gathered Data on Favorite Board Game Components
The best way to find out what board game components are the most popular is simple: ask a bunch of board gamers! Pangea Games did this through five giveaways. In these five giveaways, one of the entry conditions was to answer the question “what is your favorite board game component?”
The five games given away were:
Over 800 people answered our question over these five giveaways, giving us a great sample size. However, we want to make one caveat very clear. Every game we gave away, except for our own, was a mid-weight, mid-price game. If we gave away lighter games or big, expensive games like Twilight Imperium or Gloomhaven, we would likely see different results.
Nevertheless, I still think this data is useful and actionable whether you’re making a $10 game or a $200 game. You can use at least one of the recommended board game components below at any price point or game weight, if not multiple.
How I Cleaned Up the Data
If you’ve ever worked with a large data set, you know that you can’t just pop it into Excel and make a pivot table. You have to clean up the data. If you’re smart about it, you can do this without accidentally taking away useful insights from the final analysis.
First things first, we removed duplicate answers by email. That is to say, even if one person entered all five giveaways, we only accept their first answer.
Second, we eliminated all answers that didn’t actually have anything to do with board game components. It’s a free text field, so we had to go line by line to remove garbage answers.
Third, we had to classify and sanitize data in order to use it. “Card”, “cards”, “playing cards”, “cards with great art”, and so on are all basically saying the same thing: cards. But each line had to be reviewed, again, one by one, in order to prepare data for final analysis.
Last, once all data was classified, we created a pivot table in Excel and did a simple count of all favorite components. Because we went through the whole data set and sanitized the data, different ways of saying the same thing didn’t screw up our final results.
Before getting into the top six components, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge components that exceeded my expectations. These are not necessarily #7-10 on the list, but rather just surprising insights.
Poker chips, both the kind used for poker or the kind you’d find in Splendor, did exceptionally well relative to more commonly found components. That is likely because of their pleasant weightiness.
Inserts and trays to help board game pieces stay organized were surprisingly popular. This is perhaps because they look neat and reduce setup time.
Rule books, very surprisingly, have dedicated fans! There are people who read them for fun and who can really appreciate when they’re done well.
Maps were mentioned more than I expected. This may indicate that people like games with their own geography more than we realize. I wouldn’t read into this too much, though, since “maps” came up as answer a bit less than 1% of the time.
6. Metal Coins
With their satisfying weight, interesting textures, and satisfying clanging, metal coins came in at 7% in our data. If they were cheaper to create and ship, it is very likely that this would rank much higher on the list because they would be more common.
My takeaway is this: if you are creating a board game and you want the experience to feel really luxury or premium, then metal coins are a great way of accomplishing that through components.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the most popular board game components is…the boards themselves! Coming in at 10% in our data, those who gave longer answers explicitly stated the following:
- Dual-layered player boards
- Thematic boards
- Beautiful board
- Recessed player boards
- A good looking board
- Modular Boards
We noticed some common themes when going through this data. People are really attracted to board art, the physical feel of boards, and creative ways to use them. That means people aren’t so much attracted to regular, plain quad-fold boards. They want gorgeous boards that are used in unique ways and that have pleasant textures.
Cards came up in our data 13% of the time, which is higher than boards! There’s little reason to wonder why, too. Cards can introduce both randomness and strategy into a game, so people automatically have positive assumptions about their role in a game.
Beyond that, cards have many opportunities to display gorgeous art. In fact, that’s what our data suggests people like most about cards – phenomenal art.
At 14%, dice are more popular than boards or cards. However, there is a caveat. We’re not just talking about regular six-sided white dice with black dots. No, people are attracted to custom dice.
We suspect this is because dice-based games put so much importance on these tiny components. You next moves hinge upon what the dice tell you, forcing you to look at them. When dice are customized in a thematic way, that is really memorable.
At 15%, miniatures, or simply minis, are incredibly popular. You find them often in your most expensive, physically and mentally heavy games. Miniatures look great on their own, but many hobbyists take time painting them.
Minis allow for raw creativity for both the game creator and the gamer themselves (through painting). Games with unique minis stand out head and shoulders over games that do not have that. It’s not hard to understand why, either. Just look at the picture above – that’s way better than a piece of cardboard wedged into a plastic stand!
With a whopping 25% of the vote, meeples stand out head and shoulders over any other component. Particularly, custom, wooden meeples is unique shapes. Animal meeples, people meeples, abstract meeples…gamers love meeples!
While it may seem surprising that meeples beat minis, consider the following. Only a small fraction of games can afford to feature minis. Nearly any game can have meeples. The cost of custom meeples is pretty low, and they add a lot of character to otherwise very abstract games.
But perhaps more importantly than that, there is nothing more symbolic of board gaming than meeples. When you say “board game”, a lot of people will think of “meeples.”
Some board game components are exceptionally popular. Metal coins, boards, cards, custom dice, minis, and meeples all have their fans.
If you want to give your new game design a little pizzaz, consider adding any combination of the board game components listed above. You’ll be glad you did!
What’s your favorite board game component?