Never Meant to Last: Musings on Card Sleeving & Upgraded Pieces

Marvel Legendary is the game that has seen the most total play in our house over the years.  Recently, when a friend saw the game’s board and core box (it is stored across several), she described them as “well-loved.”  It’s a nice way of saying the boxes are falling apart, with clear wear and tear.  Chaos has been playing Legendary for over a decade and while there is enough content that a lot of the heroes and villains only get so much play each, the starter cards and cards necessary for each game have also become “well-loved”.  

During a gathering with some friends several years back, Chaos brought Legendary to the table.  Good times were had, but one player complained that the starter cards were worn enough they could tell prior to drawing them from their deck.  At that point, the game was at least five years old and had seen dozens of plays.  The choice was clear: do something or watch the game slowly erode into an unplayable mess.

Thankfully, as someone who once played a lot of Magic: The Gathering, card sleeves were already a familiar friend.  Chaos sleeved his old Magic decks to keep them looking nice and to avoid harming cards that might be worth something, but had never considered protecting a board game in a similar fashion.

After some thought, he bit the bullet and has now spent way too much sleeving every card from Legendary and continues to sleeve cards as expansions are released.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely yes!  The cards stay nice, the game will last for years to come, and any wear and tear ends up on sleeves that are easier to replace than the cards themselves.  

The Dark Path of Temptation:

When you get deep enough into the world of board games, you realize a lot of players’ interests aren’t just focused on playing games, but in building a collection of games as well.  We are definitely guilty of that impulse sometimes.  New is fun, whether it’s a game with an interesting concept or something to add to a game you already love so much.  

The trouble with this type of collection though is that it’s interacted with regularly.  The wear and tear sneaks in.  Edges dull.  Pieces crack.  Smudges appear.  Finger oils seep in.  Age shows itself.  Oh no!  We shudder thinking of friends and family playing with dirty hands, or mindlessly flicking and bending cards.  

How far should we go into protecting our collection?  When looking into new games, we regularly see people asking about card size in order to buy sleeves and about box dimensions to make sure sleeved cards fit.  Upgraded components are a big market.  Cardboard and paper deteriorate much more quickly than metal, vinyl, and nice plastics.  Should we just be buying multiple copies so we have back ups?  What’s a board game lover to do!?!?

Where We Fall:

We already mentioned our copy of Marvel Legendary that is happily sitting in sleeves.  As a gift Chaos got Confetti The Quacks of Quedlinburg’s Geek-Up bits.  A few games like Premium Love Letter came with their own sleeves.  Kickstarter and Gamefound have a tendency to offer upgraded pieces, sleeves, and other goodies.  Sometimes we bite (Here to Slay, Rival Restaurants, Robinson Crusoe) and other times we’ve resisted those upgrades meant to make fancier and longer lasting games (Marvel United, The 7th Citadel).  

Most of the time, we’re okay not doing more to protect our games.  We updated our Quack’s tokens and the plastic pieces make the whole experience more enjoyable.  However, the fortune teller cards in the same game are starting to show wear and we don’t mind too much.  

If a component’s wear doesn’t really affect how we play the game or change the experience, it doesn’t matter much to us.  We have a Stone Age meeple with a crack, no biggie.  A few game boards have some fading or creases; still playable – no problem. 

We spent a lot of time sleeving the hundreds of cards from 7th Continent.  Most of those cards will only be seen a few times and some once or not at all.  Our time probably could have been better spent elsewhere.  At least we got to listen to some podcasts while we sleeved cards.

To Sleeve or Not to Sleeve (or Upgrade):

The two questions that we consider most when evaluating whether a game is worth upgrading, sleeving, or protecting are 1) do we see ourselves playing this so much that we know the game is going to take a beating and 2) are we going to want to play this game for years to come?

Legendary and Quacks fall under that category, so their upgrades have felt worth it.  Honestly, Chaos questions not upgrading his copy of Marvel United.  He spent plenty on it already and would love to have it around in the future for our son.  It’s a simple enough game to teach and the flavoring seems right for getting a kid excited about table top fun. The games are also quick to play, which often leads us to play several games in a sitting, so the cards get a lot of use.

We accept campaign and legacy games will lose their freshness over the rapid plays of their short life span.  Unless we are instantly enamored with a game, it’s probably wise to let a few plays go by before deciding whether this will become a long time favorite.  Then, we can weigh the options of spending time and money protecting it.  Most games will not receive the prestige of needing the extra love to keep them from becoming “well-loved.”

For example – Gloomhaven.  Playing through Gloomhaven, we logged over one hundred games in the course of a few months.  By the time we were done, several components had seen better days.  However, now that we’ve completed the main campaigns, we are mostly done with the game.  Sure, we might break it out for a one off scenario or a mini-campaign, but since Gloomhaven will only see so much play moving forward, it’s not worth upgrading, especially once Frosthaven drops.  The same goes for games such as The Initiative and The Crew.  Most of their plays are probably behind them, so it wouldn’t make sense to try and protect them now.  

On the other hand, we see ourselves pulling out games like King of Tokyo, Secret Hitler, and Castles of Burgundy for a long time to come.  They don’t hit the table as often as some of our more played games though, so the wear really isn’t there.  Maybe we’ll regret it in the future, but for now, we see no problem letting them be. 

Recently we saw a really nice deluxe version of Suburbia on Kickstarter.  We both really like playing Suburbia, so the purchase was tempting.  Again though, we don’t play our current copy enough to justify the extra cost (over $100).  Wingspan is another game that falls into this category.  We considered upgrading the food pieces or sleeving cards, but it doesn’t receive enough of playtime regularly to warrant the additional cost.

Albeit risky, the question of availability is another one to consider.  If our copies of King of Tokyo or Code Names get messed up, it’s easy to buy another.  The cost and time it would take to protect these games wouldn’t make sense compared to how easy it is to replace them. Out of print games or Kickstarter/Gamefound/etc exclusives seem more worth it to protect since once they’re gone, they are gone (alas, most of Marvel United).  You have to take calculated risks on which games may eventually become rarer or go out of print and some people may be more risk adverse than others.

How do you feel about your collection?  Are you doing anything to keep it safe or do you accept the inevitability of decay over time?  Are these just games to play now or lifelong friends and eventual heirlooms? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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