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The Physicality of Board Games: Highlighting Some of the Very Best Components

Let's look at some of the best components in board gaming.

This article is going to get physical, Olivia Newton-John fans. No offense to any Steam gift-code givers out there, but things have to get physical. They just do.

When it comes to gifts, something needs to be wrapped. Something physical needs to be handed over. The recipient has to unwrap the thing. There is a whole tradition of thing-ness that goes with gift giving.

For all the wonderful good that technological media has done us, they’ve also really wrecked gift-giving. It wasn’t that long ago that a couple CDs were a solid gift, pun certainly intended. Although it must sound (again, the puns) nutty to the youngsters, the idea of physically giving someone a chunk of polycarbonate plastic with music on it was a thing. (It gets even weirder, whippersnappers: That chunk of plastic had its own durable plastic case with a little paper pamphlet inside where all the metadata was printed!)

Such Christmases probably seem as distant to Kids These Days® as those physical days of yesteryear when Laura Ingalls got her corn cob doll and fresh orange, then sincerely and voraciously thanked her Pa for it.

But music, movies, books — these were go-to gift categories, and they served humanity well.

Now what? Your dad picks a book out for you and you just notice it already on your Kindle or some such nonsense. Nothing to unwrap. The machines failed to make our offices paperless, so they came for our gift exchanges! It’s some bull malarkey, is what that is! Then again, would you rather he gave it to you physically printed out on paper and bound, like how the neanderthals used to read?

Here’s how we fix this: It’s boardgames.

Below are some boardgames with the best physical components. Wrapping paper not included.

1 Flick ’em Up!

Flick ’em Up!
Flick ’em Up!

Not only does Flick ’em Up have great components but you get physical with them. Flick ’em Up is a dexterity game set in the Old West where players stage shootouts.

There is a deluxe wooden edition but I have the less expensive plastic edition, and darned is that not nice. Highly recommended, especially if you have older elementary kids in the house.

2 Colt Express

Colt Express
Colt Express (via Board Game Quest)

Mentioning Laura Ingalls a couple paragraphs up has got me thinking about the Old West, so here is the second Western-themed game. Colt Express is great because you actually build a train and stage coach! My job is done here; this requires no more explanation.

3 Cash ‘n Guns

Cash ‘n Guns
Cash ‘n Guns (via Shut Up and Sit Down)

Cash ‘n Guns is a party game whose components know how to party as well. Each box is filled with a bunch of foam guns that allow players to feel like they are gangsters on a heist.

They aren’t fancy; they’re a perfect expression of the theme.

4 X-Wing

X-Wing
X-Wing 2.0 (via Fantasy Flight Games)

Miniatures games are often the first thing folks think about when it comes to components, but X-Wing is the only minis game on this list. In fact–although the Star Wars ship minis are amazing–I want to talk about boring things like range markers and movement dials.

The movement dials of X-Wing are the key to the game system and a great example of how components can be more than simple cubes that could just as well be pawns that could just as well be cardboard chits. No, the dials are physical components that are integral to the gameplay and designed as such. These will get even better when X-Wing Second Edition drops at GenCon.

5 Onitama

Onitama
Onitama (via Pub Meeple)

First of all, Onitama is an under-appreciated game. I encourage everyone to give it a look.

Onitama is also a game with simple components, a few cards, some pawns, and a board. The pawns aren’t super detailed, but they are solid. Same with the cards. It’s the board that is great, as it’s a high-quality neoprene foam. Then it all comes together in how it rolls up and is tucked into a box that wraps around on itself. It’s a masterful presentation for a simple, yet deeply thoughtful game.

6 Pandemic (Expansion)

Pandemic (Expansion)
Pandemic (via Board Game Geek)

Pandemic has become one of the cornerstone games in modern board gaming. As a result, the base set is a little mass-market. The components are nice, but nothing to write an article about.

But Pandemic has several expansions and the components of those add-ons do a wonderful job of leaning into the viral theme. The Petri dish storage solution of the On the Brink expansion is a home run example of how you can use components to make your theme come alive.

7 Anything from Stonemaier Games

Anything from Stonemaier Games
Euphoria

Companies are getting better overall about thinking through their components, but perhaps none are better than Stonemaier games, who make Sythe, Charterstone, Euphoria, and Viticulture.

The photo above is just a sliver of the components from Euphoria, an early Stonemaier game. Not too flashy, huh? And that’s the point. Every card with Stonemaier is the perfect thickness, all the cardboard is meticulously punched, each die is the ideal weight, and all the wood is thoughtfully crafted.

So rather than fancy pants components, Stonemaier tops the charts through thoughtfulness and intention.  As a result, you can trust than any game you get from Stonemaier has well-designed components.