Sometimes the best part of a boardgame is having a good excuse to play with a toy, even if you are a 22 year old adult who has real responsibilities like paying for a gas bill (no one warned me about that one). There are plenty of amazing games that don’t need bells and whistles to be fun and engaging, but when a game has something that makes it different it finds its way to my table more often. No one wants to sit through a rule explanation, but tossing them a foam pistol might get new players excited enough to actually pay attention. Below are ten of my favorite components I’ve seen in boardgames. Some of them would feel like a completely different game without them, while others just turn up the entire experience.
Ca$h and Guns is a boardgame themed around stealing money, jewelry and paintings at the expense of your friends who have the same thieving hobby. Instead of deciding who deserves the loot during each of the eight rounds through some sort of delegation, it is decided by players pointing their foam pistol at other players of their choice at the exact same time. It’s a mean game disguised in a party format. The foam guns feel so silly when you’re holding them—they’re light and are more of a silhouette than a realistic gun design—that they help make the game a fun experience instead of a heavy and violent one
Photo by Daniel Danzer
When you first open Splendor, you might be thinking that the jewel chips don’t follow the game thematically. Why are we using poker chips to emulate the experience of a jewel sale? But after you hold them in your hand, you wouldn’t even think about switching them out for plastic jewels you could get at Hobby Lobby. They feel heavy, sturdy and like they would put someone in the hospital if thrown across the table. These are known to be so high quality that Board With Life, a boardgame comedy web series, joked in this video that Splendor is easily the top game of the year solely because of the “super metal” chips. They even make a satisfying click when you stack them. The chips aren’t the only thing that draw me into a game of Splendor, but as lame as it is, they help get me excited to play.
A lot of us gamers are so easily satisfied that adding something you can buy at a medical supply store for $5 is enough to get us pumped up. In Pandemic: On the Brink, the first expansion to Pandemic, Z-Man games added a custom-labeled Petri dish that made saving the world from an epidemic feel just a hair more realistic. Many members of the Reddit boardgame community mention that they have trouble playing this game without the Petri dishes just because they are so attached to them. You can take the theme even further and enter the vortex of homemade Etsy components. One shop owner makes custom vials for cures in the game filled with alcohol. The Petri dish is a dangerous start to a thematic component addiction.
It’s hard to resist a good set of dice. That’s why Wiz Kid’s Dice Masters will always have an issue with low stock. The dice are the first thing you notice when you tear through the cardboard of Seasons. They’re bright, huge and have iconography specific to the game. You don’t feel like you’re in Vegas when you throw these—it’s a distinctive experience that deserves these distinctive dice.
Honorable mention to the King of Tokyo and King of New York dice.
Photo by Daniel Danzer
The flying machine from Forbidden Desert feels like a toy because it is. Gamewright is one of the top companies that releases games for a younger audience and this is one of their top contenders. Just because Forbidden Desert was the 2013 Golden Geek Children Game winner doesn’t mean it’s not a blast for adults alike. I’ve never pulled the airship out of the tin box without everyone at the table wanting to mess around with it. It’s pure euphoria when you’re the one who discovers the engine (or another component) and get to add it to the ship.
Shogun is the first and only boardgame I’ve thought about purchasing solely for a component. The cube tower is a beautiful piece of work and dramatically changes an element of war games that is a drag—troop management. Instead of having to roll dice over and over again (e.g. Risk) battles are determined by the cube tower. Players battling over land pour all of their cubes into the tower and whatever comes back out is still in play. It’s a simple idea that plays on the dice tower—a boardgame staple. A similar cube tower is used in similar war games like Wallenstein, but the samurai and boxed details on the side of the tower give an aesthetic vibe that fits the theme well.
Steam Park isn’t a game that’s ready to play right out of the box. The first time I tried to play, I scared all of my friends off because there are so many little pieces that it was overwhelming. But after you spend 20 minutes putting together pieces of cardboard, you’ll be rewarded with several 3-D theme park rides. The rides have detailed dark art and feel sturdy on your personal building blocks. It’s satisfying seeing your meeples sit on top of the rides and the game probably wouldn’t feel the same if they went with a typical cardboard cutout and kickstand.
Table space is a real issue in some boardgames so it only makes sense that designers would start thinking about building up. This is the case with the bamboo shoots in Takenoko. They are available in three different colors, so the focus isn’t on realism, but that is hardly an issue. It feels satisfying to stack them on a spot on the board until a miniature panda comes through to eat your hard work.
Photo by Daniel Thurot
I have yet to see a game’s mechanic match the theme as much as Terror in Meeple City. The game is about monsters destroying parts of Meeple City. While playing, players drop these heavy wooden monsters onto pieces of buildings stacked on top of meeples. There isn’t anything particularly fancy about these monsters. Each one has the same silhouette and requires the owner of the game to put on a sticker to give it the full transformation. These monsters are great, not because of little details, but because of their creative use.
Painted and photographed by Simon Wray
When I first heard of Tzolk’in and its moving gears, I searched YouTube far and wide for a video of them in action. I spent over 20 minutes until I found a video blogger who actually showed them off and it was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a boardgame. It’s easy to lose focus in a heavy game when the board is dry and static, but this simple system of gears gives something that players will enjoy paying attention to. The gears have even gained a fanbase—there are users on BoardGameGeek and Reddit that share their own custom-painted set of gears.
Jay Egger works in digital media in Austin, Texas and writes whenever he gets the chance. You can catch him playing boardgames while drinking fancy beer. His Twitter handle is @jayeggr.