It is common wisdom that the box is often the most expensive item of a published game, and it is true. For small bespoke/vanity publishers box pricing is often prohibitive. It is a Catch-22. Boxes that display well and which retailers are happy to shelve (a significant concern) simply cost too much to afford, but without such well displaying boxes retail success is elusive.
Some choices that I’ve considered for my yet-to-be-named vanity press1:
- Paper envelopes as popularised by the many Cheap Ass Games analogues. Often simply monochrome images are printed on the outside of the envelope. Sometimes the rules are printed on the envelope. Many of the small press Age of Steam map products are sold in plain manilla envelopes.
- Polyethylene bags, seen recently for Sierra Madre Games and many Cheap Ass Games products. Typically the rulebook cover is the art (as seen through the bag).
- Small white display/shipping boxes as used by Cheap Ass Games (again) and various small card games. Large format labels can be applied to all the major faces. Despite the labels they tend to look rather packing-boxey but can deliver a professional albeit small press appearance. They shelve and stock reasonably well at the retail level but don’t display well. 1 Collectible card boxes as used by The Realm of Fantasy for Atta Ants. A paper insert, visible through the plastic on the various sides forms the box art. They can shelve, stock and reasonably display well.
- Polystyrene clamshells. Cambridge Games Factory have been using plastic clamshell cases, as recently seen for Aapep and Glory to Rome. There are a number of suppliers but Placon have been made well-known among small publishers as Winsome Games have used them extensively, but there are many other suppliers. Like the bags and card cases, a simple insert or the rule-book, visible through the plastic forms the display art. They are disliked by retailers as not only hard to shelve, stock and display, but fragile and prone to damage (sun/heat).
- Tubes, usually plastic. Plastic poster tubes have mostly come and gone for small press publishers but they used to be de rigueur for small press games. They are loathed by retailers and are usually consigned to the floor or other dead corners as impossible to display effectively.
- VHS cassette cases. Usually black plastic, sometimes white, not the sort with padded edges but rather the (usually) four-clip hard cases. GMT uses such cases for the expansion armies to Wizard Kings. It can be difficult finding cases without the posts for the cassette reels. Art is either a slip-in for three sides of the box, or a cardboard sleeve. They shelve, stock and display well given that the box-size is in an awkward middle-size range that doesn’t fit the display systems used for most other games, too big for card games, too small for big-box games.
- White single-piece shipping boxes. Mostly recently well used by Deep Thought Games and Hangman Games, these are readily available from shipping companies. Simple large format adhesive labels may be easily applied to the main faces for branding and display. Despite the labels they tend to look rather packing-boxey but can deliver a professional albeit small press appearance. They shelve and stock reasonably but don’t display well at the retail level.
- White telescoping boxes. Also available in black (harder to find). Most recently used by Deep Thought Games as their premium game box and by Vainglorious Games for Cambria, they are often readily available from shipping companies. Large format adhesive labels may be easily applied to the main faces for branding and display. They can can deliver a (more) professional albeit small press appearance. They shelve and stock well and display reasonably well at the retail level. Note: Most readily available telescoping boxes tend to be made of thinner/weaker/lower density material than the single piece packing boxes. The big advantage are that the telescoping box presents a cleaner top display surface (no gap where the lid tucks in along one edge) and they meet the basic expectation of buyers as to what a game box should be. As such they are preferred by retailers.
- Custom printed/full-wrap box. Two forms: full-wrap lid and plain base or full-wrap lid and base. Expensive and typically requires a large print run. The expense comes in two forms: the custom printing (which requires a large print run for an economical rate) and (if necessary) a custom die for a custom box-size/insert to cut/mark/score the cardboard appropriately. These are the boxes most liked by retailers as the easiest to shelve, stock and display. Caveat: Pick your custom box sizes carefully and after consultation with multiple experienced retailers from the market segments you are interested in. More than a few nice boxes simply don’t work at the retail level.
For my own interests I’ve been considering plain manilla envelopes for the Age of Steam maps, clear collectable card game boxes for card games and white single piece boxes ala Deep Thought Games’ products if I do anything larger.
Unwelcome Advances and Conflict(s) of Interest are the currently favoured names. ↩