Roll up your sleeves
Tabletop games can be quite expensive, so it makes sense to protect your investment and make sure game components last a long time. That way, when you have enjoyed your game for a while, you can easily resell it in mint condition, recouping close to the original purchase price, which you can then re-invest in a new game.
There are many ways of protecting your game components of course, but one of the most popular is card sleeves, also known as deck protectors. The great majority of tabletop games come with cards for different purposes, so there is an almost limitless range of card sleeves. It will depend on what you need, but you should be able to find card sleeves that fit the size of cards in your game without problem. Clear sleeves are the most common, because most people are looking for something that protects the cards, but you can also get sleeves with artwork that enhances your overall game experience.
Card sleeves are also great for playtesting of course. Simply print out the cards on plain paper, cut them out and slide them into card sleeves. You end up with a deck of cards that you can easily shuffle and that is uniform. If you need to change cards during testing, simply replace the paper card in the sleeve with a new version and you are done. You can go for opaque sleeves that are transparent only on one side, so that you only have to print the card faces, because the sleeves provide a uniform back for all of your cards.
If your game has miniatures or other, larger and fragile components, you will want to invest in foam inserts. Again, there is a wide range available and you will probably find a custom made foam insert for your specific game. If not, you can buy foam sheets that you can cut to make indentations for your miniatures or other game components. Ensure that the foam inserts fill your game box fully, so when you transport your game, there is no movement inside, ensuring that all components are securely cushioned.
Some games can also benefit from overlays. Player mats can get some heavy use and soon the printing gets worn down. An overlay protects your player mat or other game boards, and often they can even enhance your game experience by creating specific indentations to slot in game pieces or resources. Overlays are less popular, but they can still be worth investigating.
Speaking of game boards, there also games for which you can buy neoprene mats to replace the cardboard play area. These mats don’t directly protect the game board, but because you use the mat instead of the board, you do keep it in pristine condition, while the mat gets the wear. Also, neoprene mats are also a great addition when selling your game and can help you recoup more of your investment.
So what do you think about protecting your tabletop game? Have you ever bought sleeves or inserts? Have they proven useful? Or do you prefer to use your game as is, because you like to see some wear, which shows how much love it received? Please post your comments and thoughts below.
It is easy to get carried away with too much game protection. At one point I would sleeve my cards immediately; these days I play the game a few times and then decide if its worth the investment. I have looked at several after-market organizers for some of the more popular games in the house, like Terraforming Mars, but cost is still a real consideration.
Just as relevant to your discussion, but not mentioned, is the role of publishers in protecting games. Larger boxes, better components, and organizers inside the box are becoming more common these days.