Setup pains (Topic Discussion)

Chits, tokens, player boards, tiles, pieces, cards and all the other components we have come to know and love can sometimes be a bit of a problem: when you need to place dozens upon dozens of them into specific places on the game board or player mat and spend hours shuffling dozens of decks of cards before you can even think about starting the game. Setup is something most of us will want to be quick, so we can get to the fun bit as soon as possible.

There are many examples of games that take a long time to set up, and I really don’t want to name and shame any here, but I’ve come across a few in my life – and I’m sure you can name a few yourself.
The most annoying ones in my view are games where you meticulously place two dozen small, custom shaped tokens onto your player mat. Even though everyone has to do the same, so, in theory, everyone should finish at around the same time, it’s often not just your player mat you have to focus on. There is still the game board to prepare with even more tokens or cards to be shuffled or miniatures to be taken out of the box and put in position. So one of your games group ends up doing that while everyone else sets up their player mat, meaning that one of you still has to prepare their own board while everyone is finished and enjoys some banter.
Speaking of preparing the game board, it’s games where you have to place dozens of tokens on the central board that are the second most annoying in my view. It’s often hard to find where to place tokens, so when the illustrator or graphic designer has ensured the necessary spots clearly stand out and show what tokens need to be put where, then that is very much appreciated. It still takes time, but is better than having to spend time searching a highly detailed game board for the relevant place to put the required token.
I think the third most annoying thing during game setup is to put half a dozen different types of resources out around the board for people to use during the game. Of course, using baggies or small plastic containers helps a great deal here, but it still takes time. Also, I want to avoid the use of plastic, so I’m still looking for better storage solutions such as small cardboard boxes, but I’ve not yet decided what will work best.
If you really want to save time during setup, then consider using a custom insert that allows you to store all resources separately, but also lets you take all resources out in one go. Custom inserts are also often made from wood, which is a better material than plastic, especially if it is made from sustainable sources or recycled wood.
There is still a little gripe though when it comes to shared resources, especially when you have four or more players sitting around the table. If you place all resources at one end of the table or the other, then some people won’t be able to reach them, meaning one of your games group has to become a sort of banker and pass out and return resources to the central pool, meaning they have to divide their attention between their own strategy and helping other players.
Therefore I have started to split all resources into two pools, one at each end, so everyone can help themselves. However, custom inserts usually have all resources in one place, so their benefit of a quick setup is slightly marred by having to have a banker in your group. I wish custom inserts had two resource trays, one for each end of the table. That would be amazing.
Last in the list of annoyances is card shuffling. Now, I’ve grown up with shuffling cards, so I find it quite easy, but it still takes time. I can forgive the fact that you have to shuffle card decks when you first get a game, even though I do sometimes wonder if there isn’t a way of publishers to print the decks in such a way that they are already shuffled.
Set collection games are the worst of course, because cards are returned to the deck in a sorted fashion, meaning you have to shuffle especially well before your next game. It’s a bit like having bought the game anew every time you play. Yes, the pile shuffle method is often very useful to separate cards effectively in a sorted deck, especially if you use a prime number of piles, but even then you will still want to use another shuffle method to create more randomness. I put a link to different shuffling methods on Wikipedia below which you might find interesting.
Setup time is one part of every game experience. Putting everything away at the end is the other. I must say, I don’t mind too much if it takes a while. In fact, I find it a bit therapeutic. However, if your game night ends late, everyone is probably keen to leave, so being able to put everything away quickly would be much appreciated.
Again, custom inserts will help with this. In fact, they’re probably the best way of reducing the time it takes to put everything away – unless you are happy to just chuck everything back in the box of course, but then your setup time will probably increase a lot. The next best option is little containers or baggies, and they’re probably the most common among gamers. After all, custom inserts are quite expensive, or if you make your own, they will take quite a bit of time to make.
So what do you think about setup time? Are there tricks you use to speed things up? Do you avoid games that take a long time to set up? What do you use to store everything in the box to make setup and breakdown faster? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you think.
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