If you follow me on social media at all, you know how into tabletop gaming I am. For those of you who don’t… Well… uh… I’m really into tabletop gaming. Over the years I’ve been a gamer, I’ve noticed a confluence of different aspects of my personality that have led me to being a sort of specific type of gamer. Today, I’m talking about how my collector’s mentality has affected my board-gaming hobby.
I grew up collecting things. Comics, trading cards, POGs, what have you. I’ve always been meticulous about caring for my collectibles. Comics are always bagged and boarded (and HOLY SHIT don’t ever open one far enough to cause stress lines around the staples), trading cards always in sleeves or binders, stored carefully away from any potential damage. As I’ve grown into board gaming, I’ve found my collector’s mentality not just creeping around the edges of the hobby, but taking it over full-force.
See, I can’t just buy a board game and play it as-is – especially if it includes cards of any type. Thoughts of drink spillage or Cheeto-fingers grubbing up the components… I just… I can’t even. The concept of “mint condition” is so deeply embedded in my psyche that I get the same ragey hind-brain reaction to someone gunking up a game component as I used to when I’d see someone bend a Magic card or break the spine of a book. Though there’s not much I can do to protect a standard game board or punch-out components, if there’s something I can laminate I probably will, and every single card in every single game goes into a sleeve. EVERY ONE.
If you’re not familiar, sleeves are simply small plastic pockets made to fit snugly around gaming cards to keep them protected from the elements. Originally they were made out of thin polypropylene – exactly like comic book bags – to protect baseball cards. When Magic: The Gathering popularized the concept of playing a game with trading cards, sleeve technology changed to offer better protection not just from dirt or moisture, but from the rigors of constant shuffling.
An Aside About Shuffling: In addition to sleeving every card I own, I even now play poker and other standard card games with high-quality plastic playing cards. I can’t stomach the thought of shuffling bare paper cards in a normal riffle shuffle anymore. They’ll wear out! Shuffling will warp them over time! They could get marked! DEAR GOD WHAT IF ONE GETS CREASED YOU FUCKING ANIMALS no it’s fine I’m fine
So, I sleeve all my cards. For many gamers, the downside of this is the actual act of putting decks of cards into individual sleeves. It’s not so bad when you’re thinking of a standard deck of cards. 52 cards? Meh. Even a standard M:TG deck is 60, so that’s okay. But what happens when a game has hundreds?
I played a ton of M:TG in high school and college, and the M.O. for most TCG players is to have a good storage solution for the bulk of your collection, and keep a few decks that are regularly played in sleeves. So, a Magic collector might have thousands of cards, but they’re not sleeving every single one of them.
That’s not really the case with board games. Each board game is its own, individual thing that has to be ready to go every time you pull it off the shelf. So, if you own a ton of games, you can’t just keep a certain subset of cards sleeved. If you (*I*) are going to sleeve any of them, you (*I*) have to sleeve them all, and the number of cards that come in a board game ranges from “almost none” to “Vegas casino”.
For example, we just picked up a copy of a card/board game called Trains and its expansion Trains: Rising Sun. Between the two boxes, there are over 1,000 cards. One thousand. Games like Dominion might have 300-500 cards in a box and 10+ expansions. That’s a damned lot of cards to sleeve. At last count, I have over 130 games on my shelves, plus expansions, and I’ve sleeved every single card.
And, you know what? I find the activity supremely relaxing. There’s just something about it… It’s not just the repetitive monotony, it’s the peace of mind. As compulsive as I am about the condition of my games, when I’m sleeving cards there’s a part of my psyche that realizes I’m doing my part to ensure that I don’t have to stress over those components anymore. I put on a podcast or a TV show and sit down at my desk or on my couch with a pile of cards and sleeves and just go.
The task itself is almost meditative. Time just floats on by, and before I know it I’m packing up a nice, protected, aggravatingly slippery deck of cards into a new game box, and making that game available for play (I mean I wouldn’t let people play it before the cards are sleeved what kind of monster do you take me for). I’ve even, more often than I’d care to admit, taken to cutting down some of the off-sized sleeves so they fit the cards better, and even this has become relaxation time for me.
I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who would say that sleeving this many cards from this many games isn’t worth the money. It does, on average, add $3-$15 to the cost of a game (or, in the case of a game like Trains, more like $30). For me, just knowing that my games are armored against the terrors that gamers can inflict is worth Every. Solitary. Ducat. Knowing that 15 years from now, these cards will be just as playable and nice as they are now. Combine that knowledge with the zen-like trance I achieve while actually carrying out the task?
You can’t put a price on that.