So, to get down to business. Here are the things I usually do to pimp my games:
1. Clean up the pieces.This might seem like a given, but it's still an important step. This mostly has to do with cardboard chits or tokens that you punch out yourself. There will always be little paper tufts left here and there, and while I don't cut them off entirely (I've found this often does more harm than good), I go over them with nail clippers or something similar to trim them down. They'll still be there, but they'll be small, have a uniform size and generally not noticable.
When it comes to plastic miniatures the problem is often that they're bent and generally mis-shaped. The easiest method to remedy this is the hot water trick. Boil a pot of water and then keep a bowl of icewater nearby. Using tongs carefully put the mis-shaped figure in the boiling water for a minute or so. A lof of time you'll actually see the plastic work itself back to its original shape when it gets soft, but if not take it out and gently bend it to the correct position. Then quickly put in the ice water and let it cool off. This will set the plastic in the desired shape and you'll have nice straight minis again!
2. Colour the edges of your chits.This is something I rarely see done, and although it doesn't seem like it'd make much of a difference it really does! Normally all your cardboard chits and tokens have some nice print on them, but the edges (that you've trimmed now!) are still that dull greyish colour of raw paper. This has to be fixed! What you need is some felt tipped markers in different colours (depending on the colour of the chits). Black is probably what you'll use the most, but now and then you need something else. Then simply use the markers to colour the edges! Simple as that, although time consuming, depending on the game.
It's not something you normally think about, but when you've done it once there's no going back. It's that big a difference!
3. Sleeve the cards.I remember back when Magic the Gathering was first released and how soon after card sleeves started showing up in game stores. At that time I recell them being rather flimsy and, to my eyes, basically useless. So since that time I've more or less stayed away from sleeves in the belief that they're crap. Of course, times change and the sleeves of today are much better! As I discovered when playing Race for the Galaxy during 2008. It's even gone so far that I actually prefer sleeved cards to non-sleeved ones. It's simply a better feeling.
Now there are many different brands and opinions, but I think generally thicker is better. I first bought Dragon Shields from Arcane Tinmen and at 100 microns they're really excellent. Recently I've also tried their boardgame sleeves and, while thinner (75 microns) they still do a perfectly good job. I imagine the ones from FFG are probably better, but they're also twice the price.
When it comes to sleeving board game cards you have to make the decision if you want to sleeve all of the cards or simply the ones that get used/shuffled the most. I tend to sleeve all of them, but that's more because I'm a bit OCD about the matter. Hehe!
4. Bag/box the chits.I remember as a kid, having all the cards, chits and playing pieces just rattling around loose in the box. The horror! Now, I'm very much a bag man myself, but I'd like to try the box approach some day as well to compare.
Hmm... I just noticed that up until now all the pictures have been of Ad Astra, and now it turns into Twilight Imperium. Oh well, never mind. :)
I use zip-loc bags of various sizes, the smaller the better as it takes less room in the box. Using a box (plano or otherwise) does look very neat and conveniant, but it does limit you to that box. When we play we like to put tokens in small glass bowls that are easy to pass around and also make it easier to grab an actual chit. Now, the downside with bags is that it takes time to get everything out and, especially, pack it back in.
5. Make reference sheets.This is something I started doing when I discovered the superb work by Universal Head. The reference sheets he makes are not only often much better than the ones that are provided by the manufacturer (if provided at all that is) they also look terrific! Check out the Headless Hollow for the complete collection.
Of course there are a lot of other fan-made reference sheets out there, and I think a well made one can really help smoothing out your gaming experience by allowing you to concentrate on the actual game rather than flipping through the rulebook. I have easy access to a small laminator so usually laminate mine.
6. Paint the pieces.I suppose this is in the same category as colouring your chits, this is just more extensive. Unlike the rest of the things on this list painting miniatures is not something you can do in an hour, but rather it's a long term project. As I see it there's two ways to go about it; the traditional way of painting minis with basing, blending, highlighting, drybrushing etc or the dipping method. If you have the skill, the time and the patience traditional painting will render better results. But if you're kind of unsure of how well you can paint, if you've never actually tried it or if you simply don't have the time you might want to try dipping them.
I have no actual experience with dipping so will simply point you to this guide. But from what I can tell it works very well, and if all you're looking for is slightly nicer playing pieces, not Golden Daemon candidatesm it's the way to go. Also if you feel that you're not that skilled a painter I actually think you might achieve better results from dipping than from traditional painting.
Some games lend themselves better to painted figures than others, and it usually comes down to the miniatures themselves. For example, Twilight Imperium has loads of starships and stuff, but to me at least, they don't paint very well. Looking through BGG and seeing people's creations they simply don't look very good to me. And that's certainly not because of unskilled painters but rather because the miniatures themselves are kind of bland and boring. Although I love TI to death, I will not paint the playing pieces (although, ask me again when 4th ed is released). On the other hand, games like Descent and Doom you just have to paint! Since they are so big and well sculpted and the games are all about theme, having painted miniatures really adds a lot to them! Then there are the games that fall in between, like Age of Conan, Battlestar Galactica, Runewars, Last Night on Earth etc. In these cases I think it comes down to how much time you have on your hands, how much you like the game and how much painted minis will add to the experience.
For example, let's take Battlestar Galactica:
- With only 32 pieces it's not an overwhelming task.
- Of these 32, most are cylon ships that are dead easy to paint.
- Unpainted the cylon and human ships are the same colour, painting them makes them much easier to tell apart.
As for painting games with more miniatures... I'd say there's a line somewhere around 50. More than that and you really have to focus to get it done. I mean, still have 3/4 left to do for Age of Conan! But if it's a game you really like and you enjoy painting then go for it, it'll be worth it in the end.
And that brings us to the end of this post. I'm sure there are a lot of other ways to enhance your board games that I've forgotten or never even thought of! So please feel free to enlighten me, although in this post I try to not get too far into advanced customization. That is to say, building awesome alternative boards, sculpting alternative playing pieces etc, while very coolw is not something I see as possible for every game, but more as a one-off project. Anyway, I'd love to hear suggestions!
In other news, Ad Astra is a great game that deserves much more attention and Babylon 5 is masterly!