I Have a Card up My Sleeve
Let's face it; games are expensive.
We can certainly pin it on the rising costs of plastic and high-quality printing, but there are numerous other factors. Most games are not made in cost-saving quantities. The distributor takes a cut, and so does the retailer. Throw in overseas freight shipping, a modest profit margin, and you are looking at a premium MSRP. If you would like to know the nitty-gritty of all the supply chain fingers, here's a good explanation. The lesson here is that having even a modest collection is a significant investment.
So, naturally, one may want to protect their pricey collection from damage, and one tool for that are card sleeves. Ubiquitous among competitive collectible card game players, these are small poly film pouches that can hold a single card, much like baggies for comic books. These protect cards from general wear and tear, and oily human fingers. As you might be able to tell from some of my pictures, I sleeve many of my cards.
I have heard from experts in the industry that the number of people who sleeve their board game cards is pretty small. I have not found any data to back that up, but it seems like a reasonable conclusion. However, I have never seen a hobby game store that doesn't carry at least a basic selection of board game sleeves on their shelves.
Sleeved cards are a pain in the butt. They are slippery. They do not stack well. They are an added expense. There are many different card sizes, so you have to research which ones will fit your game. You have to shuffle either using the overhand shuffle (generally a crap method) or the mash (usually a good practice.) Sleeved cards do have a side benefit of preventing people from easily riffle shuffling and bending up the cards. Riffle shuffle anything other than standard playing cards in front of gamers and prepare for cries of anguish. Sleeves also add girth to your cards, so they do not fit back nicely in box inserts designed to hold the cards. On a private note, my wife does not like them, and they make cards difficult to photograph for your board game blog.
So why do I bother?
I decided to sit down and write out the criteria that determine whether I sleeve a game or not:
- Cost of the sleeves is equal to or greater than what I paid for the game.
- The game is relatively easy to get; it is a mass market item, or always in print.
- Cards are generally not shuffled.
- The game is expensive (>$30).
- The game is a collectors/Kickstarter edition.
- The game is frequently or indefinitely out of print.
- Cards in the game feel cheap.
- Gameplay will be affected if certain cards show enough wear on the back for players to learn which card it is.
- Cards have black borders, which makes wear more apparent than white borders.
- I just happen to have enough of the right size of sleeves in my stash.
I noticed my "yes" column is quite larger than "no." In fact, it would apply to 95% of all games in my collection. I may or may not have a problem.
As strange and ritualistic as this may sound, I enjoy the process of card sleeving, unpacking, and storing bits from a new game. It doesn't feel ready to play until everything is all good to go. I am not too concerned about card damage because most people I have played with are considerate players, and, honestly, I have few games that are played so much that the cards would have significant wear in the first place. So is my "yes sleeves" criteria way out-of-scope? Maybe, I don't know, but you can be the judge.
So do I recommend that people sleeve their cards? I cannot answer that. I know that is a poor way to end an article. So I will say this: whatever you do in regards to gaming if you or others are not having fun, that is a signal to do something else. If card sleeves hinder that fun significantly for you and others, then it is not worth it.