Designing a board game is a thrilling and creative endeavor, but it’s not without its challenges. As a game designer, I recently had the opportunity to work with Gameland Manufacturing to produce the first polished prototype of our eagerly anticipated board game, Gnomes & Wizards. While the overall production was a success, we encountered a few small oversights one of which has caused the contents of our box to appear as if a bomb went off upon opening.

We want to compile a series of lessons here in our blog to share with you our experience with getting our first prototype produced. Our hope is that you can find these lessons helpful as you go to create your own prototypes and final production runs. Today’s topic is regarding the plastic insert used to hold all of the pieces of your game. In this blog post, I will share my experience and discuss the solutions we are considering to address the issues that arose. Let’s dive in.

The Plastic Insert Dilemma

When designing the plastic tray insert for Gnomes and Wizards, our primary goal was to optimize space within the box. So many modern games have extra space in their boxes. There are some good reasons for taking that approach which I discuss in a previous post, Manufacturing Part 2: High-Cost Components. To touch on the idea, Gnomes and Wizards is a family-friendly game but there are quite a few components involved with the game. We wanted to make sure the box wasn’t too big to scare off our target audience so we decided to optimize the space inside our box.

Upon providing Gameland Manufacturing with a fairly simple flat design of what we wanted the plastic tray to look like, we indicated where each slot should be placed and the measurements of each section. We also included a video of the insert we hand-made out of cardboard to show them how all of the pieces were supposed to fit inside.

I thought that I would have had to provide a more detailed layout or even a 3D model of how this tray should look but they took these two simple documents to their engineers who created a tray that matched my vision almost perfectly. Despite their quality engineering and craftsmanship, a slight oversight led to an unintended consequence.

Plastic Tray Layout for Gnomes and Wizards

Understanding the Manufacturer’s Decision

Upon closer examination, we realized that the manufacturer had intentionally placed the black tray slightly below the top of the box as you can see in the image below. Assumably their rationale was to ensure that all the punchboards included in the game would sit below the box threshold, allowing the lid to fully enclose the bottom of the box. While this decision made sense from a production standpoint, it resulted in the components shifting after the punchboards were punched-out and discarded, which was a concern for us. Anytime the prototype is tipped during transportation or stored vertically on our shelf… KABOOM! Components everywhere.

Prototype with black plastic tray insert

To be completely fair, this wasn’t the manufacturer’s fault. We were in a rush to get the prototypes in time for Origins Game Fair and we weren’t concerned about getting all of the kinks worked out of the tray at this time. We only gave them these flat designs without any further detail on how the depth of the tray or each slot it was comprised of.

Solutions Explored

Recognizing the need to rectify this issue, we are currently considering two potential solutions:

  1. Extending the Black Tray: One option is to modify the black tray design so that it goes all the way to the top of the box threshold. This would ensure that the components stay firmly in place when the lid is on. However, implementing this solution presents a couple of challenges. Firstly, the box lid may not be able to fully close, necessitating a slight raise in the lid. While this may not be a significant issue due to the shrink wrapping during shipping, it could impact shipping costs. Secondly, without any outside force holding the lid in place, the components could potentially push the lid off slightly, also leading to scattered game pieces.
  2. Clear Plastic Lid with Snap-On Functionality: The second solution involves creating a clear plastic lid that snaps onto the black tray. This approach would accommodate the punchboards during manufacturing while also securing the components in their designated slots when the game is opened. Furthermore, this custom lid could be molded to display symbols, text, or even the game’s logo, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal. However, it’s important to note that this solution would incur additional costs, including mold fees.
Game Trayz made for Dwellings of Eldervale. Image from Backerkit post.

Choosing the Best Solution

As we weigh the pros and cons of each option, we are leaning towards the clear plastic lid with snap-on functionality. It seems to be the most practical and elegant solution. The biggest challenge will involve additional expenses, so this will likely be added as a stretch goal depending on our overall funding. We think the benefits of keeping components in place and enhancing the overall user experience justify the investment but we will see what our backers think with their pledges. The added benefit of incorporating symbols or text on the lid is a nice added benefit to easily show gamers where all of the pieces should be stored.


Designing and manufacturing a board game prototype is an exciting journey filled with valuable lessons. Our experience with Gnomes and Wizards has taught us the importance of carefully considering the design of plastic tray inserts. By sharing our story and the solutions we are exploring, we hope to help other game designers avoid similar oversights in their projects. With attention to detail and thoughtful design, we can create board games that not only captivate players but also deliver a seamless and enjoyable experience from the moment they open the box.


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