If I had a nickle for every time that someone asked me whether or not they should sleeve the cards in their games - well, I'd have no extra money to speak about. Despite that, I'm going to take a little time to talk about why I spend the time and money to sleeve the cards in some of my games (I mean, the name of the blog is Things of No Interest, so if you aren't interested, feel free to move along ;) ). Board gamers seem to fall into one of two camps when it comes to sleeving cards with little in-between - either you don't care or you care way too much. Well today I'm going to try and convince you that there is a middle ground here people! It is ok and often reasonable to meet somewhere in-between!
Now the first group - these are people that know and accept that board games will get handled and they just don't mind a little wear and tear to their game - that's just part of it. As my friend Brandon said, "Games should be loved and show that love." I suspect that most of these kind of gamers played games during their childhood and that those games were found in their grandparent's closets or that their mom bought them from a garage sale and half the parts were missing from the game box being smooshed flat. Despite the condition of the game, they managed to cobble parts from other games or they just didn't care that half the money from Monopoly was gone and that they had to use the pawns from Sorry! rather than be the hat or the race car. What mattered was they got to play a game and had fun. It was important that they had a good time, not that everything was pristine. And let us be honest, there are a ton of games out there right now from the modern age where the condition of the game could be very rough and it wouldn't matter in the least.
On the other end of the spectrum, this hobby seems to attract a large number of people that are a little anal about their games and their collection. And I do mean collection as in I COLLECT stamps or coins - ie those that get enjoyment by acquiring the things and the game's condition is as important as having it is. The first type of gamer I mentioned? They have a collection of games that they play, they are not collectors. Now, I understand some of The Collector's arguments - games are expensive and we should take care of the things we own instead of looking at them as disposable and replaceable. Ticket to Ride is currently $45 on Amazon and that's a good chunk of change for a game - right?
Except that in 1983, Ticket To Ride would have only cost about $17-$18 (adjusting for inflation). A little research shows that Risk was about $14 in 1983, Civilization from AH was $17 and Trivial Pursuit was a whopping $30. So sorry, I don't really buy the "I'm protecting my investment" argument for sleeving the cards of your games. Modern games cost about the same as the games we used to "not take care of" in our youth. If you fall into this extreme of gamer, please just admit that you want your game to remain pristine and move along. You are allowed to feel like this if you want.
Now I fall somewhere in-between. I am that rare bird - the moderately anal game owner - a MAGO. A MAGO has some games that are worn (box, parts, whatever) and they are happy to own because they like playing the game and it doesn't matter if the box has tape all over it. In fact, they may have (GASP) thrown away some of the boxes. A MAGO also has some "special" games - games that they have purchased expensive custom box inserts to hold the game components, sleeved the cards, bought upgraded bits so they didn't have to use cardboard tokens, etc. A lot of times it doesn't really makes the game better - it is more like buying a hotel for Boardwalk in Monopoly, you do it because it looks or feels cool. Don't get me wrong - some of those upgrades or accessories do make the games better. Sometimes upgraded bits vs tokens help players see at a glance when the guy across the table has a pile of yellow things instead of a stack of tokens with art you can't quite discern and which might be more than one type of thing. Sometimes that box organizer doubles as a bits tray that makes setup and passing bits around in the game much faster. A MAGO will often justify upgrades as "making the game better or faster or easier to play".
So how does a MAGO justify sleeving cards in their games? Well, this MAGO says it depends (he also says it make the games better when he does). First off, I am do not sleeve the cards to a game like Tichu, Mu, Parade or Arboretum. A single deck of cards that should be getting worn evenly? That's ok, no need to sleeve those. And not all games that have cards as one of the components need sleeving either. Games like Agricola have a lot of cards, but the cards are not being handled constantly, shuffled and re-used in such a way that some wear on a couple makes any appreciable difference in the game. What about say - Concordia? Each player has a set of cards that they reuse constantly through the game. Well, that's true, but the cards aren't a secret - nothing is being given away to the advantage of another player if one player color has a slightly more worn set of cards.
In contrast, a game like Race for the Galaxy provides a number of really valid reasons why you might want to sleeve all the cards. First, the player action cards are secret and they get used a lot. You don't want another player to be able to figure out what card you are going to play based on any wear or mark a card may have received from "aggressive handling". Ok you say - I'll give you sleeving the player action cards for RftG, but ALL of the cards? Yep, there is a valid reason why you might want to sleeve all of the cards. If I knew that I was only going to ever buy and play just the base set of RftG, then sleeving the cards would probably just be a waste of time and money (except for the player action cards). For example, San Juan (which is in a lot of ways a different theme'd RftG) was never sleeved in my collection. The cards were worn. No big deal. Except that in the case of RftG, we know there are expansions. If I buy the base game and play it until there is wear on the cards, then I mix in a set of expansion cards and those cards are all shiny and new - knowing the top card of the deck is new (and thus from the expansion) can influence player choices.
Newer games, these days, don't generally have this particular issue I'm going to mention - but some editions and printings between older base games and the expansions have cards that have different texture/finishes and sometimes the colors on the backs don't match. The original Thunderstone game was HORRIBLE in this way and the only way to effectively hide the differences in not only the wear, but the very different cards themselves was to sleeve them.
And this is the camp I fall into. If a game has cards that can give away information due to wear or differences because of printings, then I will tend to want to sleeve the cards. BUT - I'm selective about it. As an example, take Eldritch Horror. For EH, I have sleeved all the large cards (in clear sleeves). FFG prints a lot of cards for sooooo many games that you don't typically see differences in printings/expansions, but I did want to avoid early parts of the game looking worn in comparison to later expansions. I did not sleeve the mini cards though. Even though you randomly get conditions or spells or whatever, you really don't handle the cards much and I didn't want to add all of the extra thickness to the storage of these cards. I'm also comfortable enough in my MAGO-self to admit: EH does not need to be sleeved. The cards are of good enough quality and are not handled enough for wear to be an issue. I looked it up on BGG
and there are 1323 large cards if you have all the expansions for EH. At $3 per 50 for decent card sleeves, you save an additional $80 by not sleeving this game ($80 which can be spent on buying wooden heart and brain token upgrades so you don't have to use the cardboard ones, and on filament to 3D print gate stands and card racks to hold the cards).
I am still going to sleeve cards for games that both have expansions and get a lot of handling such as Marvel Legendary, Pathfinder ACG, and LCGs like Arkham Horror. You just handle and shuffle the cards enough that I don't want there to be differences as I add cards. I just don't like knowing that the next card I could draw is definitely a new card that is probably more powerful than the older dreck. That doesn't mean you
need to do the same - again, these are your games, do whatever you like with them.
I will make just one plea to you all - if you are going to sleeve, please don't use penny sleeves. Those are just tacky. I don't even know what kind of statement you are trying to make using that crap. I want to protect my investment, but not really? Games are expensive, but I'm cheap? I like Dominion? Sorry, I just don't get the penny sleeve. If you are going to sleeve, buy some decent ones.