We see if the dream of receiving surprise board games through the post is as good as it sounds
With subscription boxes now covering everything from vinyl records (one offering even includes tailor-paired cocktail recipes) and makey-doey crafts to the materials required for pagan rituals (seriously) and bacon, just bacon, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s taken so long for a monthly board game offering to pop up in the UK. (Overseas competitor Board Game Bento doesn’t ship outside of the US, presumably because of the heavy shipping fees involved.)
Board Game Crate first sprung up late last year and is still a decidedly homemade contrast to the custom-made boxes and impressive contents of big-fish geek boxes such as Loot Crate.
The Board Game Crate itself is a flattish plain box sealed with a custom sticker, while each month’s games – at least in the January and February boxes that we received – are cradled loosely in on-brand purple crepe paper.
The delivery and format are still clearly gestating – the first box contained little more than a slip with a ‘invite your friends’ code and request to spread the word on social media, while the second came with a full side of A4 with some details on the contents, such as the games’ BoardGameGeek rating, RRP, play time and number of players. A much-needed addition.
As for the contents, January’s crate was a notable letdown. There is the opportunity to register your BGG games library to attempt to avoid clashes, but we left our profile blank to experience a cold introduction.
Sadly, the box also left us cold, with two lacklustre titles – dream-weaving dice-roller Morpheus and fantasy adventure card game Tavern’s Tales – from the same designer and studio, plus Zombie Fluxx (who doesn’t own at least two variations of Fluxx by now?) and a small bag of Haribo (included in every crate). Certainly not worth the £30 to £40 monthly subscription fee in either quality or diversity.
February’s crate brought us back around on the idea, containing the bigger-box ‘shufflebuilder’ Smash Up by Paul Peterson, the playing card-sized Kickstarter title Game of Blame, a pair of custom meeples and – yes – a bag of Haribo. A massive improvement on the previous month.
The info sheet suggested that the combined RRP of the games was in excess of £40 but, given that Smash Up came out five years ago, it can be picked up for close to a tenner under its original £34 price. Still, the quality of the titles was far higher than in January, offering the expected mixture of a more recognisable release with a lesser-known side dish for something fresh. The meeples – decorated to resemble Cupid (for Valentine’s Day) and a clown (because of, erm, all those clowns scaring people?) – are useful and a nice little extra, but are also decidedly ugly.
On paper, Board Game Crate is a concept worth supporting – an effortless way of keeping your gaming fandom burning bright by exposing new and interesting tabletop experiences every month without the need to dig through reviews, sift through the mountains of latest releases or hunt down the Kickstarter darlings you might have missed.
In practice, it doesn’t quite live up to the promise due to inconsistent game quality and value – if you sign up, be prepared to grit your teeth through at least a few disappointing months – but the signs of improvement are clearly there.
Still, there’s a certain homegrown charm and appeal to the erratic service that would be lost if all of the games were obvious mainstream hits and the crinkled crepe paper was replaced by a custom-designed flawless package.
Board Game Crate’s hit-and-miss ratio still needs some fine-tuning when it comes to the contents of each box – especially given the not inconsiderate monthly cost – but there is an undeniable sense of homeliness and excitement to the idea of discovering unfamiliar gems that will hopefully reward those willing to support the still-merging and fast-improving service.
Price: £37.99 (one month), £99.99 (three months), £194.99 (six months), £379.99 (12 months)
This review originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.