To Sleeve or not to Sleeve…

So this is a subject that most of us have probably wrestled with, at some point, during our board gaming life. I’m sure plenty of you out there already have your own rules on how to go about sleeving your games. For some, it will be the first thing you do, while others will no doubt prefer the tactile sensation of the cards in their natural, unsleeved form. In reality, it’s going to come down to personal choice and there is really no right or wrong answer. That said, for those of you out there still undecided on whether you should be sleeving your board gaming investments, here are a few things to consider.

Firstly, lets look at the cost. If we consider the premium quality sleeves, well, they aren’t all that cheap. Typically sold in packs of fifty you are usually going to need more than one pack to sleeve the average game. Deck builders will often have well over two hundred cards and sometimes many more. You can expect to spend the cost of another game, or at least an expansion, in sleeving a larger deck builder with several hundred cards. Buying in bulk will help bring the cost down, but it’s still a heafty investment to get your collection sleeved!

So at this point you’re probably thinking that instead of the higher cost premium sleeves you could use those cheap and cheerful ‘penny sleeves’. While these sleeves may have their uses for some circumstances, I would not recommend them. They are incredibly thin and very uncomfortable to handle. You’ll find them frustraiting to shuffle or stack and they simply won’t stand up to any long term gaming. For board games with a limited number of cards, that don’t see much handling, the cheaper options will do the job. Typically though, I’d recommend going down the premium route if you are looking to sleeve your games.

So what are your options? Well, Board game cards tend to come in all shapes and sizes, but I’ll break them down into two ‘general’ sizes. These are ‘standard’ cards and will be the typical size of most deck builders and the same size as you would find for collectible card games such as Magic The Gathering. The other size is more unique but we’ll refer to them as ‘board game sleeves’ for now. Usually this will mean ‘Standard American’ sleeves but there are also ‘European’ along with a slew of mini or unique sized cards out there.

When dealing with standard sized cards, you’ll find your options are many and varied. The style and colour will be customisable and there will be several brands you can choose from. Some of the most popular brands include Fantasy Flight and my personal favourite Ultra Pro. Premium brands like these will not only offer a thick, durable protective sleeve but you will also find the cards easy to handle and manipulate. Going with a matte backing on your sleeves will really add to the overall feel and grip of your cards. Shuffling and drawing cards will be smooth and easy and using coloured backs will give a clean look to your decks. You can also go with clear finishes to allow the back of the card art to show through.

When dealing with the more unique board game size sleeves, our options are a little more limited. Typically we will have simple clear finish sleeves with more limited options on style. MayDay offer a great selection of premium sleeves that cater for most card sizes, including unique one off sizes, and come in at a competetive price. These tend to be a little less fun to shuffle and stack as they are often a smoother finish. That said, their premium quality are clean and clear and will offer a great level of protection to your cards. Usually games with these sized cards are not reliant on the regular shuffling and drawing of cards like deck builders are, so you will mostly be looking for something durable and clean. MayDay premium sleeves do the job perfectly. Arcane Tinmen are also worth a look and have an impressive range.

Arcane Tinmen make awesome sleeves!

Along with the obvious cost of sleeving cards, its also important to look at some of the other negative impacts your sleeving may have on your board games. Firstly, it’s worth noting you are changing the overall feel of the cards. If you are a tactile person who enjoys the feel of your cards, be aware that this will change when your cards are sleeved. Personally speaking I do enjoy handling both sleeved and unsleeved cards, and when using premium sleeves, both have a nice touch and feel to them. I find basic shuffling simpler and more effective with premium matte sleeves but I can’t have nearly as much fun riffle shuffling and cutting a sleeved deck as I can with an unsleeved deck. That said, I’m not sure many people would approve of you riffle shuffling their shiny new cards, so make sure you only do it with your own games!

Along with the cost of sleeving and the tactile change there is the practical consideration of size. It seems all to obvious to make this point, but it is often forgotten. When you sleeve a set of cards, you are increasing their footprint by a fairly significant margin. It’s very likely if the game box has an insert that this insert will be designed for cards in their unsleeved form. You may have to rethink your storage options after sleeving and this can further add to the overall cost.

While there are drawbacks, sleeving your cards is a great way to add protection and take care of your board game investments. Board games are not cheap or easily replaced and accidents can and will happen. I run a board game club and sleeve the majority of my games. I am lucky to have a good group of considerate members who take care of each others games, but continued use will still take its toll. Popular deck builders can see regular play and constant shuffling. It won’t take long until the edges of cards start to lose their colour and fray a little. There’s also the inevitable accidents to consider. Whether that is from heavy handed use, or cards being dropped or picked up clumsiliy, you will see added damage to individual cards over time. Sleeving will go a long way to protecting your valuable investments and is well worth consideration. There’s nothing worse than damaging cards from your favourite out of print game!

Overall it’s still very much a personal choice and will likely depend on your own gaming habits and style. If you are careful with your games and don’t get to play them as often as you’d like, then sleeving might be an unneccessary added expense. If, however, you are constantly hammering your favourite deck builder with your friends, then investing in some good quality card sleeves is probably much more of a necessity.

So what’s the verdict? Are you in the sleeved or unsleeved camp? Let me know what you think!




2 thoughts on “To Sleeve or not to Sleeve…”

  1. Brilliantly written and very informative article. 75% of my board games are sleeved. The 25% that are not are either purely card games or remain non sleeved so as to fit in the box. 😉

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for commenting, really appreciate it. Sounds like you have just about the same sleeving habits as me! 🙂

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