Meeple Realty’s Gloomhaven Insert Review

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I finally did it. I’d held out a long time, content with plastic baggies and ad hoc organization. But Gloomhaven was too much for me. There were too many cards, too many bits, and I could never get the box shut all the way. The pain of organizing and reorganizing all of those pieces was making me avoid the game, and I didn’t want to avoid it! It’s a brilliant game and I want to play it all the time.

So I bit the bullet, did a bit of research, and bought my first custom insert. Apparently the mother of them, because boy was it expensive. I chose the cheapest one from a major brand and it was still $60 plus shipping. But I had convinced myself that this was the only option. The baggies, for once, weren’t going to be enough. Plus, the insert looked really cool.

After spending a couple of serene hours making sure it was assembled properly and another hour organizing all of the bits into all of their individual little places, I finally have a completed Gloomhaven storage solution. It looks nice and so far has helped with setup and teardown of the game. But was it worth the time and money? I don’t know. Let’s look at the details.

The Product

After a bit of research I settled on the Meeple Realty insert, mostly because it was cheaper, though the fact that it’s the “official licensed insert” didn’t hurt. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with that. The package was simple–all of the wooden boards cut and shrink-wrapped together with some basic assembly instructions stapled together on the bottom. The instructions were mostly clear and I didn’t have many problems with the installation, though I had kind of hoped that they would provide more help and advice on how to use the insert. You only get the bare-bones here.

Assembling everything took between 2-3 hours, though I imagine it could be significantly shorter for wooden insert veterans. I didn’t glue anything together because all of the pieces fit in quite snugly–the level of precision they achieved on sizing all of the pieces is impressive. Getting the pieces punched out was another matter, though. I ended up getting a utility knife to help me cut out some particularly troublesome pieces, and I’m glad I made that purchase, because despite my best efforts I had to trim off excess bits of wood on essentially every piece I punched. There’s no getting around some splinters breaking off frequently, which didn’t bother me, but might bother more anal assemblers. I used the knife sort of as a razor for the wood, gliding it along the edges and trimming off the bits that stuck out. Sandpaper would have worked equally well. I also used a hammer to tap in some particularly annoying bits towards the end on the enemy standee organizer.

All in all the assembly was longer than I had anticipated, but I enjoy this kind of thing and found it relaxing. Except punching out the pieces. I always felt like they were going to snap on me and I wish there was a way to make the perforations smaller for easier punching. Also, a couple of times I shaved some wood off the insert to make a tray lid less snug.

The Pieces

Character Pack Box and Minis Box

They’re simple boxes to hold all of the Gloomhaven character stuff. They function as boxes. I’m not sure what else there is to say. I suppose it’s kind of odd that the minis box has the cool etching on it that says “Gloomhaven Town” but it’s stored on its side in the bottom of the box. You’d think they’d design that to sit on top, so it greets you when you open the box. I think there were a lot of sub-optimal decisions made here for spatial reasons. I’ll get to this more later, but the insert is designed so that you always store the minis and character things in their original boxes, something I’m not a fan of.

Enemies Box

This was the most difficult to assemble, but one of my favorites. Each of the non-boss enemies has their own space and the lid shows you exactly where they are. There are holes underneath so you can poke your finger through to help push out the pieces. Ideally I’d have liked a setup that didn’t require reaching underneath the container to get the pieces out, but I imagine that would have take up a lot more space. As it is it’s space efficient and very useful.

Map Overlay Box

Another solid insert item that holds all of the random map overlay pieces that aren’t hexagons or double-hexagons. It doesn’t have the holes underneath like the monster box, but it doesn’t need them. Everything is clearly marked and stored well.

Terrain Box

This one is better in theory than it is in practice. The box is designed with slats underneath running lengthwise that allow hexagonal pieces to fit in nicely. The problem with that is that there’s no flat bottom and therefore no snug piece for the sides to fit into. This has resulted in the side walls bowing out and displacing the dividers and generally causing mayhem. I think I’m going to have to glue the dividers into the sides in order to give this one structural stability, because every time I try to put this away or take it out the dividers start to come loose and mess up the organization

Card Box

This is very nicely done and provides a ton of room for all of the cards in the game. Maybe too much room? I don’t know how I’m supposed to fill this up. The problem with this, like with the tuck boxes box, is that I don’t want to separate out the bits for my character after each game. It’s cumbersome to take the mini, put it in its own box, take the cards and put them in this box, and then take the other pieces and put them in a tuck box. Rather, we’ve been putting everything for each character in one plastic baggie. It’s simpler that way and I very much wish that the insert had some kind of solution for this built in. As it is, the insert is very good at putting each individual piece away, but it doesn’t consider how people want to set up and take down everything. Even when we’ve gone through more characters, I’m not sure how we’re going to fill that box. I suppose the extra room is for sleeved cards, which will delight the sleevers out there.

Bits Box

Another piece that works better in theory than practice, this box holds all of the coins, damage tokens, modifier pieces, and generally all of the non-monster cardboard pieces. It’s split into two parts–a tray for the smaller pieces, and an underneath container with a cool curve (like a cash register drawer) for smooth and easy bits-grabbing. When set up for play this is super convenient and I can feel how much time is being saved by having everything contained in its own space. However, the problem comes when trying to put it away. There’s a top piece that slides in horizontally to cover everything up tight, but it’s an absolute pain to operate.

The problem is that there’s very little vertical space in the bottom compartment to allow room for the top tray to fit all the way down. There’s also not enough vertical space to easily fit all of the modifier tokens snug enough to slide the top piece over them. You need to make a concerted effort to squeeze all of the pieces in efficiently to get the thing to close. It’s a very frustrating issue because the whole thing could have been solved by both compartments shifting up a millimeter or two each.

Miscellaneous Tray

The final piece is the most disappointing because it’s simply a tray in which to store everything else. This means it’s an open space to squeeze in the standee stands, monster cards, monster card holders, boss monster pieces, envelopes, and other miscellany. It’s not quite deep enough to hold all of the monster cards in one stack, which was a minor, but real, annoyance. I don’t like having everything splayed out like that, and even though it’s covered when everything is placed in the box, it’s something I need to be careful about when unpacking.

Concluding Thoughts

I do like Meeple Realty’s insert for Gloomhaven, and it is more convenient than no insert, but I feel like there were some oversights. It’s a luxury accessory, and I wish it felt like a luxury product in function more. There’s no doubt it looks great and the engraving and labeling of all of the pieces is a lifesaver, but in several aspects it doesn’t take into consideration ease of play.

First, it doesn’t allow you to have all of your character things in one location. This seems like such an oversight because I can’t imagine not having my character stuff in one spot. I want to be able to pull out one thing and have everything I need to play my character. If I were to use this insert as designed, I’d need to find my cards in the card tray, pull my mini out of its box from the minis box, and pull the tuck box out of the tuck box box to get the rest. Every time? That doesn’t make sense. So until I think of something more clever I’m simply keeping our character baggies outside of the box. Disappointing.

The second issue is how you’re supposed to unpack this thing. To access the pieces you need to play, you need to pull out the overview map and all of the large map tiles (which just sit on top of everything). Then you can start to remove the insert pieces. Everything’s great until you get to the final layer, which has the cards, the minis, the tuck boxes, and the hex-terrain. Out of all of those, the hex-terrain is the only one you really need to have on your table to play. How great would it have been to be able to keep 3 major pieces in the box at all times and only remove the pieces you need to set up individual scenarios? But the hex-terrain box is on its side and snugly squeezed in the corner. I can’t remove it by itself without risking damage to the cardboard box. Instead I have to remove, at a minimum, the minis box and very carefully try to remove the hex-terrain box from the corner it’s wedged into without causing it to explode.

How wonderful would an insert be for a game like Gloomhaven that recognizes that you don’t need to take all of the components out of the box in order to play? How wonderful would it be if it considered how people actually organize their pieces for ease of play?

Maybe I’m being too harsh on it. Creating an insert for this game is clearly a large geometrical challenge, and despite its enormous size, the Gloomhaven box is impressively space-efficient as it is. This is also my first custom insert and I might be setting my expectations too high.  But I feel like there had to be a better way to make the setup and teardown even more quick and easy. That said, the insert is beautiful and certainly has eased most of my anxieties over the logistics of Gloomhaven play.

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