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Let's say you want to play a longish board game over the course of several days. For many games this is a fairly unwise idea that entails a bunch of problems. Among them: People are going to bump into the table. Cats are going to sit on the board. The pieces are going to get shifted around. How can you prevent this? How can you make those pieces stay put?

The issue arose for me because I'm designing a game intended to be played in this long-term fashion. But I think the issue has applications for lots of gamers, especially those who play with their families, partners, or housemates. So I'd like to explore options that can be applied to existing games, either by modifying the original game elements or by building a custom set with readily available materials.

This question is concerned with fixing pieces or tokens in place on a single flat board, to the exclusion of the many other complications that this style of play will create depending on the game. However, most any game played in this manner is going to involve some recordkeeping between sessions, so when you get back to the game you'll know whose turn it is or what phase you're in the middle of. You could preserve a board's state by folding it into this recordkeeping task, either by writing down all the necessary information or by taking a picture of the board so you can reconstruct it later. Besides being no fun at all, this method could be prohibitively complex for games with enough objects on the board. So this is a last resort (or, not really a solution).

There are travel editions of many games that fix pieces in place either with magnets or with friction (popping little plastic pieces into a plastic frame). I don't know how I'd create or modify a game board to use either of these methods, short of painting a Pandemic map onto a baking sheet. There might be a more practical method I haven't thought of.

The other idea that occurred to me was adhesive. For certain types of game piece, an attractive option is replacing them with tabbie-sized Post-it notes. For certain other types of game piece (like player tokens that have to be visibly unique and moved around often) sticky tabs don't work as well.

What's the best method for preserving the physical state of pieces on a game board?

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  • Get a custom table with a recessed playing area and a "dining topper" such as those sold by boardgametables.com - the felt surface should help keep things from sliding around too much. – The Chaz 2.0 Jun 4 '20 at 13:44
  • I would probably take a picture instead of trying to keep all the small pieces in place. – Styxsksu Jan 12 at 16:47
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Use an acrylic or polycarbonate overlay designed to fit over the game board, with fitted slots that the individual pieces fit in.

One example is an official expansion for Azul called "Crystal Mosaic." The overlay itself is shown below:

enter image description here

Here is the overlay in use:

enter image description here

An overlay isn't going to solve every possible scenario, but in my anecdotal experience, the main thing here (which is not exclusive to long gaming sessions) is that someone accidentally jostles the board or table and pieces move. This overlay may solve that. Plus, it is apparently cheap enough to manufacture that the above Azul expansion is being sold for about 10 US dollars at time of writing.

This answer assumes nothing about copyrights associated with such a solution - if the plan was to market such a thing as Azul's publisher did (in 2020)

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    I think that would still be subject to pieces moving around if the table gets bumped or if cats sit on the board as in the question. – Joe W Jun 3 '20 at 16:30
  • This is a very attractive approach, but the answer would be much more helpful if it provided suggestions for applying the technique to other games. – Ryan Veeder Jun 3 '20 at 17:27
  • @JoeW I feel like this solution could be (almost) cat-proof if you combined it with laying a towel over the board when it isn't in use. – Ryan Veeder Jun 3 '20 at 17:30
  • @JoeW I can only assume that the design philosophy of Crystal Mosiac was, "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." on Amazon, they market it as a solution "to keep tiles from being accidentally bumped out of place."@ryan-veeder Unattended cats at the gaming table are as unsolvable an issue as unattended kids – Chris Jun 3 '20 at 17:30
  • It seems to me a bump against the table could still knock things out of place with that setup. In my opinion I don't think that is for keeping things in place long term but more for making it easier to keep things lined up while playing also as Ryan Veeder said this is a setup for a fairly specific type of game and game pieces which won't work for a lot of games. – Joe W Jun 3 '20 at 18:31

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