Should You "Spine" Your Games?

Should You "Spine" Your Games?

Most game stores spine games. Some game stores spine all of their games. Should they? First, let’s define “spining,” and then let’s talk about whether it has a place in your store.

“Spining” is defined as displaying board games vertically with only the outer edge of the game box visible for browsing. Think about books on a shelf in the library where only the spines of the books are visible. From this point on I’m going to stop putting quotation marks around the word “spining” every time I write it, saving me a ton of keystrokes. Goodbye, carpal tunnel!

Hey, I spine my games at home! And we’ve all seen eight thousand videos with YouTuber’s standing in front of their collection of spined games. Spining makes sense for a personal collection because I’m guessing you know the games in your library. If not, you may have a hoarding problem.

But does it make sense in a retail store? I’ll give you some reasons why you shouldn’t do it, and I’ll give you one area where you can.

First, let’s start with the reasons you shouldn’t spine game in a retail store.

  1. Publishers paid good money to commission artwork for the cover of their game, and you’re hiding it. A cover tells you more about a game than a two and a half-inch box edge filled with text ever could. Sure, sometimes cover art is misleading, but if the cover is visible, your customers will have a better idea what a game is about without taking every game off the shelf, guessing from the limited sidebox information, or getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of games in your store. Publishers pay to make their games look enticing and marketable. They are doing half of the work for you, and you’re throwing it away.
  2. Have you ever noticed that big-box retailers never spine their board games? I know I’m going to catch heat for this one. Rule number one for board game retailers, never mention big-box retailers or the internet. Either way, there’s a reason Target doesn’t spine board games. It’s because junk laying on its side doesn’t sell as well as product presented well. You don’t want your customers getting lost and frustrated. It’s your job to make it easy for your customers to purchase something, and sending them on a treasure hunt usually doesn’t work. The hunting process only works for bargain shoppers. In that case, hide your clearance at the back of the store, and let them go wild.
  3. Spined board games are overwhelming to new customers. Especially folks that are new to the hobby. Imagine going to a library after discovering the concept of books for the first time. It might be a bit daunting, and that’s exactly what you’re doing to your customer. Welcoming new customers is a great way to make more money, so don’t waste or ignore them. Overwhelmed customers won’t take the time to ask for help and will probably leave without buying.
Some of you may be thinking, “That’s amazing Doug, but there are too many games! I don’t have that kind of space.” You’re right, there are too many games out there, but that doesn’t mean you need to carry them all, so be more selective. It’s possible to sell more copies of fewer games than a couple of copies of more games. Not to mention the overhead of managing eight thousand part numbers, training employees, and stickering product.


I want to create a thought experiment to help you narrow down the number of games you carry. What kind of customers do you attract? Are you trying to sell family games or complex strategy games? Do you want to sell more kids games or focus entirely on party games? Do most of your customers play CCGs or miniatures games? Sure you can sell all of these, but can you sell all of these well? What if you picked a focus? What if you were selective in the games you brought in so everyone on your staff could explain every game you carry at a moment’s notice?

But what if we miss out on the next big hit? If your store misses out on a great game the first time around pick it up on the second printing or third. If it’s a great game, it will stay in print.

The thing is, with thousands of games coming out each year, a lot of solid games fall through the cracks. Just because some games aren’t on the BoardGameGeek Hotness list, doesn’t mean they’re terrible. There are millions of people that think Monopoly is the pinnacle of game design, and have no idea our world exists. The worst games released each year are still better than most of the mass market games we grew up with.

So, is there ever a time when it’s okay to spine a game? Yes, in one instance. Complex strategy games. If your customers are playing complex strategy games, there is an excellent possibility they know what they are looking for and are familiar with the games available. First-time gamers don’t jump from Uno to Food Chain Magnate or from Ticket to Ride to 18xx. That being said, keeping the cover visible for strategy games you’re highlighting still makes sense for the reasons mentioned above.

I know some of you may dismiss this concept right away, but I encourage you to think about it and take another look. Make sure you know WHY you are doing WHAT you’re doing. It’s easy to get swallowed by the mountain of releases each week, but if you know your focus, it’s easier to disqualify games before they even come into your store. Fewer games mean more covers and more covers mean more sales. Let that beautiful art help you sell more of less and keep your store inviting and less like a sweaty dorm room.

Doug Doug Kotecki is the Chief Curator at Tabletop Game Gallery, and even though his brain tells him not to, he still loves Taco Bell.

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