No Rubber Bands: Preserving Game Cards

Rubber bands are the enemy of board game and card game paper cards.

It’s happened to anyone who has ever bought a vintage board or card game from an antiques dealer, a thrift store or a yard sale: You open the box, the contents are complete and organized as promised . . . but there’s something wrong with the cards.

Most commonly, you’ll find the cards wrapped tightly with a rubber band to keep them from sloshing around in the box. But that rubber band—which might even be older than the game itself—has dry-rotted to a hardened crust and stuck to the delicate paper of the cards, tearing them or leaving a nasty residue. Or the edges of the cards might be notched or damaged by the pressure of the rubber band. This is particularly an issue with older games that had uncoated or untreated paper or thin cardstock cards.

In short, don’t use rubber bands to organize a board game, particularly if it’s a collector’s piece that won’t be regularly played and the rubber bands replaced regularly.

Clear card sleeves; colors and tacky fantasy artwork varieties also available.

Cards are one of the most fragile components in a board game, let alone a game where cards may be the only material. It’s easy to forget that board and card games are paper products and that many of the same issues of preservation that collectors of ephemera and paper goods deal with also apply. Humidity is an enemy, as are termites, other moisture sources and general wear and tear. But game cards are a very specific sort of item that is not as easily archived or stored as greeting cards, postcards or business cards. The usual archival solutions, such as sports-card binder pages, are impractical for this purpose and archival envelopes don’t make the grade either. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions available to keep you from going the office supply route to keep your cards together and to protect them from getting damaged either in storage or more importantly, through handling and play.

Card sleeves, commonly used to protect sports cards, entered into the hobby gaming world after the popularity of collectible card games such as Magic: The Gathering in the mid-1990s. These small plastic sleeves fit snugly over a card and still allow for it to be used and handled without damaging the card. For Magic players who might be playing with a deck of cards worth a thousand dollars or more in total, this kind of protection was essential to preserve condition and value.

A typical deck box.

For many years, there were really only two sizes of card sleeves available- one sized to fit a standard baseball card and another slightly smaller one made to fit Japanese card games like Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon. For most applications, these two sizes can be used to protect any kind of standard-sized card. Over the past couple of years, many European and American game manufacturers have used a much smaller sized card and until just recently there wasn’t a sleeve for them. Now, card sleeves are available in a range of sizes to fit most game cards and since they’re less than five dollars for a pack of 50, they’re a good investment to keep cards clean, neat, and protected from either the elements or greasy hands. The downside to card sleeves is that the sleeves in aggregate actually make decks of cards larger, which may be an issue in boxes where space is limited or where vacuu-form plastic inserts are not sized to accommodate them.

Card boxes, another solution borrowed from the sports card scene, are another option if you’re looking to store and not necessarily play with cards. There are a wide range of card boxesavailable including cardboard “long box” style ones that offer a cheap but sometimes bulky option and small “deck box” style ones developed originally for collectible card game players to store and protect a single deck of cards. Some deck boxes are sized to fit sleeved cards. The problem with deck boxes is that they tend to be too large to fit inside a board game box, but they can be a very convenient way to store loose cards or even complete card games.

We currently believe Hugo’s Amazing Tape can be used to wrap cards without danger, but we’ll know for sure in 30 years. You can also use this to wrap around game boxes to keep them closed.

But if you’re still looking for a way to hold cards together that isn’t a rubber band, there is a product called Hugo’s Amazing Tape that is indispensible. Made by a sewing supply company, Amazing Tape is an adhesive-less plastic tape that sticks only to itself and it can be reused indefinitely. So you cut off a strip of it, wrap it around a deck of cards, and you’re done. You can even write on the tape with a marker if you need to. It’s a brilliant, multi-purpose product that just happens to have a great application for hobby and collectible games. The problem is that no one has used this product and left a deck of cards in a game box for thirty years yet to see if there may be any kind of deterioration or other ill effects, but it’s definitely one of the best solutions available today.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.


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  1. Bill Castle says:

    My biggest pet peeve with games and other paper items, especially in antiques stores, is price tags. All too often, they have a permanent adhesive made to hold into the item for years to come, and they don’t want to come off without taking a layer of paper with them. Goo Gone will remove them, but will probably interact with the paper or ink. I consider this to be worse than the yard saler writing the price on the box. Someone in a store should know better.

    I’ve used masking tape on items I hope to move or relabel quickly. In general, if I can’t put a string tag on it, I just don’t label the price.

  2. Paul Owen says:

    My name is Paul, and I am a rubber-bander.

    I know I’m not supposed to. Gamers at tournaments have scolded me when they see how I store my cards. I am weak.

    Thanks for the great advice. I’ll try to incorporate some of these ideas – particularly for the games I care most about and/or seldom get to the table.