13 July 2020 | 57 Comments
After I recently showed that Pendulum features 250+ plastic tokens, I heard a variety of opinions about my choice to use plastic instead of wood. Pendulum is already manufactured and will soon be available for preorder and fulfillment, but I value this type of feedback, and I wanted to explore the pros and cons of using plastic vs wood.
My primary reason for choosing plastic for Pendulum is that a few years ago, I heard some stories about games exported from China being turned away at port in Australia because the wood wasn’t fumigated. As you’ll see below, this is no longer a concern.
The greatest concern–and, ultimately, the greatest misconception–is about the environmental impact of plastic pieces. The fact is that manufacturing anything at scale in a factory has an impact on the environment. Wood, plastic, etc–you have machines and people creating waste. We have control over what we input into those factories, though, and Panda Game Manufacturing uses recycled plastic (repurposed wood is sometimes used, but it’s less common than the use of recycled plastic).
I understand that plastic is widely viewed as being worse for the environment than wood. Both have an impact based on their source (oil/coal for plastic, trees for wood), and both have a similar manufacturing output. However, wood biodegrades, while plastic does not. So our focus has been on reducing the amount of disposable plastic in our games, most notably shrink wrap.
Today I thought I’d do a side-by-side comparison of creating custom wooden and plastic tokens. I’m always trying to learn more about how to better serve our customers and the environment, so please note any information you’d like to add in the comments.
- Price: comparable in price to plastic
- Setup: minimal setup time/costs
- Speed: normal manufacturing speed
- Consistency: Even at scale, wooden tokens often have small variances in size, shape, and color, some of which is the result of the thickness of the paint on the tokens. This rarely matters, but it’s something to consider if you need the tokens to fit into specific slots (e.g., dual-layered player mats).
- Customization: At a significant added expense, wood tokens can be deluxified by adding silkscreen printing. Due to undercut constraints, wooden tokens can’t be as intricate as plastic tokens.
- Environment: Standard manufacturing impact on the environment–any factory has a carbon footprint. Panda uses pine and cherry wood for Viticulture, Scythe, and Wingspan; repurposed wood is sometimes used.
- Perception: It seems that gamers prefer wooden meeples and custom resources over plastic, but they generally don’t care about the composition of other shapes (cubes).
- Fumigation: Panda doesn’t fumigate their wood, as typical tokens are too small to contain bugs. Panda hasn’t had problems exporting games containing wood from China into Australia, and they can help with any required documents for import.
- Price: comparable in price to wood
- Setup: slightly longer setup time (due to mould making)
- Speed: normal manufacturing speed
- Consistency: Plastic offers high level of consistency in size and color, and it doesn’t break like wood can. However, plastic has thickness constraints–if you make it too thick, it can bend in the middle. So thicker plastic tokens are often multiple pieces glued together, and sometimes the mould lines are visible.
- Customization: Plastic tokens can be silkscreen printed, as well as pad printed and heat transferred. Shapes can be more intricate than laser cut wood, and the variety of different plastics offer weight and density options (at higher costs).
- Environment: standard manufacturing impact on the environment–but any factory has a carbon footprint. Panda reuses recycled plastic for their plastic components. A good point was made in the comments that because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, even though plastic tokens in games will hopefully remain in those games on shelves for many years, there will likely come a point in the distant future when most games end up in landfills. When that happens, plastic will have a worse impact on the environment than wood.
- Perception: It seems that gamers prefer plastic for detailed miniatures, but otherwise their either ambivalent or prefer wood (for custom meeples/resources). There are some exceptions to this, though–consider the texture and shape of the custom plastic eggs in Wingspan or the fancy shell tokens James Hudson recently showed from Tidal Blades Deluxe:
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if wood or plastic is a better fit for the tokens in your game. Hopefully these facts about the differences between the two materials are helpful for you, and as I mentioned above, if you have any facts to add, please do so in the comments.
Also read: A Few Manufacturing Secrets
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