Last Game of Gen Con: Suitcase Tetris

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Gen Con Haul
My Gen Con haul before and after consolidation. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s Sunday morning: there’s still half a day left of Gen Con, but you’ve gotta check out of your hotel by noon. Fortunately, most of the hotels have a place where you can check your bags after you’re out of your room, but that still means you need to get everything to fit into the suitcases. It’s time for a little game I like to call Suitcase Tetris.

First off: the game of Suitcase Tetris actually begins well before Sunday morning. It starts with what you bring with you. For that, there are three key things that I brought with me to Gen Con:

  1. Portable luggage scale
  2. Bubble wrap
  3. Empty space
Luggage Scale
Easily check if your bag is overweight. 20 pounds? Heck, I can put 30 more pounds into this one. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

I bought this Balanzza digital luggage scale years ago, and, while I don’t use it for every trip, I do keep it handy if I’m using a large suitcase or planning to come back with more things than I brought with me. There are a number of different types available, but they all work about the same way: you hold the scale in one hand, hook it up to your suitcase, and lift. The digital readout tells you how many more pounds of cardboard and wooden bits you can shove into the suitcase before the airline charges you extra.

Suitcases packed
I used bubble wrap in the big suitcase to reduce weight and protect the big boxes. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I took some bubble wrap with me last year and decided to do it again this year. Sure, you can wrap boxes in clothing, but for a 4-day convention I didn’t have that much clothing so there were a lot more boxes than T-shirts. The bubble wrap actually goes along with #3 on the list: empty space. Because my airline actually included up to two checked bags for free, I took one big suitcase and two small suitcases. Almost all of my stuff actually fit into one small suitcase, so I Russian-dolled it into the large suitcase and checked that. Then I filled my carry-on with bubble wrap (and one more game) and took that on the plane with me.

On the way back, I was able to pack the games in the three suitcases, balancing the weight distribution and box sizes. Now, I can’t really help you as much here–you’ll just have to use your Tetris skills as well as you can. However, keep in mind that the larger boxes are most prone to dishing (where the center of the box gets squashed in) and watch what you put next to or on top of them. Also, you’ll want to protect corners that are close to an outside edge of the suitcase–pad with clothing or bubble wrap. I was pleased to get home with just a minor corner ding on one box.

Codenames box
The Codenames box has a cardboard divider–flattening it out makes room for other game components. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

It’s not just the suitcases that can be nested, though. For the games I took with me, I consolidated and left several of the boxes at home (as you can see from the yellow highlighted section in the photo at the very top of the post). I also got rid of some non-crucial components: for instance, for Evolution I didn’t bring the food bags, the big first player token, and the Watering Hole board. Putting game components into other boxes where there’s room also saves you space.

On the way home, of course, you’ll probably want the boxes, but if you have time you can consolidate a little. Many of the boxes have a lot of empty space in them. Depending on the game, you can punch out cardboard tokens and throw away the sheets, saving both space and weight. (In some cases, though, the cardboard sheets may help protect the box or other components, so use your best judgment there.) Cardboard inserts, like the one for Codenames pictured above, can be unfolded and flattened out. I moved the Codenames cards into another box (shown below), and then put King’s Gold and some bagged components into the box, filling it up. Filling up a box not only saves you suitcase space, but also makes it less likely that the box will get crushed.

Letter Tycoon
Letter Tycoon’s plastic insert had enough room for Codenames inside. Photos: Jonathan H. Liu

For games with a plastic insert, there’s a different trick. You can take out the tray, try to arrange things in the box, and then drop the insert back in. Or, you can turn the whole insert over–particularly if all the bits are still shrink-wrapped. Lift out the insert, turn the box upside down, put it over the insert until it’s snug, and then flip the whole thing upside down. Now you’ve got all sorts of little nooks and crannies to fit game components. In the box for Quantum I even managed to fit entire card game boxes in the empty spaces of the insert.

I was pleased to get everything to fit into two of the three suitcases on Sunday morning, giving me one empty carry-on suitcase to take with me to the exhibit hall for my Sunday acquisitions. Having the other two completely packed let me know exactly how much room I had left before I needed to quit collecting games.

Of course, if your airline charges you extra for checked bags, you may have to go another route entirely: shipping your games home. Fortunately, there are plenty of places in the convention center and hotels that will ship games home. But you’ll probably want to take advantage of those well before Sunday morning, when everyone is scrambling to do the same. Hopefully, though, by using these packing tips, you can save a little on shipping and get just a few more things into your carry-on luggage.

Suitcase Tetris won’t be the most exciting game you’ll play at the con, but it might be the most important, so play it well!

Get the Official GeekDad Books!