Formats - Boxes and Mounted Counters 

Tracing the Evolution of SPI Game Formats

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Chapter 4: Flat Packs -  The Creation of an Icon

SPI explosive growth brought the problems with the White Box into sharp focus. Less than a year after its introduction, SPI' s 'White Box' was actually dragging down their growth!  "Because of our numerous run-ins with the paper shortage, larger-than-expected-increase-in business, and sundry production problems, we were out of boxes for about one-third of the time these past seven months. This meant that many orders got backed up."

That's a heavy penalty when your are trying to keep a company afloat!  

It was a problem that had to be solved - because SPI had decided their future lay in retail, and that demanded boxed games that could be displayed on a shelf. The white box was NOT marketing friendly. Plain white boxes with no pictures do not sell product. But coupled with the fact that moving into retail would require a massive boost in inventory - 50,000 boxes - and it was obvious in the days of a paper shortage this box was completely unsuited for the work.

Thus, less than a year after the introduction of the 'Standard Game Box' SPI blazed a completely new trail, creating the packaging most older SPI gamers see as the 'iconic' SPI game box.

Announced: Strategy & Tactics 39

Outgoing Mail column, July / August 1973

In announcing the move to retail, Dunnigan stated, "What you'll get will be our usual games. But in addition you'll get the most efficient and utilitarian game container on the market. Below is a picture of our new game box.


"The new box costs a bit more than the old one (the plastic tray and the white cardboard covering) but it is lighter for shipping. Considerably lighter than the original box with the corrugate filler. The box is almost 100% utilitarian. The base is a counter sorter and storage container. The clear plastic compartment covers are used only to keep the counters in. The clear plastic cover is used to keep the game components in place. The only 'packaging' aspect is the colored 'front sheet' which goes directly underneath the clear plastic cover. The front sheet is actually cheaper than the red and white label we used on the older white boxes.

"Compared to the cost of other game boxes, this new plastic box is very economical. The plastic tray base has chip-board on the bottom
to give the entire package rigidity. The boxes are best stored flat, although they can be stored on their sides. Counter 'leakage' occurs only when tile box is turned upside down and moved around. Even at that, the leakage is minimal."

Left: The SPI Flatpack makes its debut in early 1973.

Complete list here Full List





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The Flatpack is the culmination of the counter tray designed to slide INSIDE  the Standard Game Box Mk I.5, announced last chapter.  But this package is a great leap forward in gaming, where Avalon Hill still provided good looking boxes, but no counter trays.  And the unique look masked a utilitarian box that was a perfect innovation for SPI: It still allowed quick assembly, and the extra large cover sheets were certainly eye-catching!

Right: The compartments of the flat pack allowed games to be organized for fast setup, but securely held in place!








Below: Any game could go into a flatpack, with the addition of the distinct coversheet fitting beneath the plastic cover!




And this was important, because the step into retail was a huge one for SPI. Here is the 'business model' as laid out in the same article:

" 'Going retail' is quite a departure for us. It is dictated mainly by the fact that so many of you (50%) don't use mail order. We could continue to do quite well with just direct mail, but we'd continue to get complaints (as we always have) concerning the unavailability of our games in stores. Because of the price structure of selling games retail we only end up with about $0.60 gross profit on a six dollar game sold in a store. The game sold through the mail leaves us with close to three dollars."

That's a lot of money to invest to trade a 50% profit for a 10% profit!

Would it pay off?

SPI, always strapped cash, would still do well for many more years. The Flat Pact would survive until July of 1978, when it was finally traded for a box. Five years seems to argue the gamble of going for retail worked!   

Complete List of known Flat Pack formats here: Full List

Next Chapter: The arrival of the Quad - and four color game maps!  Next


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This site was last updated 12/11/19