SPI Game Boxes/Containers

Greg Costikyan has recorded online the major details of publication states of SPI games; what follows is a summary of his information regarding boxes, with photos of items in the webmaster's collection. The original article is located at this URL. SPI produced games as both stand alone titles and in their magazine, Strategy & Tactics (S&T).


The manila envelope was used for the earliest games sold by SPI, the Test Series Games. Even afterwards, some games such as Strike Force One did not have boxes produced for them.



Magazine games (in either Ares, the science-fiction magazine, or S&T) were released directly in the pages of the magazine itself. As noted above, counters were not mounted until issue 26 (and some back issues were released later with mounted counters made available retroactively), and the practice of making magazine games also available as boxed items did not commence until July 1973 (though not for all titles, and the practice was halted again in SPI's final months due to financial concerns). The method of combining the game and the magazine differed; some were bound directly into the magazine, others were simply inserted loosely, and some print runs had a mixture.

White Box

The first box introduced by SPI was a folded cardboard container released in September 1972 as standard for all games. The only differentiation between different games was a printed red label which was applied afterwards.

The boxes measured 12" x 15" x 7/8" and had a hinged flap. The inside of the flap was designed to hold mapsheets and rules folders/booklets and other flat game play aids (such as pads of plotting sheets, for example). The bottom of the box had recessed wells for holding counters, accessed by flaps which had die-cut finger holes. According to Costikyan: "At first, no plastic storage tray was included in the white boxes; instead, there was a (corrugated) cardboard insert which was supposed to create two large compartments for counter storage under the pull-ups. This did not work worth a damn, as the counters easily slipped around under the cardboard insert."

A plastic counter tray was developed, and for three months of production became a standard insert for the white box beginning in April 1973. After that time, production shifted to the "Black Box", with the counter tray forming the basis of the new delivery method, with a cardboard bottom added. Again, according to Costikyan: "it is rare to find SPI games in white boxes without counter trays, as most gamers quickly bought extra trays for the older games. At this time, magazine games could normally either be bought as "back issues" with no box, or as White Box games, with the magazine thrown into the box along with other components."

Printed Box

The "White Box" style was occasionally issued in full colour print with front cover and inside artwork on the box. At right is shown the Normandy title (not a tactical level game). Only a select few games were selected for this treatment in order to make them more attractive for retail display; Costikyan points out that at the time these boxed versions were released (he lists Normandy (1971), Leipzig (1969) and Barbarossa (1969) as examples but doesn't say when exactly the printed boxes were produced) SPI was largely a mail order business. The black plastic tray insert can be seen in the picture at right as well.

Black Box

The "Black Box" style debuted in July 1973, replacing the awkward white boxes and using the counter trays which were initially developed as inserts for the white boxes. This style of container became the standard and was used for most games through June of 1978.

This insert became the basis of the box itself. To the back was glued a heavy piece of heavy black cardboard, to act as a stiffener. The so called "monster games" (SPI apparently defined these as having two or more maps and at least 800 counters) were packaged in two such black boxes, shrink-wrapped together with the top faces touching. "Normally, there were two paper cover sheets: one color for the top box, one black-and-white with descriptive text for the bottom. The package usually had several plastic loops, to hold the two boxes together for storage after the shrink-wrap was removed."

Black Plastic Counter Tray and Lids

The container itself served as the bottom of the "box" and had two clear plastic lids. There was no catch or other device to keep these lids in place, and only gravity assisted in holding the box together. According to Costikyan, "This worked only indifferently well. The earliest black boxes had plastic lids with "wings" that fit over the center wells of the black (tray); the lids in later black boxes had no "wings"." At right is a "wing-less" set of lids.

Cardboard Backing

The bottom of the counter tray was reinforced with a piece of stiff black cardboard glued into place; collectors will find this piece is sometimes missing, or often pulling apart from the rest of the box.

Plastic Lid

The top of the box was a clear plastic lid; some in collections are starting to show their age and are discolouring and cracking, especially those left in the sun or exposed to ultraviolet light.


Cover Sheet

A cover sheet printed on slick paper was slipped over top of the game's contents - mapsheet, countersheet, and the counter tray - and sandwiched in by the clear plastic lid.

Each cover sheet had a printed title where the flat end of the box was, so it could be read when sitting on a retailer's shelf.
The cover sheet extended to the back of the box, where it was shrink-wrapped in place. The bottom section contained information about the game as an enticement to buying to retail customers. Once the shrink-wrap is removed, collectors are challenged with how to deal with this piece and it is often seen damaged or removed.

Plastic Loop

The final component was a "plastic loop" used to keep the box top and the bottom together in storage. The several of these were used for the "monster game" packages described above.

Accordion Box

In June 1978, the Black Box was replaced with a nesting style box very similar to Avalon Hill's "Bookcase Game" boxes. The Black Box had been an unusual choice of packaging; retailers found it hard to shelve, according to Costikyan. The advantage to the Black Box was that it required no special printing and could be mass produced. The move to custom boxes led to an increased demand for warehouse space, "increasing investment in inventory. Not good things for a company that lived on the edge of bankruptcy in the first place." While the box tops were printed, the bottoms were usually blank. Information sheets were printed and shrink-wrapped to the bottom instead. The new box had an improved counter tray with a clear plastic lid. Indentations on the outer edges of the compartments helped keep the lid snapped onto the bottom compartment to prevent counters from spilling out.

The standard box was 11" x 9" x 2" deep, with "monster games" coming in a 4" size and smaller games being issued in a special 1" size box (usually without a counter tray in the latter and normally two in the former). The 4" box was nicknamed a "detergent box" because of its large size and passing similarity to the domestic item of the same name. An example of one of these "monsters" was MechWar2 with 1600 counters and multiple maps.

Other Formats - There were some other less commonly used formats of delivery also:


All games sold in Black Box, doubled Black Box, Accordion Box and Folio (see below) containers were also sold in ziploc containers, without either any kind of box or counter trays. This reduced the overall cost to the consumer. The Black Box (and double Black Box) games still shipped with their paper cover sheets, while the Accordion Box and Folio games did not come with descriptive text. Some games were sold by SPI only in this format.

Mounted Accordion Box

To increase their revenue via retail, some games were provided with mounted mapboards. This was an early effort to increase sales, and was done with a select number of titles. The box was a 9" x 12" x 2" box with printed cover sheets glued to the exterior; these games are distinguishable also by

  • having hard mounted mapboards

  • having counter trays without plastic lids

  • having printed back covers

  • dating from before June 1978, the date which all SPI games started to appear in the standard accordion style boxes


This was a simple printed cardboard folder designed with a pocket inside to hold the contents, generally a 17" x 22" mapsheet and 100 counters. These were discontinued in the late 1980s.


Capsule format games were sold beginning in March 1979; these were simple plastic bags with flaps taped closed. While later releases had a separate cover sheet, earlier versions had the sheet information printed directly on the back of the folded mapsheet itself (usually an 11" x 17" or 17" x 22" map). These games, like the folio style games, also contained about 100 counters. They were replaced by the 1" accordion box containers circa March 1980 in response to complaints from retailers wanting something easier to display and harder to steal.




SPI purchases S&T, begins publishing wargames. All counters are unmounted and games are sold in manila envelopes.

March 1971

Beginning with Issue 26 of S&T, all counters are mounted, including those printed for sale with back issues of magazines.

September 1972

The first box is introduced to sell games in; it consists of a plain white folded cardboard box with the name of the game printed on a red label applied to the front. Inside the front cover is a sleeve to hold rules and map, and the bottom contains wells for counters and a die.

April 1973

Plastic counter trays are introduced for the White Box, as well as made available for separate sale. According to Costikyan, "anyone with any sense bought them immediately to put them in their older white box games. Hence, few (white boxes without trays) are seen today."

July 1973

Games are issued in the Black Box described below, and magazine games are discontinued as part of back issue sales. Magazine games became available in boxed form the same as other non-magazine games after the magazine's date of publication. The white box was deleted entirely from all production runs of in print SPI titles.

June 1978

Introduction of the 2" Accordion Box format for larger games, replacing the Black Box.

February 1979

Smaller games (described as "folio" and "capsule" games by Costikyan) were published in Folio format up to this date, and in Capsule format beginning in February 1979. The 1" Accordion Box format was introduced in March 1980 for these games.

tacticalwargamer.com 2008-present    email: The Tactical Wargamer