Merchant of Venus Foamcore Plans


Something I’ve been doing for quite some time is creating more and more elaborate box inserts for my games using that wonderfully useful material, foamcore. This brilliant construction material—simple a layer of foam sandwiched between two layers of cardboard—is the perfect stuff for building counter and card trays and box inserts. Not only do you increase the rigidity of your game box and protect its components, but with a bit of tricky design you can create trays to remove and use during the actual game.

I’ve received many requests to create plans for these inserts but always thought it was too daunting a task; especially considering I usually design these things ‘on the fly’ and so would have to reverse-engineer them. But I’ve finally come up with a format that I think should make it easy for gamers to replicate my foamcore designs if they wish.

Of course I could have started with a simple one, but instead I’ve gone all out and made plans for one of the more complex box inserts I’ve ever made: for Fantasy Flight Games’ Merchant of Venus. If you’ve never used foamcore to build this kind of thing before, you may find this a bit daunting, but believe me, it’s quite simple once you get the hang of it.

I’m planning some to make some videos to walk you through the basics of using foamcore, but in the meantime, check out this file and do let me know your thoughts on the format, whether you think it is self-explanatory enough, and any suggestions for future improvements. If enough people find this kind of thing useful, I’ll be releasing more plans for other games.

Enjoy! Always be careful with those sharp knives. I’m very much looking forward to reading about the experiences of gamers with these designs.

Update: These plans have now been updated to v1.1.


  • Dave DuJour says:

    What are you using to connect the pieces together? Some sort of small tacking nail?

    I’ve used foam core to make a card divider for Dominion so all the kingdom cards fit in the main box. At the joints I would cut out the foam, but not the opposite side cardboard, and make T-joints. If the connections became loose I would just use tape in the corners. I’m interesting in using something a bit stronger though. That cardboard isn’t very stiff.

    • Universal Head says:

      Just white craft glue Dave. As I note in the PDF, draw a line of glue along the edge of the foamcore, press the pieces together and clean up any excess. You can hold the pieces together with a few dressmaking pins pushed through the edges while it’s drying, then remove these afterwards. Sometimes I’ll turn a box or tray upside-down and put a heavy book on it to press the edges together while they dry.

      You don’t need tape, the glue dries clear if there is any overspill, and the end result is a surprisingly strong hold. The items are very sturdy once you’ve made up the box insert or tray.

  • Gabe Wintner says:

    I don’t own the game nor have I ever used foamcore, but I’m thoroughly impressed by your design effort and execution, and the clarity of the instructions. My first thought is that, assuming a game publisher like Fantasy Flight could include such storage solutions with their games without significantly increasing the game’s cost (by mass producing such trays out of e.g. plastic), and only doesn’t because they’re either “too lazy” (hey, not everyone operates on a Days of Wonder 1-game-per-2-years schedule) or because they don’t have a designing mind like yours working for them, then you’ve really put them to shame. Seriously, a game with this many bits in it (and you picked this one on purpose for just that reason, didn’t you …) really begs for this kind of solution. So, where can you buy foamcore, and what does it cost? And what sort of surface do you cut it on? Any other equipment needed? This is intriguing even just for the fun craft project …

    • Universal Head says:

      Thanks for your kind words Gabe. I’d say the reason publishers don’t usually include such storage solutions is purely one of cost. For example, FFG established from their very first games that they didn’t include plastic inserts (with very few exceptions like Fury of Dracula) and stick to just including a cardboard divider. This obviously makes a significant difference to their profit per game.

      I love a game with a good plastic insert – obviously it saves me from designing my own! – and personally I think it sets a game apart as being particularly well designed and showing a particular consideration for the purchaser.

      I’ll upload more detailed information – articles and video – about using foamcore soon, but in the meantime, you can buy it and everything else you need at an art supply store (costs will vary of course depending where you are). I recommend a large self-healing cutting mat; these are usually green or semi-transparent and have grid lines printed on them. And you’ll need a long metal ruler and a craft knife or scalpel with replaceable blades, some normal white craft glue, and some normal dressmaking pins.

      It’s great fun to work with once you get the hang of it! Stay tuned for more …

  • Paul Hunt says:

    Such a thing of beauty. After reading the insert instructions I ordered the game. Please wait a couple of weeks before covering Descent because I’ll have to buy that too.

  • ukdane says:

    What’s the thickness of the foamcore you are using? 3mm or 5mm

  • Jonathan Jonathan says:

    Wow, quite ingenious! I’m looking to make something similar for 7 Wonders with different “levels”. The top floor will contain the base game, the second floor holds Leaders, and the final floor will house Cities. There should be enough room to hold the new Wonders board expansion as well. Of course, if “someone” were to do it before me, I would have no complaints 🙂

    • Universal Head says:

      Go for it! A 7 Wonders plan from me may take a while, as my copy of the game is currently in storage, and, I while I can occasional just get away with it with rules summaries by having a PDF of the game rules, I definitely need the actual game to make these plans. If you do come up with a good system and would like to see it in plan form in this format however, let me know and you can share it with other gamers!

  • Aaron says:

    My suggestion for a future game insert would be Small World. The section for the race tiles infuriates me. A template made out of cardstock would work well for that too.

    • Universal Head says:

      Sorry Aaron, no plans to do that one for a couple of reasons: the insert, while it has its problems, is still pretty good and I’m concentrating on games that have no insert at all; also I have no plans to buy all that game’s expansions so anything I make probably wouldn’t please everyone.

      Thanks for your suggestion though. As you can imagine, there’s no shortage of candidates for this treatment—but you’ll just have to wait and see what’s coming down the pipe!

  • JB says:

    I was just looking up your LotR card game summary and found the new site. Your foamcore plan is awesome! I was looking for something simple to help store my LCGs and I think this will do nicely. Keep up the good work!

    • Universal Head says:

      Welcome to the EOG! Draw up a chair. There are social media links at the top of the page should you wish to keep track of the doings here.

  • Thanks for all your effort – I love your schematics and they’re quite easy to read and follow. Videos would be nice .. but let’s face it .. they’re time consuming to produce and people putting the time to improve their boardgames at this level has no problem following your excellent instructions.

    I think a lot of games could use a foamcore overhaul – and Mansions of Madness deserves it just as much as Descent 2ed. does 🙂

    Big ups from Denmark ! 🙂

    • Universal Head says:

      Good news then – videos coming for foamcore construction (though not for individual plans, that wouldn’t be that helpful really), and plans for Mansions of Madness definitely on the drawing board. Glad you like ’em.

  • Patrick Kelly says:

    This is incredible, I think I might take it up this weekend. One thing that I haven’t seen thus far is a cut list, i.e. how many pieces of foam board do I need to buy. You might want to include that in the future. In the meantime; how many pieces of 5 mm foam board should I get?

    • Universal Head says:

      That’s a bit tricky, as foamcore comes in lots of shapes and sizes, in both imperial and metric. I’d buy a few large sheets, because once you start foamcoring, there’s no looking back …

  • NIgel says:

    I’m In Wellington… you happen to know the best place to get Foam Core from…..I can see me making a number of inserts for my games…..starting with Rivals for Catan and the 2 expansions 🙂

    • Universal Head says:

      I think Scott on Youtube answered you with Moore Wilson’s Art Supplies in Wellington, Nigel. But before I get more such questions, I’m not familiar with the location of every foamcore supplier worldwide folks – try searching on this useful new thing called the internet.. 🙂

      Good luck foamcoring!

  • Phil says:

    I see that I am late to the party. I just got the game and love this storage solution. How many pieces of foamcore and what size did you buy to build the inserts? I looked in the instructions and the initial post and didn’t see that information. Thanks in advance.

    • Universal Head says:

      Cana’t say as it comes in all kinds of different sizes all over the world. I’m sure you could work it out given the dimensions in the file. 🙂

  • John Thomasser says:

    I just finished this project for my first insert. Works great! It took three evenings but the results are worth it. Set up time for a game is negligible now. Thanks so much for the effort of designing this.

  • Cassiopey says:

    in what program you draw?

What do you think?