Collecting vs. Playing Games

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I’ve been watching a trend in myself and others in the board game hobby. It goes something like this:

There are three ways to distinguish your collection:

1. Having a title so new, it’s obscure

2. Having a title so old, it’s obscure

3. Having a title so indie, it’s obscure

Whichever you choose or don’t choose, there is another aspect to gaming that arguably has less to do with playing and more to do with collecting. That aspect is presentation.


When showing off a collection to others, the collection has to look impressive, or fun, or whatever the desired effect is. Only in this manner can the collector impress on the casual observer the weightiness of devotion the collection represents.

For example, when people do reviews of their favorite–or not so favorite–titles, it’s usually against the backdrop of a wall of games.

The wall of games is a symbol of a sort, a sort of secret nerd handshake that says, “Why, yes. I do happen to enjoy games and have gone to great personal expense to have them. Ergo, you can trust my opinion.”

The same can be said for the presentation of the contents of a box. I’ve had someone ask me whether using the standard-sized penny sleeves I was using on euro-sized cards didn’t drive me nuts.

“You get used to it,” I said. “Plus, the money I save buys more games.”

Now, I’m not right, and they weren’t wrong; it would be nice if money were no object, to splurge on the preservation and presentation of cards.

And I do like my games to remain in good condition. But, why? That’s the major question.

The Pristine Collection

Imagine you own a sports car or some fancy golf clubs.

When your car hits the road, it inevitably gets dirt on it and needs to be cleaned in order to preserve the image of the nice sports car. Also, it experiences wear and tear, and needs maintenance.

Or, if you hit the green with your fancy clubs, by the end of 18 holes, they’ll probably need some attention to cleanliness–whether a lot or a little.

But the goal, I suspect, of cleaning and maintaining the car or the clubs isn’t just to have something pretty; it’s to have something in good working order that is pleasing to use.

For me, I want my games to look nice when I’m playing them. If they only sit on a shelf looking pretty, it’s no better than buying a lot of classic books to give the impression of “Why of course I read Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Homer.”

Games Every Gamer Should Own

Stop. No, really.

Why should they own these games?

Sometimes when I see a list with that air of obligation hanging about it, I get a bit bothered.

I used to hear a lot about Mysterium and how I should go out and get my hands on it, even before it’s out in the US. The rationale: it’s a really fun game.

That works for me as a rationale, on general principle. But, there are a lot of really fun games; I probably shouldn’t own all of them.

“Fun” is specific to various people’s tastes and situations. So, even though I’d say Settlers of Catan, and Carcassonne are classic games, I try not to add: “and you should buy them.”

Maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe you have more or fewer players than a game requires to be engaging or playable. Maybe you’d like a game about trains, rather than farming. Or maybe, you’d rather cooperate than compete. In which case, you shouldn’t buy those games.

Which brings us back to the Really New, Really Old, and Really Indie games. Should you play them?

Really New

Some people get advanced review copies of games because they are recognized reviewers who have the ear of a large enough segment of the gaming community.

This, of course, makes these reviewers’ collections slightly greater objects of envy, because the rest of us have to wait until the game is released for the most part (unless we get to play it at a con, or receive it earlier via Kickstarter as a backer).

So, this one is out of the question for many of us. By the time we get it, it won’t be all that new.

Really Old

Other titles that get attention fall into the “forgotten gem” category of games. There is a certain pedigree to having this type of game.

I traded away my early edition Settlers of Catan to a guy at the game store I frequent. The store owner was a bit impressed. “I haven’t seen one of those in a long time. That’s old school.”

In short, I had proven myself to belong to a certain generation of gamer and was, from one perspective, well-established in the hobby.

But eventually some of today’s hot titles will join the ranks of these old-but-good games. And others may be forgotten, and then someone can “rediscover” them.

I don’t have a problem with this, but again, I let Settlers of Catan go because it was seeing absolutely no table time, year upon year. It was just there as a reminder of bygone fun at best, and at worst was a sort of showpiece of my gaming prowess.

I had Settlers before it was mainstream, but I let it go.

Really Indie

Speaking of mainstream… This trend tries to steer clear of it.

To wit: today, I was looking at Victory Point Games. I’ve heard good things about Darkest Night, and I got to thinking that there must be more promising titles buried somewhere in their catalog: a hidden gem waiting for me to uncover it and bring it to the light.

Indeed, I found some games that looked really fun: Legions of Darkness and Astra Titanus, among others.

Plus, they played solo, so that was even more off the beaten path.

Anyhow, I’m always tempted to hunt for something offbeat and interesting so I can say “I saw it first” or “I know how to pick ’em.”

This trend takes the impulse of touting past games because they are obscure, and brings it into the present in true hipster fashion.

In my imagination of my hip self, I’ll be drinking my specialty coffee, listening to Bastille, and playing an obscure euro game that only a handful of people have experienced or appreciated. And, I’ll be awesome. 

I could imagine someone uttering with a condescending chuckle: “You’ve played “Darkest Night,” but have you tried ‘Legions of Darkness?'”

The internet as well as Kickstarter (and other crowd-funding) fuels this sort of trend: I can spend time each day looking for some nifty title to add to my collection to distinguish it from the average game collection–whatever that means.

I’m all for being able to diversify my game library, but I hope it’s because I want to play different kinds of games rather than just to have the games around.

Play More Games

So, that’s the conclusion, really: I should get games because I want to play them, not because it makes a fashion statement. If they’re old, new, indie, or mainstream, it doesn’t matter as much as the fun factor.


Twitter: @ptboardgames

YouTube: Playthrough Boardgames


2 thoughts on “Collecting vs. Playing Games

  1. Great post! I chuckled more than a few times, as I realized how incredibly snobbish this hobby can be for people. I’ve been involved with gaming for over 35 years…35 years as an RPGer; 20 years as a military war game enthusiast, 10 years as a board gamer; and 5 years as a play-tester/developer/designer.

    I limit myself to 1-2 board games per year on Kuckstarter, as I want to nurture the designer trying to get his game to the masses. But, as a Developer for Compass Games and a play-tester for both Modern War and Strategy & Tactics magazines, I’m aware of the need for well-researched war games.

    I’m a big fan of your blog, so keep the good stuff coming to us!


    1. Joe,

      Glad you like the post.

      I used to play war games with my high school chemistry teacher, and he would do a lot of research on the weapons, tanks, airplanes, and the comparative strengths and weaknesses for different nations’ military equipment. I really enjoyed the nods to historical accuracy. They made the game he’d invented much more engaging.

      It was something he did for the joy of the game–not to be snobbish (unlike some other wargamers that we met at a game convention, who liked to talk history for the sake of appearing smart, not because it helped the game along), so I thought my teacher’s approach was pretty cool.

      I guess that’s what I try to use as my criteria for new purchases: is it something that will enhance the fun factor for my game?

      If the answer is “yes” then I think it’s great. If I’m trying to put on a show of being a certain type of gamer, then, I should skip it.

      Kickstarter is another can of worms, in a way. I have a hard time knowing if someone is making a great–or even good–game unless they really include a lot of detail about it. I like to see rule books and game play videos to be able to see how polished the product actually is. If they won’t disclose those sorts of things, I tend to run the other way…

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