Board Game Collections and Potential

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I’m an awful human being. Andrew Brooks, the fine writer over at I Slay the Dragon, had an idea for a community based editorial session. I completely missed the deadline and didn’t participate. Well, better late than never. Happy President’s Day!

Andrew sent out two sets of questions: one for gamers and one for designers. I consider myself equally both, so I’ll tackle both of them. I’m posting Andrew’s questions below, like an interview. I’ll answer following.

Question For Gamers:

Andrew: Do you have any games collecting dust that don’t seem to hit the table often but you just can’t get rid of? Why are you holding on to them? Would you sell your favorite game if you knew you would never get to play it again? Would you rather sell/trade an unplayed game and acquire it at a later point if you find a group to play it with or simply hold on to it and wait for that possibility?

Grant: I’m not a hoarder at all. I’m fairly militant about keeping my collection around 100 to 150 games, not including expansions, which thankfully fit in the base game box. With few exceptions, if a game isn’t getting played, it is getting sold. Let’s discuss the exceptions!

  • I have a copy of Jump Gate, signed, from friend Matt Worden. I don’t play this, but I do play Space Mission, the fancy German version. It’s sentimental.
  • I have a copy of Dune, the legendary out of print game. I also own Rex, which is the revised version that plays more quickly and is more forgiving. Dune holds immense sentimental value for me as a favorite book.
  • I’ve had Horus Heresy for about 3 years now. I bought it for a mere $25 on the FFG Christmas Sale. I think I’ll like it, but it’s tough to get to the table. This goes for Fortress America as well, but for about 2 years.

Generally, the more difficult a game is to get to the table, the more shelf life I give it. Also, certain games I really enjoy and I’m okay reserving a slot for them. The other note by which I gauge a game is whether I have something else like it that I enjoy more.

I recently traded Conflict of Heroes, which I liked, but wasn’t getting to the table often. I recognized that I also owned a lot of Memoir ’44, which I liked more and was easier to get to the table, and a lot of Combat Commander, which I enjoy the most, but takes a little longer. No need to have all 3.

I keep games that I love, that I play, or that hold sentimental value. That’s essentially my razor.

Andrew: Consider your favorite games. How old are those games and how often do they get played? Are they your favorites because you play them a lot, have previously played them a lot, or they have some unique qualities that set them apart?

Grant: I really work to get favorites to the table often. For Netrunner I’m at 43 plays plus hours of deckbuilding. 7 Wonders is at 34 plays and is one of the 5 oldest games in my collection. Combat Commander I’ve only played 5 games, but it’s a 2-3 hour game and rather complex. It only works with certain friends, so I take that as a win.

My favorites aren’t favorites because I play them a lot. Often, I know a game is a favorite within my first 3 plays. It’s like love at first site. My favorites have a unique quality, like Combat Commander’s dynamic story mechanics. Or the perfect mix of theme and clever play, like Netrunner. Or beautiful asymmetry and epic moments, like Rex. My favorite games are special, so I work to put them on the table as much as possible.

Andrew: How do your friends’ collections affect yours? Do you share games with your group or do you like having your own copy? Do you have a lot of overlap with your friends’ collections? Are you less likely to acquire a game if you know someone that owns it? Would you be willing to have a shared library if it was practical?

Grant: I have two groups I consider when I’m buying games. My lunch group at work. These are good friends with whom I play practically daily. Top candidates are games that play with at least 5 and in an hour or less.

The second group is my game night group, which is basically comprised of the lunch friends (though some live outside SF so coming up for game night isn’t easy) and a few other rotating pals. Top candidates are games that play with 4-5 in 1-3 hours.

Two of us, Matt and I, are the primary buyers. We buy the new games and learn the rules. Antonio buys everything with Star Wars on it, so if it’s X-Wing, we know he’ll join in, and if it’s Imperial Assault, we know he’ll buy it. If a friend has a game, I hesitate before buying it. The question I ask is, will I ever play this game without them? I really want to buy Dead of Winter as I think it’s good and I want to support Plaid Hat. But, I will never play it without Matt. Imperial Assault is pretty cool, but it will never be played without Antonio.

The exception, is often cost and quality of the game. If the game is cheap, or doesn’t take up much space, I often buy a copy because I should have it. Right now, it’s very likely I buy Roll for the Galaxy, which Matt owns, because I think it’s a very smart game and isn’t too expensive and should be on my shelf.

I wouldn’t have an official shared library, because it just complicates things. But, any of my friends can borrow a game at any time.

Questions For Designers:

Andrew: Would you rather design a game that gets played more frequently or is more highly regarded but played less? Would you be proud to know that someone is keeping your game in their collection despite not playing it often? Is how someone feels about your game regardless of how much they play it important?

Grant: By my own rules as a player, I want a design of mine to be played as much as is reasonable. My 4 player war game that has been signed by Portal is more of a long-lunch/game night game. But, I would hope people who like it will take it to game days and get it in every few weeks.

Hocus, on the other hand, is very quick to play. We’ve seen testers play it 8 times in a week, 13 times in a weekend. I don’t expect everyone to do that, but I really hope it becomes someone’s backpack game, the one they bust out whenever there’s a few people and a half hour to kill.

One of the things Josh and I are doing with Hocus is to have killer art and tons of variety in the experience. We want there to be killer value. We’re also a very small first time publisher and we’re not really at this like a traditional business. There may only be one printing, ever, of this game. Therefore, I’d really hope that people who enjoy it keep it around.

Getting plays is the ultimate sign of affection in many ways, but there are many gamers who play a game 3 times, tops, then put it away for whatever is new. It happens. I want my games to be loved and played for years. That’s the ideal. But, if cult of the new is too strong, I’ll accept loved.

Andrew: Is it disappointing when some trades or sells your game? Should it be a goal for your game to stick in people’s collections (assuming it’s a good fit for that person)? Should designers try to create games that will “stand the test of time” or are simply enjoyable experiences?

Grant: No, not really. I track everything that happens to Farmageddon on BGG. I think a copy is sold at least every month, if not more often. Amusingly enough, 90% of the versions being traded are “unopened, unplayed” or “opened, played once.” Farmageddon is a light take-that game with a hint of strategy. It’s meant to be a quick game that isn’t as ridiculous as Fluxx, but doesn’t make you work too hard. You’re either okay with Farmageddon, or you’ll HATE IT.

So, when I see people who have never played the game, or played it once, getting rid of it? They don’t want a game like Farmageddon. I want them to trade it! They’ll be happier and my game gets another shot at life. I’ve played a great deal of Farmageddon, as you can imagine. I really enjoy it, actually. It scratches a weird itch and allows for a laugh. But it’s not for everyone.

Standing the test of time is really difficult to do. It often requires you come up with something highly original and good, or just flat really good. Over time tastes evolve. Dune probably won’t be a favorite game of mine. But Rex, revised, is. I have to be honest and note that I just do not like Catan. At all. I’m miserable almost every second I play it. I just don’t think it has aged very well.

I’m going to look at my body of work.

  • Farmageddon: Not timeless. It isn’t original enough, appeals to a particular taste, and doesn’t have a brand (like Fluxx, Munchkin, Gubs) to make it evergreen.
  • York/Dawn Sector: Maybe! It isn’t out yet. I think this game can really have legs. It takes elements that are great about war games, distills it down, and it’s having Portal’s best folks develop it.
  • Sol Rising: Probably not. It’s a very story driven game. I think it’ll be memorable and very good, but somewhat like Risk Legacy, the first playthrough is always the best.
  • Hocus: Maybe! Our starting point is one of the most famous and beloved games ever – Poker. We’ve spent a year developing and testing a game that is smooth, easy to learn, but is original. But, we’re a tiny publisher, so the 18 people that get it might not be enough to make it timeless.

I really want my games to be great and loved by most of the people who play them when they play them. I think that’s the best I can tackle.

Thanks for the questions again, Andrew. I’m sorry I’m so late!