Curating a game collection

After I sent the Last game you bought thread on a little detour into “not buying games” land, I thought it might be worth talking some more about the games we do not buy.

I’ve recently been thinking how collecting games to me is a bit like deckbuilding. I would love to have a collection that has just enough games and definitely no superfluous games that don’t serve a purpose. I had to abandon my previous Slay the Spire run because I couldn’t afford to get rid of a few exciting early buys of rare cards that ended up being a bad fit with the direction my deck took in later iterations.

Curating a collection is as much about which games are in the collection as it is about the games that do not become part of the collection. So:

  • What games didn’t make it into your collection? Why?
  • Have you bought any games that were a bad fit? What did you do with them?
  • Do you have explicit rules for what goes into your collection?
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I can tell you a terrible reason for buying games: “I’ve just played this with [local group] and I really liked it! I want a copy for myself!” Yes, but [local group] already has someone with a copy, so you won’t get to play it with them. It’s not always an error (especially when there are conventions) but it’s definitely worth examining carefully as a motivation.

Looking at my BGG “Previously Owned” list I see a lot of games that were demonstrator freebies, so they don’t really count. Taking some that I remember getting rid of…

One I thought I’d love was Bloom Town, partly because it’s co-designed by Asger Harding Granerud (Flamme Rouge), partly because I like city-building. But it didn’t work for me, and I’m not entirely sure why; I found myself thinking “what shall I take to the convention/games night” and it repeatedly didn’t make the cut.

The Bloody Inn got me in on the theme, and then it breaks the theme by turning your victims into enhancements. Many people love it but it’s not for me.

I loved The Captain is Dead and put the sequels on my price watchlist… and then I played it just that bit too much and started to feel that the outcome depended more on the order of the alert cards than on how good the players were.

I still like Cosmic Encounter but, as with Bloom Town, somehow I hardly ever actually played it.

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I have a cap, as in what physically fits on the shelf. I tend to buy games second hand for that cheap thrill of finding a gem in the rough, and these days if something goes in, something else goes out.

I sell, give away or swap games regularly, and that’s what I do when a game is not my thing. I like to have games that I like to play and teach, but I can’t see a pattern: I gravitate towards short games, but Rex, War Of the Ring and Wallenstein, are still there. I tend to give away games that I haven’t played in a while or that I have played enough of, but I still have stuff that is there for no reason other than sentimental. Also, I had games that I sold and then bought again…

I think I like to think that I maintain a collection, but I am probably enjoying the pointless micromanaging of that bookshelf rather than chasing a real goal.

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Nearly every game I buy is expensive, as they are nearly all imports with expensive shipping, so my purchases are all heavily researched, pre-played, or from a designer I respect.

There are occasional exceptions. Samurai Spirit and San Juan were cheap second-hand speculative purchases. Samurai Spirit didn’t impress me, and I felt no need to play San Juan when I have Race for the Galaxy. Traded them for another speculative game, Zombie 15, didn’t like it, sold it.

Celestia was another second-hand game. Don’t need it when I have Incan Gold.

Takenoko I bought for the setting and components, but it turned out I don’t like the game. Traded for Agricola, another game I should probably get rid of.

The few presents I have received were not to my taste: mtg: planeswalkers: arena or something, and oh my goods!, and Battlecon

I think that’s every unwanted game I’ve acquired in the last 20 years. My retail purchases have all been good and will remain on my shelves indefinitely.

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I rarely buy games, but I’ve twice bought games that I heard about on SUSD podcasts and thought I’d love… then felt a bit of buyer’s remorse. They were Via Nebula (I really like the co-opetition in Martin Wallace’s games) and Tragedy Looper which is unlike anything else we play (which made me look out for it). We’ve played Via Nebula a fair bit, but it’s never felt super exciting. We played Tragedy Looper a few times, but now it just sits there and it’s going to be a mission to even remember the rules. I now try a bit harder to avoid reacting to hype, so I haven’t even pre-ordered Border Reivers despite being a total Ed Beach fanboy.

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There’s only two that I’ve ever sold on.

The first was Game of Thrones 2nd ed LCG. And I had… a lot of it. The reason it had to go was, FFG absolutely refused to balance the game. Some houses couldn’t win, it had been like that since launch, and the only changes were to make things more lethal when they needed to be less. Because it’s a competitive LCG you have to keep buying or you lose to someone who has the latest big card, and I reached a point where I knew I wasn’t going to play it anymore.

Incredible art, really nice combat / intrigue / politics system, absolutely dreadful balancing. So I sold the lot, for about as much as I paid for 3 (3!) copies of the base game box you needed to buy. Yes, I’m still mad at FFG (but not enough to stop myself buying LotR: JiME).

And the 2nd game (and I’d get SO MUCH hate for this online) was Mage Knight. I should have loved it, it is absolutely my genre and solo as well, instead I hated it. Felt that the difficulty / clock meant that there were no meaningful decisions to make. I’d bought it on the assumption is was more about “Will you be good, or will you burn this monastery for quick power?” when in fact you don’t have a choice - you do it or you lose.

Other than that, I’ve got about 6 big and 6 small games on the shelf, and I’m really happy with all of them.

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I love Mage Knight, but I can well understand people having reasons to ditch it. Especially if what you want is a fantasy adventure game rather than a very complicated analysis problem.

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Just the other day I realized that my partner and I don’t seem to enjoy dedicated two player games very much these days. One reason is that we both don’t enjoy take that a lot and the other is that we have a different amount of time we want to dedicate to boardgames and when my partner wants to play a game I do not want to waste the precious time with something small… (instead it’s Gloomhaven or Leaving Earth… you know… not small)

We have quite a few small and big two player games and the only one we would both always play is Star Realms, that means that I just purged all my wishlists of all two player games because we have more than enough to last us a while. And I rarely play with anyone else in a 1-on-1 setting. So Targi, Watergate and Jaipur are just no-buys for the foreseeable future.

I think my problem was most of the games would be solo, where vs another person would actually give you MUCH more time to play with the decisions. It must be good, so many people love it, but I bounced off it really hard.

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I’d like to get to that point. We’re in something of a transitory state (moving in a year and a bit) and my collection doesn’t have a dedicated space, instead it is spread out and I have to use BGG to keep track of the thing as a whole and a few lines more on the collection page don’t make as big of a difference as they should.

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I find I barely play two player games at all, which seems like a shame. But in a face to face meeting if there are four or five we’ll usually play as a single group, and even six is usually an occasion for a six-player game rather than for two threes or two plus four. And my wife isn’t interested in games.

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I’ve been buying too much recently, lockdown has been bad for my wallet.

Before accessing podcasts and this place (and it’s previous entity), I’d generally use BGG rankings, or advice from my FLGS.

Scythe and Teotihuacan were games we didn’t enjoy and have sold them both. Learning to move on has been very cathartic, because all of these games are big purchases.

Since getting access to more games media I’ve looked more for ‘the classics’, particularly on eBay and have acquired Terra Mystica, Agricola and El Grande like that.

When I really got into the hobby the kids were too young for battling/ DOAM type games. Although we’ve just had our 3rd play of Root (most recent purchase) and they screwed themselves up fighting each other.

I swing between splurging and trying not to buy anything. I’ve found the 10x10 challenge to be a great way of engaging with games and forcing us to play.

I really want to get to a point where I have 1 or 2 games to fit the mood/ player count and time available. I really need to stop buying things for a while to explore what we have.

As for what reason I have for not buying a game, when I manage it I’ll tell you!! (Genuinely having a struggle with whether to add The Gallerist in the pledge manager for Mercado de Lisboa. I don’t think I’m ready for Lacerda and I don’t like feeling bad when I play poorly so there is no reason to buy it. I’ll see how it goes)

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I would say that the dummy player system the base game uses for coop and solo seems really unsatisfying? The Lost Legion expansion replaces that with a boss called Volkare, and that’s been just awesome the few times I’ve gotten to play it. If you have access to Tabletop Simulator, it might be interesting to try the heavily scripted Mage Knight mod in it to see if you like that version of solo play better without committing to a repurchase for something you already bounced off.

Yes, yes, me too. Usually my game buying habit is a thing of the colder half of the year… concentrated around Essen.

Letting go of stuff is not the hard part. I did the Marie Kondo thing to our entire apartment last year. And in many areas it worked (clothes, books, kitchen). Except boardgames. If anything purging (by donating) a bunch of games and restricting my consumption in other areas seems to have made game-buying the last remaining “outlet”. The hard part is not replacing everything with more stuff.

And I am still making buying mistakes. Even after many years of playing boardgames, I don’t always know what I want and what I will enjoy.

And then there is my FLGS. When I go there with the specific intent to buy a certain game that’s fine, because I have usually done some research. But if they don’t have what I am looking for, I am prone to “just buying whatever strikes my fancy” just for the dopamine hit -.- It’s not their fault, it’s my own.
I do much better with web-shops. Although the more I scour those the more likely I am to buy a game that I haven’t seen anywhere else because: FOMO.

Most of what I consider “games I would be better off without” were purchases that happened at FLGS spontaneously. Now they are here and I feel like selling them on without getting a full multiplayer game out of them would be even more wasteful.

Also, I am still trying to get over the hurdle of actually selling a game.

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This is the handy thing about owning too many. I wasn’t enjoying Scythe or Teo. We have other medium weight, 90 minute games and I’d always reach for something else. We had a final play (and with Teo another thorough read of the rules) to be sure and then listed them on eBay while they were still on the table.

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I use the same principle as most things in my house. Set time aside every now, look around and rummage through my possessions and think:

  1. Have I used this in the last year?
  2. Is there a contingency that it exists for?
    Then depending on the item:
    3a. Is it beautiful?
    3b. Will it fetch a surprisingly high amount on ebay?

It’s a variation on the Williams Morris line: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”, but it keeps me from hanging on to stuff I don’t use.

Consequently:
If a game falls flat with my partner/friends/family - it’s gone.
If a game never sees the light of day because we always want to play something else that fits a similar itch - it’s gone.
If it’s out of print, going for a big price on ebay, and I can stand to wait for a reprint - it’s gone.

So, in the spirit of things, some games that left the collection that I always expected I’d keep:

Mysterium - A family game that half my family liked, and the other half didn’t. Unsuprisingly it never sees the table. Only by playing it with non-boardgamers did I realise how flawed it is thematically. Why would a ghost be giving people dreams that point to 4 different suspects/locations/weapons? Surely they’d want everyone to be looking for the killer/location/weapon.

Two Rooms and a Boom - It’s a party game unlike any other, but I haven’t played it in a few years and I don’t see any circumstance in which I will feel I must play it.

Ticket to Ride - It’s a fine enough game. But when someone offers you 6 times as much as you paid for the 10th anniversary edition, you send it on its way and wait to pick up a standard second hand copy for a pittance.

The other thing that’s useful to use as a limiting factor is space. I have two shelves in a narrow bookcase for the prettier games, a drawer in the coffee table for small games, and a small cabinet for everything else. It’s a lot easier to be disciplined when you’ve no idea where to put anything.

And then there’s one game that i know I should get rid of but can’t bring myself to do it:

Letter from Whitechapel - Why keep it? Whitehall Mystery is half the rules, a quarter of the playtime, and a sixth of the setup. It provides me with 95% of what Letters does, and it comes in a delightfully sensible box. Why have I not sold it yet? Tell me!

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Is that where Marie Kondo got it from?

My collection is space limited. I have the two shelves for big boxes (definition: doesn’t fit on the small box shelf) and three small ones for small boxes. The small box shelf can take boxes up to about 18 cm deep on one side.

Once that’s full that’s it. There’s currently a space on the big box shelf.

It does prevent me from buying big boxes that should be small (Diamant from Iello. I have the functional but less beautiful Eagle-Gryphon one and Kingdomino) but not the opposite (Oink’s Modern Art). Games also get reboxed to be smaller (Jump Drive)

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

Bruce Sterling gave a fascinating talk in 2009 (to the Reboot conference) on cleaning out your house Kondo style. He said the most expensive thing you own should be your bed, because you spend 1/3 of your life in it. Spend huge on it. Then anything that touches your skin. And you can keep items if they’re beautiful, but only if they’re so beautiful that you’d actively show them to people. Or if they’re emotional, to the level that they have a story. Or if they’re well-made tools that you use. Everything else, gone. Anything you haven’t physically touched in a year, gone. The guy is BRUTAL.

I, of course, ignored all of this because there is no way even one book is leaving my possession ever. They count in all the categories, including emotional. Seeing the spines brings back memories, so no.

Luckily that doesn’t extend to board games for me, so I won’t have the “need a spare room for boxes” problem.

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The first problem I have with this kind of advice is that kids love stuff. They can find creative uses for junk, and a bare house would be so dull for them.

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On a very much related subject: every “organisation expert” or “life style guru” I’ve encountered in person has been proud to declare that they don’t have children and they don’t want them. This shows me two things: 1) children are the antithesis of order and tidiness 2) by choosing and wanting to have children, I’ve committed to leading a disorganised life – and that’s just fine by me.

I don’t make my children clean up one thing before going on to play with another. Because it would be a waste is breath, but more importantly because that’s not what childhood is about in my mind. Besides, as the result of my partner’s and my modeling, she does actually want to clean up her toys, but usually just before bedtime.

TL;DR: I live in the midst of chaos… And that’s just fine by me :blush:

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