Board Gamers Anonymous

Covering the whole length & breadth of the tabletop gaming experience. Posted here are excerpts from the blog's official website, boardgamersanonymous.com.

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Best Blog Posts of Dec. 3-9, ft. 'Invisible Ropes'

Drew Davidson
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No, I'm not going to use the holidays as an excuse for not keeping up. After all, they don't harm the quality or quantity of Tony Boydell's posts!

So, reasons, instead of excuses: I had a massive freelance project in early December, one where I had to create a series of training videos for an updated online education course. So, now I'm experienced in two video editing programs and that has inspired me to consider creating some videos for Board Gamers Anonymous when I move to--wait, I'm getting ahead of myself...

That freelance project ended the day before we began a 12-day trip around the American West (flying to Denver, Colorado, and renting a car). However, I still had to tweak the audio on a number of videos, so this was a working vacation. Still, there was plenty of time to see some outrageous scenery (Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, etc).

Now that we're back home, we're preparing for our move to Bennington, Vermont in the 3rd week of January. There is an awful lot of boxing to do (mostly books, on my end) but the boxing of the board games has already been done. And there will be approximately 130 large (but light for their size) boxes to load on the truck.

I don't want to fall any farther behind, so let's clear out the backlog! Besides, we have some end-of-year awards to start handing out soon....

AT THE TOP OF THE CHARTS . . .

Women in gaming vs. invisible ropes
Gil Hova @ Formal Ferret Games, Dec. 5, 2014

http://gil.hova.net/2014/10/27/women-in-gaming-vs-invisible-...

Unlike the recent GamerGate controversy, this post approaches the gender debate from a positive ‘identify-and-correct’ approach.

For some reason, the phrase ‘invisble ropes’ made me think of Wonder Woman, who has become a lightning rod in the discussion about geek women. [http://geekdad.com/2014/12/feminist-wonder-woman] But Gil is talking about the subtle barriers to gaming that hinder certain demographic categories (specifically women) from getting into the hobby.

Quote:
An invisible rope is something that most people in gaming don’t notice, but that can turn off someone just entering the hobby. … All these ropes add together to tell them: Gaming is not for them. They can’t tell us why, because they can’t easily see the ropes that kept them away.
Gil lists the ‘ropes’ that hold women back, including lack of representation on game boxes, condescension, and a locker room mentality. If we want to expand the tabletop hobby, we need to identify these ‘invisible ropes’ and cut them. Gil does a great job of describing them for us.

For a great example of how to recognize women’s role in the hobby, check out A Look at the Utterly Unique Designs of Rachel Simmons, by Paul Comben @ The Boardgaming Life. [http://theboardgaminglife.com/2014/12/07/all-around-the-bloc...]


AND THREE MUST-READS . . .

The Life and Times of a Board Game—Inspiration!
Dan Yarrington @ ICv2, Dec. 4, 2014

http://www.icv2.com/articles/columns/30364.html

I don’t pay much attention to ‘designer diaries.’ The diary benefits the game inventor more than anyone else. Except for this one case, where Dan is beginning a series of posts about the process that leads up to a successful publication. If you accept the axiom that ‘there’s a game in each one of us’ then pay attention and learn how you could develop those game ideas you have rattling around your head.

In a related podcast, check out: Is There a Design in Every Gamer? from the folks at Whose Turn is it Anyway?
[http://www.whoseturnisitanyway.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/WTi...]

The Tao of Board Gaming V
Shannon Appelcline @ Mechanics & Meeples, Dec. 8, 2014

http://www.mechanics-and-meeples.com/2014/12/08/the-tao-of-b...

Fifth post in a series, with 3 brief essays on a variety of gaming-related topics. Everyone loves a short post!

In Koan XIII: The Problems of the World, Shannon writes about a gamer’s desire to keep gaming at his FLGS despite the chaos and violence in the surrounding neighborhood. “I did it because gaming is my Tao. It is how I escape from the problems of the world.”

And don’t overlook Koan XIV: The Nature of the Strategy (and the Tactics). A lot of people confuse the two. Shannon tries to clear up the difference by using Settlers of Catan as an example.


Is it Fun?
Isaac Childres @ Cephalofair Games, Dec. 9, 2014

http://www.cephalofair.com/2014/12/fun.html#

Isaac starts his piece by discussing the state of current flash games (eg. Candy Crush and clones). They’re challenging and addictive, but not a lot of fun. “These ‘free-to-play’ games aren’t designed to give you fun (outside of the initial “hook” period), they’re designed to dangle fun just out of reach, which is just unpleasant.”

The rule he now lives by: “If it’s not fun, don’t play it.”

(The above four blogs earn consideration for the BGA Blog of the Year Award. One point is awarded for inclusion, with an extra point given to the Post of the Week.)



THREE MORE WORTH YOUR TIME . . .


Online Board Games, What to Play?
Jacob Coon @ Whose Turn is it Anyway?, Dec. 3, 2014

http://whoseturnisitanyway.com/online-board-games-what-to-pl...

I’m often seeing posts asking “What’s good to play with friends online?” By that, they generally mean games between distant friends that can be facilitated by Skype or Hangouts. Jacob introduces his suggestions with some insight on the best kind of games to play that way: Open Information Games - where all your cards are ‘on the table,’ so to speak. Check his post for some great examples.

Calculation Burden
Greg @ 3DTotal Games, Dec. 3, 2014

http://www.3dtotalgames.com/calculation-burden/

This started out as a fascinating look at why many people prefer digital games to analog (aka, tabletop) games. Then Greg started wandering in a different direction and he lost his way. Still, the first half of the post makes a strong argument: many gamers just don’t want to be bothered by complex arithmetic. We’re not even talking about higher math, just a combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Sometimes, it’s just easier to let a processor figure it out. I think Greg could have stayed on topic to make the point that we should play more tabletop games as a way of strengthening basic math skills.

Advent 04 – FLGS
Tony Boydell @ Every Man Needs a Shed, Dec. 4, 2014

https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/36306/advent-04-flgs

If Monty Python played board games: “The FLGS Sketch.”


AND A BONUS . . .


“Can You Feel the Luck Tonight”
Ambie @ Ambierona Parodies, Dec. 6, 2014

http://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/36398/can-you-feel-luck-to...

For all the spoofs Ambie has done, she finally does a song I know well! It’s easier to enjoy a parody (this one is of a player depending on one last roll of the dice) when you can hum along.


Which one of these posts did you enjoy? Are there any blogs that I missed last week? Let me know in the Comments section!
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Mon Dec 29, 2014 3:30 pm
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What Would You Do With John's Games? + Poll (Part 7 of, Sitting on 2000 Games)

Drew Davidson
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(NOTE: Okay, so I changed the title of the series from 3000 to 2000 games. My original estimate was way high. Still, that's a lot of games....)

If you just want take the Poll, scroll down to the end of this post.

If you want to read about why I'm offering this Poll, you can catch up on the story of the John McCallion Collection, starting here:

Part One: The Story of John and Robin
Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson
Part Three: The Sad Story of Sid's Estate
Part Four: John at the Crossroads
Part Five: Joining John's Salon
Part Six: John's Collection on the Move

Okay, I’m going to need your help with this one. We’ve got a pretty heady decision to make…

As you know, John McCallion, friend to Board Gamers Anonymous and to board gamers everywhere, is moving back to Ireland and leaving behind the collection he and his late wife Robin built over the past two decades. [John and Robin’s story is in Part One.]

In my last installment, I wrote about the choices facing the BGA during the process of moving and inventorying his games; that is, either selling the collection on John’s behalf, or buying it ourselves.

Well, the only way we could justify buying the McCallion Collection , which would set off a mad scramble to find the money, would be if we could decide on a good use for the collection, one that would justify all the expense. Four ideas came up in the BGA’s discussions.


1) The logical first option is to start a board game café. After all, they’re everywhere in the news right now. The Guardian of London is trumpeting that city’s first board game café, and the Atlantic Monthly just wrote a very long article about the rise of game cafés in North America.

While cafés are popping up seemingly everywhere, we can’t be sure at this point how viable a business model that is. The café concept is new and needs to find its niche in society. There is one here in New York City, Uncommons, but it’s in tony Chelsea. So it has the feel of one of those trendy ping pong clubs that briefly had their day in NYC. But reading about cafés popping up around the country is a more hopeful sign that the trend will take root.

Still, none of us in the BGA have any experience with food service or with running a brick-and-mortar business. Still, it has more potential for growth than investing in a traditional Friendly Local Game Store. With the FLGS model experiencing rough seas, perhaps a hybrid game store/ café would be worth considering.


2) Some 30 miles west from Staten Island is Morristown, NJ, home to a lively regional convention scene, overseen by Double Exposure, Inc. Knowing that there are a lot gamers in the region itching for the convention experience made us think we could hold one-day Mini-Conventions based on select games in the McCallion Collection.

A small convention would pose no logistical headaches as there’s no need for booking hotels. The theme could be tightly focused, drawing a relatively small crowd. For example, Abstract games don’t get much love at big conventions nowadays, but there must be hundreds of gamers in the Northeast looking for a chance to play them with other fans of the genre.

Mini-conventions could even have a little cosplay flavor with themes that inspire period costumes. There are steam punk games, Japanese-themed games, and Medieval games (for the Ren-Faire crowd). New York City even has a lively ‘roaring 20s’ community that attends outdoor jazz band dances in period costume. It wouldn’t be hard to tailor a small convention for any of those groups.


3) On recent Thursdays I’ve been joining a group of budding game inventors at NYU’s Game Center in Brooklyn. Watching the lively crowd and participating in some of the prototype-testing gave me another idea, to partner with a local institution.

NYU has had an MFA program in game design for a couple years. In the spring of 2015 they’ll launch their Bachelor’s program. Right now their game library numbers some150 titles, but they have no room for growth. They could certainly benefit from the McCallion Collection. So, we’ll talk with the folks at the Game Center and see where it leads.

Other options for local partnerships could include high schools, libraries and Senior Centers. Each of those institutions would appreciate having games made available to them.


4) Finally, we had one other idea that seemed like a remote possibility: start a board game Museum. In Europe, that’s not such a far-fetched notion. In fact, nearly every European country has such a museum in one form or another.

Talking about that made me think of legendary game inventor Sid Sackson, and his wish to leave his fabled collection to a museum. But he couldn’t bear to part with it when he was alive, and after his long illness and death his family needed funds to pay his medical expenses. They broke up his collection and sold it in pieces at auction. [The story of the Sackson Collection is in Part Three.]

John and his wife Robin were disturbed by what happened to Sid’s collection, which is the main reason he won’t break up his own collection. Even if he wants no part of it anymore, he still wants to find a good home for it. And a museum would certainly be a good home; but would it be practical?

It would take a heck of a lot of work, that’s for sure. Rather than it being aTime-or-Money question, starting a museum would require a lot of Time *and* Money. It’s probably just a pipe dream…but, boy, wouldn’t it be cool to have a board game museum?

So, what do you think of these four ideas? We could really use your input. What would you do with 2000 games?

Poll: What would you do with 2000 Games?
1. Which of these options would you consider if you were suddenly given a 2000 game collection? (You can choose more than one.)
2. Which of these options would be your FIRST choice? (Choose only one.)
      120 answers
Poll created by BoardGamersAnonymous
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Tue Dec 2, 2014 5:48 pm
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John on the Move (Part 6 of "Sitting on 3000 Games")

Drew Davidson
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If you haven't read the previous 5 parts of this series,you can access them here.
Part One: The Story of John and Robin
Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson
Part Three: The Sad Story of Sid's Estate
Part Four: John at the Crossroads
Part Five: Joining John's Salon


What do people do with a large collection they’ve spent years putting together, when they have no further interest in them? It doesn’t really happen often enough to tell. Usually when large collections are sold, it’s because someone wants to cash in, or someone has already ‘cashed in’.

John McCallion & Robin King, husband, wife, and soul mates, spent a couple decades holding on to most of the games they acquired during John’s tenure as reviewer for Games magazine. But since Robin’s death over a year ago, John wants them out of his life completely. [See Part One]

Simply just storing the collection has been a drain on John’s resources as well as a strain on his soul. His desire is to get rid of them in one giant lot, both for simplicity’s sake as well in remembrance of the unfortunate dispersal of his friend Sid Sackson’s fabled collection soon after the game inventor’s death. [See Part Three]

From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous


Every game John and Robin kept over a dozen-plus years went to a storage unit in Queens, NY. It was over 200 square feet (12’ x 17’) and cost them some $300 every month to maintain. But given his current state of mind, it’s a source of frustration to John that he has to continue paying even $1 for something he no longer cares for.

A temporary solution I came up with was to move the games to a smaller unit in Staten Island. The Board Gamers Anonymous (BGA) team assisted with the move back in July. With the transition, the monthly fee was reduced from $300 to $190. We had to squeeze all the games into a 9’ x 9’ room, cutting the square footage in half, but, through reboxing, I’ve been able to condense the cubic footage needed.

From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous


The main reason for the transfer was so I could begin the task of cataloging John & Robin’s collection. I’ve been using the comprehensive online database at Board Game Geek to log the games as I went along. You can find the database of John’s collection at http://boardgamegeek.com/user/BoardGamersAnonymous/games.

The total number of pieces in John’s collection came to just over 2000 (games + expansions + RPGs + books, not counting periodicals). That’s far fewer than my original estimate of 3000, but I hadn’t taken into account the hundreds of games John had given away throughout his reviewing career.

Just this past week, I opened the last few boxes from John’s original storage. Beyond the reboxing, there’s still more work to do. For example, I have to identify and enter a couple dozen games that are not in the 'Geek’s database. It’s all time consuming work, but I’ve enjoyed the thrill of discovery. And I may have wasted a bit of time stopping to look through game boxes that piqued my interest.

For the Board Gamers Anonymous team, now comes the harder work of finding a permanent home for the collection. There are only two viable options, if we’re determined to keep the collection together according to John’s wishes. The first is to sell the collection on John’s behalf; and the second, to buy the collection ourselves.

In the great Economy Dichotomy (Time vs. Money), the first choice will involve spending a lot of Time; the second will cost a lot of Money. And the BGA is split between those with a little extra time, and those with a little extra money.

I’ve almost completed the first part of the task, cataloging his games. The next big job is to assign a fair Market Value for each game. And that’s a much bigger task than just counting up games. Even then, John’s not interested in a big Payday. Most of the games in his collection were sent to him gratis as review copies. Still, John spent quite a bit out-of-pocket over the years acquiring games that he felt deserved attention.

The BGA could try to broker a deal with a third party, but it could be a long search. Meanwhile, the storage costs would continue to mount and John wants a speedy resolution before he moves back to Ireland. He doesn’t have a “collector’s” collection; there aren’t many rarities to be found. This is a collection of games meant to be played. So the buyer would need to decide just how to utilize a collection that size. It couldn’t just continue to sit in boxes.

On the other hand, if the BGA took the simpler step and just bought the collection ourselves, how quickly could we get the money? Would we have to sell off part of the collection to pay John for the rest? In that event, do we sell the most valuable games, that only collectors would want? Or do we sell off the more common games that the majority of players would want?

So, we’re trying to come up with a decision, especially now that my inventory work is winding down. There’s a future for John & Robin’s collection, it’s just that we don’t know what it is yet.

(In Part 7, I'll talk about some of the ideas the BGA has considered if we were to buy John & Robin's collection.)

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Tue Nov 25, 2014 3:24 pm
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Joining John's Salon (Part 5 of Sitting on 3000 Games)

Drew Davidson
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Please read the first 4 installments in the series:

Part One: The Story of John and Robin
Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson
Part Three: The Sad Story of Sid's Estate
Part Four: John at the Crossroads

A few years ago, needing something to get me out of the house and away from my home business, I tracked down some local board gaming groups through Meetup.com. I started gaming first with the Staten Island group twice a week, and also made occasional trips into Manhattan for the NYC Boardgames Meetup, a sprawling group made up of some 3000 players.

One Sunday afternoon in 2011, I visited a meetup held in the back of a mid-town Manhattan Cosi. I came late so everyone was busy playing one game or another. I idly wandered from table to table, soaking in all the new games I’d never seen before (which happened to be almost all of them).

I made my way to a table of 4 playing a colorful tile-laying game where the object was to collect colors in a certain combination so as to recreate a classic painting.

“What do you think of the game?” came a voice from beneath a bushy grey beard, heavily laden with Gaelic overtones. I was startled, not because serious gamers rarely take notice of curious onlookers like me, but because the voice betrayed an earnest note of inquiry. My honest opinion was being sought!

This was when I first met John McCallion, a chummy fellow who stood out from the crowd by the sheer joy he radiated at sharing a game with pals. Seated across the table from him was his even-friendlier wife, Robin King, equally adorned with a smile every bit as welcoming as her husbands.The game they were playing was Pastiche, one of hundreds that John reviewed for Games magazine over 14+ years.

Trying not to look like a relative noob, I shared some off-hand impressions. Why they valued my opinion when the room was filled with more experienced—serious—players, I couldn’t figure out. But they seemed to appreciate how I defended my opinions and John gave me his card. Within a week I called him and arranged to join him and his wife for an session of brand new games. It was on a provisional basis, of course. I was being auditioned.

You see, not everyone was a good fit for John’s group. In fact, I introduced two others to John’s salon over the years and neither stuck with it. One just didn’t like playing poorly designed games—something playtesters have to put up from time to time—and the other thought John really was the gruff, soul-devouring hellbeast that he enjoyed pretending to be.

John’s coterie of playtesters was different than what I would have expected. They weren’t the “serious” gamers that I was used to playing with in Staten Island. They were Casual gamers, recruited from all walks of (Manhattan) life. Surprisingly, he and Robin also spent some time in the gay community, at the LGBT Center in Chelsea, and found some playtesters there (a source rarely tapped by the board game community). We were atypical gamers, clean-cut professional types (except for me, when my hair was long), and family people, whether the family was nuclear, or Open.

I had met Robin too late. I saw her very little after that Meetup. Her pulmonary disease continued to worsen until she was hospitalized for long stretches of time. She certainly had no energy for 4-hour game sessions anymore. She was, for a time, able to join us for the annual dinners John would throw for his playtesters (and paid for out of his own pocket).

What little I knew of Robin was supplemented with stories from her adoring husband and her faithful friends. At her death on Thanksgiving day, 2013, I lost the chance to draw close to a lovely human being. But that loss was nothing compared to the deep and unquenchable loss John felt--and still feels to this day.

After her passing, John tried to soldier on, as the deadlines for reviews continued to come in. Robin had always insisted that John faithfully carry out his duties to the hobby they both shared. But within a few months, it was impossible for John to even contemplate sitting down to a game table. He tendered his resignation from Games magazine and kindly put my name forward as a possible replacement. I sent a couple reviews to the editor, Wayne Schmittberger, by way of an audition (Lewis & Clark and Freedom: The Underground Railroad). Wayne liked them and accepted them; he invited me to continue sending more reviews in the future. I was pleased to be able to follow John’s footsteps, even if he no longer had the passion for it.

John was my mentor; I tried to copy his reviewing style, but it was nearly impossible for me to concisely sum up everything about a game in just 800 words or less. John made it look easy. And the thing I appreciated most about his reviews was the context he provided to every game he reviewed. It’s the one thing I try to bring in with every review on Board Gamers Anonymous. And it was through John that I gained a great appreciation for Sid Sackson’s genius and geniality. Sitting at table with John was the closest I would ever get to gaming with Sid.

Within a week of my first submissions, Wayne was given a pink slip as Kappa Publishing downsized the staff and the magazine. My inquiries to the new publisher went unanswered and my dream of contributing to a magazine I’d loved for 30+ years went unfulfilled.

Well, I still had my contributions to Board Gamers Anonymous. At the beginning of 2014, I was invited to join the 4-person podcast team when two of the founding members dropped out to start their own podcast, and got engaged at a board game convention along the way. Within a couple months, our website started a blog and I began tinkering with different kinds of posts to contribute. I’m still publishing at least 2 articles a week, with the hopes of pushing that soon to 3 a week.

I feel privileged to have two great influences in my hobby life: John McCallion and Board Gamers Anonymous. And the fact that I had a connection to both opened up the possibility of John’s finding a permanent home for the collection that he spent years building with his dear wife, Robin.

Part 6: John on the Move
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Tue Nov 11, 2014 2:00 pm
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John at the Crossroads (Part 4 of Sitting on 3000 Games)

Drew Davidson
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[Part 4 is just over 800 words. Much shorter than Part 3. I'll never put you through that again! )

Part One: The Story of John and Robin
Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson
Part Three: The Sad Story of Sid's Estate

When Sid Sackson died (see Part 3), his family was overwhelmed, both by his medical bills, and by Sid’s estate of 18,000 games. They had to liquidate Sid’s collection, and quickly. You can’t blame the family for acting out of necessity, as Sid never made plans for his future.

What happened to Sid Sackson’s collection could have easily happened to John and Robin. They just kept piling up their games without organizing them or making plans for their future. With Robin’s passing, John wanted no part of the collection they had built together (see part 1). Learning from Sid’s mistake, John has been looking for ways to quickly and easily divest himself of the oppressive weight.

BTW, contrary to the title of this series, it’s looking like John’s collection will fall short of 3000 items. He had earlier given me a rough description of his holdings, but he had never taken a count or kept inventory.

John’s original estimate was based on the number of times he worked on the Games 100 (I assumed he kept all 100 of the top games from that year. Throughout the years he and Robin were together, they also added quite a number of abstract games – their favorite – to their shared collection.

Every year, after the annual Games 100 issue was ‘put to bed’, he and Robin would box up all the games they received in the previous year and truck them over to their storage unit in Queens, NY. The closest thing to record-keeping was a list of games written John would write on the outside of each box.

But John didn’t keep all the games that he had. No, I wouldn’t say John was a Hoarder. In fact, it was Robin who was the hoarder of the family, if anyone. But “Hoarder” has been turned into a harsh word nowadays. I think of her more as a ‘keeper’, as in keepsake.

Among the things Robin collected was every single issue of Games, right from Vol 1, #1. There were also hundreds of copies of NOST-algia magazines (from the chess club Robin & John met through), as well as dozens of Scientific Americans , which Robin kept for the Martin Gardner columns on “Mathematical Games.”

On the other hand, John was the more practical one. A world traveler in his pre-Robin days, he had learned to keep his pack trimmed to the essentials. When he met and fell in love with Robin, he traded in his rover’s life for one of domestication. But it was a life he settled comfortably into.

Because of his work as a reviewer, John collected games; but he wasn’t a “Collector.” He pretty much kept just those on the Games 100, minus the games he had no further use for. A fan of Euro games, like Sid Sackson was, John also collected a number of German-language games, many of which still haven’t been published in the U.S. (For some reason, he had no love for Agricola and its endless expansions, though he liked Caverna well enough.)

In contrast, he had little interest in keeping “Ameritrash” games, many of which he donated to charity. In addition, John contributed some 40 games (unwrapped & unpunched) to the Extra Life fundraisers that Board Gamers Anonymous has run for the past 2 years.

For the past few months, in preparation for his final move back to Ireland, John’s been going through the Flushing co-op he shared with Robin. Layer by layer, like an archeologist going through the past, John’s been carting out the detritus of his past life. It’s painful work, like picking at a wound.

As disheartening and slow-going as it is, his old playmates have been supporting him and are assisting him with a home makeover prior to placing it on the market.

What’s left are photos. They’re found everywhere throughout the home, photos of John and Robin and friends in happier times. He may be jettisoning everything else out of his life, but as long as he never gets rid of those photos, I think he’ll be all right.

The games are long gone from his home, now housed in a tight 9’x9’ storage unit in Staten Island. John wants to divest himself of the collection all at once, as quickly and simply as possible. It’s just too much trouble to dispose of them otherwise. For example, it would’ve cost $1200 to ship them all to an interested party in the Midwest. And it would be a lot of trouble to list 2500+ items on EBay. A group of gamers in Maryland considered it, but it would take time to gather up money, and the games would still need to be transported.

Once everything is picked up, thrown out, packed up or stored, the question still remains, What will happen to John and Robin’s game collection, when John turns his back on it forever...?

[Part 5 will discuss how I became part of John's inner circle, and how I'm working with him to find a good home for his and Robin's collection.]

Part 5: Joining John's Salon
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The Sad Story of Sid's Estate (“Sitting on 3000 Games” series, Pt. 3)

Drew Davidson
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(This 3rd post in the series clocks in at right about 1600 words. I couldn’t find a way to break it in to 2 parts, so I’m posting it in full. I apologize for the length and promise that future posts in this series will be more concisely edited.)
Please read part one, The Story of John and Robin
Please read part two, John & Robin’s mentor, Sid Sackson


"To me, selling [Sid Sackson’s] collection in bits and pieces is like taking a giant beautiful tapestry that took years to make, and undoing all the threads and selling them and the canvas separately.” – Robin King


THE WORLD'S LARGEST GAME COLLECTION

Sid Sackson didn’t collect games. When he saw a game he wanted to play, he bought it. He wasn’t interested in what kind of ratings or reviews it had. He was a student of all games, especially ones with mechanics or components he’d never seen before.

As his games gradually began to take over 3 rooms and a basement in the small Bronx home he and his wife Bernice shared, Sid never thought of them as having any monetary value. In fact, few of his games were in mint condition, anyway. He wore them out playing them.

The shelves and closets began to fill up faster when the game inventor became a game reviewer, first for the wargame magazine Strategy & Tactics, then with Games magazine and Gamers Alliance. He began receiving review copies of games, but all those free games weren’t enough to sate his curiosity. According to Sid himself, “I discovered rummage sales and I really got going. It’s definitely turned into an addiction."

That was Sid Sackson in a nutshell: not a game collector, but a game addict. His ‘addiction’ caused him to amass 18,000 games in his lifetime.

And Sid was a board game junkie. His house full of games became a mecca to gamers. My friend, John McCallion, along with his late wife Robin King, enjoyed the hospitality of Sid and Bernice on many occasions.

SID'S DECLINE

Along with Sid’s family, John and Robin witnessed Alzheimer’s Disease take increasing control over Sid’s mind starting in the late 1990s. A lifelong diarist, his entries betrayed the progress of the disease. Even his beloved board games were slipping away from him. According to Bernice, “He couldn't recognize his own games anymore.”

It’s yet another of life’s sad ironies that games and puzzles are touted today as ways to slow the advance of Alzheimer’s. Yet the greatest game inventor – and game player – of his generation succumbed anyway. Sid Sackson died on November 6th, 2002, at the age 82.

Even before his death, as the medical bills for his care and treatment mounted, the family started making plans to sell his games to help defray the expenses. It was a painful process for Bernice, who had been Sid’s partner in games and in life for the previous 61 years.

“His big dream was to have had a game museum,“ Bernice once said. “He was hoping to have a college acquire the collection, and he would take care of it.” In fact, for many years, Sid and Bernice tried to find a university or museum to take their games.

But Sid would have to come along with the collection. No institutions would agree to that, according to Bernice. “They would always say the same thing: 'Where did you get your degree?' And he didn't have a doctorate.”

But at one point, years before Sid died, the Boston Children’s Museum reached out to him. Surprisingly, Sid turned the offer down. Yes, he wanted to donate his games, but he was never ready to donate them. At the time, Sid said with some regret, "I need about half a year to get it all cataloged. And I never seem to get that half year."

HURRIED PLANS

As his health began to fail, the family tried to find a single person or institution that would purchase the entire collection. They also contacted Sotheby’s, but the prestigious auction house wasn’t interested. No doubt to them, Sid’s treasure was little more than thrift shop trash.

Some in the family hoped to use Board Game Geek to sell off the games. It would have been a lot of work to sell the games piecemeal, but their thinking was that at least Sid’s games would be in the hands of the people who would most appreciate them, play them, and develop them further.

But then, other members of the family struck a deal with a New Jersey auction house, North River Auction House in Keyport, New Jersey. According to Sid’s daughter-in-law, Mary Ellen, “There was a mix-up with one sibling not knowing what the other was doing and [Bernice] thinking we were both referring to the same party."

As plans were laid by his family to liquidate his collection, Sid died unexpectedly. The auction went ahead, starting Nov. 15, just 9 days after Sid died.

THE AUCTION

The auction, by all accounts, was a mess, though North River was great to work with. Overwhelmed and short on time, they never contacted experts or sought advice from collectors. They admitted they didn’t know what they had on their hands.

Among other problems with the way the auction was handled, they sorted games into box lots containing both collectible and ordinary items. Or they’d simply put games together based on similar names or publishers. And they never checked inside the boxes for other materials; some games contained letters, checks and other personal documents.

The auction was far from a disaster, however. After all, Dale Friedman, representing the family, noted it was “wonderful to be surrounded by so many people who obviously loved and admired my father.” It was certainly a respectful and well-behaved crowd. The organizer, Mark Csik, praised the attendees, calling them “one of the most civilized and considerate audiences I’ve dealt with.”

There were some 200 in attendance, less than100 of which were actually involved in the bidding. Many game fans came just to see the scope of the collection and gawk at the rarities on sale. Many celebrities of the hobby were there, too, including Will Shortz and Steve Jackson. One collector flew in from Oregon, and a game designer from the U.K., Ian Livingstone, also attended.

Serious gamers who knew and respected Sid had already come to terms with the auction’s necessity. Livingstone, attending with Steven Jackson, thought it was “a landmark in gaming history and we should be there.” Many were disappointed that the sale didn’t do Sid’s legacy justice. As one commented, “It was sad to see Sid’s life work being sold off in such an underwhelming way.”

Estimates of the collection’s size ranged from 16,000 to 20,000. But most pinned the number at 18,000. Attempts were made to track the sales throughout the weekend. On Friday evening, Sid’s books were put up for auction. There were about 500 volumes, which brought in around $4000, or $8 per book.

Throughout the next day, Saturday, some 13,000 games came under the gavel, bringing in around $60,000. Csik said that was about twice as much as he expected, a depressing thought, as he must have had really low expectations. The rest of Sid’s games were sold at a second auction a few months later. But the crowds then were smaller, and the bids lower.

As smoothly as the auction went, it was not without controversy. Buyers had the option to have their purchases stamped for authentication, and there were ongoing debates about whether such a stamp was appropriate.

In retrospect, it primarily appears obvious that those who wanted their games stamped ‘from the collection of Sid Sackson’ did so for the purpose of reselling the games for a profit. It’s a fact that hundreds of such stamped items turned up on eBay in the months after the auction.

However, fans and collectors, who appreciated the true value of owning part of Sid’s collection, didn’t need the stamp for validation.

AFTERMATH


John and Robin didn’t attend the auction of Sid’s life work. (Most of his prototypes and all of his writings were later donated to the Strong Museum of Play.) They knew Sid’s original wish for his games, and they couldn’t bring themselves to see Sid’s lifework scattered to the four winds.

Too, they were sad that Sid never took it upon himself to organize his collection so it could be properly donated. On the other hand, if Sid had earlier donated all his games to a museum, what would his family have done to pay the medical bills?

John’s collection (and it’s just as much Robin’s collection, too) pales in comparison to what Sid had gathered in his lifetime. Still, any collection of that size (almost 3000 games) represents a large part of someone’s life. It’s just that John, still trying to cope with the loss of his wife and partner, wants to excise that part of his past.

Even though he could just take all his games, and books and magazines, and throw them in the trash – despite John’s current state of mind it would never come to that – he realizes that they hold value to others, just as they held great value to Robin.

He wants to keep his collection together, but he also wants to get it out of his life. As much as it pains him to contemplate, John has to take steps to find a home for the collection. He doesn’t want to repeat what happened to Sid.

His wife Robin was right. Sid’s life work, his “tapestry,” can never be rewoven. As game fans commented at the time, “It was a tragic sight.” “A tragedy for game historians.” “The prospect of this incredible collection being split up was unthinkable.” But the unthinkable happened.

Stephen Glenn, a game designer – no, in honor of Sid let’s use the word inventor from now on – who published an interview with Sid and later wrote about the auction for Games magazine, summed up the whole series of events perfectly: “It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Part 4: John at the Crossroads



NOTE:

After I posted Part 2 of this series, I received a couple nice Comments from readers who actually own parts of Sid’s collection. They seemed to feel like they had to defend their ownership. But no true fan of Sid’s has to defend their choice. Anything purchased by a true collector at that auction meant that there was less for the vultures to pick up and resell on eBay. Profiteering off of Sid’s legacy is shameful and unworthy of a true fan of gaming. ‘Thank you’ to all those who have purchased a piece of Sid’s legacy and have kept it alive.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS


All of these sources were extremely helpful to me in the writing of this post. I apologize if I have lifted a phrase or two word-for-word without attribution. (And I apologize for the random order of this bibliography. My brain finally went on the fritz....)

http://boardgamegeek.com/boahrdgamedesigner/4/sid-sackson
BGG’s bio

http://www.webnoir.com/bob/sackson.htm
Stephen Glenn's interview with Sid.

http://thebiggamehunter.com/inventors/sid-sackson/
Bruce Whitehill, “Sid Sackson: America’s Grand Game Inventor,” Knucklebones, May 2006, pp. 40-41.

http://www.ttlg.com/forums/showthread.php?t=63992
"Sid Sackson: A Remembrance," by Greg Costikyan, preserved at Through the Looking Glass (ttlg.com)

http://www.museumofplay.org/collections/archival-artifacts-p...
The Strong Museum of Play, Rochester, NY, is the home for his personal papers

http://www.worthpoint.com/blog-entry/rise-fall-great-sid-sac...
"The Rise and Fall of the Great Sid Sackson Gaming Collection," by Michael Barnes
[url]
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/01/20/sold-separately[/url]
Eskin, Blake, “Sold Separately,” The New Yorker, January 20, 2003,

http://www.webnoir.com/bob/sid/zetlin.htm
Zetlin, Minda, “The Guru of Games,” originally published in Games Magazine, Feb./Mar. 1987,

http://www.gamersalliance.com/sidsackson.htm
Tributes to Sid Sackson from Gamers Alliance, where he posted reviews

http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/SidSacksonAuction.sh...
Matthew J. Horn, The Games Journal, Feb. 2003

http://boardgames.about.com/od/sacksonauction/
8 articles about the auction by Erik Arneson (Guide)

http://www.museumofplay.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Find...
Thorough biography prepared by the Strong Museum of Play, Rochester, NY

“Endgame,” Stephen Glenn. March 2003, Games Magazine

“Sid Sackson’s Games Auction, “ Ian Livingstone. March 2003, Counter Magazine
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Tue Oct 7, 2014 5:12 am
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John & Robin's mentor, Sid Sackson (Sitting on 3000 games, Pt. 2)

Drew Davidson
United States
Bennington
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(Please read Part One first.)

“Games mean many things to many people; to me, they are an art form of great potential beauty.”—Sid Sackson

The clouds never lifted all day, nor did the oppressive humidity that soaked his all-white lawn bowling togs. But John’s dark mood had lifted for the few hours he was rolling the wooden balls toward the jack.

Among the staid regulars who filled the Central Park lawn bowling rink that Sunday, John stood out for his ebullient glee at a well-placed shot. He was having the time of his life!

I had to dodge a street full of marching environmentalists for a chance to bowl by his side last weekend. Since his club wraps up the season over Columbus Day weekend, we had very opportunities to share a game before he left the country for good. His goal is to be in Ireland by the time the next bowling season begins in April.

Our match seesawed between us over an abbreviated game of 10 ends, and we were knotted up at the end of regulation. I’m an old hand at bocce, where the mechanics are similar, so I was able to keep up. But my skills couldn’t get my last ball to move the ½” I needed to score in the extra End. John bathed in the well-earned victory. As well as bathing in the well-earned sweat….

Afterward, John treated me to a meal at one of the innumerable faux diners that line the edges of Manhattan Island. He doesn’t willingly talk about games anymore, but we did chat about Robin and about their old friend Sid Sackson, a predecessor at Games magazine.

It seems that whenever I talk to John about his collection, the conversation invariably turns to Sid’s monumental 18,000 game collection. John & Robin knew Sid well, and were occasional dinner and game companions with him and his wife, Bernice.
From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

By all accounts, Sid was a remarkable man. Noted writer Martin Gardner once called him “the country’s leading game inventor.” That’s a word we don’t hear today, but long before there were game “designers” there were inventors, men who changed the course of tabletop gaming. And Sid Sackson was the preeminent Inventor.

While Sid is credited with creating over 500 games, only 50 or so were ever published commercially. There are 124 games accredited to Sid in the Board Game Geek database; most of them are prototypes.

Sid was one of the few designers of his day (he was born in 1920) who actually produced games meant to appeal to adults. He knew there was a world of fun out there beyond the old ‘roll-and-move.’

“It’s only important that the game [is] interesting.”—Sid Sackson

Sid came of age in the Depression and his family moved frequently, making it difficult for him to have friends. So he stayed indoors most of the time, playing his collection of games. He played them so frequently, he grew bored and tinkered with them. Taking pieces from different games he created new games, or changed the rules and made improvements.

For example, by his own words, "I sort of changed Uncle Wiggily so that there were four rabbits instead of just one. And I had the rabbits fight each other. I ended up with a completely different game.”

Another game he re-jiggered was Lotto, a forerunner of Bingo. Sid reworked it into what he called Lotto War, where empires battled across a card full of numbered squares..

He took his sharp mind to City College of New York where he graduated magna cum laude in civil engineering. He quickly got work designing weapons systems for warships built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And he later played a part in engineering the iconic World Trade Center, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, at the time of construction the world’s longest span.

He married Bernice in 1941; they would be together for the last 61 years of Sid’s life. Sid & Bernice entertained themselves at first with jigsaw puzzles, but Sid’s busy mind soon grew bored again. They knew a couple who enjoyed playing games, and the four spent many nights gaming together. Over the decades, the Sacksons entertained frequently in their home. That is, when they weren’t out ballroom dancing, another one of Sid’s passions.
From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

Through the years he continued tinkering with classic games, even publishing a few variations of age-old card games. He developed Poke, adding a trick-taking mechanic to Poker, and it was published in Esquire in 1946. Five years later his two-handed variation on Bridge, called Slam!, was published in a nationally syndicated column.

“If I had to pick just one game to play for the rest of my life, it would be duplicate bridge. But I would really hate to be in that position.” – Sid Sackson

His first commercially published game was High Spirits. In 1962, Milton Bradley released it, but corrupted Sid’s adult game into a bland children’s game, crassly named after a now-forgotten TV cartoon.

In 1970, when he was unable to take time off from work to present his games in a week-long exhibition, Sid quit his job. "By then,” he said, “I was making more money with games than as an engineer.”

He was prepared. All of his life he kept dairies, meticulously indexed, of ideas, session reports, and contacts. In fact, throughout his gaming days, he always had a note pad and pen handy. He wasn’t just an inventor, but a student, who researched and analyzed games.

"(A good game) should be easy to learn yet have infinite strategic possibilities, give you the chance to make choices, create interaction among players and take a maximum of one and a half hours to play." -- Sid Sackson

It’s said that musicians can look at a score and hear the melody in their heads. Sid claimed he could do the same thing with games. Just by looking at the rule book and inspecting a game’s components, he could tell before how it would play and whether it would be fun. He never especially cared if he won or lost—though he always played to win.

Sid didn’t lack for a variety of gamers to try out his creations. He had his own playtesting group, The New York Game Associates, decades before Meetup.com ever saw the light of a monitor. By the early 1990s, John & Robin were a regular part of Sid's gaming circle.
From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

As a game inventor, Sid was so far ahead of his time that he and the German game industry enjoyed a mutually satisfying business relationship long before America discovered what was then called ‘German Games.’

In 1981, Sackson won both the Spiel des Jahres and the Essen Feather for his abstract classic, Focus. (Though Acquire was up for the inaugural Spiel des Jahres Award in 1979, it only garnered a ‘recommendation.’)

It was a mutual appreciation, as Sid had many German games in his collection (a habit that John picked up when purchasing games for his own collection). While American game companies behaved as if their products came from nameless drones, European publishers proudly displayed the name of the game’s designer. In recent years, Gryphon Games has made up for such oversights by putting many of Sid’s games back into print.

"Germans consider it the parents’ duty to play games with their kids, but they avoid all war games.”—Sid Sackson

I only knew Sid through a handful of well-worn books in my library: Beyond Tic Tac Toe (a book Sid wanted you to write in!), Beyond Competition (cooperative games, in the 70s?), and his enduring classic, A Gamut of Games, which Gardner called “the most important book on games to appear in decades.”

This was the man who towered over the New York City gaming scene when John came to these shores to be with Robin. And intentionally or not, he shared some traits with the Master, including a similar style of writing reviews. John’s collection, which I’m still busy cataloging, is dwarfed by what Sid accumulated in 60 years of gaming.

Sid couldn’t bear to part with his collection during his lifetime. Oh, he talked about donating it, intact, to a museum and curating the collection himself, but he never made the arrangements by the time he died in 2002.

But unlike Sid, John is willing – no, desperate is more the word – to dispose of his collection as quickly and simply as possible. Still, he’s holding on to one last trait of Sid’s. John wants to keep his collection intact. It’s his only wish, other than to wish it out of his life for good.

Sid never got his wish. He never saw his games and prototypes donated to a museum or university. But neither did he live to see his historic collection broken into little pieces and sold off to collectors and speculators alike. What happened to that massive collection was an object lesson for John, one that will be covered in Part 3.

Oh,… that Lotto War game Sid worked on as a child…? He kept tinkering with the game through the years. In the early 1960s, when Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing (3M) saw a wide open field for board games oriented to adults, Sid approached the forward-thinking company with his new/old game, which he had renamed…. Vacation.

3M loved the game, but not the title; they suggested a new name and Sid agreed with them. 3M would go on to publish five other Sackson games, none as groundbreaking as Sid’s classic game of economics, Acquire.

“Just as we never run out of new jokes, we’ll never run out of games.” – Sid Sackson
From gallery of BoardGamersAnonymous

All photos are used by permission of John McCallion.

I’m grateful to a number of online sources that I used for this and the next article. I apologize for not provided attributions for each tidbit I gleaned.The complete list of links will be provided at the end of Part 3.

Part 3: The Sad Story of Sid Sackson's Estate
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The Story of John & Robin (Pt. 1)

Drew Davidson
United States
Bennington
Vermont
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I had a friend named John.

John had a great side-job, as a board game reviewer; and he had a great wife, a brilliant, affable woman named Robin.

But when he lost one, he no longer wanted the other.

Yes, I speak about John in the past tense even though he's still alive. That's because his passion for board games died when his wife died. It's now a thing of the past, something I can no longer share with him.

Some two decades ago, John met Robin through a Correspondence Chess group. A deep and abiding relationship blossomed and he moved from London to be with her in New York City.

John settled in with a full-time job, then got a gig working for Games magazine, writing for & editing the Review section. Both he and Robin contributed articles for Games, especially about the abstract games they so loved.

Over a span of 15 years,as they shared their lives and their hobby, their game collection grew swiftly. Dozens of games a month came to their co-op in Queens, New York.

John invested a lot of time and money in his review work, because not all games he covered were freely forwarded to him, not nearly. So, over the years, he had to purchase many hundreds of games out of his own pocket, to supplement the review copies he was sent.

It was a financial burden John was happy to bear, for he had an enthusiastic life partner to help carry the load. Their co-op soon filled up with games, books about games, and magazines about games. He had to rent a storage facility to hold them, which eventually grew to 12'x17'.

They had a close-knit group of playtesters, with whom they shared a celebratory dinner every time the end-of-year Games 100 was sent to the publisher. To them, John and Robin were the patron saints of tabletop gaming: St. Robin the Beatific, and St. John the Gruff.

During Robin's lingering illness, brought on by worsening pulmonary hypertension, John wanted so much to be by her side at every doctor's visit, every hospitalization. But his obligations to the magazine weighed heavy on him.

And Robin would never let John shirk his responsibility. Her love of gaming, and the social interactions it created, was so great that she continually pressed John to meet his deadlines, even if it pulled him away from her side.

Robin King died in November, 2013, following a lung transplant operation necessitated by her life-threatening condition. They had waited so long for a suitable pair of lungs, her weakened body couldn't stand the shock of such a procedure.

Overwhelmed with grief at losing his companion, John resigned from Games, and stepped away from boardgaming entirely. After playing games for nearly his entire adult life, John turned his back on them, on the very thing that kept him apart from Robin when he wanted most to be with her.

The mere sight of the dozens of boardgames littering the co-op he used to share with Robin, the mere thought of the thousands of games that sat, boxed up, in his storage unit, the mere idea of sitting down to a table, never to have Robin by his side again... it was too much for John.

How could someone just walk away, you must wonder. But playing a game is not a solitary recreation. Nowadays, we can play dozens of games via email, apps, websites, and think nothing of the person we're playing with.

But back in the day, when Correspondence gaming meant really corresponding, connecting with our opponents, you could forge a strong bond with someone thousands of miles away. So it was that gaming brought John and Robin together, and glued them together so powerfully that John could not think of one without the other.

Having lost the only family he ever had in America, John's now focused on returning to his family back in Ireland. His heart aches to be with them, but legal ties - which he's attempting to unravel one by one - hold him here for the time being. But his back has already turned, he's facing East and waiting for the day that he's free to go.

His long-treasured collection of games will not be going with him.

Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson
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Tue Sep 16, 2014 3:56 pm
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