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Interview with Sheila and James Davis, Game Collectors Extraordinaire

Piotr Silka
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Piotr Siłka: Can you please introduce yourself in a couple of sentences?

Sheila and James Davis: Both of us are originally from Utah, with James growing up in Moab and Sheila in Salt Lake City. We first met at the gaming and science fiction club at the University of Utah. We were later married and have now been together eighteen years. We live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and both of us work at Colorado State University, James as the webmaster for the College of Engineering and Sheila as administrative director of the Extreme Ultraviolet Engineering Research Center. We game with different groups 2-3 times a week and regularly attend the local conventions in Denver. We feel lucky to count among our friends a number of game reviewers, designers, and publishers, and we enjoy being part of the community.

PS: How many games do you now have in your collection? How often do you do an inventory?

SJD: Based on how many we have inventoried so far and an estimate of those we haven't yet inventoried, we think the total is around 12,500 or so. Given that we both work full time and our lives have gotten more and more busy over time, keeping up with the total is no longer a high priority for us.

PS: Have you ever thought of reporting your collection to the Guinness World Records? Currently the biggest reported collection doesn't even have 2,000 board games?

SJD: We are aware of the Guinness World Record, and when it was first published, a number of friends and acquaintances suggested that we should contact Guinness since our collection is bigger. We don't do so for several reasons:

-----1) Guinness World Records is a business, and in order to get in the book, you must pay a fee to have them come look at your record. We don't wish to pay that fee.

-----2) We don't look at our collection as being in competition with anyone. We like games and like to collect games, but it's unimportant whether someone else has more or claims they have more.

-----3) Our collection is not the biggest in the world either – I believe a collector in Austria has the largest collection, but I may be wrong – so it would be just as inaccurate to have our collection listed as the World Record as it would for the current holder of the title.

PS: How did your adventures with board games start? Who was first, or did you meet before collecting games and your adventure started together?

SJD: We are both lifelong gamer geeks. While growing up, we both played all the standard kid's games, then got into wargaming as young teens and role-playing when D&D was first released. Though we both like all flavors of games, James leans more towards the in-depth and complex Eurostyle and wargames, while Sheila mostly enjoys RPGs and heavily-themed games.

PS: When did game collecting become your hobby? Did you come to this idea together or did one of you have to persuade the other half?

SJD: We both had small game collections – a few dozen titles – when we met, but it was when Sheila first moved to Colorado that the collection really took off as she discovered that there really was such a thing as game collecting and she started to actively build the collection. After we married, Sheila kept collecting, while James is most interested in playing. It's a perfect marriage.

PS: I know that everyone has probably asked you the same question over the years, so please forgive me for doing the same: Why do you collect games?

SJD: Sheila's family has always collected things – she still has baseball cards from when she was a child – so the collecting bug comes naturally. As we've joked before, sometimes collecting games is the best game of all. Seeking out hard-to-find treasures can be quite an adventure, and it's always a thrill to discover something unexpected in a thrift store or such. Collecting games has an added advantage over some other collections in that not only do you get to find neat things, you can play with your collection.

PS: Do have some special system of choosing which games will be added to the collection? You have to buy a game almost each day, right?

SJD: The numbers average to one a day, but that's not how we buy them. James' weekly boardgaming group meets at the local game shop, so we usually buy interesting new releases there. When we attend conventions, Sheila visits the auctions and flea markets to pick up a lot of older titles. And when we happen to be near thrift stores or antique stores, we'll often stop in looking for games. So the purchases come in bunches.

It used to be the case that if a game looked interesting enough to play and we didn't own it, we’d buy it. While we wouldn't purchase all the dozens of variants of Monopoly or most children's games, almost any new board or card game at the hobby store found its way into our collection. But with so many new releases now available, we have to be much more selective. Now the game must be somewhat new and innovative to make it worth the purchase.

PS: How often do you play your games and do you know how many of yours still wait to be played? Do you create lists of the best games played each year or the best new games in your collection?

SJD: With only a handful of exceptions – for example, our pristine copy of SPI's War in Europe – all of our games are available to be played. But with so many, and a large portion of those being roleplaying or wargames, there is no possibility of playing all or even most of them, so we've probably played only 10% or so of the collection. We don't track what's been played or try to rotate games to be played or such. We just play whatever sounds like fun, when it sounds fun.

PS: How do you find games in such a large collection? Do you have a special way of storing them?

SJD: For the most part, Sheila remembers where they are. We have the games stored by type, and then by manufacturer wherever possible, so the Eurogames are in one section, the wargames in another, etc. But sometimes we need to go searching if someone asks for something that is particularly obscure.

PS: Which games in the collection are you most proud of?

SJD: Proud isn't really the right word as we just enjoy collecting. It's a game, but not a competition. That said, we're excited to have one of the few copies of 3M's Jati, and a few rare wargames like the above mentioned War in Europe.

PS: Are there games that you want to add to your collection, but which have been too hard to get?

SJD: There are a few super rare games that would be nice to own, but we don't realistically expect to ever see a copy as they are far too expensive. 3M's Thinking Man's Basketball would be one such game. Other than that, we just keep our eyes open for new things that might come up.

PS: How do you catalogue the games? I searched for your collection on BoardGameGeek, but could not find it.

SJD: We started to enter our collection on BGG, but found we got inundated with emails asking "Will you sell this game to me?" The games are not for sale; that's why they were listed as a collection, not in the marketplace. We finally got tired of it and just deleted it all.

Our catalog consists of the inventory we've made of most games, although some still need to be added.

PS: Do you know how many games you have from Poland, and do you have a favorite among these?

SJD: It's only been relatively recent that games from Poland have started being made available in English, and it's still tricky to obtain many, so we have only four or five (although some of our Eurogames may be Polish, and we just don't realize it). Of the ones we have, Neuroshima Hex! is probably the favorite.

PS: How many rooms does the collection take? Is it insured?

SJD: Most of the games are stored in our large basement. We have shelves built along the walls and plan to add them in stacks as in a library. The games are insured through our homeowner's insurance.

PS: Is there any number at which you would consider the collection finished, or is the collecting part of your life and something you can't imagine not doing?

SJD: There's not a particular number, but since we are running out of space in our basement, we've had to slow down purchasing. It's still fun to collect, though, so we will probably continue to do so for many years to come.


Editor's note: This interview originally appeared in Polish in Świat Gier Planszowych. To see more of Shiela and James Davis, you can check out Lorien Green's documentary Going Cardboard.
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