The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.
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How I live without buying games.

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
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Anyway, how's your sex life?
"She said the same thing about waffles."
Microbadge: Offline from The Geek for a while
Since the start of this little challenge, back in February of this year, the only new game bits and bobs added to my collection are a copy of Twilight Struggle (traded F2F for an old copy of Tannhauser), Cosmic Alliance (traded F2F for Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers) and Power Grid: The Robots (a birthday gift).

All around this site and at the recent get together in Eastbourne I saw piles of games. Games I didn't own, games I wanted and games I would until recently have immediately bought. But I didn't. I have been game purchase clean for months.

How has this affected my views as a gamer? Well, I was already naturally suspicious of the Cult Of The New and this has obviously not changed. I think if it has done anything to me it has made me more and more certain that I didn't really need any of these games my old instincts were pushing me to grab.

Let's look at one I always wanted, like Dungeon Lords - I am glad to have played it and will be happy to play again in the future, but I got no pangs to purchase it on the spot like I used to. I am instead happy to only obtain new games or expansions when given them. Unlike my birthday in August where I decided to leave games off the menu entirely - getting Power grid: The Robots almost by accident - I have decided to put together a wishlist for Christmas presents that should help my family out when choosing something, should they wish.

I have asked for some things that I fancy getting, like Merchant Of Venus, Hanabi, Dixit - but for the first time I am not really bothered if I don't get them. I think this is a good and better place to be at.

It has got me thinking again about the transient joy of purchasing that informs a lot of the snap decisions to buy games I have seen. One play in and often you will hear someone say "I have to own this game". Clearly the intention is to express a belief that they need this game to be available at all times for, I don't know, sudden visits of board game fans at two in the morning or something.

I intend no sweeping negative moral judgement about people who buy on a whim. They are the ones keeping the industry going after all, especially since the moment I stopped holding up my end! I just think a little Lois Griffin sense is required i.e. "you can have it but only if you count to five and still want it". I have been there and perhaps it is part of the evolution of any hobbyist - that initial splurge of having to try everything and the addiction to punching counters out of cardboard frames and the smell of a freshly unboxed game, hearing the spine on the rulebook give way for the first time...

Oh dear, I'm getting the urge to get a new game again!

So, what's my advice to people who may be feeling their buying getting out of control? What did I learn from the massive box of flimsy thin plastic pirate ships; an £80 Go set; the £120 of Twilight Imperium I never play? Let's see if I can at least point people in the right direction. These aren't rules, they're opinions, but since it is a small voice in a sea of "new hotness" I guess I'll be honest about what I think.

1. You don't have to own a game to get to play it.
I often feel gaming groups (of any size) need to set up a collection sharing system for gamers to get access to all the games they want to play together without everyone buying their own copy. If you are the supplier of all games to your group I can understand you buying every new game, but even if there are only two of you, you should be able to arrange for one to own half and the other to own the other half.

2. Do your research, especially re Longevity.
As I have discovered with things like Tobago, a fun first play does not a great game make.

3. There's no point in owning games if you're not going to play them.
This is both crucial and controversial. I make an exception therefore for serious collectors - especially if they are genuinely making investments. But for the rest of us, buying a game you loved the only time you played it when there's no real chance of realistically getting either enough people or enough time to play it again is insane. Likewise, if you bought a copy of a game and it sits on your shelf unplayed for years - you wasted your money plain and simple. The opportunity cost is a different game you may have enjoyed or even ( surprise ) something outside the hobby you could have done. The fact that you "may play it in the future" merely begs the question why you bought it now! And don't give me the "it may go out of print" thing - Cadbury's don't make Spiras* any more. I survived. You can too.

4. Don't get two games so similar that you may as well not have bothered.
Look, I know there are differences between Carcassonne and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, but most people don't really care. BGG is a pocket universe where we often conspire to convince ourselves that a different farm scoring is sufficient to get casual gamers (a huge majority of Carcassonne's target audience) to learn and play a virtually identical game with a bunch of fiddly alterations. In my experience they just ask to play the game they know and not understand why you're being so difficult.

5. Know your group(s)
Right, tricky one. Unless the game is designed for solo play, you are not only buying it for yourself. I know this is annoying when you're the one forking out for it, but try and keep it in mind. My decision to buy BSG was made because I wanted a more complex game to play with my Shadows Over Camelot loving buddies than the Round-table-em-up. Of course, what I should have accepted was that this group loves ...Camelot and doesn't really care about BSG. Indeed, they hadn't even heard of the game. Again, BGG's pocket universe sees a progression, or even a logical graduation from one to the other - those with a more casual approach to the hobby don't give a monkey's nads how clever the design is. The step to BSG was a selfish one born out of a desire to be more "serious" and alienated the single most important part of gaming - the other players. Your friends are more important than your game collection. No exceptions. Don't forget it.

6. Know what you want.
I often feel that BGG users conforming to the Cult Of The New tag seem to be hunting for something. The problem is that they don't know what. They say that it is a desire to explore a new system every week, to enjoy the first stage of exploration in a new land. I don't buy it. In many cases this wanderlust is clearly born out of a dissatisfaction that would be quenched by the perfect set of circumstances - know your goal, stick to it and save tonnes of money. Take up a second hobby and/or get out of the house to do that, spending the vast sum of money you saved on this instead (with me it was art so I can't claim it gets me out of the house!) Of course, if I am wrong and you are a person who feels they genuinely will never get tired of playing a new game every week, I can respect this, but sound a note of caution - I used to be that guy, too. I was fooling myself and it's possible you are too.

7. Accept that you cannot own it all
Just as the perfect game for you probably doesn't exist, the perfect collection does not either. As a collection grows, economies of scale start to emerge. You lose track of things (e.g. I know I own a copy of The Battle For Hill 218, sleeved and baggied, but have no idea where it is), you neglect games for years (I just realised the other day I own Supernova and RAF: Battle Of Britain, for example) etc. If there is no limit set on what you can own, it links to the endless search for and trying of new games - can this hobby ever make you happy, rather than hungry?

8. Have a goal. Stick to it.
Your collection serves a purpose. Know what it is and be true to it.
Mine, in the process of being whittled down, has a purpose of being made up only of games that my regular groups know and enjoy. Only games, therefore, that will be regularly played. It is for this reason I own two crayon rails games (which my wife enjoys) and do not own Die Macher (a 'better' and certainly more geek credible game) - the former gets played. The latter would be shelf fungus.
Likewise, your collection may be aimed towards exploring Rondel Games, or historical periods etc. You may have a few collections with one or more such goal. The (possibly only) purpose that I suggest to you is total baloney is "an attempt to own every type of game under the sun so that if someone asks me, I can say I own it". This should not be a hobby of one upmanship and willy waving. I joined this community to try and get away from that bollocks. Nor should anyone feel they have to provide a one stop shop for their friends. The only time you should be the sole supplier of games to your friends is is you do, in fact, own a shop!
The other thing to avoid is just to grab stuff at random without any thought or purpose. That's how you end up with a collection that never gets played.

So in summary then:

Games are designed to be played, not stored.
They are designed to be played with people.
People are more important than games.

With this in mind it was obvious that my collection contained irrelevancies. Because it is now so much harder for anything to be added to the collection that meets these new, strict criteria, the desire I used to feel to grab everything that caught my attention is gone.

I don't believe this approach would kill the industry if everyone followed it. In fact, I think it could improve it as companies start explaining why a game will get played, rather than telling you why you have to buy it now now NOW!

Now I'm off to break out my just rediscovered copy of Android for a two player game this weekend. If you've also got a game you love but which has got lost at the back of your collection, why not break it out and give it back its purpose?

EDIT: *The Spira was my favourite chocolate bar. Cadbury's had worked out a way (I believe using arcane magic) to twist several long thickish strands of chocolate together but their process left air pockets in the middle, creating a satisfying crunch - especially when eating out of the refrigerated vending machine at school. My point is that when it got cancelled I was disappointed. It turns out they superceded it with the Twirl and, later the Flake Dipped (basically the Twirl but for ladies), which are pretty similar but still different. I guess the arcane magic process by which it was made was too expensive to be justified by the line's performance. This analogy works( ) because in many ways the differences between a Spira and a Twirl are minor - like the difference between Mediterranean trading games. devil
If you're wondering why I know so much about chocolate bars I have two words for you: eighteen stone.
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