On Collecting

Collecting is a journey, it has phases that could be considered a start middle and end. In the beginning it can be overwhelming and intoxicating; the possibilities feel endless. Every experience is a complete hit as you mine the lush topsoil of the best the hobby has to offer. Eventually the intensity loses momentum and the collection takes on a broader quality to it. In order to achieve that feeling of a “New” experience the collector must branch out into other areas, ones that were previously unexplored. The collection becomes diversified and more well rounded as items are selected for the uniqueness they offer to the collection as a whole. As the subject mater becomes fully researched and the collector is caught up with what the hobby has to offer a choice must be made.

The search for that feeling of discovering something “New” could lead to a path of increasingly mediocre purchases and leave an endless trail of buyer’s remorse. As the best is already acquired there is often little else left but the hopes of the next rare undiscovered gem; a most inefficient pursuit. Alternatively, the collector can accept this reality and embrace the twilight years of collecting. The only things left to acquire are just the right few pieces that meet the standards of the collectors discerning tastes. That out of print item, that alternate edition, those few new releases that meet the standards of an already established collection. As I gaze upon my collection of board games, I’ve come to accept the place I’m at.

When I first started playing modern board games every experience seemed unique and fascinating. Just about every game my group and I tried were massively entertaining successes. I wanted to try everything the hobby had to offer. Large orders were placed to online retailers on what felt like a monthly basis. The thought that games like Euros and Worker Placement could be kept out of my knowledge empowered me with a sense that there was an endless supply of equally mind-blowing experiences around every corner. Sadly, games were rarely played twice as there was so much to experience in such a short amount of time.

My wish list became filled with everything on the Board Game Geek top 50. The first slowdown I remember came when I played a game in the top 5 that I was super excited for, and didn’t like it. It was Terraforming Mars. This wasn’t a bad experience but a necessary one. The equivalent of finding a new sport and following a team on a massive winning streak. Eventually that will come to an end. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a reality and a progression. The realization that there were plenty of games I would be disappointed with set in and the balance shifted from pure volume acquisition towards more research and testing.

As the months went on time became a critical factor. The games piled up and there weren’t enough people to enjoy them with. My group was enthusiastic enough that our commitment of “Every other Wednesday” was usually more of a weekly affair. At one “Main” game a week I noticed a distinct accumulation of medium to heavy games remaining unplayed. There was no point in buying ten Uwe Rosenberg style worker placement games; it would take many months of convincing my friends to play the same type of game week after week to get through. This was when the diversification phase began.

I think that not getting through these games is one of the most important crossroads a board game collector can face. It led me to seeking out more groups to game with. This can also be an incredibly frustration phase. Board gaming is often criticized for its exclusionary nature, and one of those things most commonly brought up is the required social capital. I do not share these criticisms but I can appreciate the complexity of the issue. The human experience is a social one and there is no getting around that, but socializing comes differently to different individuals and needs to be considered.

As for myself, I am a man with average charisma and confidence. My ability to connect with others does not come with particular ease nor do I find it particularly unpleasant. I had another group of friends that were already mildly into the hobby and were happy to receive my infections enthusiasm to explore it to new levels. I went to any conventions I could in search of ways to play the games I was enthusiastic about. This process can take months, or years even. Eventually enough social capital got built up that I could get invited to games at a level that keeps me relatively satisfied. I’d come to the point where I had a diverse collection of games to appeal to any taste and also a diverse social network full of differently minded individuals to enjoy them with.

Then came the first purge. It was a landmark moment that brought about the mentality I have now. Games I were excited about weren’t getting played and probably never would. Even if they were played it would probably be only once. I made the decision that they should probably be sold. This drew a line in the sand that said “A game must meet these criteria for me to buy”. In addition to quality they had to have a reasonable chance of being played, they needed a purpose. I can’t even get in a game of Dominant Species, how many times in the next 5 years will I play Bios Megafauna? Once? Gallerist and Kanban sit unplayed, there is no way I’ll have time to play those two to my satisfaction and get enough games of Lisboa in to break through that wall. It also significantly shrunk my want list. If other amazing games couldn’t stay in my collection it really made me consider why I should buy something.

Now I’m only looking for just the right pieces. A game no longer has to just be enjoyable, it has to be spectacular for me to want to reach for it enough that it justifies owning. I’m playing games before buying a lot more now. Kemet looks fantastic and would round out my “Dudes on a map” section nicely, but I need that confirmation of a playthrough before I feel I’d ever reach for it as much as Inis or Chaos in the Old World. Same goes for Arkwright and Power Grid. Both are waiting for confirmation that I can get enough plays of them in. With this mentality I’m enjoying going back to my favorite games more and more.

When buying less I can focus on trying to find the rare pieces as well. I only buy one game a month at most. Second hand markup doesn’t mean as much when a broad selection of games won’t be enjoyed as much because of a lack of time and an abundance of selection. Santoriini was a game I enjoyed so much that those few extra dollars for the collector’s edition with the superior components was worth it. Apex and the Horned Rat expansion to Chaos in the Old World ran close to 100$ in trade in value but I can’t think of two or three other games that would provide the specific benefit they do.

The amount I’m playing now is as much as it ever was but I feel like I’ve achieved the right balance. When I need to bring a game I reach for my favorites in my collection and I have a much smaller shelf of shame to feel guilty about. I leave the exploration of curiosities and new experiences to my friend’s collections. I’ll wait to be wowed by something someone else brings and shows me while approaching my own desires in a calm and measured way.

But it’s never over. The Freudian interpretation is that the mind of a collector is a sick one, all consuming, never sated. It surrenders to the impulsive, it needs to be in control of its surroundings. As I gaze upon my quickly acquired selection of fine Scotches, I being to wonder just where am I possibly going to find a bottle of out of print Glendronach 18 or Old Pulteney 17…………………