Every gamer I know looks to have an ideally sized game collection. The subject is of enough interest that there are frequent threads on BoardGameGeek devoted to aspects of the subject. The difficulty with such threads is that they almost inevitably come at the subject from the viewpoint of the writer, which might or might not match the viewpoint of the reader. But collectively, there is a lot of good advice on these threads; it’s picking out the useful suggestions, and determining if they apply, which is the difficulty.
The first question you need to ask is – how large is your ideal game collection? Let’s start with the extremes. For many, many people the answer is one game. I know many Bridge players who have no real interest in games besides Bridge, and Chess players with no interest in any game besides Chess. Fortunately, building that size game collection is not difficult, other than the difficulty of receiving additional Chess sets as gifts.
Also not difficult is the “Sid Sackson” choice – try to collect everything you can. There are still challenges here – finding ways to reduce the space games take (such as Sackson’s technique of only keeping the components, and tossing the boxes), and effective means of tracking your collection so that you don’t buy many copies of the same game. But there are enough games around that no one I know who fits in this category has ever run out of games to pick up.
Most gamers, however, are somewhere in between these extremes. And I’ve seen a number of approaches to determining the ideal sized collection, each with its own draw:
- Fill the available space. This is actually the biggest factor in the size of my own collection; I have a set space for my games, and I want that space to be used in such a way that games are viewable and accessible. Others are happy to pack their games in more closely, but regardless of the approach taken to packing – a fixed space will lead to a fixed collection size, once all tricks are exhausted.
- Games playable in a set time frame. I’ve seen different time frames used – a year seems to be the most common – but the result is approximately the same: a collection from which every game will have hit the table within the chosen period. This does assume a relatively fixed rate of gaming opportunities; if I started gaming half as frequently, I probably wouldn’t play half as many games, but I certainly would play fewer – and it would therefore take longer to get through those I own.
- One per type. What qualifies as a “type” depends upon your preferences, but the idea of having a negotiation game and a trick taking card game and a party game and a introductory game certainly promotes diversity in a limited size collection.
- A magic number. 10. 25. 50. 73, if you’re so inclined, though multiples of five seem to be the norm for such matters. Interestingly, I’ve nearly always seen this goal set by those who are either growing or shrinking their collections; I think it’s useful for the latter, but not best for the former, as there’s a tendency to forget to hit the brakes when getting close to the goal.
- Games to play with each group. For those blessed with multiple gaming groups, there’s value to having a set of games appropriate to each group. If, for instance, you had a “fun” group and a “fast” group, you might have a selection of lighter games for the “fun” group to choose from and a selection of longer games for the “fast” group to peruse.
- Games others don’t own. If you aren’t the only game buyer in your group, owning games which others don’t possess clearly has greater potential utility.
The much trickier challenge for most gamers, though, seems to be maintaining a collection of a reasonable size, and not letting it grow out of hand. Many, though not all, of the successful techniques I’ve seen used are related to the above techniques:
- One in, one out. This technique clearly is related to keeping a fixed number of games in your collection, but as with all of these methods it forces you to examine what’s at the bottom of the heap. This can also work very well with a one-of-each-type collection, as finding a better one of some type simply leads to a swap. This is also quite economical, as it means generating money at the same time you spend it.
- Splurge and purge. While not exactly what I do – my game buying is more sporadic – it’s the best description of what I do; I will pick up games whenever I see something of interest, and I will clear out space whenever they don’t fit. This works well with a fixed physical sized collection.
- Unplayed = gone. I frequently use this method to determine which games to let go; if I haven’t played a game in a couple of years, and don’t care whether or not I do – it’s time to go. This has the side benefit of getting games I haven’t played but do wish to play back to the table.
- Desire to play. A long time back, I realized that I didn’t have room for every game I might want to play – and I started letting go of (or never picking up) fine games which I don’t need to control my ability to play. A good recent example of this is Artus, from Alea. I like the game, and will happily play it. But after a few plays, I realized that in spite of this I don’t need to own a copy; there are other games I care more whether or not I get to the table.
So, having decided to get rid of games – what do you _do_ with them? I’ve found that depending upon the game, there are a large number of good options:
- Sell them. Boardgames tend to sell for a reasonable percentage of their original cost, and this generates money with which to buy more games. It’s a hassle, and not very fulfilling, but it’s effective.
- Trade them. I don’t often manage to pull off an x-for-y trade any more, regardless of the values of x or y, so most of my trades are through math trades on BGG. The advantage of math trades is that, provided you don’t make an error in listing your wants, you will never receive a trade you are unhappy with. Because of shipping issues, I far prefer in-person math trades, but often with shipping trades I’ve been able to acquire gift certificates – helping to cut into my expenses when purchasing new games.
- Put them on a prize table. If attending an event with a prize table, good games in good condition are usually well appreciated.
- Give them away. Sometimes, games have a clear person who should own them, and the best thing to do is to connect them to that owner. I’ll usually only do this when there’s someone who clearly should be the owner of the game; it might not bring in game funds, but even when it involves shipping it feels like much less hassle.
- Raid them for parts. Whether you design games, or just like to upgrade the parts in games you own, there are a number of games which are great sources for pieces. I’ve found Oasis to be particularly valuable to raid, and wish I’d picked up more copies back when Tanga was blowing them out.
- Donate them. Note that due to child safety laws, many stores no longer accept used games, so it’s worth checking first. In addition, some gaming events such as Unity Games run charity auctions.
- Recycle them. Much as I hate to do this, sometimes with a common game in rough shape – it’s the best option.
One final matter to consider is how much you wish to experiment, either with new releases or with older games. The tradeoff between new and known is common to most hobbies, and just as with the ideal collection size – everyone has a different answer. If you aren’t adding many new games to your collection, there’s obviously far less concern about letting other games go; at a rate of 5 games added per year, the rate of growth will cause very little pressure against any of the collection size metrics, and might well simply be absorbed. I’ve always preferred a more aggressive approach to acquiring games, which necessitates a more aggressive approach to letting them go – but it’s certainly another tradeoff I could make. It’s not clear to me that any of those who have entirely abstained from adding to their collections (other than for financial reasons) have been very successful in their quests, but those who aim for a slow rate of acquisition seem to do just fine.
So – I’ve outlined my approaches; I’ve had essentially the same sized collection for more than a decade, and I find that the current size works well for me. But Jonathan Franklin noted that it would be interesting to hear from other Opinionated Gamers, and suggested some good questions.
So, both for the opinionated gamers, and for any readers:
- What is the ideal size for your collection? How does that compare to its current size?
- If you do thin out your collection, how do you decide which games to let go, and how do you dispose of them?
- Historically, how has your collection changed over time?
So as to go through a couple of the items I haven’t clearly answered, I’ll go first.
1 – The ideal size for my collection is what will fit in my den, while still providing room for my game design pieces and my classic videogames. As a practical matter, that’s 300-350 games.
2 – As noted above, I pick out games that I haven’t played in a long time and don’t miss first. I’ve also been pushing to get games to three plays quickly; I often find that this allows me to discover if a game has long term interest for me – and let go of it if it doesn’t. And I let them go by all of the methods I suggested.
3 – My collection was under 100 games until 1995, when I discovered German games. From there, it grew quickly to its current size, reaching that mark around 1998. Since then it’s occasionally gone below 300 or above 350, but never by much and never for long.
1) My wife has been gracious enough to give me half of our finished basement for the game collection (and playing area). Pretty much, my entire game collection MUST fit within that space. Admittedly, I’ve got a fair amount of storage area, 6 bookcases and 6 cabinets plus part of the storage area in the unfinished part. I end up with space for about 1,150 games (450 big boxes and ~700 card games and other small boxed games). Storage-wise, the current size is ideal. Conceptually speaking, I’d guess that my ideal size is probably closer to 400-500. There are so many games in my collection that I simply don’t play anymore and have no desire to play further
2) The main principle behind my game collection size is: One in, one out. As I said above, I am strictly volume limited – so for each new keeper, I’ve got to get rid of something else. There are many games that I no longer have desire to play. I’ll generally try to get rid of “saleable” games first – usually those from the past few years, as it’s easier to sell a game that other folks are looking for. My main outlets are the flea markets at the Gathering of Friends (April), Gulf Games (July) and Great Lakes Games (November). I try to sell about 15-25 games at each of those flea markets to keep my collection size manageable. I used to sell via EBay, but the hassle of listing the auctions and then figuring out the mailing logistics proved to be more trouble that it was worth to me. The other option that has come into play this year is to raid them for parts and then send them to the landfill — this is mostly for thrift store specials in the past and games >10 years old that no one has wanted to buy in that time period.
3) Though I started playing TGOO in college (1992-1996), I started collecting Eurogames in 1998 – Fossil was my first purchase, quickly followed by Mississippi Queen, Manhattan and Settlers later that month. I quickly joined a local game group here in Cincinnati, and I’d say that I was around 100 games by 2000. Growth was fairly linear for the next few years until I started heading to Essen in 2005. At that point, there was an additional influx of 50-70 games each October in addition to the baseline growth rate.
1. Hmm, I’m not currently limited, volume-wise. I have a nice small room in the basement where I keep my games, and it’s no where near full. I don’t have an ideal number in mind, other than some vague idea of what is “reasonable.” (I understand that that term is hugely subjective.) According to BGG, I have 721 games, though 197 of them are expansions. Lots of the latter are one card promos, or a couple tile mini-expansions, so I really look to the difference to measure the amount of games I have: 524. I think the main factor I use when acquiring a game is simply, do I like the game? The amount of times I think I will play it is definitely lower on the list.
1. I have set a random number goal of 500. I am currently around 520.
2. When the collection starts to creep I see I am running out of room, I begin a purge. I view the games and decide what has not been played for a while, what games are really similar and which do I like best of the group. Let me clarify this one. Here is a real life example. Shark, Acquire, and Big Boss. Only Big Boss is left after that purge. To get rid of them, I use Ebay, the geek sales, trades and math trades.
3. Over time my war games have gone away. Additionally, my solitaire games (with a few exceptions) have gone. I think over time my collection has drifted toward lighter, shorter fair.
I’ve space enough to add more shelves in my gaming arena, but the shelves I already have allow for about 600 games. This is about the right size to allow me to get all of them out and played over a 2 year period and I suppose that’s my underlying criteria for collection size. If I’m not getting to a game for 3 years or more, then I’m pretty sure I don’t care whether it goes, and I’d prefer someone else to have it who wants it and *would* play it. It’s important to remember that a game has feelings as well! So I keep track of games going out and in over a year and try and keep them roughly equal. The result being the collection is gradually improving in quality (for me) all the time.
For years, my gaming collection consisted mainly of war games, some party games and just about anything Avalon Hill produced. After forming the Westbank Gamers in 1995, I began actively seraching for more games to add to my collection. Joining the world of the internet doomed me and severely impacted our family budget; I discovered the heretofore unknown world or European games. My buying spree lasted nearly ten years. What once fit on a small shelf or two suddenly burgeoned into a collection that began to threaten more and more rooms in our house. My much-more-sane wife instituted a few rules:
1) I was given a strict game budget.
2) My games would be confined to my game room (a former two-car garage that had been converted.)
Believe me, I tested the limits of both of these rules, probing at every weak spot I perceived. Fortunately, she won, and sanity was eventually restored, helping to control and curb my game acquisition lust and practices.
With this restoration of sanity another thing occurred: I realized I didn’t have to own every game or acquire every new release. I also realized that a smaller, fitter collection would increase the likelihood that I actually got to play and enjoy the games on my shelves. So, I began exercising considerably more discernment in the games I acquired, and actually began to … shudder … sell games from my collection. My goal was / is to significantly reduce my collection. I have drastically curbed my purchases and regularly sell dozens and dozens of games each year, mainly using the BGG Marketplace to facilitate the sales. The numbers are reducing, but I still have a long way to go. The task has been complicated by the regular influx of review copies, which has several advantages, but also continuously adds new games to my collection.
When deciding which games to part with, I use a combination of methods Joe listed in his article. How often do I play the game? Do I really enjoy it? Does my wife really enjoy it? Is it enjoyed by others in our gaming group? Does someone else in our gaming group own the game? Do I have other games in my collection that are similar that I actually enjoy more? Will I regret parting with it? Once I have answered these questions to my satisfaction, the decision is made: keep it or part with it. There have only been a few games that I sold that I eventually reacquired, so I am happy with my selection method and the choices I’ve made.
Right now, my magic number is 500 games. Even that seems like too many to me. My collection at one point probably exceeded one thousand games, but now has dipped below seven hundred. I’m getting there. If I could just convince game publishers to take a year or two off from releasing new games, I could reach my goal!
Since I’m trying to get my games published and, of course, want them to sell well once they are, it seems a bit counter-productive for me to recommend limiting collections. But I, too, have escaped my initial frenzy to “catch up” with the German gaming scene with a peak collection of about 600 games. The Berlin flea markets and department store clearance sales were just too tempting back then–but no longer. During the last two years, I’ve only bought a couple of new games, preferring to play through my collection instead and start shedding the dead weight (under 500 now). And I’m finally content to simply play the new games at the Spielwiese gaming cafe, when we are not testing prototypes there. For that reason (and because Berlin flats just don’t have much storage space), I’d like to trim it down to under 400.
I have been reducing my collection in a number of ways, including BGG trades and sales online, giving away games to friends and the local library, and sometimes, even raiding the games for prototype bits and recycling the rest.
My game collection has changed over time the same way my music collection has changed: after starting out with only a few specific interests, I soon craved more variety and avoided buying titles that were too similar to what I already had. Since I am often the one teaching and providing games at parties, I always try to have “something for everyone.”
What is the ideal size for your collection? How does that compare to its current size?
I don’t have an ideal size. I realize that what I have now is excessive, in that I cannot play a game a day and get through the collection in two years. At the same time, we have enough space for almost as many games as I have, so I am going with the right size being as many games as you want/can fit. In abstract, 365 seems like a good number, but then what about expansions, what are expansions and what are different base games, etc. At which point any specific number seems pretty arbitrary.
For me, it is now all about limiting new acquisitions and culling the flock. This is not really for fund-raising or space. It is more because I have so many games that are not getting played that it is time to get them into the hands of other gamers. I am working on a separate piece on this, but my current premise is “I don’t need to own no stinkin’ 7s”. I have not mastered how to cull. I just sold 40 games in a BGG auction and saw some items go far higher than expected and other games drop like lead balloons, only to see the same lead balloons soar in another BGG auction the very next day. I do cull through math trades and donations, but have never ventured into ebay waters.
The size of my collection shot up for the first two years. Plateaued as I thought I was set for life. Then it took another undisciplined jump a few years ago. I am now selling more than I am buying, so it should be dropping slowly for a few years unless a slew of great, not just good, games come out.
The limitation on the number of games I own has almost always been space-related. In the mid-nineties, I had plenty of shelves in our basement to store games, but few of those games were particularly good. By the time I discovered German games in the late nineties, circumstances had forced us to move to a condo, where storage space was at an extreme premium. Consequently, I only had a small closet available to me for games, which greatly limited the size of my collection (probably less than 100 games, many of which were small card games). Fortunately, this wasn’t a big issue because I rarely hosted and the people whose houses I gamed at had large and very well stocked game collections. So I just made sure I picked up only the games that I absolutely loved and kept things very small.
In 2006, we moved to our current house and I now have a larger area with some nice shelves to store my games in. I increased my game buying, since I had realized how hard it was to find many games after they had gone out of print. In addition, our gaming venues became more varied and I was more and more I was finding that I would have to supply a game if I wanted it to be played, a financial responsibility I was happy to assume, now that I had the space. I’m not quite sure how many games I own (I’m in the process of cateloging them for the first time–up until now, I’ve never been completely sure of which games I owned!), but my estimate is between 250 and 300 games. That’s pretty much all the space I have, so that number figures to remain at that level for the immediate future.
I’ve only had to worry about disposing of games (to make room for new ones) for the past couple of years. I’ve done a little Ebay selling, but I find it more trouble than it’s worth. My preferred form of culling is to give the games to other members of my gaming group. I put the ones I’m trying to dump on our group’s website and make them available to anyone who can give them a good home. If only one person expresses interest, I’m happy to give the game away to them. If more than one person wants them, they can bid for the game. I require that they bid in $5 increments to keep things from getting too silly. So far this has worked well: the members of my group are happy, I don’t have to worry about boxing and shipping games, and the games themselves are still in the group, available to be played. So I expect I’ll keep on doing this for the indefinite future.
I decide which games to dispose of based on my desire to play them. I like just about every game in my collection, since otherwise I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place (I’m a strong proponent of “try before I buy”). But after a while, there are games where I’m just not as excited about playing them as I was when I purchased them. Once the game shelves start bursting at the seams, those are the ones I try to find a home for.
I’m running up around 450 games or so, which is probably more than I really want or need, but like so many others, I find it hard to lower or limit my collection. In the past couple of years I’ve put effort into slowing down the growth of my collection and even (horrors!) trying to reduce my collection. Initially, I was one of the primary game providers for my local gaming groups, so if I wanted to try any high-profile games I needed to procure them myself. When combined with the occasional review copy, my collection grew rapidly. With two boys starting to claim more and more storage space for their own toys, I’ve had to stay on the ball to keep ahead of the storage curve. My biggest challenge initially was simply to identify which games to release back into the wild. I attempted to make some trades on the BGG,a and while that helps round out my collection by getting some older titles, it isn’t very cost effective due to the costs of shipping. I’ve given some games away to friends, and even ditched a few with the local Goodwill store – but that is always conflicting, if it is a good game will it find a nice home? If it is a poor game should I even be inflicting it on someone else?
I don’t have any good answers, but have managed to limit the growth of my collection in two ways. First, I’m buying a lot fewer games than I used to. Second, the games I do buy are much more likely to be expansions to games I already own. There seem to be many more expansions flying around nowadays and since they can often fit in the original box, it does help to increase my game options without increasing my storage space. Perhaps the biggest roadblock(s) to reducing my collection at present are my two boys. There are simply too many games in my collection that I tell myself: “Well, maybe in about 10 years I’ll be able to play these with my sons.”
As for my ideal library, it would always be changing. As I look through my collection, examine titles for their uniqueness. Does this use some mechanic or theme that is significantly different than the rest of my collection? I’m not much of a gaming connoisseur, preferring variety and have few 10s and many 8’s in my rankings so simply picking out the low end of my collection is pretty difficult. Even for games ranked lower in my preferences, I can imagine situations where the game would be useful. If I could get rid of the nostalgia factor, I could part with a couple more dozen (my first few Euros and some of my old Ameritrash games fall into this category) but for now I’m holding on to my original copy of Axis and Allies.