About Today’s Guests: This is the sixth interview in our “Voices in Board Gaming” series here on The Opinionated Gamers. Today’s guests, Sheila & James Davis, are among the kindest people you’ll ever meet in the hobby. A husband and wife duo, Sheila and James have been doing this for decades, and they’re perhaps best known for their prolific game collection, which as we discuss below, tops 13,000 games. I met them for the first time at the Gathering of Friends, and I was excited to meet them after seeing them on the documentary Going Cardboard being interviewed about their acquisitions over the years. They’ve both answered questions below: paragraphs with “SD” are by Sheila, and paragraphs with “JD” are by James. Without further ado, here are 11 questions for two amazing gamers!
(1) How did you both you get into the hobby? What’s kept you in it for so long?
SD: I’ve been playing games since I was a kid. My mom used to tease that I was a game collector since I had so many games (numbered in the dozens when I was living at home). It wasn’t until I moved away with my first real job (about 30 years ago) that I learned that there really was such a thing as a game collector. That’s when I began collecting in earnest.
SD: I like collecting and I like playing games, so it’s a perfect match. And unlike many other types of collecting, I get to play with my collection.
JD: I agree. Having a game collection is the best of both worlds. Although having so many games does tend to lengthen the time our friends and I spend deciding what to play.
JD: My first clear memory of playing games was Pinochle with my grandpa and dad when I was probably around 10. But I got into the gaming hobby with high school friends. And I’ve never left because of the people. The folks in this hobby are amazing.
(2) What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed from when you were first involved?
SD: When I started, the only real options for collecting were wargames and antiques and I’m not terribly into antiques. Now, with the rise of Euros, a person can have a good sized collection and never touch anything published by Avalon Hill.
JD: I think Kickstarter is the biggest change to the hobby. It was like putting a match to kerosene. Although not the best analogy as cardboard is very flammable.
(3) I first learned about your game collection when I watched the documentary “Going Cardboard” four or five years ago. (If readers haven’t seen the documentary, I enthusiastically recommend it.) My first year at the Gathering, I was thrilled to meet you both, and of course, I asked about the game collection. I know you all stopped keeping track, but how many games would you estimate are in your collection? And how long have you been collecting?
SD: Probably northwards of 13,000. Note that this includes card games, RPGs, and miniatures rules sets. It does not include our books listing games (e.g. Hoyles), Print and Play, or video games.
SD: People sometimes imagine we have 13,000 Monopoly sized game boxes and rightly wonder where on earth we could store it all. But the collection has many more small things like S&T ziplock games or RPG books, so we can fit it all in our basement.
JD: As she mentioned above, she started collecting games around 30 years ago. I was never really a collector myself, but I did have many dozen at the time we met. We joke and say she married me for my collection.
(4) What have been your biggest sources of games over the years? I guess people are probably curious about how you got so many games?
SD: Thrift stores, garage sales and game convention auctions. It used to be that I could stop by the local Good Will and find at least one or two interesting games and occasionally a treasure. Since gaming has become so popular, though, that source is no longer worth the effort to check. On the other hand, the selection at convention auctions has gotten even better. But since we’re low on space now, I’m very selective about what I purchase, so I don’t frequent the auctions like I used to.
(5) How are they organized? I personally spend several hours a year rearranging games, and I only have a few hundred!
SD: For the wargames, they’re sorted by publisher. But wargames tend to be in similar sized boxes. Euros come in every shape and size, so those are puzzle fit into the shelves as best as we can. They tend to be in close to the order in which they were acquired, so we know a general area to search when we go looking for something.
JD: Why can’t everyone publish in the same sized box?!? It would be so much easier. Just kidding.
(6) Do you have any crown jewels of the collection? The games that are really special to you, either because of rarity or for sentimental reasons?
SD: The original Eon Cosmic Encounter is a favorite. And I still have the copy of Hands Down I got for Christmas as a kid. The rarest is likely our copy of 3M’s Jati.
JD: We didn’t know each other at that time, but we both are sentimental about Eon’s Cosmic Encounter. There are a lot of good memories playing that game with friends. The original Arkham Horror from Chaosium was also a big hit back then.
(7) Are there any “grail” games you haven’t been able to locate?
SD: There are games I’d like that I never expect to own because the rarity makes the price unreachable. 3M’s Thinking Man’s Basketball is one.
(8) One of the things often mentioned in the series is the growth in the number of games coming out each year. Does that impact how much you add to your collection?
SD: Absolutely. It used to be I could walk into our FLGS and buy one of everything new. Now there are hundreds of new game companies every year. So I’m much more selective. That, and as mentioned above, we’re out of space.
JD: It’s an interesting dynamic: as the amount of games published per year has grown, the frequency of adding games to the collection has diminished. Now we just skim a little of the cream off of the top of the flood.
(9) My toughest question: What’s left on your gamer bucket lists?
SD: Believe it or not, we’ve never been to Spiel at Essen.
(10) Another tough question: what each of your top 10 games? Or feel free to make a longer (or shorter) list!
SD: I don’t tend to list my games like that. But top 3 would probably be Cribbage, Memoir ‘44 (and all Command and Colors games) and Cosmic Encounter.
JD: It changes. A lot. But these have consistently been near the top for a while: Pandemic: Legacy (both seasons), Gloomhaven, Terraforming Mars, Scythe, Lisboa and Rising Sun. And the last game I won.
(11) What advice would you give a new gamer, meaning somebody who has played a few modern games but is just getting into it?
SD: Try out different styles to see what you like. Some people shy away from party games or cooperative games or whatever without giving them a try. It’s fine to like or dislike certain game types, but don’t choose based on others’ dismissals. Give it a shot, you might be surprised.
JD: I heartedly second Sheila’s advice. I’d also say to stick with it and take baby steps. Some of us old hats can be very enthusiastic about our favorite complicated game. If your head is spinning after five minutes of rules explanation don’t let it turn you off. Try something else that is a better fit. It’s worth it.
For me, the games aren’t the most important thing in this hobby. It’s the people. Even a bad game with a good bunch of friends makes for a great time.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers:
Greg S: James and Sheila are truly two wonderful, friendly and kind folks. I have always enjoyed our times together, mostly at gaming conventions. They did stop by for a brief visit at our home in Tennessee, and it was great to be with them in a setting outside the traditional trappings of a game convention.
Previously on Voices in Boardgaming: