Brandon Kempf: Sturgeoning My Board Game Collection

So, if we go by Sturgeon’s Law that 90% of everything is crap, what are the 10% in your game collection that you think aren’t crap? Yes, I realize that this is a bad usage of Sturgeon’s Law. In truth, you are curating a collection as you go, you are trying to find the 10% before it ever enters your collection. If we used Sturgeon’s Law all the way down, we’d be left with nothing. Maybe using another method would have been better, the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle leaps to mind, but Sturgeon gave me a more solid, and honestly a more striking number, so I went with that. Plus, I get to say the word crap. 

As an exercise I am going to whittle my collection down to that magical 10%, which right now would be 45.9 games. Over the last eight years or so, my collection has ballooned to upwards of 650 titles, not counting expansions. Over the past year or so, I have been doing a better job of curating and weeding out games that won’t see enough table time to warrant keeping them around. It’s not that we lack the space, we’re fortunate to have plenty of that, it’s just that some games don’t work out the way that you think they should, and you end up shelving them for the rest of eternity, and I am striving to be a gamer, not a collector. 

There is a lot of criteria to think about when looking at a collection of 450 plus games and trying to decide what, from that list, best suits you. That may be the biggest issue really, you can’t only think of you, you have to think about what others are willing to play with you as well, and what they like. Regardless of what recent trends say, board gaming is still best as a social activity, suited for more than one person (no offense meant to our solo gamers out there). A lot of folks would look at mechanisms if they “were actually to try this, in order to have a well rounded game collection, but I didn’t take that approach. There are mechanisms and genres that I just don’t enjoy, so I don’t feel the need to have them in the collection, since in reality, they’d never be picked over things that we truly enjoy. I don’t need Ameritrash games if we aren’t going to play Ameritrash games. The idea is not a well rounded collection, the idea is a collection that gets played. 

You have to try to not be sentimental in your pruning. There is no reason for us to keep that copy of The Magical Labyrinth, even though it was one of the first hobby games we ever picked up. It doesn’t get played any longer since the kids are getting older. Same goes for that wonderful collection of HABA games that we started. All those yellow boxes look beautiful on the shelves, but if no one is requesting them, maybe they should go to a Ronald McDonald House or a children’s hospital, where they could bring some enjoyment. 

In doing this little experiment, one thing I have noticed is that I like low rules overhead. I like when designers don’t rely on a bunch of rules to make a fun experience. We as gamers are perfectly capable of doing that on our without having rules dictating every single thing that happens. W. Eric Martin said it with his comments on Winsome titles: “ rules-light games that create highly player-dependent gameplay patterns, that is, the game system is so open that each player contributes a lot to how the game as a whole plays out”. I’ve not played any Winsome titles, but this seems to be something that runs through most of the games that I have picked. Not to the depth that Winsome games do, but appropriate for the weight class of games I have picked. 

Time to figure out what stays.

  1. Crokinole
  2. PitchCar
  3. Ticket to Ride
  4. Carcassonne
  5. Modern Art
  6. Ra
  7. Blue Lagoon
  8. Dominion
  9. Blood Bowl Team Manager
  10. Manhattan
  11. Puerto Rico
  12. Bohnanza
  13. Agricola
  14. Bargain Hunter
  15. Ganz Schon Clever
  16. Doppelt So Clever
  17. Kingdomino
  18. Majesty For the Realm
  19. Codenames Duet
  20. The Colonists
  21. Werewords
  22. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
  23. Azul
  24. Arboretum
  25. Gunkimono
  26. Ginkgopolis
  27. Stockpile
  28. Acquire
  29. Carson City
  30. Expedition Northwest Passage
  31. Patchwork
  32. Targi
  33. Ingenious
  34. Zertz
  35. Qwirkle
  36. Downforce
  37. Seasons
  38. Survive Escape from Atlantis
  39. Tikal
  40. Finca
  41. Crown of Emara
  42. Hadara
  43. Planet
  44. Santiago
  45. 7th Continent
  46. Deck of cards or Sticheln deck

The last five on the list, not counting a deck of cards or Sticheln deck, are new games in the collection. Games that I want to figure out if they are something that needs to stay, or they need to go. For the most part, if I were doing a true one in and one out collection, those would be the games that would move. Most of the others just aren’t being done better by newer designs. But there is always that chance that something comes along that makes me want to replace an Agricola or a Tikal. In this new age of abstract games, maybe that’s another flexible spot in the collection. That’s something else — if you are trying to run with a minimal collection, you have to be flexible. Things will change over time — your preferences, your likes and dislikes. Some games will reveal flaws or things that don’t mesh to your tastes over time instead of instantly, so you have to be able to cut ties and remain flexible with it.

I said this was really just an exercise, and in reality, it is. But ultimately my goal with this is to find a happy medium to keep my collection. It won’t be fifty games. In theory I think I could be happy with these games and only these games in my collection, but I am at heart a person who values discovery and learning new things. This is how my collection ballooned over the last couple years. I saw a game, and I wanted to try it out, so I bought it. That would have to change. When running a minimal collection, you have to be very particular about what comes in, you have to be willing to let something take the place of something else. 

Maybe I’m not cut out to have that kind of collection, but it certainly has been interesting thinking about it and trying to whittle my collection down. In my head, I know that any sane person would see these 46 games and think that a collection of this size is well within reason, but there is a reason we drifted to this hobby, and for most of us, I don’t think that it’s to be content.  

Here is the link to the Twitter thread where I originally fleshed this all out.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Simon Neale: I think that trying to remove 90% of your games is highly optimistic. Sturgeon’s Law is only likely to be valid for randomised collections of things and not applicable to a group of items that you had personally selected at the outset. For example if you bought all the games released in a specific year then I can see that it would be entirely possible to remove 90% of them. But whatever the method you choose, then trying to reduce your game collection will be challenging but if done effectively it could be rewarding – if only to allow you to build it up again!

I have been trying to limit my collection to around 300 games from a peak level of over 400! Boardgamegeek tells me I have a total of 315 of which 110 are expansions. On the positive side I have previously owned another 258 (including 91 expansions). I now aim to buy games that are either sufficiently different from anything in my collection or replace an existing game. An example that may take a bit of thought is that Nusfjord replaced Caverna. 

My main buying spree is at Essen Spiel and the following spring I have a clear out in an attempt to get near that magic 300. For a game to remain it has to be popular with either my family or my gaming group and ideally both. I can see little point in retaining a game that when suggested is met with a refusal to play.

Good luck with getting to 45.9 as I doubt I will ever get to 300. 

Jeff Lingwall: This is a great, albeit painful exercise! For instance, should I include Transylvania: Curses and Traitors (a giveaway at Geekway to the West a few years ago) in my new, slim game collection, as my kids play it ad nauseum? So I keep Transylvania and discard Taluva, or Telestrations, or Tash-Kalar, or Twilight Imperium? I already have a pretty slim collection by BGG standards (around 200 games), so if I were to narrow to 20, here goes. These 20 span genres from short party game to all-day civ game, from fantasy to abstract to historical, etc. 

  1. Agricola 
  2. Caverna (yes, I would keep both!)
  3. Battlestar Galactica 
  4. Codenames / Codenames Pictures 
  5. Concept 
  6. Cyclades 
  7. Dixit 
  8. Dominion + expansions (I’ve invested too much to toss!)
  9. For Sale
  10. Gloomhaven 
  11. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 (yes, we’re still playing it)
  12. Hive 
  13. Jump Drive (I play Race digitally, and Jump is perfect for my kids)
  14. Memoir ‘44
  15. Qwirkle
  16. Railways of the World
  17. Rory’s Story Cubes (like Concept, not really a game as we play them, but one of our most-played “activities” of all time)
  18. Tash-Kalar
  19. Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary
  20. Twilight Imperium (4th Edition)
  21. (Honorable mention) Transylvania: Curses and Traitors …!

Joe Huber: Sturgeon’s Law – to the extent that it applies – isn’t iterative.  Even if you believe that 90% of games aren’t good, that doesn’t mean that 90% of the games you own aren’t good.  Since the start of 1996, I’ve played 3514 different games. 223 of them – 6.3% of them – are in my collection. So – I’ve already decided against more than 90% of them.  Why should I do that again? I’ve shrunk my collection significantly the last couple of years – my collection was around 300 games for two decades, before I recently cut back some.  But at that – it really hasn’t been that difficult. Games I rate a 9 or 10 – or, for now, an 8 – stay. Games I rate a 7, I have to convince myself they deserve to stay. Once I moved from “what games I rate a 7 should I let go?” to “why should I keep this game I rate a 7?” – it really became quite straight forward.  And so far I haven’t regretted any of the games I’ve let go.

Patrick Brennan: I prefer keeping a larger collection for a few reasons. Firstly, if a game doesn’t get played for a while purely because of lack of time issues rather than quality issues, when eventually it does come back into the rotation it feels fresh and new again. Secondly, I have 20-25% of my collection listed as trade bait and that’s enough to keep the collection continually refreshed with games I’m interested in playing but which I don’t need or want to buy at “new” prices. Then, when I’m done with them, they enter the trade pile for something else. This drastically reduces the amount of money needed to be spent on new games. Now I only buy those rare games that I know I’m really going to love and will hit the table a *lot*, and which I won’t realistically be able to trade for.

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3 Responses to Brandon Kempf: Sturgeoning My Board Game Collection

  1. Matt Strickler says:

    Gentlemen, Now THAT was a great article. (Not that your others aren’t; they’re good. With so much noise out there in the BGG community it was refreshing to read this). Thank you. Thank you. And I wholly agree with Joe H. We as gamers are already somewhat selective in what we purchase given the absurd amount of new games each year. Cheers, Matt

    >

  2. Pingback: Brandon Kempf: Sturgeoning My Board Game Collection – Herman Watts

  3. The majority of my collection was purchased between 1995 and 2005 and numbered about 600 titles at its apex. I decided several years ago to get rid of all but my top 100. At the start, this was relatively easy but has become increasingly difficult. I don’t want to give the games away (I like them enough that I was willing to purchase them in the first place) but they have very little financial worth — our hobby is very focused on the “latest and greatest”.

    At some point, I’ll value the space more than the games and give away the remaining stragglers but, for now, it’s been difficult to actually get down to just 100 games.

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