Culling a Collection

Warning, ramblings ahead. I wanted to document what it was like for me over the year of 2019 to massively shrink my collection of games to a far more manageable and playable amount. Some of this will resonate with some of you, some won’t, but this is what it was like for me this year. 

Back at the beginning of 2019, I had set a couple of goals for my board gaming over the year. Nothing silly like a 10×10 challenge or anything. I wanted to actually sit down and learn fewer new games, and I wanted to mercilessly cull my collection of games in our house, which at the time of the “resolution” was over six hundred and fifty games. Mind you, we really don’t have a storage issue —  I mean if we were more organized we wouldn’t — but as it was, there just too many games around. Too many games that weren’t getting played. 

In 2018, over the course of 365 days, I managed to play a total of 319 games, 776 times. That’s not horrible, as that puts every game I played at right around two plays. There definitely were some games that skewed those numbers though — Ganz Schon Clever with 38 plays, Azul with 24, and Majesty For the Realm with 15 plays. On average though, we’ll stick with that just over two plays per game. What bothered me most about that though, was the fact that of those 319 games, 240 of them were first time plays in 2018, right at 31% of our time at the table was dedicated to new games. I was ignoring my favorite games in favor of getting that new game to the table. With a bit over two weeks left in the year, I can say that 2019 was successful, at least in the fewer new games played department. With this year seeing 617 plays of 341 different games, and only 156 of those being new to me, just a shade over 25% of my playtime. It could have been better, but it’s an improvement. I think that I have been far happier playing games this year, and I have been more lenient towards learning new games that I don’t necessarily have on my radar, because I know that soon enough we’ll be going back to the old tried and true games. I’m happy with this, and I hope that next year continues that trend. I’d like the total plays to increase a bit, but I am going to be happy with where we are now. 

All of that leads to the second part of my “resolution”, the merciless culling of our game collection at home. I ran four auctions on BoardGameGeek this year, with each auction purging about 25 titles from our collection. Those were successful, but at the rate I was still bringing in new games to the collection, at times it felt as if I were simply treading water. Auctions on BoardGameGeek work wonderfully, you have your audience pre-built in. It’s not like posting on eBay and having to rely on board gamers finding your items. On BGG, that’s the only thing they are looking for, board games. Plus, the auctions will allow the market to set the price, which honestly is preferable to me, as I am lazy at heart, and I don’t like to do a whole lot of research when it comes to finding out how much second hand games are selling for. I’m sure it’s led to buyers receiving some good deals, but I also feel like I come out getting the better price most of the time. 

Towards the end of August, I started realizing that I wasn’t purging games fast enough and that the process was just being drawn out longer than it should have been. We still had piles of games sitting around in places that they shouldn’t be and we had games that would more than likely never be played again by us. At this point, I started thinking about doing a giant board game sell-off. I created a spreadsheet with the entirety of my collection and began the arduous process of scanning BGG pricing, Ebay pricing and looking at new costs in order to find the best price I could for each and every game in hopes that I found a buyer for each and every game. This process took me forever and by the time Essen 2019 rolled around I still wasn’t ready to post the spreadsheet for folks to buy from, and yet, we had game after game rolling in meaning that it should be ready so as to not overrun us.

With bulk sales, I’ve seen many folks have luck using the Facebook Buy & Sell groups. They are numerous, the largest one probably being the Board Game Group Buy, Sell & Trade Group. You set your limits of where you will ship and just post the spreadsheet and hope that offers roll in. I’ve never used this method previously, but it must work or the bigger group wouldn’t have over 10k members. 

So a bit after our annual gathering of friends to play games in early November, I decided that it was time to just rip the band aid off and post the link to the spreadsheet. I had gone through and inventoried most of the games, I had decided on which games were staying and which games were going. I also created a donation list for games that I plan on donating to friends and family, plus a bunch of those wonderful yellow Haba boxes that I’d like to take to our local Ronald McDonald House, or Children’s Hospital, whichever seems to be the most amenable to the offer. 

I had decided to go ahead and post the list to local-ish Buy/Sell groups first, as I would much rather hand deliver a lot of games, rather than mail out games all over the country, and in some instances, the world. But I made a huge mistake, I must have accidentally posted to the bigger Facebook group as well as our smaller local groups. Soon my inbox was flooded with people giving me lists of games from the spreadsheet that they wanted and where I would ship to. I tried to handle this the best I could, but I wasn’t faring too well at it. I decided to pull the plug on the lists and pull the posts from the groups and apologize to everyone who had messaged me. As I was cancelling and apologizing an intriguing offer came in. Someone had actually asked how much I would take for the entirety of the list. The sell list was approximately 300 games at that time. 

Letting go of that many games caused me more than a bit of anxiety. For one, I have some hoarding tendencies that I have to fight from time to time. I collect and I gather, it happens with most any hobby that I partake in, from video games to craft beer. I always end up collecting. With board games I had told myself for the longest time that I was creating a library for friends to use. I was the primary purchaser of games in town, so if folks wanted to play something new, I was the one who provided those new games. Over the years though, my game group has changed, it’s become a smaller, more focused group most of the time. I always joke that I am probably the reason that the main game group in town quit meeting, in reality it was because of time requirements, family, location et al, but I always felt that because of my new game tendencies I was the cause. They honestly would still be happy playing Agricola and Race for the Galaxy every meetup, had I not showed up and become a part of the group. So not being that library for everyone to borrow from, or play from, felt a bit like I was losing my identity as a gamer. 

The negotiation for the entirety of my collection took a couple days, with me bouncing ideas off of my wife on a fair price. The buyer had made an immediate offer just looking at the list and the prices I had. He was local, so he would be picking up the entirety, approximately driving two hours back and forth to do so. While I was working on that, we also discovered that there were approximately 75 more games not accounted for on the list that were in my posession. These were review games and just games that somehow had missed being inventoried, so the sell list grew to a total of 363 items. I threw out a final price to our buyer and a couple hours later he agreed to it. I’m not particularly comfortable talking the money involved, but we’ll say that I think that the deal worked out in the best interest of both parties involved. 

Along with making sure that the games were actually physically in our possession, I had to make sure that certain games were complete, and I had to make sure that rulebooks were in the proper boxes. I tend to open games immediately when I receive them, and I also tend to always have a rulebook or two with me in case I get some time to read. So making sure the books were where they should be, was kind of important. With smaller sales, I actually would physically inspect each and every game and it’s components, but when selling this many games at once, I mainly made sure that things looked to be in good shape and that the rules were there. 

Our buyer showed up a few days later, we loaded all the games into boxes and into the bed of the truck they were driving, we shared some conversation and off they went. Nearly seven years of game accumulation gone, seemingly in the blink of an eye. After they had left, and my wife and I were sitting down to a drink I looked at her and said, “I feel lighter” and she looked a bit happier. 

I know there are folks out there who are in the same position we were in, with games overrunning our lives. Most folks won’t be as lucky as we were. Lucky to find a young couple who have a game store locally, who are looking to expand their library collection and possibly flip a handful of games for a bit of a profit. If I hadn’t lucked into them seeing my post, my entirety of December would have probably been running a shipping center from my house, making me more and more miserable and pushing me further and further from wanting to actually play games. As it is though, things worked out for the best. We have an actual dining room again, and we have a place to play games where we can be comfortable. I still have the donation games to get rid of, but those will go this month. In all our collection is now down to 149 games on our “Keeper” shelves. These were the games that when looking through the collection were the games that I would actively want to play at most any time, and also games that I thought my family and friends actively enjoyed playing as well. While I felt like I lost a bit of who I am as a player of games with the huge culling, I also think that I have found out more about who I am and why I play board games through this process, and these 149 define my gaming tastes better than any collection of 650+ ever could. We also have a section just for new or review games, and currently that shelf has 48 titles on it. These titles will be played, and mostly reviewed. At that point we have to decide whether or not those games will stay with us, or we’ll sell them. No more massive accumulations, things either get played, or they move on to someone who may want to play them, and that way it’ll be a whole lot easier in the future. 

In a future article, I will look a little deeper into the games that were kept, and why I decided they should be the ones that stuck around. Some of this reasoning was recently discussed by me in a previous article about “Sturgeonizing My Collection”. 

Comments from other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber: One advantage of having a limited space for my board games is that I have never had my collection grow too large; for nearly 20 years, it kept to around 300 games, give or take.  And as a result, I’ve both (1) regularly looked to move games to my trade/sell pile, and (2) never had to try to figure out what to do with hundreds of games all at once.  

However, recently – over the last four years – a couple of things have changed.  First, there haven’t been that many new games that have really sparked my interest.  Some, certainly, but not as many as I was naturally culling. And second, I’ve come to a realization, that games I rate a 7 only need to be in my collection if there’s a specific reason for it – which can be as simple as “I’m still exploring it”.  The results have been noticeable, if less dramatic than for Brandon; my collection has shrunk from 306 games at the start of 2016, to 206 games currently. One thing that helps me with this is a push to get all of the games in my collection played at least every other year, and ideally more frequently; there are lots of games I’ve enjoyed which I just don’t need to keep playing so often.  (Of course, there are also lots of games I’ve enjoyed which I still love to get to the table; having no _need_ to cut them makes the process much easier.)

Tery: We  have about 300 games in our collection (I’ve never actually counted, and am just now getting around to cataloging it, which I definitely should have done sooner. . . .).  I am very lucky to be married to a boardgamer, but that is both a blessing and a curse. Both of us are acquiring boardgames, since we have slightly different tastes, and my husband is also very into RPGs, which also need storage (and are not included in the count of 300ish games). We have a small spare bedroom that serves as our office/game room (storage; not quite enough room to play). While I didn’t have a specific plan to cull the collection,  I recently undertook a reorganization of this space to make sure we were optimizing the space we have and were moving things that we were either definitely ready to go or needed to be evaluated for leaving to a specific area so we wouldn’t forget. I also made space in our den for about 8 games that we play on a regular basis, with the idea that these would rotate upstairs as needed. All of the RPG books also migrated to the den, with the minis finding homes in various storage boxes in the closet in the game room.

My plan was working quite well and was even able to adapt to a couple of new games, but then Orleans Stories arrived and blew that away. . . .   However, now that everything is better organized it is a little easier to review and see what might be moved to the two small “sell/trade” shelves.  Those shelves are a bit full, and I tend to only sell at a game event in April, so that might need some work. Once they are cleared, I hope to institute a “one in, one out” policy whenever possible. This won’t be a hard and fast policy; sometimes there are just too many good games at once. Rather, the idea is to be more thoughtful about what we keep, particularly if something new might become the new go-to of a particular type or genre.

Erik Arneson: My collection peaked somewhere north of 1,000 games. (If anyone ever needs an expert witness on this, I can testify to the fact that 1,000 games take up a lot of space.) Much of the acquisition came when I wrote about board games for The Mining Co., which became About.com, which has since morphed into dotdash.com (which includes The Spruce, where some of my work still resides). Since September 2016, I’ve donated more than 500 games to thrift stores in my area. (Many, but not all, of the donations are logged on these two Geeklists.) I’ve also sold more than 150 games this year (including many via the GeekMarket, others at the Gathering and a couple of local game sales, one hosted by a club and the other by a game cafe). A few others have been sold or given to friends and family.

My goal used to be “own fewer games.” Now it’s more specific. We recently bought two 3×4 size Kallax shelves from Ikea. The new goal is to fit the entire collection (not counting Heroscape, because Heroscape) into those 24 Kallax squares, plus a few bins on the top to hold smaller games. I’m getting pretty close… but new games are sure to arrive at Christmas!

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24 Responses to Culling a Collection

  1. John says:

    Thanks for posting … I’ve started making the list for my own cull. I’m not interested in selling games piecemeal, so my list will be distributed to my gaming group, co-workers, and others first to see who will take what. I’ve grown comfortable with the facts – no one is going to play the Catan Card Game in this house ever again. :)

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Thanks for reading!

      It’s honestly a difficult thing to do, deciding what stays and what goes, and piece meal purging kind of helped get me where I was in my collection. All those games that didn’t sell, just ended up staying. I always made sure to send small extras with other purchases that folks made, just to kind of help me get rid of things, but then I started to feel bad because there is a reason no one bid on them, they didn’t want them and now I have passed that burden on to someone else.

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  3. Marc Gilutin says:

    I’d recently decided that as well. Of 160 games, I’m getting rid of about thirty. Buying mistakes, games nobody ever asks to play, etc.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      We all do it. We just have to try to be more selective in what we bring in, and more ruthless in what goes. :)

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Doug Cooley says:

    I’ve done this so many times now. I’ve gotten to the point where I just give them away, even if the game has some value (which I define as more than $50 for my purposes). It’s worse when you play board wargames, as it is very easy to miss out on a release with the preponderance of preordering, and the sad truth about board wargaming is that occasionally you end up playing the game, but mostly it’s all about setting it up, clipping counters, reading rules, then putting it on the shelf for 20 years. Although my ASL collection survived all of those purges, and now I’m very glad I kept it all since I’m playing.

    Stuff doesn’t make you happy. People make you happy. Concentrate on that and you’ll be fine.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Absolutely, it’s the time around the table with the people we care about that makes it all worth it. The games are just a small reason to gather them there.

      Thanks!

  5. ianthecool says:

    That is a crazy purge, but with over 600 games I can see the necessity for it. Did you have a process for choosing what stays and what goes, or was it pretty clear to you which those are?

    I actually just guest starred on a podcast about collecting board games and we talked about being selective about what games go in; sometimes people are selective of games going in, others make their choices when games go out.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      I was trying to be the Going Out collector, and it didn’t work for me, so I am attempting to turn that around into the Going In collector.

      I did have a process that I am planning on talking about a bit in a future article. But it all started with an import of my entire collection from BGG so that I could see it in one giant mess of a sheet and it was more than a bit eye opening. Especially when you find all of the games that you thought were on the list, but weren’t.

      Thanks for reading!

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