A Trader Among Us

Trading Post

I've never traded for a wooden Indian. It's one of my great regrets.

This may surprise you, but game blogging is not a great way to make a living. I expected piles of money and beautiful women, but that has so far not been the case (aside from the beautiful woman I married, but I don’t think that was because of my blog). Because of that, I don’t have a lot to spend on games. Combine that with an almost-two-year-old son at home, and my gaming dollar is stretched pretty thin. So when I want to get a new game I do a lot of sleuthing. Unless there’s some recent windfall of cash, I usually buy used games, either from friends or people online. And of course, I trade my games.

In fact, I’ve developed a reputation among my gaming buddies as the guy who trades everything away. That’s understandable, because I really do love trading. It’s a great way to get new titles onto your game shelf for little or no extra money (less the amount of the original game). And it’s a skill that every gamer should hone, because it gives you far more bang for your buck. There’s much less risk involved in buying a game when you know you will likely be able to get it to someone else for something you like more. So here’s some tips to become a great trader:

Get over your collection
When someone gets into the hobby, they tend to buy a lot. Since a new gamer is only just forming their tastes, they will often buy something that they end up not liking. Even if you do like a game, a constant influx of new titles will mean that you may only play a game once or twice, then let it collect dust on the shelf. But of course, you can’t get rid of the game, right? You’re trying to build a collection, and other people like to play it, so its worth holding on to.

Bull, I say. I have many good friends who feel this way, but I respectfully disagree. You may be building a collection, but it’s a collection for you (and maybe a wife and kids). If you don’t love a game, it can probably go. And if your friends own the game anyway, you can usually play their copy as often as you’d play your own. It’s surprising how few games you need in your collection, and if you do get rid of a game and regret it, you can probably just get it again later on. A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of the Vlaada Chvatil’s Dungeon Lords, a fun management game set in a cool dungeon environment. It was a fun game, but I began to wear out of it after about five games. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get rid of it yet, but I was able to find a good trade for it. And the truth is, I’ve never regretted making that move. The essential games in your collection probably comprise a very small percentage.

And even if you love a game, it’s pointless if you never play it. It’s not there to be a museum piece. There are many people who would have the time or group to play the game as often as it deserves. A good rule of thumb: if you haven’t played the game in over a year, it’s time to think about trading it.

Strike while the iron is hot
Gamers can be idiots. When a hot title comes out, and then sells out, there will be about a four-month window where a game will be in enormous demand with almost nothing to fill it. A reasonable person would know that the game will be back in print in a few months, and bide their time. But a gamer will pay or trade something ridiculous to get it, often overplaying their hand. You can use this mental illness to your advantage.

When a game falls out of print and isn’t available in stores, it will almost always get reprinted. Many publishers have a reprint cycle, where they print a small amount, let it run out, then print more a few months after they run out. But there are those who just cannot wait for three months. If you were one of those people who found the game early, you can flip it for way more than you paid. Even if you really loved the game, you will probably be able to find another copy in a few months at regular retail. It’s true that some games go out of print forever, but if it sold out that quickly most publishers will want to print more.

Last year, a friend of mine was one of the first to buy 2010’s forgettable hotness, 7 Wonders. Like I mentioned above, the game sold out its initial print run, and then was unavailable for all of four months. But in that four months he was able to trade his $45 game for two copies of Memoir ’44, plus all of its expansions to that point. That’s almost $300 worth of game. True story.

Find a good local game group
This hobby is primarily a social one. We form connections with those in our community who have different tastes from us, and that’s a good thing. It allows us to try games before we buy them, which is important when possible. It allows people to test genres that they otherwise would avoid. And its great for trading.

Trading in a group offers one great advantage: if you liked the game, you can still play it. It makes letting go of a title you liked much easier. And if you have a big enough group, you can try your hand at a math trade (more on those later). Some game stores have organized groups that can be a great resource for trading. If they have a mailing list or a Facebook group, it’s always nice to test the waters and see if there are any nibbles for your unplayed games.

Find a good online community
Boardgamegeek.com has a lot of faults, but one of the best tools the site offers is its trade function. You can list which games you own that you are willing to trade, and what games you want to receive. It’ll match you up with users around the world who want the games you have and have the games you want. This can be something of a mixed bag, however. Some BGG users have raised pedantry to an art form, and I suspect that a couple are actually computers who don’t understand human interaction. Because of that, many users do not have any interest in trading through BGG, and will ignore all requests sent their way. Check profiles to see if someone mentions their attitude towards trades, and always send a personal message before a trade request. It’s just more polite. You will probably get turned down for many requests, and some people might negotiate a different trade. That’s fine, and a polite refusal is almost always better than no response at all.

Other boardgaming sites have active forums, and that can be a good place for established members to find trades and bargains on old games. Fortress: Ameritrash has a very good forum for this. I’ve bought many coveted games from those forums, and they also do one or two math trades a year. Which brings us to…

Math trades!
Math trading is one of my favorite things. They can be organized either within a local group, among online friends, or even during a game convention. It’s a fun way to get new games, and also provides a kind of cheap thrill of then unknown.

Imagine you and your friends all have a list of games you don’t want, and you put them all in one huge list. Then for every game you added to the list, you say what OTHER games on the list you would accept in trade for your game. Do this for each of your games, and you have a list of games that you will take for your old games (called a “want list”). Everyone makes a list like that, and then someone who’s running the trade feeds all the want lists and the master list into a computer program. The program then spits out a series of trade loops that will result in games going to new owners:

Nate has PUERTO RICO and wants IMPERIAL
Brad has COSMIC ENCOUNTER and wants PUERTO RICO
Colby has IMPERIAL and wants COSMIC ENCOUNTER

See what happened there? The computer would tell Nate to give Puerto Rico to Brad, and to get Imperial from Colby. Brad gets Puerto Rico from me, and gives Cosmic Encounter to Colby. Everyone gets something they want.

When the results and trade loops are given, there will likely be a big meeting where everyone arrives and makes the trades in person. This could be at game night, or it could be a big convention. Some groups (like Fortress: Ameritrash) ship the games to each other, usually agreeing to pay a certain amount of the postage. Every math trade is different, but a good runner will lay out any peculiarities and rules beforehand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

The best part is that you can place your precious games in the trade with no fear of them going away. I’ve sometimes posted games that I love in a trade, just to see if it would entice other people to post more games that were attractive to me. If nothing catches my eye, I can simply say that there are no games I’m willing to trade my game for. A word of advice though: don’t put something on the list unless you actually want it. Most trades will try to get the most trades for the most people, so if you tagged some derpy game to the end of your list, thinking you’d never get it, don’t be too sure.

A couple words of warning
Don’t overestimate the appeal of your game. If you keep getting turned down for trades, there’s a good chance that you are asking for too much. Remember, different things are worth different amounts to different people. The best trade I ever made was when I traded a copy of the pleasant Zooloretto for a copy of the much more interesting (and then out-of-print) Nexus Ops. I definitely got the better half of that trade, but the other guy didn’t feel taken. He got a game he wanted, and I got one I wanted. Value is much more relative than most gamers will admit.

And if you trade a lot online, postage can add up. There have been some titles that I’ve moved two or three times before I finally arrived at a “keep this forever” game. That’s not a very efficient way to do things, but sometimes it happens. Bear this in mind.

So there you go, the Rumpus Room’s guide to trading. It’s a terrific way to get new titles and remove old ones you don’t play anymore. I definitely recommend this for the cash-strapped gamer, or for those who find they have a lot of games they don’t ever enjoy. Your collection will be a lot leaner, but it’ll also be a lot meaner.

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