Life After Collecting

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I won’t be getting rid of Duel of Ages II anytime soon.

For years now I’ve tried to keep my game collection lean and mean. That meant I worked to move out games I only kind of liked, so that I could maybe flip them for games I would like even more. In lean financial times, such games served as a sort of currency. But beyond the desire for something new, under-played games gnaw at the corners of my mind, and I wanted to make sure I had a collection that was as close to sheer awesomeness as I could get it. But the name of the game has changed dramatically for me in recent months. After a year of pastoral ministry my family has accepted a missionary assignment to Asia, and we’ll be moving to the Philippines in the early part of Spring 2018. 

That means that it’s time to pare down all of our earthly possessions. That includes my board game collection, and so in the last few months I have unloaded about a quarter of the games in my collection. Some of these choices were really easy, as I’ve collected a fair bit of “who cares” over the past few months. Reviewers sometimes end up with games they don’t like and can’t unload, and there were a few more that I did like a lot, but almost never played. Some of the games I unloaded were all-timers, like Imperial. Others were well-loved in their day but have been mostly left aside, like Battlestar Galactica and the original Mare Nostrum. A couple were unloaded because of the sheer amount of space they took up, particularly the two giant Star Wars games I owned, Imperial Assault and Star Wars: Rebellion. I also got rid of a lot of the little games that accumulate in collections because one assumes one will always have room. I probably won’t miss most of these games, although for most of them I wanted to make sure they would get a good home.

A couple of games were granted a reprieve. I have never gotten to play Warhammer Diskwars as much as I like, but it remains just about the perfect tactical miniatures game for me, and I decided against selling it off. In a fit of madness, I even considered selling Duel of Ages II, because it has become quite valuable over the last several years. However a couple of great sessions have reminded me that it really is my favorite epic game, so it’s not going anywhere. Another surprising survivor was Sekigahara, a block wargame I bought earlier in the year. It’s only been played once, but that one game was good enough to convince me it deserved to make the cut. My wife salvaged a couple from the sale pile as well, since she is sacrificing her own packing space for these games.

We are going to have a shipping allowance for our move, but the hard truth is that I will still have to leave behind a lot of the games that made the cut. Most likely those games will be entrusted to family members who might get some enjoyment out of them while we are overseas. Such games might make the trip at a later time, but we’ll see.

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Merchant of Venus is also in the “forever” pile.

All of this has reinforced something that has been simmering in my head for a long time: collecting board games is kind of a burden. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I regret at all. This hobby has provided me with a huge amount of joy over the past decade, and I would not trade away those moments for anything. But in the end, board games take up a lot of space. They are expensive and they have too easily become something of an anchor holding me back. Without going into too much detail, this is a spiritual issue for me, where I sense I cannot really embrace this missionary assignment if I’m always worried about how it’s going to affect my board game collection.

So all of this has necessitated a paradigm shift in how I view my board games. In short I’m not starting a museum. Buying and keeping games is totally fine, but anything new in the collection had better either have a small footprint, or be really worth the addition. And the purpose of the games is now to provide enjoyment, pure and simple. The point is not to make sure I have every expansion in a product line, whether I play it or not. The point is not to somehow guarantee that my precious games don’t succumb to mold and mildew in the tropical climate. The point is to play, sure and simple. A game that cannot support that basic function is ultimately not fulfilling its purpose.

This is not how most board gamers view the hobby. In my family there’s a running joke that my dad has a mortal fear of not ordering enough pizza, and so he over-orders just in case. A lot of board gamers seem to have a similar fear, where every new iteration of the same mechanic is worth at least a cursory consideration as a potential purchase. I can hardly blame people for thinking this way, because more and more this hobby actively encourages consumptive habits like this. It is very difficult to engage in this hobby and not feel enormous pressure to buy more stuff. Just try and suggest on BGG or /r/boardgames that someone should just save their money and buy nothing for right now. You will be inundated by a chorus of people telling you not to hassle people for wanting to spend their own money, and why are you so judgey about other people’s consumption, and whatever game in question is absolutely worth the money. I will admit I’m a little sensitive to such criticism, because it really isn’t my intent to judge other people or tell them what to do. I just really want a way to engage in this hobby without feeling pressure to spend, spend, spend.

Board game design itself is beginning to tilt this way as well. I have previously written of my distaste for campaign-style games, but what I find more troubling is Legacy games. These are games that direct the players to physically alter the game as you gather plays of it. This does have the cool effect of making the game itself very personal, but the issue I have is that the game is essentially used up. Defenders will say that by that time you will have gotten in more games than most new games ever get in the first place, and that’s true. But the tragedy is that the game can’t then be given new life with a new owner. It’s a board game as a finite resource, and as I try to make decisions over what games will be worth playing until they crumble, I find that concept frankly a little ostentatious. And of course, consumption is nothing new in this hobby. Tabletop games are known for having extensive lines of expansions, minis, sourcebooks, and accessories. That’s just how it is.

My intent here is not to shame anyone for buying the newest games or for enjoying Legacy games. Most gamers I know don’t even HAVE to think about this stuff, because they haven’t made three moves in four years, one of them being an international move. And anyway, I’ve been inching toward curmudgeon status for the better part of the last two years. I am increasingly jaded with new releases. Indeed you won’t find a best of 2017 article from me, because I am entirely unqualified to write one. I can count the number of new 2017 games I’ve played on my fingers, and most of those didn’t impress me that much. My point is that I’m already inclined to be cynical about our hobby. I was halfway there before this move.

Another little side effect of this move is that it is forcing me out of the review game, at least as a regular contributor to the conversation, such as it is. Publishers will probably balk at sending a game to Manila, and my new position will not allow much time for playing to support timely and well-informed reviews. Besides that, I have occasionally had a bit of low-level guilt about feeding that same consumptive habit by offering opinions on new releases. As an amateur I just wrote about old games, and my gig at Miniature Market never once asked me to compromise journalistic integrity to push sales. But my burgeoning grumpiness is pretty happy with being able to just ignore new releases. I will still write here now and then, but it probably won’t be something new.

Of course I’m not backing off of new purchases altogether. I just bought a new copy of CMON’s reprint of the Knizia classic Modern Art, and it’s terrific. I also am getting a trade copy of Homeland, the game by Gale Force Nine based on the TV show. GF9 also has that Doctor Who game that they swear is really really going to come out. (My wife is even excited about that one.) I want to get Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for my DMing needs. I even found time and money to get into 7 Wonders Duel, a minor miracle considering my antipathy toward to original game.

But none of those future games are guaranteed a spot in Manila when the shipment heads over. After years of flirting with it, this move has forced me to finally abandon my desire to collect. I’ve tapped out of the game-collecting hobby. I’m now in the game-playing hobby, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

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