Play or collect? by Nick O'Neill
As far as my collection is concerned I like to run what I think of as a fairly tight ship. Once upon a time, excluding the games that end up at the backs of everybody's shelves, I had a collection of a single game – Carcassonne – and from that point I have expanded, contracted and expanded again to my current total of 88. Thirteen of these are on the way out of my collection, either as gifts or on the trade/sell pile, so that gives me a nice round number of seventy five games in my collection. Once upon a time that number was thirty five, then it was fifty, and now that seventy five gives me a figure that includes the games I love, the games I might love, the games I want to try, and also the games I need to get around to reviewing.
With almost depressing regularity, though, I keep coming back to two fundamental questions. Firstly, am I a player or a collector of games, and secondly, should my collection size remain constant or slowly increase over time to reflect my gaming tastes and the accumulation of classics that are destined to stay in my collection maybe until I roll my last die and, well, die? Or, put simply, do I still have too many games?
For me the two questions are interrelated, for if I play then every game needs to earn its place on my shelves and needs to do something differently enough to warrant remaining there. In addition, it needs to hit the sweet spot for my gaming group, which, in my case, means that it needs usually to be good or great with only two players, not too deep, and take anything from fifteen minutes to around an hour and a half. There are borderline cases, of course, and as far as solo games are concerned I can be as ambitious as I like (hello Gloomhaven!), but those tend to be the ground rules.
This also means that I tend not to explore game families, but rather include what I feel is the most suitable example of that particular design. Straight old good old Carc, for example, and not The Castle or South Seas or anything else, and 7 Wonders: Duel which has pushed 7 Wonders out of our collection. Forthcoming face-offs will be between Letters From Whitechapel and Whitehall Mystery, one of which will almost certainly have to go, and maybe even between Aeon's End and Legendary: Alien, although thankfully there is room in the collection for both and, joy, they both support solo play.
Some outwardly similar games are allowed to sit happily on my shelf, however. For example, Jump Drive is different enough from Race For The Galaxy to live happily alongside it, and provides a similar experience in a slightly shorter play time, so fulfils its own role in the collection. Likewise Codenames and Codenames Duet rub shoulders and come out for different occasions.
Games such as Five Tribes will be hard to shift because they do something that no other game in my collection does, while others are brought in from the cold despite doing things that I already have represented in other boxes. Deus, for example, borrows heavily from almost everything, and yet it works so well and is such fun to play that it sits happily in my top twenty games, while Terraforming Mars reminds me strongly both of Imperial Settlers and The Castles Of Burgundy, both games I love, and yet its combination of those mechanisms still does enough that is fresh and new to make it feel different.
Of my unplayed games there are many that will likely be too close to something we already own and enjoy, such as Grand Austria Hotel (can this survive alongside The Castles Of Burgundy?) and in the fight of the Glooms will Gloom of Kilforth survive or be swallowed up into the massive experience that is Gloomhaven. And what in the fantasy world will happen to these two should I ever end up taking the plunge that is The 7th Continent?
If I am a collector, however, then none of this really matters, and what I am instead doing is building a collection so that it represents the very finest games that fall into my personal gaming Venn diagram, and whether they get played regularly or not becomes less relevant. A game like Polis: Fight For The Hegemony can sit in the corner gathering dust without my feeling too guilty because I know that it is a great game, I have a copy, and one day the stars will align, I shall play it and it will muscle its way directly to the centre of my collection. I know - in my dreams.
Either way, there is a constant ebb and flow going on with the games in my collection, and the first candidates to find their ways out of the door are new games that are generally ok, probably worth a 7 out of 10 or so, but which just do not excite me. I need to find a spark of excitement in a game and feel that it will support both multiple plays and different strategies for it to survive long-term on my shelves. Anything that promises to play out the same way game after game, or that has too narrow a decision space to maintain interest over the long term goes immediately onto the trade pile.
What I like about this aspirational ruthlessness about new games is that it frees up more time for me to play my genuine favourites, and the money I raise from sales goes towards new games or, just as frequently, expansions for the games we play most often. It means that through 2017 my financial outlay on new games has been very low indeed, barely enough to make a dent on my bank manager's peace of mind, and yet we have got more than enough new games to the table to keep us happy.
Next time I think I'll post about some of the favourite games in my collection, what keeps them close to the table and what qualities they maybe share or possess uniquely. Until then, though, how do you manage your collection if at all? Or are you one of those fortunate people who plays and collects and goes to bed without worrying about it? See you next time!