When I mention in conversation that I have over two hundred board games, I learn a lot about the other person. If they are flabbergasted at so preposterous a number, I know there is likely a whole world of modern games that exists outside their awareness. If they lower their eyes and offer a nod with a little exhale, I know they’re preparing to dwarf my revelation with some larger number that will shock even me. If they offer an excited, “Nice!” then I know we are compadres, dwelling in the happy middle grounds of hobby collection.
By most hobby standards, I believe my collection to be quite average in size and scope. There are some titles that pack a punch, but mostly approachable fare. There are collections within the collection as I take an interest in particular designers or titles. There are deluxified versions and retail editions. There are boxes upon boxes of every shape and size, and even a few wallets and bags for good measure. I’m not really trying to impress anyone, I’m just trying to assemble a pile of games that will provide a little joy in the ordinary moments that make up my life.
As the collection has grown substantially over the past few years, I’ve gone through what I have to imagine are normal paces for anyone exploring the hobby. There are some titles for which I’ve paid full MSRP, others I’ve acquired at local sales, others that were gambles from the discount rack. There are Kickstarters, gifts, and boxes bought out of the back of someone’s car. I’ve scoured the internet for deals and started customer holds—layaways awaiting enough purchases to merit free shipping—at several online stores. Because I am fortunate to write for Meeple Mountain, my collection has even included packages that arrived on my doorstep just because I asked and wrote a thousand words (give or take a few).
But until this past year, the trend had always been upward. I had been acquiring games.
Changing the trend
I knew a day was coming when I would need to change the trend, and that day came in January 2022. I put a low-key embargo on game purchases for the entire year. I did this for several reasons. I knew the upward trend was unsustainable both in terms of cash outlay and physical space. I also knew that I was in danger of joining the cult of the new if I didn’t start doubling back and playing the titles I already owned. Truth be told, I enjoy getting to know games well and I didn’t want to jeopardize that in the name of constant acquisition.
I also knew that my collection was going to grow without spending. I have averaged around 15 or 20 Kickstarters each of the past few years, and I wanted to clear out the queue (I’m almost there). And, as I mentioned, review copies roll in periodically. The bigger issue was finding a way to unload titles to make room in my heart and on my shelves (or, at present, on my bedroom floor—but that unfortunate reality is another story altogether).
I had never sold a board game and, quite frankly, I still wasn’t interested in doing so. A good friend had started trading, though, and seemed to be enjoying both the nuanced process and the results, so I decided to give it a try. In May, after many labors, I sealed the deal on my first trade through BoardGameGeek (BGG). It was a 1:1 deal, and for a bigger box, so I had yet to buck the trend—the collection was still swelling, but I was learning.
Opening the floodgates
Once I had completed a trade, I started to receive offers. I realized the little trade rating number in my BGG profile mattered. Folks use their trade wishlist for lots of different purposes, but that little number means I actually wanted to move games.
Then on a Friday night in May, I realized that one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure. I had picked up a copy of Shinkansen: Zero Kai on the cheap and had listed it for trade. I hadn’t even had a chance to crack the shrink yet when someone offered me Shakespeare as a trade. I had been on the hunt for a reasonably priced copy of Shakespeare for a couple years, and here someone wanted to hand it over for a game that I was only marginally interested in? I don’t recall a time I clicked so fast.
It was still a 1:1 trade, and for yet another larger box, but I realized with that transaction that there was more to trading than dollar value, and that it might be perfectly fine to lose some, because obviously I’m going to win some as well. In reality, when both parties get the game they value, everyone wins.
From May to December I traded out 54 titles, almost all through BGG. I took in 31 games through those trades. For a guy without a KALLAX and a pile of games on the floor, 23 fewer boxes means a lot. I traded away seven titles for Petrichor. I traded three for First Class; All Aboard the Orient Express. I traded away a really solid title (Last Bastion) to bring my materials for Obsession to completion, and another four to push back my complexity paywall even further with Boonlake (with a touch of New York Zoo to round out the deal).
Taking a bath
I almost missed the train on BoardGameCo before the trading engine shut down in 2022. I sent fourteen games away to gain Grand Austria Hotel, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, and the Collector’s Edition of Archmage, which my son had long wanted to try. Fourteen games is a lot, but it was another case of perceived value.
With every game in and every trade out, I was learning more about myself as a gamer, more about my family’s habits, and more about where I saw value. I was perfectly fine sending away games that wouldn’t see the table to gain a modern classic, to try a nerdy mystery, or to take a tricked-out chance that I could explore with one of my oldest children. I was weighing experiences, convenience, value, and opportunity in the name of building a stronger collection.
To start 2023, I sent away 16 more games, this time to Noble Knight. These large scale exchanges are never the best dollar-for-dollar deals, but I’m certain now that there are far more variables in play with every transaction. It is getting harder and harder to choose a game from the floor to trade away, and that’s exactly what I want.
I’m hardly an expert on trading, but here’s what I learned in the past year:
First, it never hurts to offer. Letting a digital message linger for a few days in the hope of adding contentment to your collection is a worthy endeavor. I’ve alluded to a number of trades so far where I went hunting for titles with what I believe were fair and sometimes skewed offers—skewed in favor of the other gamer—but they’ve not all been like that. I’ve taken some chances that have paid off where an amazing 1:1 deal landed me a title I now love, like Red Cathedral. You’ll never know if you never try.
Second, it takes time and effort. I have about a 1-in-3 success rate on trades right now, which, from what I understand, is pretty good. But I put effort into my offers. I check the wishlists on my most tradeworthy titles pretty frequently. I look through collections to see if what I’m offering seems to fit the gamer. Just because a title is wishlisted doesn’t mean it’s a top priority. If a BGG user has a thousand games wishlisted, they don’t really want anything, they just want attention. I tend to avoid those lists in favor of folks who know that it’s just as easy and useful to remove games from their list as it is to add.
Third, explore BGG’s community stats section. This is really a subpoint of #2, but we love Top 6 Lists here at Meeple Mountain, and this helps me reach the quota. Every game on the site has a list of people who want to acquire or unload games. While I love their Trade Manager tool, I’ve found more success visiting the lists of folks who expressed recent interest in the games I’m offering. Sometimes they have games that weren’t on my radar but perhaps should have been. This has also helped me to stay on top of titles that really belong on my own wishlist. If someone wanted a game in the last 30 days, they are your prime candidates for trade. If you just found a title that interests you, you are suddenly their prime candidate as well. How nice.
Fourth, it takes patience. Nobody needs a board game, and no title is sacred. We’re dealing in desires here, and patience is a virtue. Getting a game tomorrow might seem like a matter of life or death, but the truth is, nearly every game ever made will eventually fall off its hype train and become reasonably attainable. If it’s really that good, there might be a sacrifice waiting in the long run, but it will be worth it. I’m preaching to myself here more than anyone else. Just last night I was sitting by my friend when he was offered the still-hard-to-find Dwellings of Eldervale for the once-hard-but-now-easy-to-find Ark Nova and MicroMacro: Crime City. When it comes to hype, what goes around comes around. You never know when a ship might come in.
Speaking of ships, fifth, investigate your shipping options. I don’t work for PirateShip.com, but I probably should for all the times I’ve told people to use it. A friend told me, and it was the best advice of all. Why spend $75 to ship three games (yes, this happens) by walking into the Post Office unprepared when you could send the same titles for $20 through a third party that brokers bulk shipping rates? When I sent those 14 games away, it cost me $28. Need I say more?
Last, surprise people. Send a wallet game with a trade every now and then. Go through the recipient’s collection and send them that promo card you’re never going to use and really shouldn’t bother selling. Heck, send them a second game they wanted if it’s one you really don’t enjoy. The gaming hobby is an exceedingly friendly one, and trading affords us the opportunity to make one another smile. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of these simple gestures, and I’m pretty sure giving is the better. You won’t regret it.
Breaking the Embargo
I made it most of the way through 2022 without purchasing games. With the various trades coming and going, there were new titles on the table frequently, but we were also revisiting and celebrating the games that drew us into the hobby in the first place. The itch to buy never really went away, but I had no desire to go back to simply seeking to grow the collection for the sake of growing the collection.
When I finally gave in, I decided to broaden the horizon a bit and try international avenues. I’ve yet to attend a convention, and I’ve not been as fortunate as some of my Meeple Mountain colleagues to cross the ocean for Essen SPIEL. (Check out these articles from Andrew Lynch and Justin Bell for a peek into the last two years’ shows)
As a gamer, I am driven by occasionally quirky thematic interests, and I have long salivated at some of the unique and fascinating themes that find their way into various international titles. Andy Matthews had talked about his past experiences purchasing through Amazon in Germany, so I thought I would give the Japanese office of the global magnate a try. For what I would consider a very reasonable shipping cost and a minimum of inconvenience in setting up the account, I made my first Amazon.jp purchase this summer. I picked up Clockworker, Rumble Nation, and a multilingual copy of SCOUT (largely because it was hard to track down in the US at the time).
I was immediately enamored with the thrill of hunting down hard-to-find copies that scratched a unique itch. What a dangerous sentiment! I definitely broke the embargo, but I managed to wait until the new year to charge my next international order, this time through Pythagoras Games. I had been pining for a copy of Pessoa, so I contacted the publisher late in 2022 to arrange a case of games at their Black Friday prices to get to know a catalog less common on American soil.
The international avenue is speaking to me right now. I’m hoping to visit the German Amazon store for a few titles this year, but I’m in no hurry with games like Rossio, Moesteiro, and Garum waiting in the wings.
A closing word on curating
At the beginning of 2022, there were 253 games in my collection. Today there are 224. The change has been gradual and, at times, sacrificial, but I can say with all honesty that I am more satisfied with the piles on the floor than I’ve ever been. If they weren’t on the floor I’d be even more satisfied, but this isn’t a furniture article.
I look across the landscape and, while I know I will trade away at least ten percent of the boxes this year, I would be happy to play almost anything I currently own. I have memories tied to so many of the games, both in experiences at play and now, in some cases, how I acquired them. And isn’t that what a hobby is all about? Building a collection of memories, of joy, and of millions and millions of dollars once all other board games cease to exist and my collection is the only one remaining in a post-apocalyptic future?
There is no “right” size for any collection. Everyone will manage their numbers, their space, their budget, and their time as they see fit. I’m just trying to figure out the best ways to manage mine. I’m happy to have moved out of the unbridled acquisition phase and into the curating phase. As the numbers swing one way and the next over the years, I’m sure I’ll find more reasons to believe I’m doing the best I can. Along the way, if I get to share a bit of my experience with others, I consider that a gift.
Looking to 2023, I’m excited to try BGG’s Math Trades this year. I’m still hopeful to trade away more than I take in, but this looks like a fascinating point of view to observe the unexpected wants and wishes of the gaming community. I hope to keep using the current avenues, though I can already tell I’m not as desperate to move boxes as I was last May. I’m sure that will ebb and flow as well. The last of my Kickstarter pledges are scheduled to roll in (from 2021) soon. Amazon.de is beginning to whisper my name. Who knows where else I might find an outlet for my strange little thematic interests?
If you have any trading tips, feel free to share them. I’m always happy to learn. If you have any other thoughts on curation, I’d be happy to hear them as well. And if you happen to own PirateShip.com, I wouldn’t turn down a commission check.