Game Potential and Value

The Village Square, over at iSlayTheDragon has started a new community effort, under the banner of the Knights Forum, asking the boardgame community to contribute thoughts on a single topic. The inaugural discussion revolves around game collections. I intended to get this out last week, so I figured I’d try to make Grant Rodiek feel better about also missing the deadline (I guess I’m in good company). The subject of the value of a collection has just recently been on my mind, because I participated in my first math trade[1] at UNPUB 5. It’s been a good experience for me, reorganizing how boardgames fit onto my shelves as I start to reorganize how boardgames fit into my life as a whole.

As both a designer and player (and as an engineer by trade) I’m all about efficiency. I don’t have time or room for 500 games I’m only going to play once, if at all. So I really have to think hard when adding or removing a game from my collection. When I add a game to my collection, I rarely have the chance to try it first, especially with Kickstarter games. So the best I can do is read the rules and try and listen to opinions I trust. Now, of course reality doesn’t always meet expectations, so I sometimes end up with games that I liked in theory that fell flat upon playing.

It would be easy to hang onto those games, tucked away in boardgame purgatory, better known as the attic, and hope that I get a chance to play them some day. But thinking back to microeconomics class, I recognize that as the sunk cost fallacy[2]. The amount I already spent to get the games shouldn’t factor in my decision whether to keep them or not. For the games I play over and over again, there is actual value in not having to re-buy them in the future. But for the games I don’t intend to play, the value is 0, or maybe less, since they’re taking up room on my shelf.

Now, as a designer, I can still get value out of a game I don’t play. I could break them down for parts, and use the wooden cubes and plastic bits, and dice. In fact, I nearly did this with the the army and wagon bits from Sid Meiers’ Civilization (2010). And the resources from Shipwrights of the North Sea were fantastic. But I realized that I had a few boxes of cubes that are just fine for prototyping. And if I really want more pieces, I can order them later.

But if I can exchange these games for something new, I’m actually able to recover the full value of the game. I effectively trade $0 worth of game (or $20 worth of parts) for $40 or $50 worth of game. This is, of course the essence of a trade [explained well by Dr. Wictz]. From this perspective, there is even more incentive to get rid of games I don’t expect to play. It’s also a reason I keep Agricola, Keyflower, and Catan around. I would still play them even though I rarely get the chance, but the value to me as a designer is also high.

There are a few other sources of value in my collection. Some of the games act as a library—games I keep around to lend out or refer back to. And while I try to avoid buying games that my regular gaming group has, there are some games that have value through my ability to immediately access them. But by and large, I fill my shelf with games that I absolutely love. My time is valuable, and I don’t want to spend it just playing something because I own it.

Fortunately, as a designer, I also recognize that other people may approach it differently. From that perspective, it’s not about how often it gets played or how many people own it, as long as they get a lot of value out of it. I’d love for my games to be valuable both to play and to own. Indeed I think every designer wants their game to be a must-own in every collection, but that isn’t a realistic goal.  People come to games with so many different value systems, that you can’t possibly reconcile them all. It’s more important to create a game you feel good about, based on your own value system. Maybe that is creating a game that diverse groups enjoy. Maybe that’s creating a game that is well regarded. Maybe it’s just creating something you enjoy playing. In any case, the real goal of a designer is to create a game YOU feel happy about having in your own collection, by whatever criteria you choose.

Thanks and apologies to Andrew Brooks for inviting me and starting the conversation. I promise to do better with the next one.


1 A math trade is a group trade in which rather than directly trading person to person, trades are set up in a chain, so A gives a game to B who gives a different game to C, and so-on, until A gets the game she wanted. It works best with large groups and is typically done via computer to maximize and optimize the trades. Back
2 A sunk cost is a economic or game theory concept that represents the value already lost that shouldn’t be a part of future decisions. See Sunk Cost on Wikipedia. Back

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