I blame X-Wing for a lot of things. I blame it for making me read more than is decent about the expanding universe of Star Wars. I blame it for the gaping hole in my bank balance. Most of all, though, I blame it for turning me from a player into a collector.
Those of your who’ve been with us for the long haul will remember the amount of words I used to lavish on getting people to play their games. All the dire warnings against acquiring another identikit cube pusher when so many gamers already don’t play the ones they have. Part of me still wants to believe that. In reality, the piles of hardly-touched games and expansions tottering out of shelves and cupboards all over my house say otherwise.
It was X-Wing that started this, because it was the first game I’d seen that made me want to own it just on the strength of how it looked. There are other games with fantastic design and production: Napoleon’s Triumph and Claustrophobia are prime examples. Yet I would never encourage a gamer to own any other game on the strength of how it looks alone.
X-Wing was different. X-Wing spoke to the long dormant miniatures gamer in me. The gamer that used to rejoice in seeing three thousand points of intricately painted Warhammer figures dueling it out on the table, supported by cunningly crafted scenery. Those little ships. Those simple, yet realistic paint jobs. How could I not love them?
So the piles of figures started to grow. Originally I promised I’d stick to designs that were in the movies I remembered as a child, but then an HWK-90 and a Tie Defender turned up at bargain prices, and I was unable to resist. I tried hard to get them all on the table, and succeeded. But I’d be lying if I said that some of the less successful models, like the TIE Bomber, were every likely to see play time again. Still I kept them, carefully ensconced in foam, because they were beautiful. And the towers of foam stacked up, and up.
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it was that the next nail started out with a premise to keep true to my original promise. If I focussed on expansions, I reasoned, I could get more play out of the games I already owned while still enjoying the process of acquisition. This realisation sparked another buried facet, a march toward completest tendencies.
What I’d foolishly failed to realise was just how many expansions some of my favourite games had. The Commands and Colours games are by far the worst offenders. Napoleonics has four, Ancients has six and there are small islands in the Pacific with insufficient landmass to hold all the Memoir ’44 expansions. In buying them, I was just making a rod for my own back.
At some point among this madness I had to admit defeat. I could not, in all good conscience, tell people to play what they had before collecting more any longer. And in doing so, I found a kind of peace. All those boxes on the shelves stopped nagging me. There were still practical considerations, of course. A small house can only hold so many games. But it changed the way I viewed my games. Instead of millstones, weighing me down with the knowledge that there would always be more games than time, they became more like old friends.
Human beings have a desire for nostalgia, for keepsakes. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t have a little collection of memorabilia from important times and places. If, as gamers, some of those important times and places revolve around gaming, what’s so odd about wanting to keep the games that spawned them? Even if they weren’t played enough, or you doubt you’ll ever play them again.
Hope is the great enemy of good sense. Hope is what’s behind people accumulating unplayed games, thinking that one day, one special day, they might see the table again. Yet for all that it can lead us astray, it can also be a precious thing. There’s a certain pleasure to knowing that if, one day, I or a friend, or a family member wants to learn more about the Scottish Wars of Independence I can pull down Hammer of the Scots and say “here. Play this”. I’ve played it over twenty times, and I’m done with it. But if ever I should want it again, it’s there.
Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, and I’m finding it harder to let go of the things that defined my past. Perhaps I’m just becoming that little more resistant to change. It comes to us all in the end. I’m sorry if I ever made anyone feel bad about collecting games. In truth, I still think it’s better to be a player than a collector. It’s just that I finally have to admit that I don’t have the strength to live up to that ideal any more. Games are lovely. I want to keep them in my life.
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