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T Updated
There Will Be Games

Our hobby is one filled with great excess; huge games, buckets of miniatures, deluxe editions, and thousands of releases a year. Many try to stay on top of the treadmill of games, constantly hankering after the latest hotness, their collections ever expanding. That’s not me.

I have a small collection. I curate for my group and buy very few games in year (outside of my noted obsession with the Arkham Horror LCG). I have never really understood the compulsion to own hundreds, or thousands, of games, but I do not judge those that do. I am not here to cast aspersions on those who choose to become collectors in the hobby. I am here to talk about shame.

We talk about ‘shelves of shame’ a lot in this hobby: those unplayed games that lie, unloved, unopened, and unplayed on our shelves. They judge our lack of time, of players, and will to play them. I would like us to stop thinking of these things as shameful.

Maybe we say this mostly as a joke, but all comedy comes from a kernel of truth. We dismiss our unplayed games with a smile and a chuckle, but actually it does bother us. We ask ourselves why we have so many. Why can’t we stop?

Ships passing in the night

The hobby pressures us to buy. "Look at this new game" says Kickstarter, "Look at its exclusivity. Look at all the extras. You’ll be better than other people if you have this version over the plain old retail one.

Part of this pressure comes from the fleeting nature of most boardgame releases. A given game may only have one print run and people fear that they will never be able to get it again. We buy because of that fear of missing out, that belief it will never be available again. We dream of the perfect game and wake up to the nightmare of piles of shame.

Unless you are a pure collector, an unplayed game should be the anathema of our hobby. Games are designed to be played, touched, and interacted with. We should feel some degree of discomfort that they instead lie sealed in plastic tombs. It does not need to be this way. We can break free of this cycle of consumption and shame.

Redefine the Issue

Let us stop talking about shame for a starter. Boardgames are objects to be joyful for. Each box is potential entertainment, laughter, battles, and co-operation. Stop being ashamed of your unplayed pile of game. Instead anticipate what each box will bring to the table. You can open those boxes that are close to hand right now, lay your hands on the components, dive into the rulebook, smell the new game smell (I can’t be the only one who likes that, right?).

Language is powerful. Words can change our perception of a person, warp our thoughts, and control our path. So many of our legends and myths revolve around the power of words, because there is truth there. Let’s consign the idea of Shelves of Shame to the annals of gaming history. Anticipate playing those games you have, don’t lust over the ones you don’t.

If we look upon our games like this I honestly think that something shifts in our minds. I have unplayed games, of course I do, but no more than 2 or 3. I keep this so low by looking upon each game as needing to be played. I don’t like to leave games with that need unfulfilled for too long. Anticipation can only be tolerated for so long, eventually you have to give in and experience.

Anticipation is an emotion of proximity, of the sensation before the moment. Distance and time cause this to fade. A Kickstarter is more likely to be reviewed positively by those who backed due to confirmation bias. When Kickstarters arrive I wonder how many of them actually get played, rather than just ending up another game on the unplayed pile. By the time they get to us, our excitement can have abated, distracted by the latest hotness once more. That is just human nature. Instead of looking so far into the future to sate your desire to play, look closer to home at your unplayed games you already own.

I saw someone on social media recently saying they had bought a particular designers new game, and they also had all the other games by that designer but hadn’t played any of them. How do you know you like that designer’s style? Another admitted to having more unplayed games than I have in my entire collection, 43 games. There is no judgement here, just bafflement on my part. I’m not going to tell anyone not to buy games, but I would ask you to think about why you are buying games. Is it just to keep up with the hotness? That’s fine but you aren’t keeping up with anything by just buying games, you have to play them as well.

Trust your feelings

If you feel genuine remorse or worry over your unplayed games, then maybe you should pay attention to that feeling. All of us are great at ignoring things that make us feel bad, hopeful that pushing those feelings away will somehow make them stop. That is never the solution. Your boardgames shouldn’t cause you anxiety. Take them out of their plastic. Invite your friends round. Get those games to the table now rather than thinking about when you’ll get that KS you just backed to the table in a years time.

Big collection, small collection, no collection. All these states of being a board gamer are fine. We shouldn’t judge anyone for however they choose to consume boardgames, even if it is not our preferred modus operandi. All I ask is that we think about the language we choose around unplayed games, and that each of us takes a look at ourselves and asks what we really want out of our boardgames.

There Will Be Games
Iain McAllister  (He/Him)
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Iain McAllister lives in Dalkeith, Scotland with his wife Cath and their two dogs, Maddie and Gypsy. He has been a keen member of the local gaming scene for many years setting up and participating in many of the clubs that are part of Edinburgh's vibrant gaming scene.

You can find more of his work on The Giant Brain which publishes a wide range of articles about the hobby including reviews, previews, convention reports and critique. The Giant Brain is also the home of the Brainwaves podcast, a fortnightly podcast covering industry news that Iain hosts with his friend Jamie Adams.

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Articles & Podcasts by Iain McAllister


Iain McAllister
Associate Writer and Podcaster

Articles & Podcasts by Iain



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marcnelsonjr's Avatar
marcnelsonjr replied the topic: #308803 02 Apr 2020 09:19
You do see an incredible number of unopened Kickstarters for sale. I don't get it.
Msample's Avatar
Msample replied the topic: #308804 02 Apr 2020 09:23

marcnelsonjr wrote: You do see an incredible number of unopened Kickstarters for sale. I don't get it.

n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #308805 02 Apr 2020 10:01
I think also maybe buyer’s regret, loss of interest after it took years to arrive, lack of space after buying loads of them...

I got a fantastic deal on new Mythic Battles from someone that just didn’t have the space anymore for all of these big Kickstarter games.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #308819 02 Apr 2020 14:33
Yeah, I see people selling unopened games all the time and it does baffle me a bit. Part of it is the wait for KS, but I think part of that is fuelled by FOMO.
fightcitymayor's Avatar
fightcitymayor replied the topic: #308821 02 Apr 2020 14:40

marcnelsonjr wrote: You do see an incredible number of unopened Kickstarters for sale. I don't get it.

My favorite are the good folks who go "All-In" on some KS that they proceed to receive & never play (or pop the shrink and never play) and then they decide to unload it on eBay for like half of what they paid for it all. I thank Allah for those good people, because it has helped me obtain great games without having to pay full KS price and without having to wait for KS. I love you people!
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308825 02 Apr 2020 15:10
It's really two different hobbies, and I think to some extent the timbre of your article brings shame in spite of your protestations. It's hard to speak to the issue without inserting your own opinion of it.

I'll agree that I don't understand the idea of collecting games, but I don't understand the appeal of collecting anything. So I've come to the conclusion that railing against Kickstarter purchases isn't useful or particularly enlightening to anyone. KS games present a challenge to me personally because I need to weed through more titles to find the stuff I'm interested in playing. But for the people purchasing, the adventure of the buy is an entertainment factor on its own.

Straight up -- I know people with dozens of 40 year old games that they've never played. They just didn't pay in advance . . . assuming you don't call sitting on the game for 40 years after purchase not paying in advance. Which it is.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #308826 02 Apr 2020 15:12
I have less than a handful of unplayed games in my collection, so my only real source of shame is my unpainted miniatures. I quickly realized that I was never going to be either quick or talented at painting minis, so I usually now avoid buying games with minis.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #308861 03 Apr 2020 13:05
I have opinions of course, I was just hoping to start a discussion about how we perceive these things in the community. The comment that got me thinking most about it was from the person I mention in the article who said they had all of a particular designers game but hadn't played any of them. That just sort of blew my mind. How do you know you even like that designer? If you are just collecting, then sure. If you are playing, then surely you need to try at least one of them out.

I was wanting to provoke people to actually think about their unplayed games as potential rather than constantly looking to the horizon. I hope that the article does that for some people.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #308864 03 Apr 2020 13:19
I'm completely baffled by that person. Part of the appeal of collecting most things is that you get to look at/touch/experience them and, hopefully, use them. Someone who collects stamps not only gets the pride of knowing they have a complete set of X or a very rare Y, but they also get to look at those things. Someone who collects shoes not only owns them but gets to occasionally wear them at particular events.

Someone who collects games and never opens them...? They don't get to see and feel the components. They don't get to read or look at the artwork on the cards. They definitely don't get the experience of actually enjoying the game. I have to assume that the person in question has played other copies of said games that friends own? Either that or they're the most stereotypical BGG nerd ever ("All these people said this game was great. Therefore, it is.")
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308866 03 Apr 2020 13:27
Yeah, but they're Stefan Feld games. If you don't buy them you're not a real gamer.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #308869 03 Apr 2020 13:42
I feel no shame. Not about my games or my shoes.
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #308871 03 Apr 2020 13:44

Sagrilarus wrote: Yeah, but they're Stefan Feld games. If you don't buy them you're not a real gamer.

I was thinking Vital Lacerda.
thegiantbrain's Avatar
thegiantbrain replied the topic: #308896 04 Apr 2020 03:09

Sagrilarus wrote: Yeah, but they're Stefan Feld games. If you don't buy them you're not a real gamer.

Damn, better hand in my gamer card. At one point I did buy games to try out new mechanics and designers, I curated my collection towards that idea. I realised eventually that that was not what I wanted and moved it towards games that would actually see the table.
RolandHemisphere's Avatar
RolandHemisphere replied the topic: #308909 04 Apr 2020 17:00
An interesting twist to the hobby and a contributing factor to the unplayed games conundrum (and one that is rarely mentioned) is that one does not simply play a game. Unlike a stamp collection, a game collection requires other participants to enjoy. In order to play most games* one has to pull together a group, teach them a game and then set off on that journey together. And since people are notoriously prone to leading their own lives, this can prove to be difficult.

The reason a lot of games go unplayed is because it's difficult to actually get them played. I have a lot of compassion for the game enthusiast who has trouble herding or finding a group of people willing to sit down and engage in all the esoteric shit it takes to get a game played.

And honestly, like a stamp collection, there is an aesthetic pleasure to a game that goes beyond, or is adjacent to, play. They are beautiful to look at, to hold, to smell and to enjoy as an object.

Shame is a choice.

*Except for the onanistic practice of solo gaming.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #308911 04 Apr 2020 18:33
My game collection really ramped up at a time when I had a regular group of players, but most of them weren't buying games yet, just playing mine. Once they started buying games and bringing them, I needed to cut back on buying games, but it took a while until that sunk in.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #308917 04 Apr 2020 21:27
Life is too short. I don't give a fuck about my collection size if I can store it no matter how many people (for good reasons!) talk about only keeping games they play regularly, consumerism, etc.