Six Months On

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There Will Be Games

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candles.jpgThose of you who are blessed with both an excellent memory and anunusually high degree of tolerance may recall that I started this yearon a quest to demonstrate that I was definately playing my existinggames more through the use of John Farrel’s stats pages.Six months in, I’m sure that no-one cares how I’m doing, but I thoughtI’d tell you anyway. And then maybe devote a bit of space to thinkingabout patterns of game-playing anyway, which might be marginally moreinteresting. 

We’ll get the dull numbers out of the way first. The big target is percentage utilisation. I started out at 32%, and my target is 50%. Six months in and I’ve reached 42% so I’m marginally ahead of schedule. The trouble is that I spent most of January in a mad dash to stack up plays of all the easy targets - games I could play solo or online. So things aren’t quite as rosy as they appear. However, at the end of next month I get to go visit my parents, where I can hopefully clear out a lot of the old chaff from my collection that has been in storage for ages and that I don’t really want to play again. What’s worrying me about this clearout is the number of games I might find which are actually incomplete: as a lover of games, I’m not entirely sure I could actually throw away an incomplete game especially when there’s hope I might find the missing pieces and be able to trade or sell it later on. It’s not about money, but simply the desire to ensure that the world doesn’t loose one more copy of some old out-of-print game that some gamer somewhere would probably love and cherish. But I may have to - we’ll have to see. I’ve sold a handful of games as well, mostly unplayed.

I started the year with a big splurge in spite of trying to keep new purchases down. And for many months, I was as good as gold, not buying anything new at all. But then I got hit with the Artscow bug, which lead me adding a number of self-made games and expansions to my collection. Then, shortly afterward, I found myself compelled to shell out for the wargame Bastogne: Screaming Eagles Under Siege because I’d played it multiple times on Vassal, and loved it, and it seemed unfair to MMP not to pick up a copy in spite of it being an eight-hour monster that I’ll probably never play face-to-face. And with it came Dunwich Horror because I managed to find a very attractively priced copy and I was sure I’d play it, solo at least.  We’re only half way through the year - there will undoubtably be more in the months to come. Like the Pitchcar Extension because my daughter has just started playing that, and quite possibly Last Night on Earth when it gets reprinted because, well because it’s short and easy and is bound to get played sometime. I’ve got my eye on some of the newer titles due out as well, but I’m usually content to wait until the hype has died down on those, so I can probably hold off until next year.

No more stats for the rest of the article. But there is one more thing about this particular personal quest that I wanted to highlight because it’s had wider ramifications for the way I think about games as a whole. The way that John has set his system to calculate the values, you get very little back for playing a game more than ten times. So it’s encouraged me to get in several plays of some titles that have sat gathering dust on my shelves for some time, most notably Traders of Genoa which proved quite a big hit at my local gaming group. But on the flip side it’s actively discouraged me from playing most of my favourite games, because in many cases I’ve already played them more than ten times, so in the pursuit of my fairly abstract goals you could say that what I’m actually doing is playing more of games I like less. So, although on balance I’m probably getting more entertainment out of checking out new titles than I’m loosing from not playing my favourites, it’s not entirely a good thing at all.

What this made me think about is why I maintain a wider collection of games at all. Why don’t I just pick my absolute favourite games and stick with them over and over again? Some of the answer is simply logistical - one of my favourite games is Twilight Imperium which only gets played on the rare occasions we can organise the time for it, and on the flip side it’s useful to have a few games that are very fast and simple. Some of it is the inevitable fact that even for the very best games the shine will wear off eventually and the game will start to seem a little dry. But beyond that, the honest truth is that all that’s making me want to keep a bunch of the games that I’m keeping is the sense that someday, sometime, I might want to play it. And frankly, that’s a pretty poor excuse to be sitting on top of ninety-odd boardgames and continually agitating to play those I’ve not played before just in case they’re any good, when I could be lavishing my time on stuff that I know is brilliant. When you add expansions for those favourite games into the mix, extending their longevity, it becomes an even more compelling case.

The same thought is what’s behind my occasional rants about the difficulty of picking out “good” boardgames in advance of playing them, no matter how many reviews you read. I end up investigative a game and buying it, only to find that for one reason or another it never hits the table and then suddenly I’ve been holding on to a game for months on end on the off chance that when I finally get to play it, it’ll turn out to be brilliant. So again, time gets taken away from games I know I love just so I can check out other games that might have the potential to join that hallowed club. Looking back on my board game collection, this issue is what’s driven me to acquire the majority of games that I own, and is certainly what’s behind the majority of purchases that I’ve got lined up. I really wish there were some better way of finding out in advance what games are going to be for you, some sort of all-time classic standard we can agree on like there seems to be for video games. But there isn’t.

The picture is further complicated by decisions to make about what, exactly, passes as a favourite game. I adore Titan. But I’ve long since stopped attempting to play it face-to-face: it’s become a play-by-email only excercise. And even then a small part of me thinks that since the game occasionaly throws up situations in which players can get into a loosing position through little fault of their own, can it really be quite as good as some more modern titles in a similar mold that avoid this trap? That line of thought is, if purused too far, the same chain of ideas that leads to the sterility of some egregious examples of over-controlled, interaction-free Euro games, but there are sensible balances to be struck along the way. Fortunately for me, Titan remains, in my opinion, unique and challenging enough to justify play time in spite of its flaws. But can I really call it a favourite? Can I really justify owning a copy that will almost certainly never see face-to-face play? Whatever the answer I hold on to it, and many similar games, simply because my tastes might change and one day I might regret ditching it. It’s an unfortunate reactionary attitude, after all, there will always be other great games around to play, but it’s partly what’s behind my keeping of so many games that see so little table time.

Of course you might argue that I ought to keep a copy of any game I continue playing on the internet, as I undoubtedly will with Titan, because otherwise I’m doing a game publisher somewhere a disservice. I don’t really think you can counter that argument - publishers need support. But there is an unfortunate manner in which the availability of online play can actually influence your game acquisition in a very negative manner. An example is Santiago. I bought a copy of this after playing it on SBW a couple of times because I was intrigued by the mechanics and I could see that it would likely be a much superior game played face to face. There’s a negotiation and screw-your-neighbour element to the game which is entirely lacking in the online experience. But of course having got the game, I’ve never got it to the table. Having played it online, the novelty value of bringing it to a group as a new game has worn off for me. So in spite of its merits, it has become another dust-gatherer which can never quite seem to get enough impetus to see it ahead of other, genuinely unplayed titles.

We all do this. All of us. The lure of new games is always too strong, in spite of the best intentions, and there’s never enough time to play them all. So I’d like to hear about how you deal with this issue. Do you have the time and the willpower to keep on bringing back your favourites time after time and still find space to slot in the occasional new title that you buy? Do you perhaps only restrict yourself to games you’ve played before somewhere and know are good - I guess this is part of the lure of going to conventions and getting to see demo copies? Are you happy to see yourself as much, if not more, as a collector of games rather than a player of games? Or is this all just so much hot air and if so, do you have any good suggestions to stop me being so damn careful and indecisive about what games I choose to pack up and bring out for game nights?

There Will Be Games

Matt ThrowerFollow Matt Thrower Follow Matt Thrower Message Matt Thrower

Head Writer

Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.


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