This month I’m not putting up a board game review, rather I’d like to talk about how I manage my board game collection. No numbers to back this up, but I’d wager that board games and game companies have exploded over the past 10 years. As geek culture goes, board games seemed to have become a popular pastime with gaming groups and at the very least, become an alternate for a lot of RPG folks to dabble in periodically. So with a large number of games being released every year, you can get overwhelmed with choices. It can be easy to slip into a habit of buying far more than you can realistically play, so I’ll pass on some criteria I’ve used in maintaining my board game collection.
I think what immediately what comes to mind is the Jone’s theory for board game collections which is likely a popular guideline. To paraphrase the theory, it is assumed that you have limited time and space for your collection. In order to maximize the types of games to play, you should remove titles that are redundant. It’s best to just keep one game of a particular theme or mechanic, facilitating the opportunity to play a larger variety of games.
This by far is a really good rule to adhere to with your game library. Between game mechanisms and theme, I would put more emphasis on game mechanisms for deciding what games to keep. Games with very similar mechanics are likely ones I will cull (or shy away) from my collection. It can lead to some hard choices, but I am a firm believer of keeping the number of games in your library manageable. The Jone’s theory is a good initial rule to apply to deciding what games to keep and what to let go. However I have a few others.
Realistic Gaming Habits – This is the big first step. You should sit down and critically think about your available free time for gaming. What opportunities do you have to get a huge group together? Are you playing every week or once every 2-3 months? When you play, do you have a full evening you can set aside, or are you limited to about 2 hours or so. Answering such questions honestly will provide an initial guideline for what kinds of games you should pick up for your collection
Number of Players – When you play, how many people can you get around the table? Are you usually limited to games for 2 people? If you have a crowd that stops by, could you handle a game for 6-8 players? I’ve shied away from a lot of games that require at least 3 players. Although I have a few regulars at my table, I want a game I can pick up and play at any time. Usually this means grabbing something I can play with my wife. Having a sizable portion of games that need at least 3 players means I’ve got more games just sitting on the shelf.
At the same time, you do want to be flexible. Having one or two games that can handle a larger group can work. That way if you have that occasional situation with lots of people over, you can pull out a fun game. I’ve also made an effort to get games that can have up to 5 or 6 people. With my current social circle of married couples, having lots of games that can handle only 4 people isn’t ideal. However, a key point is to make sure the bulk of your games can accommodate the typical number of people you get around the table on a regular basis.
Types of Players – My wife is not a huge strategy player, and war games are not something she enjoys. I’d say the same for a fair mix of our friends when we play games. Yeah, I can invite the guys over once in a while for a game of Risk 2210 or Battletech, but it’s not a regular occurrence. Something like Smallworld is about as much of a war strategy game our friends as couples would like (war games just aren’t their style). So if I have a few of those games already on my shelf, should I really pick up something else like Axis and Allies? Likely not.
At the same time, I do like having a flexible collection. Party games have a place for me. We do entertain, and by far playing something more approachable for people like Incan Gold and Apples to Apples are popular titles for me. I’ve got a core group of players that can handle a bit ‘heavier’ games, but having party games accessible is a good option. So when considering the breakdown of your game library, be frank with yourself about what your friends like to play. Dabbling a bit in different types is fine, but put some thought into new purchases. If the bulk of your players enjoy lighter games, would something like Power Grid really get enough play at your table?
Space – Honestly I think folks tend to forget about this. For me, apartment living means I need to consider the amount of space a stack of games takes up. Even if you’ve got the space it’s easy to quickly have that single shelf mushroom into an entire wall. Having a huge bulky box can give me pause at times. Conversely, it has also encouraged me to pick up some other games. Saboteur and the Resistance have some limits on how many players I can realistically get at my table. However the boxes for the games are tiny and compact. If they were full size boxes like something for Settlers of Catan, I would likely rethink picking them up. But the small boxes meant less space, and something I’d be more inclined to have, even if it isn’t something I’d get to the table frequently.
Time – I would love to get some marathon games in once in a while. However I’ve come to realize that it’s simply not the type of games my friends like to play. Something upwards of 2 hours is likely tops that I could realistically play. So I tend to gravitate to ones that can be played in 45 minutes to that occasional hour and a half game. Honestly I don’t even think I could sit down for something like that any more. I could possibly stretch a longer game out over a few nights if I really wanted too, but then I’d run into the problem of having the table space to keep it up over a few days. Look critically at what the time you can expect to set aside for games. Consider too, would your friends be happier playing 2 different games for an evening (or giving a game another go) compared to a lengthy session with just one game?
Price Tag – Something I think we all dread to talk about and admit truthfully. Gaming is our hobby and we likely are far willing to spend a bit more cash on games than we care to admit. Yet, it’s something that you should consider. There are a ton of new releases that come out every year. Continually buying that newly released $60+ game can build up over the years. Are you really going to have the time and opportunity to play that game on a regular basis?
At the same time, this also can be a deciding point to pick up games that might be redundant in your collection. I was thrown off slightly with buying the Resistance. It needs a lot of players. But it was a great party game, a small box size, and pretty darn cheap. The same could also be said for Eaten by Zombies. I have a few deck building games already, however the theme, compact box, and very reasonable price made me more inclined to pick it up.
The Jone’s theory is a great judging system for deciding how to keep your game collection manageable. Still, there are a few other characteristics I use to see if a game is worth becoming part of my collection. It does keep me from picking up a lot of great games. I would love to get Twilight Imperium 3rd edition. I love the theme, components, and think a deep strategy game would be tons of fun to play. However once I consider the time needed to play, the audience of players I’d need around the table that would actually enjoy it, the need for at least 3 players, not to mention the bulky box, I’d have to reconsider picking it up (especially given its price tag). Yeah that is something I could keep for years in my collection, but how frequently would I play it? Maybe it would be better to leave that slot open for a game or two that I’d get to the table more.