The Gamer’s Dilemma

12002144_10153210527829472_2213911743158511248_nColorful boxes filled with chits of cardboard and plastic adorn floor to ceiling shelves. Towards the back of the room a group of three is setting up to play the “new hotness”, the fourth open seat beacons you to join them. You don’t really have extra cash right now to get a new game, but all of these boxes are begging you to take them home, and if you sit down to play you know the result. Each container of gaming goodness provides at least one mechanic, theme or component that you desire. Unable to decide or justify a purchase, you leave the game shop empty handed.
In an effort to take your mind off of all the games you left behind you decide to check in on your family and friends on Facebook. Forgotten until that moment, the Board Game Geek group fills your feed with shelfies, photos of players’ birthday and convention hauls, discussion of the latest games, and requests for recommendations. “You’ve got mail!” Elation builds as you can find solace in your work, but it flitters away as the email loads, “Daily Board Game Sale” is the subject headlining your inbox. Your will breaks, with a few clicks of the mouse and clacks on the keyboard, a new email appears in your inbox… “Order Confirmation”.

Ding! A Kickstarter alert appears.

I have a collector’s mentality. It began in my teens, when I started collecting Magic: the Gathering cards. It continued into my late teens, when my Star Wars mania had me trolling Toys-R-Us every Saturday morning for the short-packed figure. It reared it’s head again as I got more into music and movies, and especially when DVD first appeared. Not only would I come home with a DVD in my bag most days, but boxes would adorn the welcome mat several times a week as the internet shopping bug caught hold. Does anyone else remember Columbia House and BMG music and movie clubs? How about Reel.com and their $0.01 DVD sales? I sure do, and with that it is easy to see why my movie and music collections could fill whole closets.

It also doesn’t help that I love trying new things, particularly in the culinary world, but it extends into gaming as well. I just can’t help myself. The latest game with the cool new mechanic draws me in and I have to try it. I fight it as long as I can. swx57_box_600I resisted the urges for a full two weeks after one of my best friends decided to get into Star Wars X-Wing. Once I broke down, I bought just enough for two teams, Imperial and Scum… but the Rebellion beacons… the Millennium Falcon is such a cool model. I resist… and then, the unthinkable… The Force Awakens Falcon, and it comes with Poe’s black X-Wing! Sold! Take my money!!! Well, when it is eventually released anyway… it was just announced a few days ago.

img_3736I find solace however, that I am not the only one. I see it on a daily basis on the Board Game Geek Facebook group. “Here is my birthday haul” or “picked these up at Origins” or “I just stopped in at my FLGS to look and ‘this’ happened”, each announcement emphasized with a photo, stacks of games piled high, shrink wrap still gleaming in the flash of the camera. Shelfies are the latest craze, showing off just how obsessed we all are with board games and our collections of them; ranging from neatly sorted boxes slipped elegantly into the Kallax shelf (don’t pretend that you don’t know what it is!) to piles of boxes strewn across bookshelf and floor alike, every nook filled with expansions and micro-games.

While I am just as guilty of all of these things (I’ve posted my convention haul and my shelfie photos – that one just up there is mine – just as much as the next gamer), I am fascinated by the mindset of those caught into the maelstrom that is collecting board games… and collecting board games is exactly what it is. I personally have far too many games to be able to play them all regularly. Some haven’t been opened in years, but there they sit. I recently attended a board game auction at Blue Highway Games, in which I was able to submit twenty-five games, for which I would receive store credit. I was excited to cull games from my shelf… but not because I know that they aren’t a good game (though some of them certainly aren’t), and not because I know that they will never be played (though they almost certainly never would be played), but for just two reasons; so that I could make room on my full game shelf for something new and so that I could use the store credit to acquire that something new! I already took the opportunity to remove one game from my want list (Mission Red Planet), and I have credit to spare… but I can feel it growing warm in my pocket.

I think the mania all boils down to the internet and social media in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I love social media, or else I wouldn’t have any readers… but you see it every day. One person posts a themed photo of some kind, then a bunch of other people decide that is a great idea, so they all post that same type of photo, and it saturates the feed. The shelfie is a good example of this. Six months ago you never saw photos of a players whole collection. Then someone asked for people to post their “shelfies” and the internet nearly broke with how fast the images flooded Facebook and Twitter. The latest craze has been the “top nine” photos where people have been posting images of their top nine favorite games. Each time that one of these images hits the feed, someone, somewhere sees something that they don’t have, but based on the saturation of images, you can usually deduce if something is going to be good… or at least interesting.

Blood Rage and Star Wars: Rebellion are great examples of this. In both cases, a few photos started to trickle into the feed as people claimed their copies, opened them up, took photos and videos, and commented on the games. Over the next several days, the influx of images and posts regaling the awesomeness of the games increased dramatically. Sure, some of this could be attributed to people getting pre-orders and shipments arriving after initial shipments went out, but I’m certain that at least a few people saw these posts and said “Blood Rage… what’s that?” Then they looked it up, decided that based on the obvious popularity and on whatever other research they have done, that it is a game that they would enjoy, and therefore went out to buy it. Then they, of course, have to share their own photos of their newly acquired game, and the cycle continues. This happening once in a while is fine, after all, we all need new games from time to time, but I never said that buying games was the gamer’s dilemma.

The gamer’s dilemma is really about deciding which of the multitude of games that we are inundated with each day to obtain. My list of “wanted” games grows regularly, and obviously I have not obtained every game on that list, so it will continue to grow. How then do I decide what to spend my money on, or what to include on my wish lists? Without being so vague as to say “it depends”, it really does. Many things come into consideration when deciding which new game to bring into your library, but I think that it really boils down to two primary considerations. Chief among these is whether you will enjoy the game, and you might argue that if the game is on your list, then you have already determined that you will probably like it. pic2264906_mdWhen I first heard about it, and saw the box I instantly added Alchemists to my list. I never had the chance to play it, and I passed on buying it several times due partially to price, and partially to having a faint notion that some in my family probably wouldn’t buy it. Finally I found it in the game library at the aforementioned Blue Highway Games and cracked it open to learn the rules. Even though the back of the box clearly shows all of the components, that first look into the box filled with massive quantities of cardboard and plastic was daunting. Then I lifted the hefty rule book and started to read… I made it through the early examples in the book, kind of understanding what was going on, and after twenty minutes of this, I finally got to the explanation of a game turn. At this point I was kind of done, and also kind of glad that I hadn’t spent $60 on the game. I would still love to play the game at some point, but I no longer have the desire to own it or learn it on my own. Slightly less important is the consideration of whether or not you will actually play the game. Once again, you would argue that if the game is on your list, that you would certainly get the game to the table. This is true most of the time, but many factors determine whether a game actually makes it to the table, and many times it just doesn’t happen. pic569340_mdDungeon Lords was on my list for a while. It was one of those that I just couldn’t get myself to spend the money on, but I eventually received it as a gift. The theme of the game is awesome and is what drew me to the game (who doesn’t want to be the lord of the dungeon, fighting off heros?). I’ve learned the game a couple of times, but just haven’t had the chance to get it to the table yet and I’ve owned it for several years now. Lesser considerations should also be pondered to determine whether you add a game to your collection, but these are the primary things… will I enjoy it, and will I play it. Lesser considerations are typically subsets or are secondary to these; things like whether the people you play games with will like it or if the game will fit in your game shelf. If the desire based on the primary factors is strong enough, you will make the other factors work.

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Tikal is a great example of this in my collection. Tikal is my favorite game, but I play it, maybe once a year. I first played Tikal in my original game group, and one of those players is prone to some crippling analysis paralysis (AP). Tikal is a game which can be greatly effected by this and as such the final consensus was that we just didn’t play the game much. Therefore I never purchased the game myself. I wasn’t sure that my family would like it, someone else in my group already owned it, and we never played it anyway due to the AP problem. Eventually my wife bought it for me as a gift, and we have played it from time to time. I am very happy to own my favorite game, even though for the majority of the time it sits on a shelf.

Board gamers, especially those who are “collectors” live in a nearly constant state of desire. At any given time there is at least one game that they desperately want, along with several games that given the correct circumstances they would pick it up in a heartbeat. What keeps us from buying “all the games” is the gamer’s dilemma, the knowledge that given the considerations above, despite every thought to the contrary, there are reasons not to buy some games.

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