Collecting versus Playing

I’m back on-line in a new house and had the internet connected for the first time in three weeks, so this haiatus can now cease. I have a backlog of things to write about, but few recent things actually played. Moving house doesn’t help get things played, and I have a playtest session of Nightfighter on the to do list in that time, but this morning I feel like sitting in the library and typing.

When I say library, I mean the one at home, Being a librarian, I am a big fan of the public library and will tend to borrow, rather than purchase. It’s cheaper, and the library, rather than my house, has to cope with storage problems, dust and so on. Still, my wife Shelley and I have a collection of books (and I have my games). There are many nice things about this place that we’re now in: the spa, the cellar, the tiny courtyard that takes little maintenance. But most of all we love the library, with its built-in shelves on four sides. Storage space (for books – sheets and towels are a different matter) is thus no longer a problem. 

But I also don’t want to have stuff for the sake of having it. My books and games are (in theory) to be used, rather than merely accumulated. It’s easier to pare back on books because many can be borrowed easily enough when you want them. Games are a different thing. I have games that have been long unplayed, but in theory they are here to be played.

So am I a collector or a player? By boardgame geek profile tells me that I have 639 games. I have also owned and let go 222, and those that I have sold I recognise that I’m likely not to play again. But waht of the rest of the collection? Even if roughly 100 are ‘mini-sims’ such as the games publshed by Gary Graber in Panzer Digest, there are still a lot of games to play.  At a rate of one different game every week, it would take about 12 years to get through each game once.

But, and this is where where I am obviously a collector, new games also arrive. My purchases of boxed games has slowed a lot. But I keep buying magazine games, wanting to play them, and intending to do so, but knowing that many must remain unplayed. I have every issue of Strategy and Tactics (with games) going back to issue 29. The latest issue that I have,  Marlborough’s Battles is issue number 256, so that means that I have roughly 228 S&T games. I have every issue (again with game) of Command magazine, every issue from #20 (and a few prior to that) of Wargamer, every issue of ATO, every issue of Ares, and so on. And because I keep buying these things, the collection mounts. Six issues of S&T, six of World at War, 5 (including the Annual) of ATO magazine, the odd issue of Panzer Digest and the new kid on the block Battles magazine means that each year I’m looking at about 20 new games. Even at one per month I’ll never get through them all. 

None of this, of course, takes into account playing a game more than once?

The thing about buying every issue of a magazine is that it supports what I generally think is poor or unfinished work. Most (but not all) issues of S&T in recent years, or ATO magazine have disappointed, but I still buy them. Because the games sell, publishers have no reason to make changes. Each issue could of course contain the next classic, but I feel that I ought to treat them as I do boxed games: wait for feedback, look at Consimworld and Boardgame Geek and (for me) the best source of game information: the Perfidious Albion list at Yahoo groups.

So why do I do it? Magazine games can be of the hightest quality. The early to middle issues of Command I still think highly of as a whole, and there have been excellent S&T games (Joe Miranda’s Wars of the Imperial Age series and the Trajan series, for example). Many are (to me, but not necessarily to others) a waste of trees. Picking on Joe Miranda again, I think that many of his more recent games (though the ones that I think of immediately, The Great Game: Asia Crossroads and The Seven Years World War are not that recent) are quite bland and I think are poor models of the conflict that they portray, and are thus of little interest to me. I am not going to play them again in their current form, and I am unlikely to find the time to tinker with them. So why keep them?

One is that the monetary value of the collection is (perhaps) greater than the sum of the individual parts. But my game collection is not an investment, it is something to be used. I have also sold a very small number of the S&T issues (the reprints for Great War in the East and Great Medieval Battles because I have the original SPI editions, and these are the same game with slightly updated graphics), which destroys the integrity of the collection.

A better reason is that it is a reference library of sorts. Markus and Chris have both borrowed from the collection (and I’m happy for them to use it, for I’ve also borrowed quite a lot from them). I’ve thought that the collection could be turned into a lending library for gamers, but I would have to figure out how to make it cost-neutral (e.g if someone borrows a copy of the original U.S.N and doesn’t replace it it might cost a bit to replace). What would I charge people, and if I charge people a deposit that equals a game’s replacement cost they may simply find it easier to simply buy the game then re-sell it. Still, paying (for example) a $50 deposit to try U.S.N, knowing that you’ll get $45 back when it’s returned might be a safe option for people. 

The magazines themselves are of interest, not necessarily for the articles (which are often of uneven quality), but as a history of the hobby. I have a pile of early-30’s S&Ts and it’s fascinating to see what the hobby thought of itself in, say, 1972 through SPI goggles. The magazines I would like one day to bind. Perhaps then it will be easier to assess the merits of keeping individual games.

I write this not expecting any readers (though that would be nice), but to clarify my own thoughts. But if any do read it, which magazine games for you are gems, and which are landfill? Apart from those mentioned, gems for me include Tito (S&T), Blood & Iron (Command) and Albion: Land of Faerie (Ares). Those (for me, not necessariy for others) not worth the paper that they’re printed on include the Perry Moore Spanish Civil War Battles (S&T),Go Tell the Spartans (Rob Markham for ATO) and Anvil-Dragoon: Southwall 1944 (Wargamer)


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