Monday, February 17, 2014

How I buy new board games

I have been thinking a lot lately about buying new board games. There have been a number of great Kickstarter campaigns in the past month, and I have used some of my Christmas and birthday money to fund some of my investments there, as I did last year (Among the Stars, Eminent Domain, Flash Point: Fire Rescue). But as I have considered different projects, some of which I backed enthusiastically (Space Junk, Fresco Big Box, Kingdom Builder Big Box, and Scoville, the latter two of which are still raising funds), and some of which I ultimately decided not to back (Tiny Epic Kingdoms), I have realized that there is a method to my madness, a system with which I sometimes formally (but often unconsciously) decide which games will get my money next. I should mention, of course, that this is all assuming a healthy perspective toward buying new games and managing finances and not succumbing to "acquisition disorder" and buying all of the games right away and not having any money left over for food or rent. With those boundaries in mind, there are ten questions I ask myself when I am looking at purchasing a new game, as well as a preliminary question.

I have an extensive list of games on my BGG wishlist, as well as a list of games to play (162 and 142 respectively, with a lot of overlap), so I have a lot of potential choices to make. Even as I begin to narrow it down, I could buy any one of 50+ games or expansions at any time, so I have to have a process. Before I even play a game, I usually research using various sites, including BoardGameGeek, Starlit Citadel, The Dice Tower, I Slay the Dragon, The Opinionated Gamers, the Reddit community r/boardgames, and Today in Board Games, and I know a decent amount about different designers, mechanics, reputations, and whether a game will be a good fit for me in terms of style of gameplay. I try to prioritize the games I learn in such a way as to facilitate predicting my possible next purchases, and the meta-game has already begun: trying to determine which game to purchase next.

0. Do I need to play it to know that I will like it? Before I buy any game, I have to do some "homework", but there are times that I just know I don't really have to play a game before I buy it. It's rare, especially because I will almost always rather buy a game that has been on my list for a while, but it happens. I'm not making blind decisions, though; I have a lengthy process. I almost always play before I buy, but I do occasionally take a calculated risk that incorporates the actual ten questions below. I did not always do this - for years, I just bought games that looked like fun - and it did not always work out for me, as I ended up with a few mistakes that I have now been able to trade, gift away, or use as credit in purchasing new games.

1. Will I play this game? It might seem obvious, but the place to start is in knowing if it is a game I will like, period. I now know myself as a gamer well enough to know that I do not particularly enjoy a lot of styles of games: longer games; war games; role-playing games; games that are too chaotic or luck-based; games that have too many fiddly get the point. I tend to gravitate toward games that play in at most 90 minutes, have high variability, relatively simple mechanics, and are more in the Euro style of gaming, rather than the so-called "American" style. They have to have enough strategic complexity and thematic appeal without becoming too overwhelming or unmanageable.

2. Will I play this game enough? So I can see that it is a game that I will enjoy and play, but will I play it enough to warrant owning it? I would like to play most games I own regularly, maybe 5-10 times a year (we call it "nickel and diming" in game-speak), so I'm not particularly interested in owning games that, although I enjoy them, will only hit the table once or twice a year. I would rather buy other games and play these kinds of games at, say, a board game café like the one that just opened in Victoria. That was part of the reason I parted ways with Killer Bunnies and the Journey to Jupiter last year; I enjoyed it, but I rarely played regular Killer Bunnies, much less the space off-shoot.

3. With whom will I play it? Okay, so even if I like it and would play it over and over again, do I have other people who will play it with me? This question is particularly about whether my wife will like it enough to play; I am glad that she enjoys games enough to play (somewhat) often, and that she has taste that mostly mirrors mine, but I still have to always consider her style of gaming, as she is my primary audience. There are games that I know I will play more with my gaming friends, and I am quite privileged to have 6-8 people with whom I can consistently play. so I have a built-in audience, but I always have to think about who is going to play the game with me - especially after that first time.

4. Is it easy to teach? Which leads me to the teachability of a game as a deciding factor. Is the game easy to teach for what it is? Not all games have the same level of teachability, of course, depending on internal complexity, but even within that stratification of social-light-medium-heavy, is it easy to teach and for others to understand? We end up teaching and learning a lot of new games to and with people who are gamers and non-gamers alike, so this question is paramount. Is it still fun the first time, or is it too overwhelming for what it is. I played Takenoko and Spyrium for the first time recently, and they both (in my opinion) pass the test well; Takenoko is a straight-forward family game, and Spyrium is a more complex strategic game, but they both were quickly learnable.

5. Will this game still be good after ten plays? This is a cousin of Questions 1 and 2, "Will I play it (enough)?", though it is slightly different. Can I see this game maintaining its appeal past the initial few plays, or will it become repetitive or tedious or predictable? This is really a question about a game's flexibility and variability, as well as its ability to sustain attention past the first few "this is really cool" plays.

6. Do I already have a game that fits this niche or need? There are a lot of themes and mechanics that are repeated in waves of popularity, so I have to ask if a game does something that I already have, or if it presents a new element. Deck builders and worker placements are very popular, but do I need more than one or two?

7. Will I play this game soon? Can I wait to own it or play it again, or is this a "must buy ASAP" situation. Some games sit on my list for years; some for hours. Part of the issue is when I get other games coming in and if I have time for a new one at that time or if I have the freedom to wait. Unless...

8. Is this an offer I can't refuse right now? Some deals are so good that they can't be passed up, especially when I'm buying used games or games that are (or are going) out-of-print. I can usually wait for most games, but there is always that chance that the deal might never be sweeter. Of course, this is problematic with Kickstarter campaigns, since the deals are almost always so good. I can usually justify it with the next follow-up question.

9. Will I be able to trade it or resell it for adequate value? Is it popular and well-regarded enough that should I choose not to keep it that I can get most of my money back or possibly trade it for something I will like? If it's going to be a pox on my collection that I can't shake, it might not make my list, especially if I'm not sure about it.

10. Is someone else I know going to buy it? I have the convenience of having friends who also buy games, and we deliberately try to fashion our collections in such a way as to avoid overlap. Sometimes we just have to own our own copies, but it's awfully handy to have regular access to about 30 or 40 games I don't have to own.

I know that this seems like an exhaustive process, and it can be, but usually the answers to these questions are fairly quick and easy. My process usually goes in stages, and that's why these questions are framed this way. Games will often sit at #5 or 6 for awhile, just waiting for the right time. Perhaps the best example is Kingdom Builder. I played it two years ago and loved it, but I also figured I would wait for expansions and a big box. It has been advertised for a year, and it just released on Kickstarter. I ordered it right away, although I still have to wait until August or September for it to arrive, but I'm okay with that - it will be worth the wait. Besides, I just got in several Kickstarter games I ordered in the past year, plus I have some trade in value to burn in the next few months, so I have enough gaming to do for now. Still, I'm sure that will not stop me from dreaming a bit and looking for some other new purchases to bolster my shelves...oh no, it's starting again...must resist urge to splurge...

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