Shhhh. I have a secret. I'm a thrift store addict. Or perhaps I should mimic, with absolutely no disrespect intended, the well-known introduction required of Alcoholics Anonymous members: "Hi! My name is Greg Schloesser and I'm a thrift store-aholic!"
I can't help myself. Nearly every day I pass several thrift stores during my work-related routines. The lure is just too much to resist, so I pop in for a quick perusal of the games section. More often than not the shelves are stuffed with worthless junk, the typical used copies of the mindless drivel produced by most American game manufacturers. I actually find it quite amusing, yet somehow sad, how quickly children tire of these types of games and shove them into the Goodwill pile.
But every now and then I come across a hidden gem. Some of these are "keepers" and are added to my burgeoning game collection. I have found some nice 3M bookshelf games that are still fun to play after all these years. And they look fabulous on my bookshelf! I also managed to find—at the same time—mint copies of three of the 3M sports line of games: Regatta; Win, Place & Show; and Thinking Man's Golf.
What have proven more lucrative, however, are the games I've found and then resold via eBay and other forums. It's amazing what people will give away, obviously not knowing the value of these items. Among others, my finds have included two copies of Milton Bradley's Dark Tower, each of which fetched nearly $150 on auction, as well as Milton Bradley's Broadsides & Boarding Parties. I regularly find copies of games such as Hotels, Survive, Encore, Songburst, and others, which fetch anywhere from $20 to $50 apiece. These purchases and resales fund my gaming addiction since I use this income to purchase the new and old games that I want.
My strangest find, however, was from the garbage. Let me explain. My wife, Gail, and I walk two miles each morning in my fight against an increasing waistline. Not only does this provide a much needed source of exercise but also gives Gail and me the opportunity to talk, uninterrupted by the daily diversions of work and family. It's a great bonding experience. One morning as we were walking, I spotted on top of someone's garbage can what appeared to be an intact copy of Talisman, that much sought-after miniatures game from Games Workshop. I took a quick peek inside the box and, as expected, all of the contents and components were haphazardly strewn about. I surmised many pieces would be missing, but figured what the heck. So, for the next mile and a half I carried the box around as we completed our trek.
Upon returning home, I eagerly sorted out the pieces and discovered, much to my amazement, that everything was intact save one figure and two coins. The game later fetched more than $100 on eBay. The downside was that my wife bestowed on me the title "garbage-digger" and enjoys the constant ridicule.
An added bonus of my thrift store finds has been the "surprises in the box"; that is, the other goodies or items found inside game boxes. I've discussed this phenomenon with other gamers and have heard some wonderful stories. No one has as yet discovered an original signed copy of the Declaration of Independence stuffed inside an old Stratego box, but there have been some interesting discoveries nonetheless.
Aside from the usual assortment of rubber bands, errant game and puzzle pieces, note pads, and enough pencils to supply the entire New Orleans school district, the following reported finds are the most unusual and/or comical.
Herb Levy of the Gamer's Alliance offers the following anecdote:
"Several years ago, I was at a garage sale and spied a stack of games. All of the usual suspects and nothing of interest except for a basic baseball game. I did a cursory look and opened the box. Inside was a baseball diamond, a few spinners and some tokens. Seeing nothing else of interest, I bought it along with a stack of books, tossing everything into the trunk of my car and forgot about it.
"The following week, I emptied the trunk and brought the game into the house for inspection. When I removed the board from the box, underneath was a huge collection of 1968 Topps Baseball cards in MINT condition! Catalog value: several hundred bucks!"
Stephen Tavener of England discovered tucked inside a game box a set of puzzle cubes that, when solved, revealed pictures of six naked women. I can only presume he diligently completed the puzzle!
Martin Wallace, designer of Lancashire Rails and other fine games, offers the following story:
"Every year our games club has an auction, most of which are war games. The value of some of these games increases depending upon whether it has a counter tray or not. While opening a game to check for completeness in front of 80 or so people, the auctioneer discovered two pornographic videos!
"Since each game is numbered to match the seller, there was no hiding for the poor fellow who brought it along. He claimed to be selling the game for a friend! It also tells us something we probably already knew—the best place to hide stuff from your wife is in your games collection, which is the one place she is never going to look!"
Other finds have included a copy of Dragon Magazine #1 stuck inside a role-playing game box, extra card games (we call that a lagniappe here in New Orleans: something extra for free!), and a set of installation instructions for ductwork. What made the latter a tad interesting was the titillating first line of the instructions, which read, "Slip female fitting over male fitting."
My weirdest discovery came just recently. I was about to buy a copy of Fireball Island, a much sought-after game. But I was wary of the box's contents since the box itself was puffed and expanded beyond its normal dimensions. So I wisely asked the clerk if I could open the box. I did, and to the amazement of everyone behind the counter, proceeded to remove such items as two attractive wall hangings, a ceramic coffee mug, a souvenir bell, and a cookie cutter in the shape of a duck. But sadly, no game pieces! It's the joy of finding such "junk in the box," as well as the hidden gems I keep or sell, that continue to feed my thrift store addiction. I'm just waiting for that copy of Elfenroads to show up on the shelves!
- Greg J. Schloesser