Some people collect baseball cards. I collect board games. Over 250 games are neatly stacked, by manufacturer or box size, on shelves and racks. If I kept every game I've ever purchased over the past 35 years, there would probably be well over 3,000 in my home. Only my obsessive quest for the quintessential collection of games I'd like to play (rather than display) keeps the size of my collection manageable.
I also collect people who share my obsession.
The Internet has made it relatively easy to locate and befriend board-game enthusiasts from around the world. From my computer in Long Island I receive a steady stream of session reports from game group leaders in such varied locales as London, Boston, Copenhagen, New Orleans, Melbourne, and Dallas. These reports clue me in on what's hot and what's not among new releases and turn me on to a treasure trove of out-of-print (OOP) gems that I may have overlooked. This relatively recent global intimacy has made it easy to establish trading partners abroad.
Some of my most cherished gaming friendships have evolved from my obsession with trading. These recent friendships have fashioned foreign exchange of sorts. One of Germany's leading used-game dealers, Wilfried Breuer, and his daughter Claudia stayed in my home for a week last summer while vacationing in New York. A few weeks later, my wife and I spent a delightful week with Stephen Tavener and Rosie Tavener-Jones while vacationing in London. Packages from Wilfried or Stephen always include games but sometimes also edible treats, books, music CDs, gaming periodicals, and other goodies.
I'm also a sucker for parcels arriving by mail. Few things in life can bring the same kind of ear to ear grin to my face as returning home from work and being greeted by a front porch overflowing with game related packages (sometimes even from Burt Hochberg). There are few feelings that compare with the expectancy of the postman's imminent arrival.
In corresponding with other European board game enthusiasts, I've managed to pigeonhole them into several categories: players, traders, collectors, and hoarders. Few involved in this marvelous hobby are exclusively in any one camp, but see if you've met any of these characters.
Players are valuable members of game groups who will first try someone else's copy of a game and will only actually buy the game if it's destined to be nominated to their personal Hall of Fame. Since someone in their regular group owns a copy, when will they have a chance to play it anyhow? Players usually own 25-50 games, most of which are on a single shelf in a closet.
Traders have a compulsion to try almost anything once, new or OOP. If they don't like the game they recycle it to other traders (or collectors) as naturally as normal folk recycle their newspapers. Their purchases are treated as short-term rentals to support their addiction. Traders network well and almost always have an updated and forever changing "want list" and "trade pile." They maintain lists of others with the same obsession and approach orgasmic euphoria whenever they propose and complete a 4-for-4 trade of their dupes and trade pile for items they've either coveted or merely been curious about. Traders don't allow games to gather dust from non-use except for those items with sentimental attachments. Obtaining the obscure title is part of the fun. Traders tend to have modest 200-500 game collections that constantly turn over. Games are usually kept in a relatively confined space that, when filled, often results in special clearance sales. Traders love to add surprises into each parcel they send and get a kick out of receiving them, too. Traders will sometimes find novel forms of currency in trades. I've traded NBA apparel for games.
Collectors strive for completeness. They have to own, for instance, every Wolfgang Kramer game, from El Grande to Magalon. If they were turned on to Daytona 500, they've got to own Tempo, Nikki Lauda's Formel 1, Formel 1 Nurburgring, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix, and Top Race. Most serious collectors in Germany have nearly every 3M game that was published in the 1960s and early 1970s. Collectors usually own 750-2000 games. They will occasionally trade if it fills a void but trading is not a priority—acquisition is. They may collect by genre, author, or publisher, and must have every known edition of their favorite games. Price is seldom an obstacle to the collector. A collector loves to show off his collection and display it on any combination of shelves, bins, and cabinets. Items are sorted by box-size, publisher, genre or any other equally valid criteria.
Despite being firmly in the trader camp, I do own nearly every edition of Hare & Tortoise, Acquire, Bazaar, and the Wolfgang Kramer Motor Racing series (maybe it's a recessive gene).
Hoarders are obsessive collectors on a grand scale. Once a game enters the hoarders realm of 2000+ games it seldom leaves (unless it's a duplicate). Hoarders usually have or need an entire wing of their home dedicated to games. Hoarders need to have a very understanding spouse because their collections will spill over into places not usually associated with games. A hoarder's garage will seldom actually house an automobile, since the garage needs warehouse racks and climate controls. Some noted U.S. game hoarders include Sheila Davis, Herb Levy, and the undisputed king, Sid Sackson. Friends who have visited Sid's home in the Bronx say it's almost impossible to navigate from room to room without bumping into a stack of games.
Some Common Traits
Despite their differences, most traders, collectors, and hoarders share some habits. They check e-bay board-game auction listings frequently (though traders will buy and sell, while the others will mainly buy) and monitor the rec.games.board.marketplace Usenet newsgroup. They may not always buy, but they do follow market trends. They know that a sealed copy of Cosmic Encounter will sell for well above $100, while a copy of Mid-Life Crisis will seldom, if ever, elicit a single bid. They can also be found spending their leisure time searching for hidden gaming gems in thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales—but that's for another article.
- Steve Kurzban