Are you a collector or a buyer of board games?
By Antoinette Mason
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Hello folks and welcome to board game inquisition where we are fanatical about everything board games! Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Antoinette, the high inquisitor around here. I’ve been playing board games for a number of years but have gotten more seriously into the hobby over the past few. Mostly, I play games with my husband and when we can manage it bigger groups. I’m very open to the types of games we play and find it hard to pick a favorite game, since that all depends on how I’m feeling on the day!
Board game inquisition was born out of my love of board games and of critical thinking. For some time I was a philosopher. However, due to mental health issues, I had to drop out of university in the fourth year of my Ph.D. Yet it taught me much about evaluating, questioning and getting to the crux of an argument. When watching board game reviews I found myself a little disappointed that people were being so nice and positive, as if being critical was a negative thing. People seem afraid of the backlash from highlighting the flaws of popular games. At the inquisition, hence the title, I want to ask all the questions and present you with the good and the bad as I see it. If you can’t be critical in your own opinion what’s the point in having one?
Ok so we’ve sidetracked a tad but I promise it’s all relevant. You see in my life as a philosopher there is one topic that always fascinated me, collecting. In particular, there is an essay by Walter Benjamin called “Unpacking my library” that I almost named this website after. Now you don’t have to go and read it, it’s about book collecting after all. Yet as I sit here looking at my own board game collection I can’t help but ask myself do I need so many games? How attached am I to these objects and why so? What makes a collection more than just a pile of items?
Most of us live in a world where more is everything (think of product names like Pepsi Max), where everything has a price (let’s not even talk about places like the darknet) and monetary value is all that things are worth (sentimental values are often worthless). Oftentimes even the value of people are equated with their earnings and what they are capable of producing. The capitalist model wants for people to perpetually consume and throw away, to always be focused on the new. Some Kickstarter campaigns bring out much of this consumer attitude in both board game designers and players. People can feel left out or worried by not engaging with the newest game. Others work out the value of the game based on the number of components it has rather than solely on the merits of the game. Larger, rarer and more expensive games become status symbols, yet again ignorant of the other values that board games have.
By reducing games to their cash value we lose sight of some of the most important aspects of it. What price can you put on engaging with a group of friends? What value is there in telling that same story again about how close you came to beating Ghost Stories? For what price would you part with your favorite and well-worn board game? Collecting, according to Walter Benjamin, gets around many of these problems that capitalism creates, which I think is very exciting.
Firstly, what’s the difference between owning a variety of board games and having a collection of board games? For him, collectors have
“a relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value – that is, their usefulness – but studies and loves them as the scene, the stage, of their fate.”
We often love games for reasons beyond what we could sell them for. Benjamin thinks fondly on those objects you have sought out as a collector, those that have had lives and stories before crossing your path. It is this special relationship between objects and people that elevate them above piles of things and into a collection.
I think as a community board gamers excel at this. If we were to break down some of our favorites into their bare components and assess their value there would be an uproar. Many, if not all board games, offer us more than what we put on the table. Take games like Race for the Galaxy or T.I.M.E. Stories where there is so much more going on than the cards on the board. Oftentimes we will pull down particular games only once a year for special occasions and not wonder if it’s a waste keeping it just for that purpose. We become attached to games, not because they are games, but because of the opportunities and experiences they offer us, something that can’t be quantified.
On a final and poignant note from Benjamin
“… ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.”
Our collections are reflections of us as people, hence why we value our games so highly. The choices we make are often carefully curated, sought out and planned. Now of course not every single game in our collection is going to be like this, we all have odd purchases. I propose however that we need to be more critical of our collections, assuming, that is, that you want one in the first place. Personally, life is too short to be keeping or even playing games you don’t enjoy, trade them! And keeping with the anti-capitalist Benjamin spirit trading away games is the ultimate means of avoiding putting an exact value on a game.