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Collective Action

Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures game box shot

I blame X-Wing for a lot of things. I blame it for making me read more than is decent about the expanding universe of Star Wars. I blame it for the gaping hole in my bank balance. Most of all, though, I blame it for turning me from a player into a collector.

Those of your who’ve been with us for the long haul will remember the amount of words I used to lavish on getting people to play their games. All the dire warnings against acquiring another identikit cube pusher when so many gamers already don’t play the ones they have. Part of me still wants to believe that. In reality, the tottering piles of hardly-touched games and expansions tottering out of shelves and cupboards all over my house say otherwise.

It was X-Wing that started this, because it was the first game I’d seen that made me want to own it just on the strength of how it looked. There are other games with fantasic design and production: Napoleon’s Triumph and Claustrophobia are prime examples. Yet I would never encourage a gamer to own any other game on the strength of how it looks alone.

X-Wing was different. X-Wing spoke to the long dormant miniatures gamer in me. The gamer that used to rejoice in seeing three thousand points of intricately painted Warhammer figures duelling it out on the table, supported by cunningly crafted scenery. Those little ships. Those simple, yet realistic paint jobs. How could I not love them?

So the piles of figures started to grow. Originally I promised I’d stick to designs that were in the movies I remembered as a child, but then an HWK-90 and a Tie Defender turned up at bargain prices, and I was unable to resist. I tried hard to get them all on the table, and succeeded. But I’d bae lying if I said that some of the less successful models, like the TIE Bomber, were every likely to see play time again. Still I kept them, carefully ensconced in foam, because they were beautiful. And the towers of foam stacked up, and up.

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They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So it was that the next nail started out with a premise to keep true to my original promise. If I focussed on expansions, I reasoned, I could get more play out of the games I already owned while still enjoying the process of acquisition. This realisation sparked another buried facet, a march toward completest tendencies.

What I’d foolishly failed to realise was just how many expansions some of my favourite games had. The Commands and Colours games are by far the worst offenders. Napoleonics has four, Ancients has six and there are small islands in the Pacific with insufficient landmass to hold all the Memoir ’44 expansions. In buying them, I was just making a rod for my own back.

Commands and Colors Spartan & Spanish army expansions for the Ancients & Napoleonics base games

At some point among this madness I had to admit defeat. I could not, in all good conscience, tell people to play what they had before collecting more any longer. And in doing so, I found a kind of peace. All those boxes on the shelves stopped nagging me. There were still practical considerations, of course. A small house can only hold so many games. But it changed the way I viewed my games. Instead of millstones, weighing me down with the knowledge that there would alway be more games than time, they became more like old friends.

Human beings have a desire for nostalgia, for keepsakes. There’s not a person alive who doesn’t have a little collection of memorabilia from important times and places. If, as gamers, some of those important times and places revolve around gaming, what’s so odd about wanting to keep the games that spawned them? Even if they weren’t played enough, or you doubt you’ll ever play them again.

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Hope is the great enemy of good sense. Hope is what’s behind people accumulating unplayed games, thinking that one day, one special day, they might see the table again. Yet for all that it can lead us astray, it can also be a precious thing. There’s a certain pleasure to knowing that if, one day, I or a friend, or a family member wants to learn more about the Scottish Wars of Independence I can pull down Hammer of the Scots and say “here. Play this”. I’ve played it over twenty times, and I’m done with it. But if ever I should want it again, it’s there.

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, and I’m finding it harder to let go of the things that defined my past. Perhaps I’m just becoming that little more resistant to change. It comes to us all in the end. I’m sorry if I ever made anyone feel bad about collecting games. In truth, I still think it’s better to be a player than a collector. It’s just that I finally have to admit that I don’t have the strength to live up to that ideal any more. Games are lovely. I want to keep them in my life.

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Matt Thrower

Matt is a board gamer who plays video games when he can't find anyone similarly obsessive to play against, which is frequently. The inability to get out and play after the birth of his first child lead him to start writing about games as a substitute for playing them. He founded FortressAT.com and writes there and at NoHighScores.com

2 thoughts to “Collective Action”

  1. There’s a self-help guru going around these days (I don’t remember her name, but she has books and such) telling people to throw out anything that does not “inspire joy”. So you are supposed to pick up each item, decide if you feel some joy or not and then probably get rid of it.

    Now clearly some of us keep too much stuff (of which I have myself been guilty) and I don’t begrudge anyone who has helped by this method; moving on to the philosophical aspects I think this kind of dangerous one-dimensional nonsense is part of a modern purity rhetoric which denies the complexity and wonder of human beings. If I go about my day feeling joy all the time there is some kind of problem with me. Likewise if the objects I keep in my home exist only for joy, there would be something missing. Messy, weird reasons are ok too.

  2. In the last year or so, I have had the weird desire to just throw every game in my possession that was “a 6 or below” in my own personal ratings.

    Many things have stopped me from doing so, the first is that I don’t know how to sell these games. The other is that I cannot give them as a gift to anyone; I mean, not every cousin is really looking forward to learning about the Ramadan or Scanian Wars, nevertheless have the patience and availability to learn a complex design.

    Some of the games I owned, that I knew would not get enough play were already given to family an friends, games I really liked as a piece in my collection (like the weirdly themed Masquerade).

    Have found that a good way to (sporadically) play these games, is just give them as gifts, that way I can get just enough game of it without the worrying of these “being in my custody”. Maybe I just want to try out Machi Koro but don’t really want that to be part of my shelf.

    Also, weirdly enough… I kind of really enjoy playing some of my 5 or 6 rated games, they might be “flawed” or “imperfect” designs, but they have a charm to it.

    PS: Not really going anywhere with this comment, just wanted to throw some thoughts after reading the article.

    A final thought: If feel a relief when thinking about just having “a game” and playing it often with friends. Like monogamers do, but more like a pentagamer (maybe).

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