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Combating Completionism

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I am a born collector. I spent my childhood collecting coins, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, action figures, and most of all trading cards (and CCGs). In college I started collecting books by authors I liked, chasing down even rare volumes to complete the set. The collector’s impulse to hoard and preserve is strong in me. Yet in the last few years as a board game player, I have made it a point to combat completionism.

Completionism, as it applies to the board game hobby, is what compels players to collect every rare card, every expansion, every promo for games they like (or don’t). It’s what compels them to complete series (like the Gryphon Bookshelf Series or the Alea Big Box Series) or collect games by a single designer (like Stefan Feld or Michael Schacht). It values board games as artifacts in addition to their utility as games. It’s something I’ve seen mentioned again and again on threads (“WHERE CAN I GET THIS PROMO”), and it’s something I’ve benefited from myself (“I’ve got the promo$ you’re looking for”).  There are several reasons I’ve decided to combat completionism in my experience of the board gaming hobby.

The first and most obvious reason to eschew completionism is space. I don’t have a whole lot of extra space where I live. We have a modest house with two kids, and we store a lot of their clothes (as well as hand-me-downs in future sizes). I’m not going to co-opt practical uses of space for luxury good storage. In fact, aside from the games I keep at work, I have one tall shelf for games that I refuse to grow beyond. So usually, if new games come in, old ones go out. For this reason, I can’t afford to keep games around simply because they complete a set. Each game in my collection has to pull its weight, or it’s out. Even my grail copy of Acquire–the 1999 Hasbro edition–left last year when it sat, unplayed, for three years. I had thought to collect games by certain designers that I like, but I realized that, just like book authors, not every game is a masterpiece. (What has got me to stop being a completionist with Kurt Vonnegut’s books is reading Slapstick and the first in the wave of “unpublished” stuff released posthumously. Woof.) With limited space, I would much rather cede room to masterpieces than to showpieces.

But I’m also combating completionism because most of the time it’s just not worth it from a monetary standpoint. With expansions, while I enjoy some of them, they often don’t give enough return on their investment to justify purchasing. There are some instances where expansions are “necessary” for a game–that is, they so positively affect the game that I would rarely (if ever) play without them. I add Inns & Cathedrals to Carcassonne 100 percent of the time, even with new players. The game is much better with it, and the added complexity is minimal. Coup is another game whose expansion is all but necessary for the game–I no longer play it without Reformation added in. And Ticket to Ride: Europe is a much more enjoyable game with the Europa 1912 tickets (I don’t use the depots). The expansions to Dominion are half the point of the game, and while these are in no way necessary, I like integrating each one (although even here, I don’t own all of them).

But for the most part, expansions are expansions because they are not necessary to enjoy the core gameplay. I enjoy the Leaders and Cities expansions for 7 Wonders, but I hardly ever use them because the game works well without them and is complex enough for players who haven’t mastered it. Even though I like exploring new concepts in the world of 7 Wonders, I find that even the base game has plenty of replayability without the addition of expansions, and most of the time my opponents are more comfortable with just the base game. Innovation has the most out-of-the-box replayability of any game I’ve seen, and adding in Echoes of the Past was almost completely superfluous, an exercise in gilding the lily.

And this is doubly true for promotional items, which are often unfinished concepts or leftover material. (If a concept were truly polished, it would be involved in a core product or sold in an expansion.) The Dominion promos are better than most others I’ve seen (they’re playable without breaking the game), but even they aren’t worth it. Black Market is a neat concept, but it’s completely unnecessary. Stash is a novelty but very situational and rarely bought when included in a random setup. I don’t mind receiving promos as extras for things, but only because I sell them to those who are completionists.

And this is what keeps me out of collecting high-end gaming memorabilia–the truly rare promos or out of print games: I’m just too cheap. Some people enjoy owning something valuable, even if that means paying a premium. With my meager gaming budget what it is (that is, nearly nonexistent), I am almost always willing to part with something if the price is right. There are few games in my collection (even my favorites that are out of print) that I would absolutely refuse to sell given favorable conditions.

Despite my tendencies toward collecting, I’ve decided to put these aside with board games because of space and utility concerns. What about you? Are you a completionist? Why or why not?

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion7 Comments

  1. Gah, this really spoke to me, haha. I am a total completionist by nature, regardless of what it is I’m “collecting”. (It pains me to say that I watched all 10 seasons of Smallville…) Of late though, I have been trying to get off the band-wagon of competionism. One thing that helped was that I now try to view completionism as a team sport. For example, some of my friends and I have started ensuring that our game collections don’t overlap. This has been super helpful in regard to Dominion, especially since there are two entries in the series that can stand alone. Some of my friends have games that I LOVE and definitely WANT to own, but thankfully I now don’t feel the need to since I can always play it any time my group gets together. (I’m looking at you, Roll for the Galaxy!)

    • I do the same as far as avoiding overlap with other collections (although I’ve made exceptions for Dominion, Witness, and a few others).

      And I feel you on being a completionist with TV series: I watched all six seasons of Ballykissangel, even though they stopped being good after season 3. I vowed not to make the same mistake with Downton Abbey, and I happily quit after the third season (should have been after the second–I’m not perfect).

  2. Great article!

    I guess that I would be diagnosed as a “Selective Completionist” when it comes to board games. Fortunately, I don’t follow specific designers and I’m exceptionally picky when it comeinothers)s to games I play, much less, buy.

    For me, Arkham Horror definitely cast a spell on me ( as I started a business based on the completionist tendencies), and I own all of the expansions. The only other one to capture me has been Troyes…truly beautiful and near perfect.

    • You’re fortunate that it hasn’t affected everything! 🙂

      (And I like Troyes quite a bit. I couldn’t find opponents, so it was a casualty to one of my purges.)

  3. Great article!

    I guess that I would be diagnosed as a “Selective Completionist” when it comes to board games. Fortunately, I don’t follow specific designers and I’m exceptionally picky when it comes to games I play, much less, buy.

    For me, Arkham Horror definitely cast a spell on me ( as I started a business based on the completionist tendencies), and I own all of the expansions. The only other one to capture me has been Troyes…truly beautiful and near perfect.

  4. I am definitely a grand-old completionist. I LOVE buying ALL the expansions.

    And part of that is because when you buy an expansion, you get the excitement of a new game, but you can usually fit the new elements inside the original box, saving space on the shelf! Huzzah! Plus most expansions are cheaper than full games.

    There are a couple things killing my completionism, though. X-Wing Minis is by nature permanently incomplete, and though I love new things, I have decided for my sanity, wallet, and closet space, I’m going to get a certain number of specific ships and once I’ve filled those quotas, call my collection COMPLETE.

    But seriously, I’m gonna need the latest Cosmic Encounter expansion, and the BSG one, and did you hear Takenoko is getting an expansion? I just bought the latest Pandemic expansion…

    • Fantasy Flight is the WORST.

      And also the best–if you like expansions. 🙂 Really, X-Wing (like Dominion) is the kind of game where the fun is in the expansions. But X-Wing’s release schedule and buy-in is much worse, so I understand putting the kabash on it.

      That’s a good point, though, that many (if not most) expansions will fit within the original box. So the space argument I make isn’t particularly keen against expansions. (It IS keen against my erstwhile collection of Michael Schacht games.)

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