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Is Your Board Game Collection Healthy, or Sick?

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It’s not a coincidence that every year about this time I put my board game collection through a “physical.” This is the time of year when I have to go to all of my doctors to make sure I’m not completely falling apart. Yet. Since I’m checking up on things, I put my game collection through a checkup, as well, to make sure it’s still healthy and not falling apart, either.

I hear you thinking, “Oh, man. Not another article that’s going to tell me to set a hard cap on my collection, warn me of the dangers of overconsumption, or use the Marie Kondo method to spark joy!” Nope. I’m not going to do that, and here’s why. It doesn’t matter how large or small your collection is. Just as a human of any size can be healthy or sick, so can any size game collection.

What matters is whether or not your collection is serving you well and meeting your needs. Just as our human bodies go through changes that require us to alter our lifestyles (you’ll never take my donuts, though), our game collections sometimes need to be altered to meet our changing needs. And sometimes they don’t because everything is just fine as is. But there’s nothing wrong with periodically giving your collection a checkup to make sure it’s in good shape.

This is my checklist when giving my collection its annual physical. You may have other concerns and that’s great. Add them to the list. And if your collection is immune to some of these concerns, feel free to skip over them. (We don’t send men to the gynecologist, after all. People are all different. Not everyone shares the same concerns.)

Does it take up the right amount of space? 

“Right” is a relative term and only you can decide what amount of space dedicated to games is right for you. Maybe you have a big house with a big basement, ideal for storing a ton of games. But if you’d rather use that basement for other purposes, a big game collection can still take up too much space. Similarly, you may live in a small space with no storage, but games make you incredibly happy and you don’t mind devoting every square inch to your collection. As long as you’re satisfied that your game collection isn’t impinging on space you need/want (or your partner needs/wants) for other things, then it’s the “right” amount of space. If you find yourself resenting the amount of space your games take up, it’s time to change some things.

Is the space you have to store games also “healthy?” 

It doesn’t matter if you have a ton of free space if that space isn’t “healthy” for games. Crawl spaces, attics, outdoor sheds, covered porches, etc. aren’t ideal storage spaces. Games should be kept in dry, temperature-controlled, low humidity environments. Bonus if you can keep them out of direct sunlight and avoid fading. In addition to climate considerations, you want to make sure that your games aren’t being crushed (either by each other or by cramming them into too-tight spaces, or in with heavier objects). Also, your storage area should be easily accessible and safe. It’s a pain to have to go outside or into the attic every time you want to play something, for example, and it’s dangerous if you aren’t physically able to easily access your storage area. (Or if every time you try to retrieve a game you trigger an avalanche that threatens to give you a concussion.)

Is it financially healthy?

Again, this is something only you can determine. (And if you have a partner, your financial considerations aren’t the only ones that matter.) A healthy game collection doesn’t place undue burden on your financial picture. That may include not only your buying habits, but also your storage considerations. Paying for a storage unit may not be the ideal solution, and if you find yourself reluctantly needing to buy/rent a larger home to accommodate your games, you might be in trouble. A healthy game collection gives you enjoyment. It doesn’t trigger panic when the bills come in. 

Is everything played regularly? 

In a healthy game collection, everything is played regularly. “Regularly” can be defined however you want. For example, a game you play once a year with family can be considered to see regular play. It gets played and you know that. It’s worth keeping. Games that are never played, and ones that you cannot see ever getting to the table, may be making your collection sick. They may be taking up space you could otherwise use, and they may be making you anxious every time you look at them and think, “No one’s ever gonna play this with me, I wasted the money.” Anxiety and regret are symptoms of a sick collection and need to be dealt with.

Does your collection suit your lifestyle? 

As we go through the seasons of life, our lifestyles change. Friends come and go. Partners and kids may enter the picture. Jobs take up our time. Financial resources ebb and flow. Free time gets crunched. Age may mean we can no longer see tiny text, or manipulate pieces like we used to. A healthy game collection reflects the lifestyle you’re living now. It’s tempting to cling to the games of your carefree youth, but if they no longer fit your available time or circumstances, it may be time to let them go. It’s also tempting to buy for the future, but since none of us can know what the future holds, it’s likely to be a wasted exercise. What if you buy a ton of stuff to play in retirement, but then you find your interests change, or your gaming partners die/move away? You’ve wasted effort and money.

We all tend to imagine an ideal gaming life and many of us make the mistake of buying to suit that life, rather than the one we’re actually living. A healthy game collection serves the present you well. Not the past you, and not the future you. Buy and keep what you use now. The past is gone and you can deal with the future when it comes.

Are the games themselves complete, clean, and organized?

In a healthy game collection, the games themselves are well maintained. Periodically go through and make sure all pieces are present, and that things are clean and well organized inside the box. Things like sleeves, baggies, and custom inserts can help, but aren’t mandatory if you take good care of your stuff. Nothing stinks more than pulling out a game to discover that it’s missing parts, or you forgot to clean up that juice spill after last time. Nicely kept games are a joy to play, plus they’ll sell for more later if you decide to part ways. 

Do you have a plan for future purchases/culls? 

Part of keeping my game collection healthy is having a plan for its overall growth and decline. I think of this as a lot like having a will, power of attorney, and healthcare directive for us humans. Planning just makes everything easier. For example, I keep a dedicated space for games. When that’s full, it’s “one in, one out.” At least. That limit keeps my buying instincts in check. Some people use a hard number of games. Use whatever works for you and make it as flexible as you want, but make some sort of plan. Ideally you make this plan before you get too deep into the hobby, but too many of us learn this the hard way and end up making a plan after the first big purge. 

It’s also helpful to have a plan for the decline of your collection. It’s helpful to set some criteria for what stays and what goes. This takes some of the emotion out of the process. Culling is a pain, especially once you get to, “Now how do I get rid of this?” Know your options for selling, trading, or giving away games. Maybe you use the features on BGG, or you have a retailer nearby who buys used games. Maybe you sell them at a yard sale or on Craigslist. Knowing your options in advance makes everything easier. During my gaming checkups, I check to make sure that the retailer I usually sell to is still in business and buying. (I also remind myself that most of my culling problems can be solved by adjusting my buying habits.)

And if you have any “last wishes” for your games when you pass, make sure those are clearly stated in a will or elsewhere. Will certain people get certain games? Do you want them donated somewhere? Make sure your heirs know what to do because otherwise your games could end up in the landfill.


Keeping a board game collection healthy doesn’t require a ton of time or effort. Especially not once you’ve established a system and know the signs of ill health. You’ll be able to jump in at the first sign of problems and deal with them before they become major. Most of us learn this by letting our collections get sick at least once and going through the pain of restoring it to optimal condition. The fortunate few are on top of everything from the first purchase. It’s no different than human health. Most of us learn through pain, while the fortunate few stay healthy all the time. (And the rest of us really try not to hate them. Really, we do try.)

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. I like this. Thinking of a game collection in terms of its “health” is an interesting angle, and you’ve identified a number of important considerations. I’ll just toss in one more.

    “Do you have games for all the situations you’re likely to encounter?” (Or something like that.)

    For example, if you often have six people at game night, and you only have two games that take six players, and one of them takes five hours and your group is starting to get tired of the other one, this may be a health issue with your collection.

    Of course, among the people that read this site, I would guess that too many games is probably a more common problem than not enough, but there’s probably a FEW people out there who need more games.

  2. Jennifer,

    I’m finally getting around to reading your splendidly written article along with Jason’s series on culling and maintaining one’s collection. Your analogy of a “check yp” is not lost in me as I’ve mentioned to teammates whom I’ve led and supervised in the past to pull out their resumes at least once a year and review it. Add to it those amazing, recent accomplishments and shed those things from your distant past. As a hiring authority, I’m not that interested in that project you completed a decade ago. Again, I really appreciate your take on a solid recommendation to examine one’s collection.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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