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The Joy of Curating: Where to Turn?

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There are many characteristics to our hobby.  Board and role-playing games are about entertainment, creativity, socialization, art and/or intellectual stimulation.  Another major element is collecting – the amassing of games for practical use or otherwise. This aspect often drives amusing discussions about why we collect often inumerable games.  Many look at their stuffed closets and sagging shelves with pride. Others with embarrassment. Likewise, other hobbyists might scan the scarcity of their own collection with satisfaction, while others owning a similar dearth only desire more.  What is an appropriate number of games to own? Is there even such a thing? When does having become collecting? When does collecting become stockpiling? When does stockpiling become hoarding? And when is it time to reduce and just how should one proceed?


This series is about maintaining your collection and keeping it a reasonable number, fully conceding it’s a relative concept.  If you enjoy the mere collecting of unlimited stacks of cardboard and have all the necessary space, this will hardly interest you.  But if you find your ludological hoard growing impractically rampant, this series will discuss managing your collection, deciding when it’s the right time to cull it, address the hurdles to that endeavor, discuss what exactly to glean, look at your options when you’ve reached that point, and end with my own personal journey through the process.  Because, indeed, maintaining your collection is not a one-time job. It is an ongoing process.

The Joy of Curating: Where to Turn?

Getting rid of things is already hard enough.  Even if we’ve processed the emotions of letting go of something, or overcome the pull of nostalgia, or finally come to turns that we’ll never need said thing again, now we have to physically do the work of sending it out of our lives.  For things that can be trashed and are small enough to fit in the bin at the curb, that’s one thing. It’s virtually a flick of the wrist. Larger or special items might require unique, inconvenient, disposal. Plus we don’t necessarily want to just toss away most of the stuff we declutter from our lives.  Unfortunately, those difficulties requiring extra steps now easily become an excuse to justify keeping what you’ve finally concluded can be gone. It’s vicious!

The final step in this whole curating process is to deaccession the item.  That’s just the fancy curatorial word for getting rid of something. Unlike formal museums and other institutions with very real legal and culturally sensitive elements to ponder, you can just do whatever you want with your game!  Below are some options.

First, it’s nice to keep those titles you’ve culled in a pile all together – a sort of cardboard purgatory.  Don’t just keep a list of these games and then restock them on your shelves. They have to be prominently visible.  That does a few things. It serves as a constant reminder that you need them gone. They’re in the way and taking up space, hopefully motivating you.  And it makes it easy to access, further aiding and/or facilitating your efforts to actually go through with the deed! If you stack them in a closet, under a bed, in another room, or otherwise out of sight, then they will soon be forgotten.

Also, during this process, stick with a hard rule limiting further acquisition.  I’ve already mentioned the one-in, one-out rule that many like to employ. After all, there’s little use culling your collection when more titles are being added than removed.  However, I suggest a stronger rule: one-in, more-than-one-out! Keep the outgoing number at least doubled that of the incoming.  Better yet, consider culling three to four per every new acquisition.  You’ll enjoy your healthier collection all the more for the (sometimes painful) efforts.

In any event, hopefully there your pile of cullers sits.  So, now what?

The refuse bin. I’ll wait for the gasps to subside.

Well, it doesn’t sound like it will, so I’ll just continue!

Look, there are tens of thousands of games.  There are some small games and obscure games and some just plain awful games that aren’t going to peak anyone’s interest through other culling avenues that I’ll address momentarily.  Now instead, you could simply give them away (again discussed below). Or you can consider that the time invested in donating these unwanted (or even unlovable) titles vis-a-vis their potential to new owners are unequal.  In other words, it just might not be worth it.  You see, there are games on your shelves that you don’t play because they’ll meet the same fate on any shelf!  It’s a cold, hard fact.  It’s probably easier on your time and efforts to just toss it in the trash.

Also, you likely might have games that are in pretty poor condition and/or missing pieces.  Now if it’s just the box that looks like it’s fallen off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, then most hobby collectors and utilitarian board gamers understand and can deal with that – as long as the rest is complete and in playable shape.  But if the abuse spreads to the board and pieces, etc., or significant bits are missing, the game has little value to anyone. And it’s OK to bury it properly. While throwing games away seems unfathomable to us at first thought, these are a couple of circumstances in which you should legitimately consider it.  Remember, we’re not talking about national treasures here…Germans’ sentiments about Herr Knizia, notwithstanding.

To the market. Method number one for getting rid of games is to sell them.  And it’s a good option. But it does come with some downside and considerations.

The upside is you earn a little cash to take care of some needs. Or wants.  In fact, I discussed selling games as an actual motivating reason to cull your collection, if you find yourself in need of emergency or extra disposable funds.  Corollarily, since used games earn less money than new ones cost, you can easily fulfill that one-in, many-out rule by selling off multiple unused games in order to buy a single new one with the proceeds.  And altruistically speaking, this is also one of the better options to ensure that your unwanted or unused title finds a home in which it will be appreciated. People who spend money on something are more likely to actively use it.  Although, yeah, that’s no guarantee, else we wouldn’t be in the culling predicament in which many of us find ourselves!

The downside is the time investment.  Before you even list anything for sale, you need to carefully look over the game to note its state and any noticeable blemishes or damage.  And you’ll have to accurately inventory its components which, depending on the title, can be annoying. But if you’re exchanging legal tender for an item in even an amateurish business transaction, you need to make sure it’s complete and in the condition you claim it’s in.  Or if not, make sure that information is up front, which makes it harder to sell. Dealing with kickback from an understandably irritated customer can hinder your ability to sell future items on the same platform. Aside from inventory, selling games can also be a drawn out process, especially if an auction.  If you go through an online marketplace, you’ll be responsible for carefully shipping all sales. While you can account for and include the cost of shipping and materials, you still have to acquire them and get it all together and out in a timely manner. That includes boxes, protective packing, tape, and access to online postage payment and/or trips to the post office.  The more games you sell and in a shorter amount of time, the greater the strain on all your efforts. It adds up, believe me!

Speaking of platforms, where are the best places to sell your games?

Board Game Geek.  There are three ways of selling games on BGG.  One is via their ongoing GeekMarket, which is essentially an online store with user-created inventory.  As long as you have a user account, you can submit items to the marketplace and it’s all very intuitive.  Just keep in mind that the site gets a 3% commission cut on all of your sales. Which is worth it. BGG is great for its convenience and ease.  However, it may not always move product very quickly. Another good part about the site is that you can quickly see what other users are selling the same title for.  A little competition can’t hurt.

The second method of selling on BGG is via their user forums to run an auction.  Auctions move games much quicker, can potentially earn greater proceeds, and are frequently monitored by interested buyers.  However, they are cumbersome to create, can be difficult to manage, and at the end you usually have a stack of games that you have to get out all at once, compounding the time and logistics issues of multiple shipments I mentioned above.  If you have the time, know-how, and inclination, auctions really are the best investment in terms of maximizing your money and rate of sales for the amount of time invested.

Finally, there are frequent flea market threads which sort of combine the marketplace and the auction formats.  It’s essentially the same process as an auction – a listing of games up for sale – but without bidding. Plus it will involve multiple users adding games.  And any interested purchasers will be directed to the marketplace. But the flea market listing itself gets more visibility, like an auction, as opposed to just submitting a game in the market and hoping someone notices it.

Facebook, Ebay, Craigslist, etc.  I’m sure there are other online marketplaces, as well, but many times gamers don’t think about these broader sales avenues since they’re not hobby specific.  And that can prove a drawback to using them. If the general public sees your copy of Agricola on Facebook, they may scroll right by, clueless as to the great deal you’re offering them!  However, it’s important for those of us deeply immersed in the hobby to remember that not everyone who enjoys games has a BGG account. I know, right?! The upside to other online platforms is the audience is greater.  Also, like in BGG’s marketplace, your item could potentially sit there for an unknown length of time until the right eyes happen upon it, but those types of sites do get a lot of eyes.  Be aware that some of them are also local and buyers may request meeting face-to-face for the sale to avoid shipping costs.  While that can be a good thing for you, too, if you’re not comfortable with meeting strangers for transactions, it may be better to note that or stear clear.

Conventions.  Especially the smaller, local cons are great!  They’ll often have a designated silent auction or flea market type venue in which attendees can submit titles for sale.  About the only downside to this avenue is lugging piles of games to the site. But with no shipping and immediate acquisitions, buyers are also more likely to bid up on a desired title, which increases your money.  And if you’re also buying games in the auction yourself, the cash is essentially built in. Well, assuming you keep the willpower to buy fewer than you sell!

Friendly Local Game Stores.  And also the bigger online ones are sometimes interested in used games.  The downside with game stores is that you’ll make less money, because they’re going to turn around and re-sell it.  However, the convenience of a one-shop stop can make up for that. And at least one online store I know of will pay for the shipping if you’re not local.  Another aspect of selling to an FLGS or OLGS is that you can “earn” more than you would in cash if taking in-store credit. So if you’re selling unused games to buy new ones (again, following the one-in, multiple-out rule), the store credit option is a perfect solution.  Also, talk to the local staff about used game sales/auctions. Often times, an FLGS will sponsor a day or time in which customers can bring in used games for sale to other customers – sort of like a flea market, but better, because it’s all games! They may take a cut of the sales for facilitating the process, but as they should.

Garage sale.  Or yard sale or rummage sale or flea market, whatever you call it in the region of the United States in which you reside.  Hey, if you’re desperate…or if you just don’t want to take, or have, the time to inventory, list, manage, haggle, package, and/or ship games, then just throw them in a garage sale.  The upside is everything is sold “as is” with no hassle. The downside is you’re not going to sell any games for very much money. But in a pinch, and in lieu of anything else aside from giving it away, it’s at least an option.

Swap it.  While selling off games is probably the most common way of culling your collection, trading is a definite second.  Provided that you follow the one-in, more-than-one-out rule! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that one-for-one trades do not trim down a collection.  For the most part you’ll have to give up or get past the concept of equal value. Remember, that’s one of the hurdles I mentioned that you’ll need to jump, as the purpose of this process is to create a healthy collection, not make money off of it.  When trading, always offer two or more games in exchange for one. And keep in mind that you’re still not circumventing a lot of the logistics issues involved with selling games, but trades can be kind of fun in and of themselves.

Really, the most effective place for trading is BGG.  You can enter trades at local conventions, but most of the listings are still handled through the mega gaming website.  Other than that, you’re looking at personal trades with contacts you already game with or know through a local gaming store, etc.

On BGG you can search the site’s database to find matches with individual users to the titles you have for trade and others on your wishlist.  In my experience, one-for-one trade offers in this manner are extremely hit and miss…mostly missing. Even though you’re getting a game for “free,” or the cost of giving away your game, you still have shipping.  And that can run $7-$20+ depending on your game’s size and where you have to mail it. Many potential traders must account for that cost.

While shipping costs are still applicable in a math trade, those are typically more successful in finding results.  Instead of one-on-one trading with a single person, you simply enter all the games you’d like to trade into a massive community listing.  Then after that, you’ll be able to select games from that database that you’d like to get in return. You can individually assign which of your games you’re willing to part with for specific ones you selected.  The computer does the rest. BGG math trades can be intimidating for the unfamiliar, but when you’re comfortable with them, they are quite easy and convenient. Now, one trade you may only get one or two swaps. The next one might net you a dozen!  So they’re not consistent, but they are nice and fun to use. Another drawback is you might have multiple titles to send multiple locations…and the shipping costs are entirely incurred by you. Convention math trades are run the same way through BGG, but since the swaps are conducted at the meetup, at least there isn’t any shipping.  And some of the larger convention ones are quite hilarious to navigate on site where hundreds of people are milling about, waving signs, holding up games, and shouting out BGG usernames to find their trades!

Aside from BGG, talk to your local FLGS about trades, as well.  Like buying and auctions, they have occasions where they facilitate and sponsor single or bigger group swaps.

Donate.  Finally, you might consider just giving games away!  True altruism at its finest, you’ll receive no personal gains or tangible rewards, other than maybe a tax credit, and certainly time and hassle saved.  However, any tax credit is likely to be so small, I wouldn’t bother.  Just do it to feel good about yourself and then beam with satisfaction as your gaming shelves and closets lose the sags and bulges!  And just who could be the beneficiary of your philanthropy?

Friends and family. Giving games to those closest to you is a good way to evangelize the hobby.  And while being nice and bringing joy to their lives, you’re also potentially helping yourself.  After all, if you can get friends and family hooked on gaming, you’ll usually have convenient groups close by to game with!

Trade sweetener.  Toss in a game or two for the recipient of your trade.  Don’t list it, but let it be a fun and pleasant surprise.  It’s kind of like being Santa Claus! Now, you may not want to do this for large titles, because that can significantly increase shipping.  But for smaller games, and for just a little time in investigating the recipient’s BGG profile to see what they like, you will certainly brighten their day!  And who knows, maybe they’ll leave a glowing review, which increases your trading status, making it more likely others will trade with you in the future.

Libraries.  They just aren’t about books, you know!  While they certainly gravitate toward casual and family friendly titles suitable to broad age ranges, local libraries of any size love to have games on hand.  Many even have board gaming oriented programs and/or the local board game club utilizes their meeting spaces. So this is a great way to evangelize the hobby and give to the community, at the same time.

Conventions.  They ain’t free to organize!  Sure, they’ll make up the bulk of their funding from attendee and exhibitor registration and sponsorships.  But a lot of smaller cons look to other sources of income out of necessity and to keep registration costs as low as possible.  The aforementioned silent auctions are one means, as the con will take a cut of the proceeds. But also, just donating a game to them helps out.  Perhaps they’ll turn around and sell your donation to help fund their show? Or, they might add your gift to their on-site library, enhancing the experience they can offer to attendees.

Thrift stores.  They just aren’t about clothes, you know!  Unless it’s a second-hand thrift store that buys (very cheaply) used stuff, donations to these outlets are good ways to support their causes.  They can earn a little money off your donation of goods. And then you can go to BGG and read about everyone else’s amazing thrift store finds, like that still in shrink copy of Battle Cry for $2 that someone found.

Schools.  We all know that board gaming is essential to a well-rounded education!  It teaches young ones how to crush their enemies and enjoy the lamentations of their women and children.  Or to think and reason and play fair. Something like that. And an increasing number of schools have after school programs or clubs that center on or utilize board games.  They’d love to increase their collection with your largesse.

Group homes.  I’ve noted many times my wife and I are foster parents.  So we’re familiar with group homes that house children in the state’s system, for a variety of reasons.  They’re always on the lookout for entertainment and leisure items. And if the game’s pretty family friendly, these are commendable options for your donation.

Charitable organizations.  And I’m sure there are any number of organizations which may be able to utilize games, either in selling them or using them.  One such outlet that you might consider and that is closely connected with our hobby is the Jack Vasel Memorial Auction.  Named after the late son of hobby standout Tom Vasel, founder of the Dice Tower Network, this organization helps those in need within the boardgaming community.  Their annual auction raises funds to assist others. And that auction relies on gamers donating titles to the effort.

So now you have no excuses left.  You see those crowded shelves and closets and know something’s just not right. It’s ungainly and unusable.  This series has a number of tips about curating a healthy collection, knowing when it’s time to cull, jumping the hurdles to that process, identifying what to get rid of, and looking at where to send them off.  Yet if you’re still wanting some more practical insight, I’ll wrap up by discussing some of the particulars in my own culling process.

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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