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The Joy of Curating: The Checklist

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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: The Checklist

The two aspects of collections culling discussed most in our hobby’s circles are when to make that plunge and then what, specifically, to get rid of.  I’ve previously discussed the former.  So after coming to that tipping point and overcoming any tangible hurdles or mental blocks to amputating your ludology, how do you know which games to part with?

There are as many opinions out there on this topic as there are probably games on your shelves!  Reasons for getting rid of games range from age, size, shape, dupliction, love, and more. Many of the more common and “real” ones I’ll discuss below.  But first, I’ll examine more generally the biggest clue that indicates you can easily afford to part with any title.

This series’ primary theme is that, unless you’re accumulating designs as an art collector would paintings for their representational value, the overwhelming purpose of your collection is to play it.  So in the spirit of my introductory article, if you’re not playing a game, it’s simply taking up space, getting in the way of other titles, maybe even causing damage, and hampers your collection’s usefulness.  If you’re not playing it, it’s safe to get rid of. You can’t miss what you’re already not utilizing, right?

Here’s where recording plays proves instrumental.  Or maybe not. Many of you know off the top of your head which titles particularly stand out that are egregiously unplayed.  Mine are the three entries of the Star Trek Deck-Building Game (hey, I may have plenty of tips and significantly culled my collection, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to all the pitfalls!).  The point is, you won’t always need a play log to determine which titles fall in this category. If you do have such records, though, some may surprise you. Scanning through the list might be revealing…for example, you haven’t brought out Small World since 2015!  But you’re sure you’d played that since before then! Once the shock wears off, you can sit down and consider why that was the case and, if you’re honest, may mean it’s time to trim it from your shelves.

Doing a standard inventory – or simply reviewing it routinely – can also prove beneficial in discovering some titles among this group.  It’s not uncommon to even forget you had the game until you see it in that inventory list. Again, if you’re honest about the process, it affords the opportunity to exam just why it was out of mind and forgotten.  Even if the answer is a longingly, “Oh, yeah, I remember that game and liked it!” Perhaps it’ll prod you to bring it back to the table and enjoy it once more? But if you can pinpoint a reason (from those below) that it’s languished among the stacks, then finding a new home for it shouldn’t put you out too much – and may even be a good thing.

However, and with respect to Shakespeare, the play’s not always the thing! Even used games can be candidates for removing, and there are sound reasons that culling a game which has seen recent, or even regular, use should be removed from your collection. Also, games that you like can be just as eligible.  If that sounds counter-intuitive, try to keep in mind our ultimate goal. To create and maintain a slim and relevant collection that serves your needs.

As I mentioned in jumping hurdles in my previous article, it’s often a great idea, if you haven’t trimmed your collection before, to start with one game.  With that in mind, here are some common and quite logical characteristics than many a title from your collection will fall under. And once you start with that first one, you’ll find it easier to apply the same principle – or others here – to a number of your games.  Consider this a checklist with boxes to the left of each entry. Then compare a number of games to it. If you’re able to check off any box, it’s likely you need to consider letting it go. If you can check off multiple boxes on one title, then I think you’ve got your answer.

The Second Biggest Lie.  I mentioned last article that this delusion is telling ourselves that we will play that game again – or maybe even for the first time – some day!  Here is where you confront that untruth.  If you can look that game directly in the eyes – and many covers have them! – and be logical and honest, are you realistically ever going to be able to get that game to the table? It could be you played it once long ago and even liked it. But maybe it’s an all-day game and you know you’ll never be able to carve out such a time, again. Or maybe it’s just too cumbersome or complex and not worth trying to parse out the rules.  Maybe it’s ugly and doesn’t appeal to your group. Maybe you’re the only one who likes it. Carefully address your titles according to those various reasons to see which specifically fit this criteria.  If a game is honestly unlikely to see play, then check that box. It’s likely already a prime candidate to go.

Duplication.  Many still follow a popular principle formulated by a podcaster six or seven years ago, called the Jones Theory.  This theorem posited that you shouldn’t have two games in your collection that do the same thing and/or cover the same mechanisms.  While I don’t agree that this should be a railroading factor, it is certainly relevant and can be helpful. The main problem is identifying what exactly constitutes duplication and how far that derivativeness should run.  Especially this day and age with so many twists on similar mechanisms and so many designs that blend multiple categories. But the other thing is, again, our board games collections should be useful. So, if your gaming group really enjoys and regularly plays worker placements games, it stands to reason you might want a handful of varieties and types. In that case, the Jones Theory can be restricting.

That said, there’s quite the spectrum within kinds.  Getting rid of either Kingsburg or Alien Frontiers because you have both and they’re very close “dice as workers” placement designs might be worth considering.  Especially if your group doesn’t play a lot of the type. But getting rid of either Kingsburg or Viticulture just because they’re both worker placement games might not necessarily make a lot of sense, as they’re both very different representations of the genre, with contrasting elements.  It may still be that you should cull one or the other or both, but maybe due to other reasons on the checklist.

Still, despite my exceptions, the Jones Theory can aid you in examining which games “compete” against each other.  If you find that you’re always choosing one example over others from a handful of games that fit the same mechanisms, genres, themes, settings, etc., then check that box by the others. Perhaps you can part with those less loved titles that rarely, if ever, get picked from amongst their sampling group.

Crossover.  If the majority – or entirety – or your gaming is with the same people, then getting rid of games that duplicate what someone else in your group also has is a wise choice.  Unlike duplicating similar styles, genres, or mechanisms within your own collection (above), this is more concerned with owning the exact same title as another in your gaming circles.  If you’re group plays a certain game frequently, only one of you needs to provide the access to it. So fight among yourselves for which one can check it off the list! Or coordinate a number of such titles so that everyone can equally do a little culling from their separate collections.  And if you own the same game as one or more of group that no one likes to play, then hurrah!  You can all get rid of it and everyone wins!

No outside love.  Does your family or gaming group shy away from a specific design (or even a type, mechanism, setting, or genre) and just not request it at all? Check that box!  Those are easy candidates for trimming.

Oh, well, unless you particularly are fond of it, that is. Alas, these can be difficult ones to let go because you’re just sure everyone else is wrong and they’d come around if only they gave it more tries!  Alas, that scenario is the exception, rather than the norm. Generally speaking, right or wrong, gamers tend to make up their minds about a design fairly quickly. Often after just one play. And that’s logical. After all, there are so many games out there to try and so little free time to expend on them.  So when a specific design makes a less than favorable impression, it’s only human to hesitate exerting any further effort on another chance. In such a scenario, it’s generally the better decision to give that game its check and a proper send-off, rather than force your unwilling or reluctant friends and family to keep at it, which is counter-productive to creating fun gaming experiences.

Low personal rating.  At the other end of the spectrum are particular designs that you just don’t really enjoy bringing out, but feel as if you must.  Usually because others actually do like it. These games can also be hard to get rid of, out of a sense of duty, in essence. After all, our hobby is ultimately a social construction.  And we don’t want to disappoint anyone. Or maybe you’re your group’s gaming ambassador, providing access to all the games?

Other times, you may be anchored to such feelings simply because you have the game and want to use it, keeping in mind that crowning purpose of having a collection in the first place. Or maybe you spent a lot of money on it, and feel like it’d be wasteful not playing it. Or maybe it’s the hotness, or an evergreen classic, that others critically acclaim, yet you just don’t get why? In these cases, perhaps you’ve convinced yourself that maybe you’re wrong, and you need more plays to increase your rating of it?

But if you simply just don’t rate a game highly enough, do yourself a favor and give it that check-mark. Games reach different people in different ways, and we don’t all like the same things, or else pineapple on pizza would never have been a thing. Usually titles in this category begin with personal ratings of ‘7.’  Any design lower than that I would argue is a prime candidate for culling, ambassadorial responsibilities and guilt be tossed. For those at a solid ‘7,’ you might be able to hang onto. Giving those another chance, especially if your active group and/or family thinks of them higher than you do, can be worth it. And in the meantime, see if you can steer those same companions to other, personally higher rated designs.  This will require balancing your collections culling to make sure other players’ big hits stick around – at least a while. But, hey, remember. One way to get out of playing those lackluster games that others’ always seem to pick is to cull it out!

Not always in the numbers. More broadly applicable, if you don’t use a numerical rating system, is the more nebulous concept of desire.  What would your reaction be to a specific game if someone randomly pulled it from the shelf? Get that check-mark making pen in hand and take a close look at it.  Do you even want to pull this off the shelf and play it?  Are you getting it to the table just because you have to, or feel like you must?  When doing so, is it interrupting your group’s usual cycle of favorites or common fare? Is it too staid for your situation?  Too raucous? Or is it one that succeeds well and hits the right notes with your family or gaming group?  Because, again, board games are a shared social experience. If it’s not facilitating that for your specific gaming circles and occasions, then that title needs to find a new home.

As you work through your checklist, if you’ve determined that a game – and likely more – have ticked one or more of the above boxes, it is a candidate for culling.  And congratulations! That’s a good thing. Getting rid of games doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this hobby. If you’re considering this process, then that means there are many other games in your collection and a number of them are going to be quite good.  You can enjoy those in order to assuage your pangs of trimming the others. So now that you have this new stack of cardboard that’s no longer on your shelves, but piled on a table or in the corner waiting for new homes, what in the world do you do with them?  I’ll discuss those options in my next installment in the Joy of Curating.

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

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