Once upon a time I struggled with buying way too many games. More than I could reasonably store, or even expect to play in one lifetime. (Okay, so it wasn’t that long ago. More like last week. Hmm… Let’s just say the struggle is ongoing and leave it there.) But I’ve gotten better. I’m not completely reformed, but I am improving. A big part of that has been learning how to talk myself out of games. I’d like to say that my default option is to not buy at all and then only buy after making triple sure that the game is for me, but that would be the kind of lie that might get me struck by lightning. My default tends to be, “Oh, that looks cool. Here’s some money.” Yeah, it’s the kind of thing that gets me in trouble.
So I’ve had to learn to talk myself out of games, rather than the easier approach of talking myself into them. While I’m no expert (still reforming, remember), here are a few of the tricks I’ve learned that (usually, sometimes) help me push the stop button on impulsive purchases.
Gut says no, don’t part with the dough.
If you master nothing else on this list, master this one. Learn to trust what your gut is telling you. If there’s something nagging at you about a game, don’t buy it. I can’t count how many games I bought and later got rid of because I ignored my gut. There was something about the game that bugged me, but I ignored it or convinced myself I could live with it and bought it anyway. It was almost always a mistake. Now if my gut tells me not to buy, I listen. This makes it easy to talk myself out of ninety percent of possible game purchases.
This is especially useful for Kickstarter. KS campaigns are designed to prey on FOMO. You think, “Maybe this [mechanism, artwork, ruleset, etc.] is going to bug me, but I’m not sure. But I’d better buy it just in case because it may not ever come to retail.” Then the game arrives and lo and behold, your gut was right. The flaw bugs you and you don’t love the game. Go with your gut, even in the presence of extreme FOMO.
Look at the player count & how it’s implemented.
Player count is a big deal when it comes to games, particularly if you have a group that’s typically a fixed size. In this house, we play mostly with just two players. Over the years I’ve learned that if a game plays 2 – 4, there’s a chance it works well at two. Anything listed as 2 – 5, or more than that, typically won’t play well with just two players. The two-player experience is likely shoehorned in. There are probably rules changes that may mean we’ll never see the “whole” game (cards removed, abilities unused, etc.). Similarly, I know that we don’t care for most games that use dummy players. If I see any of these things on a game’s listing, it’s easy to talk myself out of it.
Obviously these are generalizations and there are exceptions. But if I’m looking for a quick and dirty way to discount a game from consideration, player count and its implementation is usually a good one. If you play mostly with four players, what are the odds that the game listed at 2 -3 will ever see table time? Or will a game that doesn’t play five see much table time with your large group? Do you really need that five player expansion if you mostly play at three? Do you need a good solo implementation? Knowing your group size and the likelihood that anything not stellar at that player count won’t get played is a great way to reduce game buys.
Know your mechanisms.
Some people just don’t like certain mechanisms. That’s fine, but remember your preferences when researching games. If you don’t like area control, you’re probably not going to like that new, shiny area control game everyone is raving about, no matter how awesome it is. Also, remember that some mechanisms don’t play well at certain player counts. Area control, auctions, and drafting, for example, don’t typically work well with two players. They may function, but a lot of the experience is lost or serious compromises have to be made to make them work. I know it’s usually not worth it, so it’s easy to talk myself out of these. Know which mechanisms you like and suit your play style/group, then talk yourself out of anything that doesn’t match.
Know your sweet spot weight.
No, not the depressing number on the scale that goes up and down like a yo-yo. I’m talking about the weight/complexity of the games you play. If you rarely or never play heavy, complex games, don’t give in to the temptation to buy them. If you never play fillers, don’t buy one. Most people have a sweet spot for game weight. For me, it’s between 1.5 and 2.9 on BGG’s scale. Anything closing in on 3 is going to be heavier than I want, and under 1.5 is likely too simple. Again, there are exceptions and I do own some that are over and above those numbers, but there have to be other, solid reasons for me to buy them. Usually I just look at a game and if I see that it’s around 3 or higher in weight, I move on. Know your sweet spot.
Know your time limits.
Wanting to play three hour games is not the same thing as having three hours to play, so be honest when assessing whether a game’s play time will work for you. I always look at the suggested time and use it to quickly discount a game. Over an hour/hour and a half? Not likely to get played, so no need to buy. Similarly, if you’ll accept nothing less than an hour’s worth of play time, it’s easy to drop the thirty minute games from consideration.
Know your no-go themes and representation hot buttons.
If you can’t stand fantasy, it’s easy to talk yourself out of that hot new fantasy game. Don’t like horror? Anything Cthulhu-themed is an easy pass. If you don’t like overly-sexualized art, it’s easy to talk yourself out of the game with scantily clad women all over it. If you want more diversity in your games, it’s easy to talk yourself out of a game where all of the characters are white males. Having hard limits on what you like and dislike (or are willing to tolerate) makes it easy to pass on even the most hyped games. (In the cases of diversity and representation, this is also called voting with your wallet, or walking your talk. Don’t buy what you don’t want to see.)
Know how much you value “stuff.”
Some people love games with tons of stuff. If components are falling off the table from lack of space, great! I’m not one of those people, generally speaking. I prefer my games to be easy to set up and store. I want to go from having the idea to play a game to actually playing in minutes. The idea of setting out piles of cards and chits no longer appeals to me. Any game that has piles and piles of stuff, no matter how awesome it may be, will turn me off. If you are like me, it’s easy to talk yourself out of huge games. On the flip side, if you love piles of stuff, it’s easy to talk yourself out of minimalist games that are simply a deck of cards or a fistful of dice. You won’t be happy without piles of components, so move on.
Think about the money.
If you’re lucky enough to be in a place where money is no object, skip this one. If you’re human and money matters, stop and think. What is your budget for games? Don’t have one? Maybe you need one. Have you exceeded that budget? Are you close enough that you need to think harder about this game? Is there something else you can/should do with this money like put it toward existing debt, a great vacation, or retirement? Stopping and thinking about the money is usually a way for me to talk myself out of a game. Usually the conversation goes like this: “I already have tons of games. Wouldn’t I rather have a nicer vacation with my significant other, or put it toward that home improvement project we really need to do? It’s not like my life will be lacking without this game.” Put in that context, I usually see that the game is not the wise use of the money.
Understand your completionist tendencies.
If you suffer from “completion-itis” or FOMO, it’s probably wise to eliminate any games which encourage this. Think about games that “need” expansions in order to be better (or games that release with four expansions already in the pipeline because why grab all the money at once when we can wring it out of you for years!), games that will pump out content on a regular basis (collectible card/dice games, for example), or games for which you missed the Kickstarter and will never be able to own it all. If any of this is going to grate on you for years, just don’t buy into the system.
Shop your shelves.
If you’re like many gamers, you probably have unplayed games sitting on your shelf right now. Instead of buying the new shiny thing, go look at what you already have and remind yourself that you don’t need another game. Look for unplayed games, or games that fill the same niche as the one you’re drooling over on Amazon. You probably have something that will curb that shopping urge, so go find it.
Are you happy to patronize this publisher/designer/store, etc.?
There are some games that I will never own simply because I refuse to buy anything from that publisher due to some shady business practices. Anything published by them is easy to talk myself out of. Similarly, there are some designers whose work has never resonated with me. They may make great games, but those games aren’t for me. I don’t back very many Kickstarters because I don’t care for the business model, so a game had better be fantastic to get me over there. And so on. If you have an aversion to a designer, publisher, or business entity, it’s easy to talk yourself out of things they produce/sell.
Wait. Watch. Think. Wishlists are fabulous for this. Before buying, I put stuff on my wishlist and let it sit for awhile. Usually the urge to buy wears off pretty quickly. Either the compulsion fades, or I find more information that makes it easy to talk myself out of it. And sometimes I just forget about the thing altogether, meaning it wasn’t that interesting to begin with.
Institute a “one in one out” policy.
If you get a new game, make it a rule that one has to go. Do you have something in mind you want to part with? Are you willing to let one of your favorites go? If you’re not willing to kill one of your darlings, it’s easy to talk yourself out of the new game.
Learn how to resist peer pressure.
I can’t count how many times I see someone post, “Talk me out of this game,” or, “I have concerns about this game,” and the replies all tell the person to buy it anyway. Sure, they may offer some reasons not to buy, but it almost always ends with, “But don’t let any of that dissuade you from buying this great game! You can always sell it later if you don’t like it.” (That it will be at a loss and at the expense of your time is never mentioned.)
Right. Here’s the thing: If you know yourself and know all the things I’ve listed above, you should be able to resist this subtle pressure to buy. It’s not easy. It’s human nature to want to join in with others, but it is possible to stand strong if you remind yourself why you likely won’t like the game. And remember: If the gut says no, don’t part with the dough, no matter how much pressure they throw. (Is my rhyming getting out of hand?)
Stay off online forums/stores!
If you never see it, you’ll never have to talk yourself out of it!
Okay, this last one isn’t related to talking yourself out of things, but if you follow it you’ll have less to talk yourself out of. The battle will be halfway over! I find that when I stay off of BGG or Amazon for awhile, my buying goes down, as well. There is a relationship there, and it’s a toxic one.
Those are my tips for making yourself an expert at talking yourself out of games. As soon as I figure out how to make myself an expert on not wanting to buy games at all, I’ll let you know. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you, though.
(Image by Pontus Kjellberg)