Surviving the Board Gaming Dark Ages


In addition to board games, my other hobby/obsession is Lego. In the Lego world there is a period of life called, “The Dark Ages.” This is when your love for Lego abates and your sets go into the attic or get sold because you’re just not building anymore.

The reasons for a Dark Age are many and varied. Sometimes it happens when other life obligations intervene (jobs, young kids, older parents, etc.) and suck away your time (and money). Other times it’s because you’ve “grown up” and Lego is no longer cool among your peer group. (I say do what you want and own it, but peer pressure is a thing.) And sometimes it’s just because you need a break from the hobby. You may experience one Dark age in your life, or several. 

I think board gamers often go through similar Dark Ages. When young kids enter the picture, that puts a crimp in those daylong game sessions. Spouses/significant others can take time away from gaming, as can demanding jobs or medical issues. A new hobby enters the picture that consumes your money and time. Sometimes people simply burn out on games, or go through a period where nothing looks exciting anymore. Your interests and priorities change as you grow. What was super fun five years ago isn’t fun anymore.

Even though games are some of the most adaptable things out there in terms of finding something to interest (almost) anyone, there are still times when playing time is scarce and interest is low. Dark Age, here you come. 

Sadly, there’s no real way to prevent a Dark Age. You can tell yourself over and over that it will never happen to you, but you never know what life will throw at you. Even if you’re actively playing and loving your board games today, you can be blindsided by a friend moving away, a game group collapsing, a new job sucking all of your time, or any of a hundred other things that diminish your play time or interest.

My major Dark Age (there have been a few, most short-lived) happened after college. I moved away from most of the people I gamed with during school. Plus, a new job and marriage pretty much torpedoed any free time I might have had. (And a tiny apartment with virtually no furniture left no space for playing or storage.)

I made the mistake of giving away most of my games except for a few small card games. Oh, the regret! Somehow I had it in my head that this period of my life was going to be the norm. Forever. That’s a mistake I’m trying to save you from with this piece. Having read this article, you’re now ahead of the game! You know that Dark Ages come and you can make a plan to be ready for them. 

You’ve hit a Dark Age. What do you do?

When the Dark Age comes, the usual response is to stuff the games in the attic, give them away, or sell them. The thinking goes, “I’m never going to play these again, so I might as well get rid of them.” Yep. Been there, done that.

Slow down. To paraphrase Prince, never is a mighty long time. Sometimes (even often) the Dark Age passes. Whatever is messing with your love of games moves on and you find yourself in love again. Only now, if you rushed in and sold everything or gave it away, you have no games. Bummer. 

Yes, selling may sometimes be necessary if the Dark Age is due to financial problems. If you really have no other choice, well, you gotta do what you gotta do. But if the issue is one of time or interest, try to wait it out before making drastic moves. 

Maybe a good cull will help. Sometimes when we have too many choices, we stop playing because we simply don’t know what to play. Everything looks equally good (or bad) and so we just freeze and go watch TV. If you cull out the chaff, you may find that your pared down collection allows the good stuff to shine and spark your interest. 

You can also try to alter the circumstances that are creating the Dark Age. For example, if your problem is lack of play time, is it possible to get a babysitter one night a week? Switch jobs to a lower stress position or one with a shorter commute? Play quicker games? Or, if the problem is caused by changing group dynamics, can you find another group? Start your own group? Changing the root cause of a Dark Age usually isn’t simple or easy, but if there are things you can change without incurring too much hardship, it may be worth it to try. 

If the Dark Age can’t be immediately lifted and you’re not ready to sell, I don’t recommend packing everything away. Keep a few of your best games out in view. Sure, you may not feel like playing them right now, but they’ll serve as a reminder of your interest in the hobby. If they’re visible, you may find that your attention naturally returns to them one day. “Oh, I haven’t played that in so long. Let’s get it out and try it.” Or a friend may come over and ask to play, sparking a renewed interest. You just never know, but if all your games are hidden, you never will know. 

Don’t feel like you have to play, though. Nothing’s worse than playing out of a sense of obligation. “Well, I have these, so I’d better play to justify the money I spent and the space on my shelf.” That just ensures resentment and encourages the Dark Age to continue. Let it happen naturally. And if it doesn’t, well, it may be time to move on. 

Waiting it out is the best response to a board gaming Dark Age. Chances are that you’ll eventually return. You may find in the process that your participation and interest level have shifted, though. I’ve known many people who went from rabid participants in the hobby to being more interested in only playing at family gatherings or in casual settings after a Dark Age. That’s fine. Downshifting is still playing. Of course, it sometimes works the other way. You’ve missed it so much that you go from no interest to crazy-pants levels of interest (and spending). Just go with the flow. If your interest level isn’t exactly the same as before the Dark Age, that’s natural and nothing to worry about.

But if waiting it out doesn’t work?

There’s no shame in admitting that your time with board gaming (or any hobby) has passed. It happens to all of us, eventually. That thing you could never imagine not having in your life is gone and… you don’t miss it. What a weird surprise. That’s the beauty and frustration of life, though. It’s ever-changing, ever-evolving. If you try to resist the change and force yourself to stick with something out of a sense of nostalgia, you can end up miserable. Sometimes it’s best to just ride the tide and move on.

How you move on is up to you. Some people give their games away to friends or charities in the hope that someone else will find the joy they’ve lost. Others sell them, using the money to fund a new hobby or adventure. Some put them away in the hopes that future children or grandchildren will want them. Do whatever you think best and don’t worry about judgment from others or what you “should” do. 

If board gaming once held a prominent place in your heart, moving on can be painful, so do what you need to do to ease that pain. It may seem stupid to feel grief over a hobby, but it’s absolutely not. Those games represent a significant time in your life and it’s okay to feel sad that the Dark Age has become permanent.

The good news is that you’ll go on to find many other amazing interests in life and board gaming will be something you remember with love. (Unless of course your Dark Age was caused by some terrible experience within the hobby that made you decide to burn all your games in an epic fit of rage. Then, well, I might have to write another post about how to deal with that.)

(Image by Thomas Wolter)

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.

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