Guide to Gaming: How do I make a good trade?


I talked in my last article about deciding when it’s time to let go of a game. Once that is decided, there are a few ways to let a game go: charity, trading, or selling. In today’s article, I plan to teach you the skills you need to evaluate and make great trades.

Trading is fun and is itself a kind of game. Think about the auction games that you know (and, let’s face it, probably love). The way to win auction games is through the proper evaluation (and valuation) of the lots that come up for auction. Paying lots of money for a pile of junk is a sure route to ruin. The trick is to buy low and sell high. Reviews of Invest Diva can provide additional insights and strategies for successful trading.

Now, with trades, obviously buying low and selling high is ideal, but as you’re working with another person who is doing the same, striving for equality is the surest bet for making a great trade. However, there are a few things that can tip the scale in your favor. There are three areas where you need to have knowledge in order to make a great trade. You must know the value (of what you’re giving and getting), know yourself, and know the other trader. Knowledge in these areas will best equip you to win in the trading game.

(Note: these tips are specific to user-to-user trades. While the tips are useful for any trades, I’ll post a separate article in the future on special trades, especially math trades. This article also assumes a basic knowledge of Board Game Geek’s trading system. If you need a tutorial for that, click here.)

Know the Value

As I mentioned above, this is the key to making great trades. Knowing yourself and knowing the other trader are important, but tangentially so. If you don’t know the value of what you have (or the value of what the other person has), you are trading in the dark. We’ve all heard of (or had) experiences of finding excellent games for pennies at the local Goodwill or garage sales. On the other hand, I once received in my end of a math trade a grab bag of games that were mostly trash. I didn’t know the value of what I was receiving, and I lost out big time. (A quick aside on grab bags: resist the temptation. I love being surprised, but there’s always a reason when someone won’t list out individual items for inclusion.)

Okay, so how do we determine a game’s value? The place to start is with the MSRP–what does the publisher suggest game stores charge for the brand-new game? Notice I said this is the place to start. There are many, many mitigating factors when considering the value of a game. MSRP is a usually a good way to determine a fair trade at the base. On the face of things, it’s usually not a good idea to offer a $25 game in trade for a $50 game. The MSRP will also usually tell you whether the component quality is about equal in what you’re giving and in what you’re getting.

I’ll also note that this game valuation method is not only worthwhile for trades but for deciding which games to purchase. Unless I already know I love a game, I usually only purchase games that I think will retain their value should I decide not to keep them. This has served me mostly well so far in the hobby. See my board gaming on a shoestring article for more on this.

Mitigating factors for determining a game’s value:
Is the game…

  • Brand-new? A game that’s sealed is usually worth its full MSRP in trade. It’s as if the other person is getting this game from a store, so it should be valued as such.
  • Out of print? This one’s tricky, but it always increases the value. I’ve seen copies of Modern Art get twice or three times their MSRP value in trade just because the game is out of print. A good game (or a niche classic) should be valued higher if it’s no longer in print.
  • Between printings? A game that is not necessarily out of print but is not readily available is worth more in trade. I’ve seen people trying to charge $35 for Love Letter–a game with sixteen cards. When demand is up and supply is down, value goes up. (Of course, I haven’t seen whether they’ve been successful.)
  • Popular (top 100)? Popular games are perennially valuable and those who own them are often less anxious to get rid of them (requiring a little extra sweetener).
  • The “right” edition? Some games are grail editions, that’s obvious. The 1999 Avalon Hill Acquire. The War of the Ring Deluxe Edition. These editions  are understandably more valuable. But you can sometimes track down the “wrong” edition of something on the cheap. Just keep in mind which edition you have or are receiving in trade as sometimes the edition affects the value.
  • Well regarded (reviewers, awards)? Similar to popular, games that have a sizable following and are well regarded critically are usually perennially valuable. Players are less likely to get rid of good games.
  • Complete and in good condition? If a game has been taken good care of, it will usually retain most of its value. If pieces are missing, things are scuffed, or the game looks worn, the value goes down (though usually this means you, the owner, have gotten at least that value out of it in your own time). I always catalog the pieces first thing when I receive a game in a trade or when I list a game for trade. If anything is missing, I usually contact the publisher and find out what it would cost to receive replacement pieces. If pieces are sent for free, you’ve just added value to your game without paying anything. If the publisher charges, you have to weigh your options: will the value added counteract the price paid?
  • Readily available on discount sites like Tanga? Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how much you paid for a game. If a game appears on Tanga, its value will likely always remain lower (unless it was a small-volume buy, which happens occasionally). Check the discount sites: if you can currently order a game you’re trying to trade or get in trade from one of these sites, don’t value it above what you can get it for in a straight buy online.
  • Visibly on sale in the recent past? Some game companies deeply discount a game when it’s first released to generate buzz, or CoolStuff Inc. has a daily deal, and so on. The hot deals section on BGG is a good place to monitor prices over time. If you bought a copy of a game on discount to be trade bait, chances are the other trader knows that as well.
  • Current? This is especially important for CCGs (less so with LCGs). Current sets and active cards are more attractive in trade than older cards. Also, most CCGs do not retain their value over time. A CCG may be out of print; this usually doesn’t mean it sees the value spike that a board game sees. Instead, out of print is usually the kiss of death for a CCG. It means opponents will be scarce.
  • Expensive to ship? It’s customary for both parties in a trade to pay for their own shipping costs. If you are bearing the brunt of costs, it should make you reconsider the value of the trade. Also, if you are paying more to ship your game than the game you are getting is worth, the trade isn’t good. If the shipping costs are close to the cost of the game, use your discretion. (Note: because of this, it’s a good idea to trade locally or in no-ship trades as much as possible.)

Know Yourself

The key to making good trades is to know the value of what you’re giving and what you’re getting. You don’t have to be getting a steal of a deal, but you should be getting a fair offer. Knowing the value of the games in a trade is the objective side; knowing yourself is the subjective side. A deal that’s skewed against you may not be so bad if you know yourself.

Mitigating factors in knowing yourself:

  • Do you like the game you’re trading? If not, you might be willing to take less for it. If you do, don’t hastily trade it: wait for something you really want. In the meantime, you have a game you like to play.
  • Has the game been sitting on your shelf a while? If a game has been sitting unplayed on my shelf for a long time, I’m usually less attached to it and more willing to part with it, especially if I think the game I want in trade will get played more.
  • Do you know what kind of games you like? This one is an especially pertinent factor when you first come into the hobby. When I first heavily entered tabletop gaming, I thought every highly rated game is one I should have. I quickly realized that much like there are excellent books that I do not like, there are critically “excellent” games I do not enjoy. In fact, looking at the BGG top ten, there are at least three games that I can say with certainty are not for me. The first step to knowing yourself is to know what you like. Once you know what you like, do your research. A trade can be a good value and still be a bad trade if you won’t like the game you receive.
  • Are you just eager to get a new game? There was a famous study where children were each given one marshmallow and told that they could have another marshmallow later if they didn’t eat the one they were given. Researchers broke kids down into one-marshmallow kids (those who couldn’t wait) and two-marshmallow kids. When it comes to games, I am often a one-marshmallow kid. I like having a fluid collection, with new games to try being added. Unfortunately, this is not an asset in trades. I have to battle this tendency and really question myself: am I making a trade because I want the game on offer or because I want something new and shiny?
  • Will you have an opportunity to play the game you’re getting in the foreseeable future? If not, you might as well wait (unless the trade opportunity is spectacular, which happens occasionally). One unplayed game is the same as any other, and you can at least save yourself the shipping or the hassle of a local meet-up.

Know the Other Trader

This is usually easy if you trade locally. Billy is your friend; you know what you need to do to sweeten Billy toward a trade you’re making. (Ah, the good old days of CCG trading… I miss you sometimes.) It’s harder to know the other trader if you use a middleman tool like the BGG trade feature. I’m going to assume that you know how to deal with in-person trades. What I’ll specifically address in this section is some tips you can use on Board Game Geek to get clues as to who the person on the other end of a trade offer is.

Here are some questions to ask about the other trader:

  • Is the trader very particular in his/her profile? This means that you should be very careful in accurately describing the condition of anything in the trade. Also, if the trader has any special instructions in their profile, follow them as well as you can.
  • What is the other trader’s feedback rating? If the other person has lots of trade feedback, it probably means he or she is likely to want to trade. Admittedly, this isn’t a completely accurate picture of what to expect. I’ve made many more trades than my feedback rating would show (many on BGG are careless to leave feedback). If a person has received any negative feedback, this is worth paying attention to. Look through the comments others have made. Do they put you at ease?
  • Does the other trader have a lot of items on his/her “want in trade” list? If so, the chances of a blind trade proposal being successful go down significantly. Here’s why: a large want in trade list usually means the other trader uses this list as a dumping ground for any game that looks interesting (much like my “books to read” list I keep on Amazon: “Oh, that book looks interesting,” I say as I add the book to the list: only 10-15% of those books will ever get read in practice). The smaller a user’s “want in trade” list, the greater the chance that user really wants what you have to offer.
  • Does the other trader have specifics in his “want in trade” items? Many people use the want in trade and wishlist functions in tandem to indicate how much they want a specific game. If the other user rates a game a four (“Thinking about it”) on his/her wishlist, that means they probably won’t be eager to respond to your trade offer, whereas if they rate the game a one (“Must have”), they might be more willing to make a trade slightly in your favor. Similarly, if you’re looking to trade a game expansion, does the other user want just the expansion, or is he/she looking for the base game as well? Trying to trade just an expansion when the other user wants a full game is probably not a recipe for success.
  • Is the other user a BGG newbie? You can usually tell either by the “new user” placard or by a lack of avatar (though this system isn’t foolproof). If the other person is a new user, it may not be worth the trouble to initiate a trade: they may just be getting their bearings and may not be used to the finer points of trading (shipping especially: they may not be familiar with proper methods of packing a game). Or, if you really want something they have, it may be a prime opportunity to suggest a trade. New users are usually eager to get involved in the BGG community and may have signed up just for the trade feature (which is awesome, by the way). Basically, if the other user is new to BGG, trade at your own discretion.

General Trading Ettiquette and Tips

Here are just a few additional tips, especially if you use BGG’s trading tool:

  • Always respond to trade requests. You want others to respond to yours, so respond when someone proposes a trade with you, even if you say no.
  • Don’t insult the other trader. Obviously don’t insult by calling names, but don’t insult the other trader by making a ridiculously low offer (which has happened to me a number of times). Nothing closes the door to communication like an insulting offer. (If you want to make a low-ball offer, a private message with an explanation is better than a trade proposal, though I would still caution against it.) Also, don’t assume a trade is a done deal before it is, as this can be insulting. Approach trades with humility. The other person is not obligated to trade with you.
  • Always pay for delivery confirmation–it’s worth it. Shipping games is expensive, and it’s a bummer to pay the extra dollar to add this service. But don’t cry to me when a package gets lost. It’s protection for you, peace of mind for the other trader. It’s worth it. (And if you buy postage online, you can often get the service rolled in for free.)
  • Pack your games well and ship them early. I try to keep extra boxes on hand so that I’m always ready if a trade happens. Other traders appreciate speedy arrivals (and so do you). But early arrival means nothing if a game comes in shoddy condition. Take the time and care to pack your game well.
  • Communicate. The BGG trade proposal system is awesome for finding trades, but coordinating them often requires additional communication. Take the opportunity to say a few words to the other trader. The board gaming hobby is very much a community. Enjoy it. You just may make a new friend.
  • Compare prices on shipping services. I usually compare prices at least with UPS and the post office. And you can usually save money if you buy postage online.
  • Leave feedback. It provides the closure a trade needs. You also want others to leave you feedback, so return the favor.

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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