Forbidden Love, or, The Box That Sits


A brief disclosure: I am a packrat, from a family of packrats. Cleaning out my grandma’s house was an exercise in patience and archaeology. We sounded walls to find all the hidden compartments, each of which was filled with another item “for a rainy day.” This mind-set—born, no doubt, in the Great Depression—was passed on to her children and eventually her grandchildren. And beyond its practicality for life, it has found its way into my hobby.

I’ve heard it said that the rule of thumb for whether to get rid of something is if you haven’t used it in the past year, you don’t need it. While this seems like a good guiding principle on the surface, it has never satisfied me. For example, consider the tool you buy because it’s cheaper to fix something yourself than have it fixed. Hopefully, if you’ve done your work correctly, you shouldn’t be needing that tool in a year. But is it prudent to discard the tool just because that situation hasn’t come up in a year? Another law is at work: as soon as you get rid of it, you’ll need it again.

And so it is with board games. Call it Pollyannish optimism; call it Murphy’s Law. But whatever the reason, even if a game I like doesn’t get played, it’s hard to get rid of it.

There are some board games I purchased with the best of intentions—and which I love—but that never seem to hit the table. The most egregious example of this is probably Axis & Allies. I purchased this my junior or senior year of high school, and ten years later, after not playing it a single time, I finally decided to let it go. Despite my finally releasing it into the wild, it took me a whole decade to do so. (This was earlier this year, actually. Yes, I am an old, old man.)

Acquire, unfortunately, is another example, though thankfully not quite as bad as Axis & Allies. Acquire, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere (and at every opportunity), is probably my favorite board game, but it’s a tough one to find players for. Why? Well, for starters, it feels like a math problem for a lot of people. (Some of us like math problems—just sayin’.) The theme has fallen out of favor (who wants to pretend to be on or in any way associated with Wall Street these days?). And the 60-90 minute playtime is a hurdle for casual players. It has a steep learning curve (at least if you don’t want to curse those who have liquid assets during gameplay) and has a tendency to induce “analysis paralysis.”

But I still love this unwieldy beast. And thus I can’t bear to let it go.

El Grande poses a similar problem. I think El Grande is one of the most fun games in my collection, but I’ve only hit the optimum number of players once in the four months I’ve had it and haven’t played it under inauspicious conditions much more than that. Most of the time I play it with two players, which, while fun, doesn’t scratch the surface of what this game has to offer. Finding other people who are committed to learn and play a 90-120 minute game can be a challenge, especially when Dominion, a game they know and love, can be played in much less time and pay guaranteed dividends.

Or consider Citadels, another game I enjoy. I got it in January and was only able to get it to the table once since then. The package and premise are too geeky for the uninitiated, and more hardcore gamers prefer something with more substance when we get together. I suppose I’m overcoming my packratting tendencies since I’m parting with this one at GenCon, a failure to launch.

All of these games are ones that I love, but I just can’t seem to get them off the shelf and onto the table. Does that mean I should get rid of them? How long is too long for a game to sit unplayed, waiting for the right group? (I’ll admit: I probably should have packed off Axis & Allies long ago.) What are the barriers that keep us from playing the games we love? What criteria do you use to determine when to cull your collection? And do you have an ode to the box that sits? Feel free to leave a comment.

Also, @Futurewolfie and I will be at GenCon this Friday and Saturday. If you’d like to meet up, let us know! We’d love to meet you and play a game or two. You can drop us a line on Twitter (@FarmerLenny and @Futurewolfie), leave a comment, or e-mail us through the contact us links on our Blogger profiles. See you there!

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

Discussion2 Comments

  1. For me, it goes something like this. If someone suggests a game and I think “Naw, I don’t really want to play that,” it goes on my internal list.

    If it stays on that list for about a year or so, then it’s time to get rid of it. If I’ve had a year of opportunities and never the desire, it’s probably time to let someone else have fun.

    By contrast, if I really WANT to play a game, but the stars never seem to align. Whether we don’t have the right number of players, then it gets kept.

    The trouble in my system comes when I want to play a game, but my usual group doesn’t. Haven’t quite figured that out yet.

  2. Those are good rules of thumb, though I would be interested to hear your thoughts once you’ve worked out the problem of the usual group that doesn’t want to play the games you like. 🙂

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