How I Acquire & Dispose of Games

I was recently asked how I acquire and dispose of my games. Randomly? ūüėČ To begin with I spent 20+ yrs in a gaming desert. So I had a mighty thirst when I hit the buying table.

I went from owning the remnants of my collection that had moved 12 times in a handful of years (1990-1997) across 2 continents – titles such as The Russian Campaign, Cityfight, Nato Division Commander, Sniper, Panzer Leader, D-Day and stuff like that to having over 190 titles, and recycling over 35 titles in the last 9 months alone. How did that happen?…oh before I say anything, note that I do post most of what I play, unvarnished and as real as I can let it be. So I think for some folks you might have an inflated perception of what or how much I actually play. It is not as much as many think.

image: Thomas Herrlich

It started here: Once I found Alexander (GBoH) I had to have “all those others” yes, I set about finding at almost any price all the modules except Lion of the North for GBoH.

That led to learning about BGG and CSW. Once I saw that all of this Ancient History could be recreated I was hooked. I had the bug, 25+ solo plays of SPQR and related titles, 1/2 dozen of Caesar, most of Alexanders battles and lots in between later I was ready for more.

I quickly realized all GBoH games were not created equal however. finding GMT was a wonder for me. I was amazed at the breadth of offerings, the number of titles and this thing called p500..click..click..click. There was a strong initial draw to ‘completing’ sets.

I then received WaW as a Secret Santa..hmm another series, platoon level, WWIII. Which lead to LNL, purely due to the story line connection with WaW in Heroes of the Gap….which eventually led to Tactical Combat System from MMP/The Gamers.

By that time I had 80 games. A gent was selling a load of games around mid 2011, I bought many of the 80 titles from him (some classics SPI titles Army Group South in mint codition, all the Combat Commander series lots of stuff!), and all the C3i magazines as well. I was grabbing games while I had cash and time, not really thinking about the time involved to play these games or the complexity. Nor whether I really ‘wanted’ all those titles. For instance Garbo in the WaW system is roundly disliked by the community, A Frozen Hell has balance issues according to all and sundry and the OOB is ‘wrong’. But I had them anyway. Of the hauls I have picked up, I used a lot for trade bait (more on that below), but many I¬†genuinely¬†wanted to try most of what I purchased.

LNL, I pursued mainly in the modern era, as I felt that WWII at the squad level was not my cup of tea. Perhaps that bad experience with ASL back in the day ruined it for me? ;). But modern was different. Cool. Full of narrative, fast play and great fun solo or face to face. LNLP is by far and away the company that I have the most sessions and or scenarios done on, whereas TCS would rank as one that I have spent the most hours on with now OCS (Operational Combat System ) racing to surpass that. I adore much of TCS, I cannot stand how LOS works. Although it is interesting the hard core guys are now seeing that the pancake method is likely best now that they have Canadian Crucible to deal with, so all that extra rule writing, and math over 1/5ths of hex height may have been for naught..?

Being¬†enamored¬†with series titles, they seemed a way to enjoy many hours of fun with the investment once for a single set of rules, I’ve been diligent in attempting to collect most titles until recently. I still like that concept, and have sought out other series such as NBS, and OSG titles. Not even a series is immune from duds tho. SCS series is a great example of that with many hit and miss titles.

“Grail” games, drove much of the rest of my spending. Grail games to me are generally accepted classics, titles such as Operation Typhoon, Ambush, Panzergruppe Guderian, B-17, Streets of Stalingrad, OCS: Sicily, and Devils Cauldron. Here patience and good price discipline has saved me a load of money, but the games have stacked up! I have been by and large however, been very disappointed with generally accepted good or awesome – ‘Grail’ games such as RAF, SCS Afrika II and A Victory Lost.

I have managed to find time for one offs too! Magazine games can be hit or miss. I generally like most I play however.

Good magazine games like Raid and Riposte and Operation Shingle which is much overlooked, very rich, fast playing game and Bad ones ¬†such as Savage Streets abound. I recall someone saying, well what do you expect it is a magazine game? Really? If you cant do it well don’t do it.

Sometimes for me a grail game is a blend of game and fond memory. Titles such as Stalingrad, SPI’s Wellingtons Victory, Patrol, Raid! and Seelowe. D-Day from Avalon Hill or Panzer Blitz and Vietnam from Victory Games.

Each one I’ve assessed as a title I’d like, I often over pay and always seem to sell for too little. Ain’t that the way tho!

Since early last year (my full 2nd year back gaming), I have wanted to acquire or play ‘classics’, find series games I could learn once play many times, but above all have fun and feel like I was experiencing some history, lots of theme and lots of narrative. It is also interesting to take an older treatment and a fresh look and play them side by side and see gaming evolution!

Around Nov-Dec in 2012 I hit a mother lode of games that were priced aggressively. I picked up nearly all the OCS titles (some I had already) and American Civil War titles as well as some SPI titles (I’d always wanted to own WWII – War In Europe….now I have two copies).

A swag of BGG Auction titles floated my way as well at ‘good’ prices. The same for Fire in the East from GDW, I’d always ‘wanted’ a copy, I pieced together a complete one from 2 sets. Both are games I may not play, but for sentimentalist and comparison reasons I wanted to own them. I wanted to know what the fuss was about and to try and recapture those lost years of gaming history.

Ok so that is the buy side. On the Sell side in 2012 I set my self a hard limit of 150 games, as I thought this gaming thing was getting out of hand. I sold 35 titles that I deemed I would not play due to either lack of interest or poor topic or borderline rules sets that were going to be more trouble than they were worth. A Raging Storm comes to mind.

Then I concocted a shelving system! Giving me some breathing space and a means to allow some expansion at some point.

In 2012 I learnt 36 new games, 85 since the middle of 2010, which is as far back as most my stats go. My play history is a bit of a mess, as in BGG I estimated plays from the past to get a sense of what I had played just to keep track of things. So some months in 2010 or early 2011 are bloated. That data is important as it drives what I keep, and ditch and plan to play. My point here is my goal is to play all of my games,and I work at not only getting thru a game and documenting the play but really trying to understand where is fir for me as a game.

What do I ditch and why?

During 2012 and 2011 I would often pick up games cheap and use them for trades for games I really wanted. As I was doing that I would often make trades with a title I was not sure I would ever play – Asia Engulfed, and CC:E and Yacqunitos Thin Red Line are examples of that. I was not convinced that would ‘never’ play them. Some I regret letting go. So my new mantra for 2013 is buy and hold!

In 2013 I made my mind up to stop selling games, unless they are utter dogs, as I think my tastes and patience for some ‘bad’ games may change. But I think I now know what I dont like and those that I really can’t stand I am flipping quickly. ¬†

I also realized I regretted selling certain titles and was ready to try them at the very least rather than letting a video review or a AAR color my opinion.

In fact as I delve more into gaming the less inclined I am to read reviews, or listen to friends opinions. If the topic fits and I can find some solid rules summary or decent write up by the designer I am going to buy it regardless. Too many video reviews are happy clappy – “Gee this is great go get it” types. All games have issues. I don’t want a complete buzz kill or an exposure of how to cheat the system (thereby ruining) the experience, I do want an informed opinion.

Case in point- Operation Shingle (above) is one of freshest games I have played in the last 2 years. the same goes for Blocks In The East. Both are great for different reasons, but not titles anyone was recommending.

The ditching part – Bad games to me are quickly spotted…I’m often quick to judge a game. It is rare that I have gone back to a game or played with a friend or VASSAL mate and had an epiphany of love for a rejected title. A Victory Denied being the exception.

I know that the prevailing wisdom is – play it more to “really” understand the designers intent, or to appreciate the nuance, enjoy the game as it is! ¬†That is hard for me. I have trouble setting aside expectations. I have literally read the rules and played one or two turns and said ‘nope’ this ain’t for me on some titles.

That is the key part, “not for me”, take DVG’s FC:Alexander, maybe this is a great solo game, or a great cross-over game. However it has more flavor if you eat it rather than play it. Funnily enough the feeling was the same for wait for it – Hannibal v Rome. ¬†FC:Alex game lacked theme, the game mechanics for combat did not reflect much of anything to do with Ancient combat as I know it. As for HvR, it was a variation to me of the painfully droll play of some of the simpler Columbia Block Games (exception East Front and Napoleon).

Image Paul Breslin

Where you have a map, some areas grafted to it, with clever intersections of certain locations, a bunch of random cards and a small handful of era specific rules and away you go. Wellington and Napoleon the CDG’s from GMT Games felt the same to me also in that similar vein. “oh here is a card enjoy some VP’s”. Meh. The problem I find with most blockies and CDGs is that for block games the combat system is so generic as to be indistinguishable from game to game. CDG’s seem to take way too much time to actually understand strategy and then it becomes a card counting exercise.

RAF was another title that failed for me. Another solo game, I had huge expectations. Darn it tho, there was little tension, no decisions of note to make and the system had all the fun!

These are games I wont play again, even tho they likely deserve a second chance. FC:Alex is up for trade, HvR I may play against a live person to make sure of. RAF I will keep as it is part of my ‘desired items collection’ of WWII titles, I am curious about the 2nd edition 2 player game.

So Block games, point to point and Area Movement raise their heads as systems to avoid, that are Card Driven for Kevin.

That said I admire guys and gals who can play a game, accept it for what it is and be happy. Perhaps lower or not having expectations is the way to enlightened gaming? Enjoy what it is! So solo also games appear to be problematic for me, as do games that fail to evoke the theme and era well. I did enjoy Phantom Fury as a solo game, but I am not sure that game will get more than one or 2 more plays.

A second aspect of gaming that I detest is the grinding game. Those titles that just feel like it will never end. Wagram 1809 from Battles Magazine comes to mind. Despite the crappy rule book format and clumsy wording there is a cool game there. It just TAKES for EVER to do a turn solo. Definitely a 2 player title.

After 3 turns I looked at the turn track and it literally broke me. To a lesser extent I think the game play lacked the linear-ness I was expecting and the weapon systems were not readily apparent and thus the theme was missing, but more abstracted combat and weapon systems is not bad per se.

Wagram is another game I may not play again but will keep because I might.

A Victory Lost…just a lop sided drag, I borrowed it to play and gladly handed it back, which is amazing as A Victory Denied is clearly to me the better of the two titles ( I wrote extensively on this compared to PGG here on the blog).

Labyrinth is another game that I struggle with due more to its opaqueness of play and ‘what’ to do rather than poor rules, or cruddy mechanics. I do not want to have to play a game 5 times (thats 10-20 hours) to work out what to do with each freaking card. So, that is a game that will eventually see its way to the trade pile. Proud Monster is dangerously close to that category as well.

The final category of bad games. The broken game, or the game that was unfinished. Drive on Pyonyang is the poster child. A decade old design, spit polished, slapped together and printed by Decision Games in a magazine to take advantage of a current in the news crisis.  The single worst put together game I have ever seen, from Map; the art, color scheme and layout to rules that are unfinished, throw in incomplete geography and the coup de grace РVictory Conditions that are wrong.

Perfect Storm. I am a buyer not a play-tester. I gladly ate the loss on that crappy game. Another comes to mind, a game I had long desired to play but soon became disenchanted with was Boots on the Ground. the support on CSW disappeared, the game had some clear holes. BotG could have been huge! Poor support, no VASSAL, weak rules, and cruddy art work. Pity. Easy to flip that away.

Much of my collection is tactical. Some Operational and a few Strategic. I am enjoying OCS a lot and despite some folks trying to tell me it is a grand tactical game….it scratches an itch I did not think I had.

At the Strategic level I have yet to find a really good WWII Grand Strategy game. Nor something at the Corps/Divisional size  in Napoleonics that would capture Empire in Arms era but with less diplomacy, Beyond Waterloo might be such a title. I hope to play WWIII soon, and I eagerly await titles such as Unconditional Surrender. 

Lets wrap on a high note! The 2 biggest gaming surprises for me in the last 3 years been – Angola! and Sekigahara.

Angola is hands down the best multi player wargame I have played to date. Rich, layered, lots of decisions, team work and excellent game play! Seki..what can I say one of the very few block games that I really enjoyed.

It thoughtfully evoked Japanese Feudal times, it had a refined combat system, it was streamlined and it is fun. 4+ plays make it one of the rare finds for me in a CDG Blockie. The big winner in both of these is narrative. The games that can suspend reality for you, immerse you in the story and have you really rooting for a given side are games that garner my attention. Some games are worth the investment to achieve this rare state. Many are not.

Regardless of how much I like or dislike a game, I do enjoy the experience of discovery no matter what!

11 thoughts on “How I Acquire & Dispose of Games

  1. I too went through the phase of having to have every game in a series, and while I’ve been pretty happy with that approach for the most part, I’ve certainly added some stinkers to the collection that I would not have otherwise. I have just recently decided that I need to let go of some of those games that I know I’ll never get to and started selling and trading them off.

    Looks like we have similar tastes in games as well with the notable exception on AVL vs AVD.

  2. Great post, Kev.

    In recent years I have been more deliberate in my purchases than I once was. I am a card carrying member of the series purchase (GBoH, GBACW, M&P, BAR, etc) which generally assures me that I will pick up something that I like. As “jk” notes though, it is not a for sure thing. I also use the internet to research games and find myself attracted to unusual mechanics like in Angola or Hearts and Minds. Also, nowadays I focus on designers that I have enjoyed in the past.

    I believe you hit the nail on the head regarding expectations. Trying to fit a new game into a preconceived notion is a recipe for disappointment. That being said, games having a serious accountability deficit to the period they portray (mechanics) or the history are of no interest to me. At least my expectations respect the subject matter.

    I will disagree with you regarding CDGs although I understand the criticism. When I first came upon them, I found they added a few items to my gaming that I liked. Namely, an interesting Fog of War as well as playability. The latter includes the fact that it is possible to finish the game, often in one session. Woo hoo! A rarity for me. LOL!

    I’ll wrap up here with a nod to Sekigahara (I have a hard time understanding how to play well though; not a good “bluffer”) and also you pic from Wellington’s Victory. That brought back some memories …

    • Thanks for sharing how you keep and disgard! Each to his own eh! Note that I do keep trying but I am not ‘getting’ my head around most CDGs’. You mentioned Angola and Hearts and Minds in the same breath! I LOVE Angola. I think it is the best multiplayer wargame on the market at the moment that can be played in one sitting. GREAT fun! thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Your wants from a game are the same as mine…which is why your opinion for me is a go to when I’m thinking about a certain game to buy..that and you like games that play well solo. Theme and narrative coupled with mechanics that represent the period are the big ones. Oh always good if it look great too ;)..being a tactile experience…DAK 2 for instance looks lovely as do Lock N Loads games. Operation Shingle looks good too, esp like those counters..

    • I agree with you on Africa..aswell as west front 44 to 45 are my least favourite WW2 theaters…

      Can’t wait for you to do a series of AAR’s on Ambush..a game I love to see in action at some point

      • I am funnily enough on my vacation writing up brief bios of the characters for the beginning scenario. I’m hoping to play in chronological order.
        I’ve heard the game is quiet deadly so we may see lots of names and faces. I may need to add a Jason Rimmer character!

    • Shingle has some very nice mechanics in it also. I was a t a bit of a loss to start with, but it literally plays as written. I’m hoping to play again soon and barring further accidents with kids breaking arms we will finish a game this time!

  4. Thanks for the post Kev. I agree with you on FC: Alexander. The GBoH treatment is far superior. I’m very reluctant to try any other DVG titles now.

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