Sunday, March 03, 2013

Board Games Are Forever

A few weeks ago I played the published version of a board game that I'd played a prototype of a few years ago. I sent email to the designer saying I like how it had turned out and I looked forward to getting to play it. The designer, having released several games since then, replied with something along the lines of "oh, that old thing!" That made me think about how we as producers and consumers have very different perspectives. For the designer, that game's a project that's finished as he can't work on it any more; for the retailer it's an end-of-life product that should be dumped to make room for new ones; but for me, it's a new discovery.

I have several other games by the same designer, which are on list of "classic games to keep forever". Long after the games are forgotten by the cogs in the machinery which produced them, they'll remain treasures in my collection.

I tend to think of my collection as containing a variety of subcollections. The core is the treasures, that I want to play forever. These are mostly Euros, and they're mostly desperately underplayed. Then, there are the games I keep for particular purposes - children's games, party games - so although I have no emotional attachment to them they have to stick around. There are also the particular collections - the GIPF Project, the Gigamic series, Indian games, that I collect for collection reasons. (For playing purposes, I'd keep the GIPF project except YINSH and TAMSK, maybe, but for collection reasons I keep them all.) And then, there are the games that are just passing through - mostly new stuff I've acquired and not yet played enough to allocate them to any of the other categories. Often I'll play a game I paid good money for and realise "this is a maximum 5 plays game, I'd better think about how I'm going to get rid of it". Now that I realise that that happens and that not everything's a keeper, it makes it a bit easier to let go of things in a maths trade.

Anyway, with all of this thinking going on, I decided to do some research into the lifespan of games. I know from this picture (x-axis quarters of years, y-axis publication years of games played in that quarter):

that I tend to start playing games published in a year about halfway through that year, and continue doing so for 3 or 4 years. Then those games get pushed out by new stuff.

And is that new stuff really new? What's the lag between a game being published and me playing it? I only know game release dates to year resolution, so I made a histogram of the number of calendar years between a game's release and my first play of it. As you can see here (x-axis number of years, y-axis number of games):

I typically play a game the year after it's released. and 50% of the games I play were released 3 or fewer years ago. I've looked at the same graphs for my fellow gamers in the U.S. and Europe, and they seem to get new games about 6 months sooner. This agrees with my perceptions of how long it takes games to get to Australia. Other Australian fanatics seem to have about the same lag as I do.

And then, how long does a game get played for? This is a hard question to answer, because I've really only been in the hobby about 8 years, and I defined "forever" as being 10 years or more. I made a graph of how long there was between my first and last plays of a game (x-axis number of days, y-axis number of games). Note that this graph necessarily excludes games which I've played fewer than 2 times, which is a lot. Each horizontal line is a game, and the colouring corresponds to my rating for that game - green good red bad.

About 40% of games hang around longer than 2 years. I think I'm doing fairly well to stand against the incoming tide of new games, holding onto the good stuff (as shown by the bottom of the graph being greenish) and dumping the stuff I don't like (as show by the top of the graph being pinkish).

The factor that stops games being played for longer is, as always, the fact that I have way too many games and not enough time to play them all. This is not necessarily a sign of shopping addiction on my part though, it's more a case of drinking from a fire hose with only a port glass to hold water in. I think if I can identify great games and continue refining my collection, I'm doing the best I can. Also, if great designers would stop designing great games, that would help.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Baudrillard and Board Games

I've been reading on and off this book about the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. Before you rush off to read it as well, I have to warn you that it generally has not impressed me, and I generally agree with Alan Sokal's assessment of postmodern philosophy as being obscurantist bullshit. Nevertheless, there was one section that made me think a little.

Baudrillard did some thinking about consumerism and the value of objects. I'll give a quick summary of the philosophy which will be totally wrong because the first rule of philosophy is that you're not allowed to say anything simply enough for anyone to understand it because then they might refute it. Nevertheless...

  • Objects have 4 types of value - functional, i.e. how useful it is; exchange, i.e. how much you can get for it; symbolic, i.e. how much it means to you; sign, i.e. what it says about you.
This bit I agree with - that's why I have a bed (functional), money (exchange), my grandfather's brush (symbolic), a Bencon t-shirt (sign).
  • Originally, items were produced for their functional value.
  • In a consumer society, items are produced for their sign value.
A striking example of this last point occurred many years ago with somebody that I used to know. That person had friends visiting who looked at our CD collection and said "you haven't got any good music!" Which is of course a matter of opinion, as I had quite a lot of Nick Cave at the time. Anyway, somebody that I used to know was having a birthday so asked me to get her some good music. Upon interrogation, it turned out that it didn't matter what music it was, so long as her friends would recognise it as good music. (It turned out the answer was Nickelback.) This was a classic blatant example of something being valuable for its sign value above its functional value, which horrified me at the time, being quite naive in the analysis of consumerism.

Baudrillard, as is his wont, continues to take things to extremes.
  • In a consumer society, items are acquired for their sign value and their functional value is an alibi for their acquisition.
That is to say, you don't buy a can of Coke because you're thirsty, you buy a can of Coke because you want to be seen buying a can of Coke and you drink it because that's what it's supposed to be used for. It would be equivalent to buy a can of Coke, throw it away and drink a free glass of water. Exactly which scenarios are silly here?

Anyway, I'm not here to say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, as I'm as vulnerable to this sort of self-delusion as anyone. I'm not writing this blog post because I need to write this blog post, I'm writing it because I want to be seen to be the sort of person who writes this sort of blog post! It's all so you'll like me! However it does make me sympathetic to all the people who say "money doesn't buy happiness", "reduce reuse recycle", etc, etc, etc, even if I don't take practical action on those things. Money doesn't buy me happiness, but it does buy me things that show other people what sort of person I think I am, and that gets me some friends and THAT makes me happy.

OK, onto board games. The most obvious sign of consumerism in board gaming is the Cult of the New - the obsession with getting the newest games being published. I don't know if I've ever really been part of that, as I think I've always been part of the Cult of the Old as well and surely the two can't be mutually compatible? Certainly I do pay attention to what's coming out at Essen, and I have every intention of getting Bora Bora if AdamP doesn't beat me to it, but that sort of activity is just maintenance of my professional library...

... because the way I want to present myself with respect to board games is as an expert player. This means I need to continue playing the latest stuff and I need to express opinions on it, but I also need to understand the old stuff and have experience with that as well. I try to understand and appreciate games from their cultural and historical perspectives as well, rather than just being known for owning a lot of new games. If I can get myself organised after I've finished writing this I'd like to write a review of Taj Mahal, a 13 year old game, because it's a great game that I value.

Another manifestation of the sign value of board games is the photos of games in progress that are posted on Facebook. About once a week I'll take a photo of what I'm playing, particularly if it's pretty, and post it. Within a few minutes I'll have Likes from friends in Sydney and Seattle suggesting that they too are the sort of people who like board games. Well known Idahoan iconoclast DWTripp pooh-poohs people posting photos of some meal they're eating, and posts photos of his old motorbikes and wives - but whether it's food, games or bikes or cats, it's always just a shout-out to your buddies saying "Hey, we both like these sorts of things! We should like each other more because we both like the same things!"

Is this crass attention-seeking? A former colleague of mine resisted joining Facebook for years because he said "it's all just 'look at me, look at me!'". At the time he was dying of cancer and I explained to him, "yes, it is, and we want you to join because we really are interested in you". It seems sometimes people really do want to give you attention. I know if I can ever make it over to BGG.con I'll have a damned fine time meeting about a hundred of my Facebook friends whom I know are of my tribe, because we've already given each other the right signs.

Now, as I alluded to above, trying to escape from the system of signs is just another sign. Once players get over The Cult of the New, they become a Jaded Gamer. Then they become a Gamer Who's Trying To Cut Down Their Collection. Off the top of my head, I can name batcut, CyberKev, da pyrate, shawn_low, thepackrat and Vexatious as Australian geeks who are seriously in that phase, and the Aluminium Gamers all have it in mind. Is cutting down your collection, i.e. rejecting consumerism, really a need, or is it still just a sign? What's the purpose of trading away a game rather than just throwing it away? Do you trade just to be part of that tribe?

I've discussed this matter with CyberKev several times, as we're always open to philosophical discussions on the nature of the hobby. The sad conclusion is that life is a time when you do some stuff and then you die and what you did really doesn't matter very much anyway. At that time your stuff will become someone else's problem. Until then though, it remains as a halo of wood and plastic bits occupying space and bytes, carving out your particular place in the world.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Numbers for 2012

Let me get this article written before I see a shiny butterfly and rush off and do something else. This is my annual article about the embarrassing state of my game collection and what a waste of space and money it is. Here are the previous articles in this series:
2007 article
2008 article
2009 article
2010 article
2011 article

There are 364 games in this collection (last year 448).

The BGG average rating for this collection is 6.54 (last year 6.43).

Your average rating for this collection is 7.34 (last year 7.04).

On average you have played each of these games 8.5 times (last year 7.75).

Your Friendless Metric is 1 (86 games played 10+ times, 45 games never played.) (last year 1, 102, 46)

Your Continuous Friendless Metric is 3.43 which corresponds to an average utilisation of 54.64%. (last year 3.49, 55.24%)

This is sort of a good result. I've dropped a load of games, through very conscious and continuous effort. It really is quite an effort to sell games, I spend a lot of time wrapping and posting things. However the amount of trading that I did resulted in a lot of played games going out, a lot of unplayed games coming in, and many of those new games not being played at all. That's not really very productive! There are games like Cuba which I could probably like that I owned for a while and then dumped without playing because it was just crowded out by all the other stuff I have.

One exercise I tried during the year was to make a list of games I own that I really do want to play. There were about a hundred, which suggests that I have an awful lot of stuff to get rid of still. I do like the constant influx of new games - I read the rules of practically everything - but I don't like that many games just don't turn me on so much and go onto the trade pile very quickly. I'm learning to resist - Kingdom Builder is an example of a game which has many good things about it which I acknowledge I wouldn't use if I owned it. Then there are games like Trajan and Milestones and Village and Macao which I do quite like but don't need to own because other people have them.

The project continues this year. The Lord of the Rings living card game has a lot to answer for with respect to underutilised games. I'll see if I can maintain the merciless momentum.