Retro-Game Night: Loving What You Have
Even the most dedicated gamer will find that available playing time puts a limit on how many games they can pack into their schedule. If, like me, you have more money than time for your hobby these days you’ve probably got a growing collection of games that increasingly go unplayed, or at least under-played. Once a month we’ve made a conscious decision to do a “Retro-Game Night” where an older game hits the table. The upshot? A rediscovery of some great games and a partial inoculation for the “new and shiny collector’s syndrome” that infects those whose hobby has a collecting aspect to it. Here’s how and why it works.
At least one gaming session each month is dedicated to breaking out an older title from the collection. “Old” doesn’t have a certain time stamp but is defined, rather, as a game we bought into, enjoyed, played a lot at one time, and then survived the periodic culls of the game collection to make room for newer games. The result, of course, is the shelves are now packed with really, really good “old” games that have a lot to offer but don’t get the playing time they deserve.
Essentially, what you’re doing is diluting the punch with weaker additions. Watered-down, not stronger is what you get.
The conscious decision to blow the dust off these oldies has a couple of very positive benefits. It may take a few minutes to remind yourself of the rules but somewhere in your brain is knowledge of how to play. You can unpack the game and play within 10 minutes, even if it’s complicated. It’s about remembering and appreciating the familiar rather than learning a whole new system from scratch.
Games survive those periodic culls because they have depth. The novelty of playing never completely wears off because they have easily understood rules but puzzles or strategies that can approached and solved in novel and new ways, and they are difficult to master. With proven oldies, the learning process continues where you left off with enjoying the strategies or ways of thinking that the game demands in order to get the most out of it. Eldritch Horror: After dozens of plays always delivers. The gift that keeps on giving.
Because you’ve played the game before you also know what you’re going to get out the experience. Playing new games is fun but can be a crap shoot. It may be a great game but the wrong fit for your game group because it’s too long, too competitive or, conversely, not cut-throat enough. It might be too abstract and ‘thinky’ or have too much luck built-in for your people’s tastes. Older games offer known quantities in all these respects and allow you to get the most out of an evening with your pals.
After a grueling work week, there’s a lot to be said for sitting down to something known and comfortable that is guaranteed to turn out well for everyone.
Retro-Game Night has also taught me a lot about criteria to apply to new games I’m considering buying into. I no longer touch all-encompassing collectible games such as Magic, Android Netrunner, Dice Masters, Star Wars: Destiny, or any other collectible or living card or dice game for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, these are some of the best and hottest games on the market but they demand significant initial buy-in and at least one other person to play a lot with.
With such games, even if you aren’t buying any of the monthly new instalments or mini-expansions, you need to be fully up-to-date with the new and shiny to be competitive. Often, these games deliberately inject “power creep” or planned obsolescence where new releases give you an advantage over the previous material that by design becomes increasingly under-powered or redundant. There are, for example, now 27 Dice Masters sets, and counting. Each set has about 130 unique cards and 35 unique dice. I have every card and dice from the first three sets but rarely does a single card from what I own make an appearance anymore on a tournament winning team or card set.
These type of games demand your full attention and almost all of your gaming time. If you’re into them exclusively they can be cost-effective and, for the most part, offer limitless depth and novel ways to play. If you can stick to one of these and don’t have a ‘need’ to collect every single card, dice, or set, and have a group or venue for playing they can be good value for money. Android Netrunner, for example, is about a $20 a month investment to stay current. It’s the best game I never play. I’ve learned from experience that you need serious time and financial resources to learn and play both collectible games and other board and miniature games.
I chose board and miniature games instead.
Playing and appreciating good older games through Retro-Game Night has also taught me to wait until a game gets played and rated by a significant number of people before I touch it. I won’t consider a game unless it ranks 7 or better on BoardGameGeek’s “Geek Rating” as a way to screen out heavily hyped but ultimately flawed games. Buying into the new hotness is a lot like playing the lottery but why do that when each ‘ticket’ is $50 or more and you’ve already got shelves of winners ready to go? Ditto for Kickstarter. Unless it’s a product that fulfills a certain purpose like these dice trays I won’t take a risk. If it passes the test of getting distributed via Kickstarter and then, after revision, to gaming stores, and finally gets the stamp of approval by a significant cross-section of gamers, I’ll take it under advisement. Yes, I know, we all want to buy new stuff! When I’ve got the buying itch, I’ve taken to investing in the sporadic expansions for great games I already have. At their best, expansions offer novel ways to play the same game and add to the experience. Recently I picked up the Ambition expansion for Roll for the Galaxy after careful research and was not disappointed. The Be Not Afraid and other associated expansions for Smallworld are also winners.
With a little work, you can pack expansions into the base game box and will be further ahead in the storage department as well. These board game expansions never become redundant and never demand that you buy the next shiny expansion in order to stay current. Loving what you have and playing favourites more often is a welcome step back from the cult of the new and shiny. There’s a lot to be said for loving and being happy with what you have.
What are you thoughts on collectible games and how you choose what to add to your collection?