Friday, August 11, 2006

Table Games, Mini-epics, and Retirement Games

I’m getting ready to send another order to my online game store. There’s some new things I’d like to buy, and some older games that I want to add to my collection. So I’ve been pondering my choices, and once again I face the question that confronts most gamers sooner or later:

Do I buy the games I love, or do I buy the games that will truly get played?

Of course, phrasing the dilemma this way is at least partly a false choice. Because there are lots of games that I truly love, and that get lugged to my gaming group and get played. Repeatedly. And of course I’m never going to buy a game that I hate.

But there are games that look attractive to me that I know will sit on a shelf for years if I buy them. Many of these are wargames. And I know that if I dwell on them, read favorable reviews, and look at the photos of them posted on BGG, I may cave and acquire yet another strategic military simulation that may never feel the smooth varnished surface of a table beneath its hex map.

To clarify my thinking, I decided to do more than just ponder the merits of specific potential purchases. I’ve started to consider the various categories of games, and which categories are the most desirable. For me, it’s convenient to divide games into four categories: light table games, heavy table games, mini-epics, and retirement games. Here are my definitions of each.

Light Table Games. You know—fillers. These are the simple family-friendly games that can be played in an hour, or maybe an hour-and-a-half. These are games that I can play with my in-laws, and non-gamer friends. Many of these are eurogames, and gateway games for newbies. Games in this category that I already own include Clue, Settlers of Catan (my wife’s favorite), Union Pacific, and Ticket to Ride Europe.

Heavy Table Games. These are meatier, more complex, and can take longer to play than light table games, but they can still be played in under four hours or so. In other words, the gamer games. These are the games that I usually play with my gaming group. Many of my favorite games fall into this category. Some that I own include Power Grid, Puerto Rico, Fury of Dracula, A Game of Thrones, War of the Ring, Conquest of the Empire, Liberte, and Serenissima.

Mini-Epics. These are games that can last for hours and hours, but still can be completed in one day. Most of these are wargames (and I mentally throw many quick-playing wargames into this category just because I don’t play two-player wargames with my gaming group). Games in this category that I own include Paths of Glory, Here I Stand, For the People, Third Reich, Totaler Krieg, and Europe Engulfed. Arkham Horror gets shoved into this category because it sometimes takes more than four hours to play.

Retirement Games. These are games that I probably won’t be able to play until I retire (or at least until my daughters grow up and leave home). These games need a room dedicated just to gaming so the game can be left set up for days or weeks. I only own a couple of these: Decision Games War Between the States, and the SPI/TSR version of Advanced ETO. Huge wargames can still sometimes fascinate me, but this is the category that I try hardest to avoid. In my more disciplined moments, buying these seems a waste of money.

So back to the eternal question. Do I buy the games I love the most, or the games that will get played the most?

I’ve decided to buy only games in the first two categories. Even though I could easily buy nothing but heavy table games, I think I’ll pick up a light one just to have an additional game to play with non-gamer friends and in-laws. Right now, Around the World in 80 Days is my prime candidate for a light game purchase. I’ll suppress my inner Napoleon and avoid purchasing any wargames. But I’m not sure if this is because I’m becoming wiser with the passing of time, or because there aren’t any new wargames around this second that beam the phrase “Buy me!” directly into my subconscious.

As the years go on, I’m sure my game collection will bulge with eurogames, while my remaining wargames will disappear into the storage room. But every now and then, I’ll pull out a box, unfold the paper maps, and imagine cardboard armies advancing across the hex-covered terrain. And I’ll whisper to the box:

“Wait till I retire.”


Melissa said...

It's always nice to find others who have retirement games in their collections - interestingly, most of Fraser's retirement games seem to be wargames too, where mine are just the longer boardgames - Civilisation, History of the World, even Britannia and die Macher.

Coldfoot said...

Get a game couch and buy them all.

For me, about half the time anyway, the games that get played are the ones I suspect will gather dust on the game couch, and the ones I am most excited about fall flat.

Mikko Saari said...

I'm not yet thinking about retirement, I'm waiting for my son to grow up to be a wargaming buddy for me... But, I'm not buying anything except children's games (and those I mooch as promo copies from publishers), because I don't want to be disappointed if it turns out my son doesn't like board games at all.

What's more important: I figure there's going to be a steady supply of interesting games I can play with my son if he turns out to be a good candidate for some heavy two-player games. Never mind I might end up never playing Twilight Struggle - I'm sure something equally interesting will pop up 15 years from now. If my son is interested in games, I'll get those games then.

Focusing on games you can play now is probably a good idea. There'll always be interesting retirement games; why not buy them when you are actually retired and have time to play them? Grab those you absolutely definitely can't survive without, but if you have to think about it, you probably won't need it (ie. I must buy Roads and Boats now, even though I have no idea when I'll have a chance to play and explore it enough).

Gerald McD said...

One word of caution about retirement games --- my wife and I find that we have LESS time available after retiring than we did before. Well, that's not absolutely true. We still have 24 hours per day, but we now work more slowly and have so many different interests that we don't feel we have as much time for some hobbies as we had hoped. I had planned to set up some "retirement" games and play by email or whatever, but there just hasn't been time. I guess it depends on how many other interests you have. We spread ourselves rather thinly over a variety of activities. Of course, the decisions on priorities are mostly ours to make, so we can only blame ourselves.

Regarding purchases -- I didn't see Hacienda on your list. I really enjoy Around the World in 80 Days, and it is a light game. Good luck with your decisions.