Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Collector Bug

In halycon bachelor days, I was a collector. My bookcases overflowed with variant editions of Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. When I stumbled upon one of my favorites with a different cover, I gasped, scooped it up, and ran at once for the cash register. Multiple editions of roleplaying books graced my shelves, and I could adroitly explain to you the differences between every edition of Call of Cthulhu from first to fifth, and I could even shake my head and sadly state, with quiet assurance, that there was never a Pendragon second edition, that Chaosium just skipped from first edition to third, with nary a backward glance.

As you might expect, my purchase of board games suffered from this affliction as well. I'd long noted the identical spines of the Avalon Hill bookshelf games, which fit together so beautifully on the shelves, but it was TimJim Games which truly fed my addiction. Like those Avalon Hill stalwarts, the spines of the TimJim boxes were equally designed to entice any obsessive-compulsive purchaser, but they also went a step further, and put product numbers on the spines in very large, highly contrasted, boxes.

Outpost, my first purchase, was #1001, and so naturally I got Mystic War (#1002) when it was released. Even today I look at that shelf of games, and think, "I should find a copy of Time Agent (#2002)", because I've heard decent things about it, and because it would look so good on my shelf next to Age of Exploration (#2003) and Suzerain (#2004). Not that I ever liked any of the TimJim games I bought, mind you, except Mystic War, but the numbers, the numbers, I had to match the numbers.

That's right, I was a twenty-something collector.

Collecting Board Games Today

I like to think I've given up the collector bug nowadays, that I've expunged it like an unwanted virus. As a rent-controlled apartment transformed into a 30-year mortgage, and as my discretionary income plummeted, I like to think that I matured and gave up such silly things. I like to think that while I used to collect books and games I now instead buy books to read and games to play, as odd as that might sound.

And I did break up my TimJim collection last year by selling off Outpost. I got a dozen or so games in exchange, any one of which has probably gotten more play than that ancient behemoth. But four more TimJim Games still sit on that shelf in my closet, all unplayed for at least half-a-decade. Nearby are my copies of Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods, and Elric, all set in the same worlds as some of my favorite RPGs, but which I will probably never play again.

So I'm a recovering collector, but I can't quite give up my secret stash.

And darn these modern publishers and their ever seductive consistency. How will I ever truly get better when they constantly dangle their tawdry box designs in my face?

Alea, oh how I hate them! They have become my greatest nemesis since TimJim, for their box spines match beautifully and they place numbers most prominently on their boxes. And, these aren't arcane SKUs, but instead simple counting numbers, like "1" and "2".

Even now I look at my shelf of Alea big-box games, and I cringe at its disharmony. Reading across you can see "4", "6", "7", "blank", and "9" (though I pretend I can see the "8" on my copy of Mammoth Hunters, even though it doesn't exist). Even as I pretend that my collector bug is gone, I know that Palazzo is higher on my buy list than Tower of Babel, because the former is #2 in a new Alea series, while the other is just some random Hans im Gluck release. And I know I'll buy #10 in the big-box series when it's released next year, no matter how light I hear it is, because how could I not?

Subtle Collecting

Thankfully, not all publishers are sultry seductresses like Alea. Take Fantasy Flight Games or Days of Wonder. They know how to satisfy my collecting urges without forcing me to admit that I'm actually toting up all the numbers to lay out on a shelf. They know the art of subtlety.

Days of Wonder hides their overtures within the designs of their big box games. Take a look at any two, and you'll probably see it. Turn a box so that you can see all the edges and you'll discover that on every right-hand side there's a portait of someone or something from within the game. Take Shadows Over Camelot for a spin and you'll see Merlin, Gwen, Morgan, and a pair of fighting knights adorning the four sides. Except, and this pains me to say, there's one flaw in DoW's big-box consistency, and it appears on Mystery of the Abbey, where the character portraits all appear not on the right-side of each box edge, but rather on the left!

Fantasy Flight plays a similar game with the sides of many of their big-box games. I believe it started with Lord of the Rings, but look at Arkham Horror, Runebound, or Beowulf and you'll discover it there too. These games (and presumably more) all sport bindings holding the box together. Metalwork, knotwork, whatever, you'll see it, running up and down the box sides and cutting across, transversely. Stack a pile of these Fantasy Flight Games together and the bindings all match up, holding your pile of games together.

Casual collecting, you could call this. Perhaps it's not the same thing as true collecting, as matching up the numbers, but it's at least a close susbstitute. You don't have to get the entire set, but every one improves the beautiful gestalt of your gaming shelves.


It makes me crazy sometimes, this collector bug that I've gotten rid of but that still haunts my dreams. I look at my copy of Hoity Toity, a half shelf away from my Alea Games, and I think, "I bet the German edition is a lot cheaper now that Uberplay has rereleased it. I could just give away my Uberplay ed and then fill in one of the spaces in my Alea collection." And I ponder about the new releases of Ra and Winner's Circle, and wonder if those might drop out the eBay markets on those games too. Whether the new editions might be better is of no consequence, because the older ones match

I don't give in. I hold steady. Hoity Toity stays firmly on my shelf, and I don't move Mystery of the Abbey away from the rest of my Days of Wonder games, even if it does look wrong.

But what's this that arrived on my doorstep just the other week? Dungeon Twister. With such an attractive spine, and look, an "S" in a circle (for Starter). I can imagine the supplements already, with their bindings and their numbers and their pictures all lining up perfectly. Will they have letters, perhaps a "A" or an "X"? Or will they have numbers, a standard "1" or a "2"?

I can imagine them already, bravely marching across my shelves.

But I'll play them, I will, honest.

I'm not a collector any more.

PS: Welcome to my new blogging day, on Thursday. You should see my scribblings here every week now, while Alex has scooted over to my previous spot, biweekly on Saturdays. His next column should be up two days from now.


Pawnstar said...

Hello, my name is Tony and I have a collecting problem. There, I've said it!

Now if only I could get my collection to a more acceptable and manageable level...

I feel your pain, Shannon, believe me I do.

ekted said...

I think I've gone the other direction. I used to only buy games I was going to play right off. Then i started buying games I thought I'd get to play "at some point". Now I buy games I think are cool even if I may never play them...