I offered to help a new Boardgamegeek user a month or so ago with selling his collection. The first step was creating a market valuation for his games. Today, we’re going to be looking at how I created a wargame collection valuation and what we can learn about the perceived versus actual value of the games on our shelves.

Wargames are not investments

Repeat after me: Wargames are not investments!

Seriously, the market tends to fluctuate and just in the past year we’ve seen many longstanding “grail” titles with outrageous prices show a steep decline in value. Notably, the reprints from Compass Games LLC for the Fleet series and 1985: Under an Iron Sky helped drive down prices on the Victory Games Fleet series and Next War titles.

Hobby prices always fluctuate and collectibles, unless truly rare with decades of established value tend not to retain their longtime value. This is particularly true for nostalgia based hobbies. Things like Watt Pottery and many collectible toy lines have all had dramatic price inflation and sudden deflation over the years.

Consequently, it’s important to separate what we WANT these games to be worth from what they’re actually worth in the marketplace.

But I see a copy going for $100!

Far too frequently people evaluate the value of a game based on how many are for sale and for what price they are listed. While this provides a general sense for how many copies are in the market (supply) it does not evaluate demand in any way shape or form.

Demand is reflected most easily in how desirable the game actually is right now. There are many factors that drive the price of games down related to this desirability:

  • New versions getting released
  • People who wanted the game already have it
  • Prices have chased people out of the market for that title
  • New game with a similar topic is available and better liked

These are, of course, just a few of the factors. Critically, there is no way to underestimate the influence that desirability has on the market value of a game. Other factors might include condition, edition, publisher, or even whether the owner was a smoker or non-smoker!

What did it actually sell for?

While there may be a game that’s on the market for $100 or even a few others hovering right around that price, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Games can easily be worth $100, $200, or even significantly more. That the prices in the marketplace advertise these rates does not signify their value!

Instead, we have to look at what the games actually sold for and there are many ways to do this.

BoardGameGeek offers buyers and sellers a look at the price history of a game in the marketplace. This serves a few purposes such as showing when the lost copies were purchased (desireability), how many are currently for sale and at what price, and finally what the price range was for sold copies. I frequently see games that sell for half of the price that marketplace sellers are trying to get. Many of these sellers have abandoned their listings. New sellers, not investigating this, simply list their games for slightly less than what they see thinking they’re being competitive.

eBay, offers the ability to see SOLD listings as well. This serves as a potent negotiation tool and should be used in conjunction with BGG’s tool to calibrate pricing for the savvy boardgame buyer market and for the general boardgame population who may be more or less informed than your average BGG user.

How motivated are you?

The next question a seller has to ask themselves is how motivated they are to sell. They can, of course, undercut the price on every game in order to unload games quickly. This works surprisingly well on BGG and generally results in sales times of less than 30 days in my experience. That said, you aren’t going to get what the game is actually worth.

Instead, consider floating a starting price and and including quality photos. People like to see what they’re buying and will often pay more for a game they’ve seen the condition of from a reputable seller. This is a great way to create a market differentiation or advantage for yourself when selling.

Sales ARE a function of valuation

Games on your shelf have only the sentimental value you place on them until someone else hands over cash. That’s just how it works. Your motivation and sales strategy are as much a part of your collection valuation as the games you’re selling. This won’t upset the value of games, but it has maybe a 20% effect overall on your sales strategy and total collection value.

In my case, I’m willing to take 20% less in some cases for tough to sell games in order to get them into the hands of someone else. In other cases, I like to hold firm on high value games that are in demand right now. Either way, I’m making a judgment call on each title that will affect the total collection valuation.

The same is also true of bundling games for sale. You can pair a game that’s less desirable with a more desirable game or attract a certain type of buyer (vintage collector, publisher fanboy, etc.) using this strategy. Be creative in the way you look at how you want to sell your games in order to find buyers for tough-to-sell games and to maximize profits on the true gems of your collection.

So…what does this look like in action?

Here is a basic collection valuation I did for Michael on BGG after he provided me with the games he had to sell.

As you can see, this collection is about 50 games. The total value of Michael’s collection is about $1,300. So, roughly $26 per game. That’s probably about right. The problem, however, is that many of Michael’s games have low desirability from the standpoint of demand. There are a few gems in there to be sure, but overall this is a collection that’s going to appeal most to a vintage wargame collector.

The valuation notes I provided, give Michael a sense of what he might do and the ranges in which these games are most likely to sell.

A word on insurance riders…

You can work with your insurance company to get an insurance rider for a valuable collection. There’s even some dude selling his own insurance for wargame collections I believe. The biggest thing you need to do whether or not you actually buy such an insurance rider is document your collection.

You will want to get photographs of the games, condition, any proof of ownership (something showing you own the game compared to just snagging a photo from the web). You can do this in a variety of ways, but you want to do it however your insurance agent provides! Make sure you speak with your insurance to get the right kind of documentation and that this documentation is safely stored.

My only final thought here is that our wargame collections mean a lot to us. They don’t define who we are, but our hobbies are an important part of our leisure time. The value of your collection should never be solely about the dollars and cents that they represent either in the amounts you paid or the value the games hold now. Instead, it’s the memories and time spent with friends, books, or alone enjoying the games that matters most. There’s no way to put a price on that!

Ever since George Lucas tinkered with the iconic original Star Wars trilogy, fans have asked one complex question. Should Lucas, or 20th Century Fox, have altered the movies? This question can be applied more broadly to other topics. Today, we’re asking: Should wargames ever be finished?

Ownership

The first question that you have to consider is one of ownership. Who actually owns a wargame once it has been published. Now, the legal answer is a little more straightforward than the concept of ownership as fans might see it. After all, fans invest significant time in playing, modifying, talking about, supporting, and enjoying the game.

The Sharks

As David Dockter once said on his excellent podcast Guns, Dice & Butter designers greatly benefit from the “sharks” as Dockter calls them. These are the players who take the mantle of providing peer-to-peer support, hosting tournaments, talking about the game, and ensuring the longevity of the title well past the normal cycle of any game’s active interest. Couple with this, the relatively quick engagement cycle for board wargamers today and these “sharks” in many ways are taking on a great deal of ownership for a game.

The Jets?

I wanted to make this whole West Side Story thing work…but let’s be honest there’s no Jets vs. Sharks in this equation. The relationship between designers and their fans is far more symbiotic. Ideally, a healthy relationship between publisher, designer, and fans will create a meaningful feedback loop in which the designer remains engaged as an active advocate for their game.

I have no idea how designers with lots of games under their belt stay sane. Fans can be needy, obtuse, and unfair. Those are just a few of my traits…there are others of course that distract and critique. Fans do offer solid suggestions and insights that the best designers take to heart and try to incorporate into future games or co-opt for their design toolkit.

Designers are, however, only human and the creative process is a deeply personal undertaking. The creative projects of my career or any multi-year project that I’ve “given birth to” over the years have been insanely personal. All of those projects are for the benefit of others. Consequently, I have some insight into a designer’s interest to tinker.

“MY” Game

The result is a game where fans and designers feel ownership. The problem, of course, is that fans see different things they like about the game from the designers at times. This means changes are either going to be wholly embraced or viewed with skepticism. Rarely will the fans outright reject a “2nd Edition” as they did in the case of the Star Wars original trilogy changes.

The stakes are high, but they aren’t so high that fans should feel alienated. There are cases, however, where that is the case. I’ll be walking you through my own game tinkering alienation case study below. A good place to look at why “my” game is so varied just take a look at a game with lots of reviews like Combat Commander. There are 44 reviews of the game between 2006 and January 17, 2019 of Combat Commander: Europe.

While the reviews follow a central conclusion (well liked) and a few common likes (tense scenario design) and dislikes (variations on concerns about randomness), they are all slightly different. In the re-appropriated words of Mark Herman “It takes a village.” People approach different games and why they like them for all kinds of reasons. Consequently, it stands to reason that even seemingly minor changes or evolution to rules or game components can cause people to feel uncomfortable with the change.

Case Study: Conflict of Heroes

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear came out in 2008. I was thrilled and quickly bought a copy, as well as Storms of Steel when it was released. I was a fan of the artwork, complexity, and approach to tactical WW2 games. I printed every scenario I could find, laminated player aid cards, organized and built every imaginable fan addon you can think of for the game.

I was a huge fan!

Then, I found out that a 2nd Edition was coming. I was willing to give it a shot, but held off. What did me in was that the game components had altered from the original. While I could still thoroughly enjoy the game I loved, I would need to re-purchase everything in order to keep up with the series and move along with it as new expansions were released. At the time, First Men In and Guadalcanal felt like they were right around the corner rather than nearly a decade away.

I was dejected and sold my copy. I swore never to go back…I caved recently and I’m all in once again because I do enjoy the series.

Lessons Learned

I think I learned a few lessons from these 5 or so years:

  1. Designers who have a signature series to their name ARE going to tweak it and continue to evolve it.
  2. Don’t believe the hype for new editions until its released and you have a chance to fully explore.
  3. Don’t believe Academy Games release dates. lol! (Tongue in cheek of course…but not really)
  4. Customers need an upgrade pathway.

Upgrade pathways

You may disagree with me here if you’re a publisher or a designer. I understand your business premise. I don’t understand your customer service stance…

Edition changes that alter components NEED an upgrade pathway for existing customers. If you don’t do this…you are both lazy and greedy. That’s a bold claim, but there’s really no excuse for it. I certainly respect the need to make money and think upgrades CAN make money! Further, I understand the need to minimize warehousing and overprinting products.

Here are a few ways to fix that problem:

  • Promote the upgrade kit alongside the announcement of the new edition.
  • Offer the upgrade kit on a pre-order only basis. Only “overprint” maybe an additional 10% of your ACTUAL sales during the pre-order period.
  • Upgrade your distribution chain’s old edition copies with the upgrade kit and sell those copies as a new product with a pricepoint that seems to make the most sense for the now combined products.

In effect, service your existing customers with an opportunity. You’re already printing the new components after all! Make it clear that this is a limited time opportunity and that once the stock is gone, that’s it. While this is unlikely to sell more than about 20% of your prior edition copies that should convince you that a) you want to preach to the choir or lose them and b) that you’re not talking about a massive run of these upgrade kits which will already (for the most part) be paid for when they get shipped.

Back to Ownership

Customers want the “best” version of a game. Designers, even veteran ones, continue to hone their craft and see design problems in new ways. This means that subsequent versions that a designer convinces a publisher to sell will be better on the whole. While some exceptions are likely to occur…nobody is burning those copies Fahrenheit 451 style!

Designers should be the ultimate say in what their game says, how it plays, and how fans interact with it over the course of its lifetime. Gamers have the final say in how the game is played at their table of course. If they want to disregard the changes, make their own house rules, or disregard the rules and just chuck counters at their cat…they can certainly feel free to do so…psychopaths that they are!

Say it!

Designs are never finished. They’re just left in a state where designers feel they’re ready at the time.

I’m good with that and support it. Long live the 2nd…3rd…4th? edition of some of the hobby’s best games!

I was listening to the excellent Harold on Games podcast a few weeks ago and heard Harold’s interview with Jack Greene. Jack mentioned that he used to get more wound-up about wargame unit ratings when he was younger. Greene also pointed out that beloved topics, such as World War II or the American Civil War tend to elicit strong opinions about unit ratings from a broader audience.

This got me thinking about unit values and what they actually mean or represent. Today, I’m going to provide a few thoughts on a sprawling topic that could, in and of itself, fill a book on its own. I am only coming to the topic from the perspective of a fan and not from the perspective of a designer who has had to wrestle both with the decisions and their fallout.

The Three Things…

Rather than hide this in the text, I’ll provide the three things I think of when considering unit evaluation right at the frontend so you can agree or disagree with me right away!

  1. Designers have opinions….and those opinions actually DO carry more weight than a player’s opinion.
  2. Numbers are meaningless on their own. They only carry context in relation to other unit ratings.
  3. People are going to be angry no matter what. The designer’s logic being sound is all that matters.

Let’s keep it simple and start right at the top of the list.

Designers Opinions Matter More Than Yours!

Games need to say something, first and foremost, about their topic. A game without an opinion or a unique approach doesn’t need to be made. Consequently, by the time a game makes it to a player, the designer’s opinion has had to carry the thing from idea to pitch to design and finally to production. That oversimplification belies all the debates and effort that go into each step along the way.

The designer isn’t trying to appease a gamer’s personal or widely held belief about a unit, nationality, or conflict. We’ll limit the discourse of this article, of course, to just unit ratings and say that what a single historian or widely held popular belief was about a leader or unit may not stand up to further historical research or testing.

Historians debate these things all the time, why shouldn’t that debate exist in wargames!

Instead, designers are looking at outcomes in the sense of the narrative context they have created for the game. In an American Civil War game, it’s not necessary to worship at the feet of John Reynolds giving him godlike powers had he only survived Gettysburg. Similarly, those Russian T34/76 units seemed to do pretty well on the eastern front from a logistics standpoint so maybe their ratings in a game that favors mechanical reliability does rate them better than their German counterparts.

Trust the designer if the ratings adhere to the logic of the case the designer is making with the game’s rules in short.

Numbers are Relative

We tend to base our games on pretty low numbers. They’re easier to do the math with in our heads and lend themselves well to simple charts. The closer we can get to binary evaluation as humans the better we are at making quick value judgements. This speeds play, helps foster deeper understanding, and won’t turn off the non-numerically proficient amongst us!

We’re talking about a 17% difference when a commander is rated as a 5 instead of a 6. Distilling a leader’s effect down to a number is already borderline idiotic, but it is in the service of a game so we accept it whole cloth. Were leaders ACTUALLY under 20% different from each other?

The answer is, of course, perhaps. What matters more is the context of how and why that rating was determined. Over the course of a game where players are expected to roll the dice 100 times and use that value, on its own (rare…if ever) then we’d only see this ratings difference in action roughly 9 times if players have a 50/50 chance of success on an unmodified die roll. I’m basing this on the following equation (100 chances x (.50 x .17))…so take that as you may since it’s essentially what is the probability of you NOT making the roll in 100 chances if you’re 17% deficient)

I go into this, essentially, to say that you need to do the following equation in your head before getting “wound up” as Jack Greene put it:

(Probability that the improper rating is actually breaking the game x Probability that your rage is misplaced)

As you might imagine, the actual results of this highly scientific formula and approach bear out what Jack Greene was saying. Effectively, there is no “perfect” system for ratings. The result is that people will find fault with individual values. There’s not stopping that part of a game’s critique.

Logic is how you Mean It!

Instead, the designer’s logic should be what demonstrates the validity of the rating. Jack Greene provided a few minutes of detail on how he developed gunnery ratings for Bismarck Second Edition. I had a few takeaways from that description:

  1. There is an immense amount of thought that a designer can invest in building the basic mathematical model underneath the game itself. When this is done well, it’s transparent and intuitive. When it’s noticeable…the designer probably needed some more time working through it with a developer.
  2. There is a strong parallel between the work of developing a rating and how SABRmetricians develop summary ratings like WAR for Major League Baseball players.
  3. No rating is immune from further tinkering. There comes a time when the rating and design are done, but that doesn’t come with any slammed shut dusty tome. Designers learn and evolve, so their logic has to stand the test of time for THAT design.

Designers need to make the case for their logic in the intuitiveness and broad acceptance of their conclusions. When that fails to happen, they should be including some kind of designer note that acknowledges a change from a widely (perhaps even incorrectly) held belief about the relative rating of a leader or unit.

Wrapping it Up

Designers are no infallible, but ratings are not mistakes. They must be meant when committed to cardboard. The work that goes into developing them is immense and fiercely opinionated. Consequently, players need to evaluate the logic of WHY and think about whether that one point different REALLY means anything.

In the long run, games are rarely made or broken by unit ratings. That’s why we see so many accepted combinations. There are more games with 3-3 or 4-4 units as the base value than I care to recall. However, what separates a good designer and game from a great designer and game is the logic behind the ratings. They need to mean something.