Collectors’ Corner: The rules of tabletop gaming

News & Insights

MoneyPlus Features Team

13th September 2016 at 1:30pm

The thought of playing board games may bring back fond memories of childhood winters, student dinner parties and even power-cut entertainment, but you may be surprised to learn that this sort of gaming is still a very popular pastime today, with the variety of games spanning way past the traditional board game.

Say hello to the world of tabletop gaming. From card and dice games to war and role-playing games (RPGs), tabletop games is a term used to distinguish such diversions from video games, and usually refers to games that are played on a flat surface (such as a table).

So, now that we’ve cleared up the definition, let’s turn our attention to the tabletop gaming community that thrives both online and in the flesh. In this edition of Collectors’ Corner, we ask two experts to lay their cards on the table and share the tricks of their hobby.

Say hello to the world of tabletop gaming

Less digital, more sociable

Cyrus Kirby runs Father Geek, a site with the slogan ‘Better parenting… through games and geekiness’. The site reviews games from the perspective of children, parents and gamers. Playing and reviewing aside, though, how did Cyrus get into collecting? “I started collecting games because I wanted the ability to play games with anyone at any time,” explains Cyrus. “Having your own collection means you have instant access to engaging fun. Games can be played with people of any age and any background. The more games I have, the better the odds of being able to provide a game everyone will enjoy.”

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Image courtesy of fathergeek

And that’s the thing about this sort of gaming – it thrives on enjoyment, and people socialising with one another. “The tabletop hobby has been and always will be about people and the connections they make with each other,” agrees Cyrus. “Games are designed to be social, as well as challenging and fun. In an age when everything wants your attention, and there is never enough time and due dates are always looming, tabletop games welcome you to sit down, unwind, and slow down.”

‘Better parenting… through games and geekiness’ – Father Geek.

Indeed, tabletop gaming brings people together, regardless of their age or other interests.People are united not only through a shared hobby, but by the gameplay itself.

Plus, most people tend to have some sort of competitive streak (even if only a small one), which is always a great motive for social engagement.

Role playing games vs board games

The Mandragora is a website dedicated to gaming in Edinburgh and “other RPG stuff”. It’s run by Bill Heron, who has been playing for over 30 years. The “RPG stuff” referred to here is, more specifically, pen-and-paper role playing games, in which participants describe the actions of their characters through speech. The games involve a set of clear guidelines and rules, but the actions of players are largely improvised.

As one might imagine, this is also a scene that relies on sociable participants, and they’re a varied bunch. “Given that I run a large gaming community (Open Roleplaying Community Edinburgh), I’m slightly biased when I say there’s plenty of diverse groups, especially in Edinburgh,“ explains Bill. “We have wargames groups, RPG groups, Live Action Roleplaying groups (LARPs), card gamers and board gamers too.”

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Image courtesy of The Mandragora

And how did Bill’s obsession start? With books, believe it or not! “When I was about eight or nine years old I was given a book called Starship Traveller, part of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks,” he reveals. “These were very similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure series, except they had rules for combat and dice rolling.

Gamers are powered by imagination – The Mandragora

“I was pretty much hooked on them from that point onwards – including Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series, too. Both books referred to the authors having played Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn’t until I saw an ad for Dungeons & Dragons in a 2000AD Dice Man comic that I started to wonder what these tabletop roleplaying games were.”

And so a new gamer was born. Judging by this insight, it seems that at least within the RPG community, gamers are powered by imagination and the inclusion of a narrative. But what about the more traditional board games?

“Many of us grew up thinking that Monopoly, checkers, chess, and go fish were the extent of the gaming world. Not true,” says Cyrus. “Board games are part of an international industry with a very diverse offering that is specifically tailored to both the masses and the quintessential gaming geek.”

The Tabletop Community is strong…and growing

So, there’s likely something for everyone then. And what about the community itself?

“The tabletop community is strong and growing. It’s a great time to jump into the hobby, as there is a lot to learn, see, and do. Society seems to be pulling away from electronics and converging on the family dinner table, where everyone can unplug and reconnect.”

Taking a break from screens, meeting cheery folk who’d love to challenge you to a game, and getting the chance to challenge your brain both logistically and imaginatively: it all sounds rather enticing. So, where to start?

Tips for new tabletop game collectors

If you’re thinking of dipping your toes into the world of tabletop gaming, take this advice from the pros:

Build your own opinions

Cyrus: “[The concept of] ‘good’ is subjective, meaning that any collector should learn about the games they want to collect to pinpoint exactly what it is they enjoy the most.”

Play, play, play!

The concept of ‘good’ is subjective – Cyrus

Cyrus: “A collector needs to know as much as possible, and to that end, the best way to achieve knowledge is to play games. Play as many games as you can, and you will quickly learn what it is you like and do not like.”

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Takenoko taken by anneheathen (CC BY 2.0

Be prepared to hunt for bargains

Once you have figured out the sort of games you enjoy the most, get searching for the best buys!

Bill: “The best three options are convention bring-and-buys, crowd-funding campaigns, and of course, eBay and Facebook groups. Bring-and-buys are very much potluck, but you can pick up a bargain. Crowd-funding campaigns often offer a great chance to get all the books in print (for RPGs), but you have to wait some time, and the project may not be fulfilled. eBay is still the best way to find hard-to-find or second-hand items. It’s worth searching for a serial number/ISBN, or trying misspellings of a title. Always make sure there’s a photo, and take note of any negative feedback.”

eBay is the best way to find hard-to-find or second-hand items

Make sure you have enough storage

Bill: “Make sure you have room! I’ve pared down my collection by quite a bit over the years due to [lack of] space.”

Cyrus: “That small closet you have in the hall will fill up quickly. Every collector will eventually have to decide which games they are going to remove from their collection and which games they will keep. Space restrictions can be helpful, as they force a collector to determine the real value of every game they have.”

Finally, be patient!

Bill: “Patience is important; it can take a while to build up a collection, whether you play the games or not.”

In the end, the ‘value’ of an individual’s collection will be based on what they determine to be of importance

Prized possessions

Diving deeper still, we wondered what qualities make some games rarer and more valuable than others. “That’s a bit of a tough one,” says Bill. “But the era and the condition are definitely factors. Many of the books or older games published in the 70s or 80s won’t have lasted well, or have acquired a hard-to-find or rare status. Many boxed sets will have deteriorated or fallen apart.

There’s more to collecting than just monetary value

For example, the H series of Bloodstone modules are hard to find intact – the first one, H1 Bloodstone Pass, came with a set of cardboard counters and cardboard buildings to be assembled. It’s almost impossible to find these intact.”

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An agent seizes Mike’s copy of 1970s classic boardgame ‘Dungeon!’ in a scene from Stranger Things ©Netflix

And for the more traditional games? “There are two requirements that must be met in order to make any game valuable to the majority of collectors,” says Cyrus. “First, the game’s print run must be limited. Second, the popularity of the game, both when it first came out and the current level of interest. These two make up the backbone of what most collectors look for.”

However, as all of our Collectors’ Corner articles so far have taught us, there’s more to collecting than just monetary value, and the definition of valuable is open to interpretation. “Collectors also collect for personal reasons, “ agrees Cyrus. “For example, I collect games in a particular genre and older games from my childhood. I know other collectors who only purchase games from certain publishers and some who only purchase games set during certain time periods.

“In the end, the ‘value’ of an individual’s collection will be based on what they determine to be of importance.”

That’s certainly a tactic we can agree with.

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