Board Game Economics: Money, Trade and Value – part II

notfree
(Mostly) not free

Last time out, I talked about how I’d looked at some of the financial numbers behind the free games I’ve received to review this year and concluded, (not surprisingly) that the value was pretty good.

Presumably because I was looking for reasons to hate myself, I then attempted to spread the concept out more widely, across my whole games collection.

First of all, I looked at the 25 most-played games of 2016 so far and compared the hours of play this year with the money spent this year. Over half the games were either review copies or things I’d bought years ago, so the short-term value was fairly self-evident.

That said, there were a few games where I’d spent significant amounts of money this year – typically these are the games with an ongoing release format who’d managed to get me hooked, and I was buying the new content as it came out, sometimes because we really wanted something fresh to play, other times because I simply wanted to get the new-release-discount, and didn’t want to get too far behind.

Overall, the picture here was still good. Assigning a fairly arbitrary value of £5 per hour (more on that below), every game except 1 came out in the black. The game which looked to have “failed” to meet the value estimate was Dice Masters, which I’ll talk about more later.

 

History

notebooksThe second stage of the examination was a bit more complicated. I stayed with the most-played games of this year, but added an extra 3 so that I was covering the most-played for all the records I had.

I then tried to log all the plays of the games, and all the money I’d spent on them. This was a fairly flawed analysis on a number of levels – for one thing, I don’t remember what I spent on games 5 years ago, so I had to use current prices from online retailers, which are generally higher, due to several years’ worth of inflation and a weak pound.

I also only have records of which games I played going back to Christmas 2014. Before that, It’s an entirely hotchpotch selection: I know when I won (but not lost) Lord of the Rings LCG as far back as the autumn of 2011, and I have some erratic hand-written notes lying around for a fairly arbitrary selection of games that barely make it onto the list.

The resulting picture is unusual, and in some places downright misleading – some games look like great value, and others look terrible. To be precise, 9 are in the red for spending to hours of play value.

 

Games of Christmas Past

carcs When I looked a £/Hour, it was the low-play-count games that look really bad, things like Carcassonne and Dominion which were purchased, played a lot, expanded, played some more, then gradually fell out of favour. Neither “6 games of Carcassonne” nor “16 games of Dominion” comes anywhere close to showing how much time we’ve spent on these games historically. It also creates weird situations where some games, like Memoir ’44 currently don’t make the list, having only been played 2 times in the past 2 years, but as I noted in June’s gaming challenge update, this is a game that’s seen some serious wear and tear, which justified the big spend on expansions 5 years or so ago, and would look ridiculous now. On the plus side, I recently discovered that the BattleMap expansions I’d bought for this way back are now Out-Of-Print and very sought after – I managed to get £140 for 3 of them, which is definitely more than I paid originally.

 

How Long?

time It’s also worth commenting on game length. As I’ve decided to measure value in terms of a £:Hours ratio, I need to work out how long a game takes. This is problematic at best – very easy to say that Zombicide takes longer than Boggle (to use an extreme example), but exact numbers are trickier.

Taking an example where a small tweak makes a big difference. I’ve played Lord of the Rings 238 times in the last 22 months, wins and losses, and I’d opted for a fairly short play-time of half an hour, so that the ten-minute deaths and rage-quits would balance the hour+ grinds. However, the 243 sessions logged for the previous 3 years are definitely an incomplete figure as i.) they only include wins, and ii) they exclude entirely the first 4 months or so of the game’s life before the scoring system was changed. It’s possible that I could retrieve data for some of these sessions, but maybe I’d be better off increasing the game’s play-time from half an hour to 40 minutes, which instantly adds around £400 to the game’s “value”

 

How much?

ticket It’s also worth looking more closely about that “£5 per hour” figure. I think that I originally arrived at this based on a suggestion on Board Game Geek, equating games to Cinema Tickets. If we assume that all films are 2 hours long, and that a trip to the cinema costs £10, this gives a figure of £5 per hour.

Evidently, this is a simplification: Going to the cinema probably takes 3 hours rather than 2, but sitting watching adverts so that you can get a good seat, queuing, or just getting there in the first place seems like a poor thing to class as entertainment value. £10 for a ticket is slightly more than what it costs if you can manage to go off-peak with a Student card, but a bit less than a peak-time ticket, and by the time you average it all, and add in a bag of over-priced pick-and-mix, it’s probably a wash.

All of this, of course, assumes that “more time” = “better” in terms of the amount of entertainment you get. This is clearly an idea that has some truth to it: However much I might love Dobble, I’m not going to play it for 3 hours straight (that’s not strictly true, I sometimes play it for 8 hours at a time, but I get paid for that…) A short game may get played more often, but it’s still only entertaining you for a lowish number of hours of your life overall.

ascendancy Equally, we’ve all played games that ran too long – sometimes that’s a quirk of that particular session, other times it’s inexperience on the part of the players, and sometimes it’s just a design-flaw in the game. What I do know is that I recently got to try out Star Trek Ascendancy at the FLGS who were doing a big launch event with Demos. We played a 4-player game that lasted 5 hours, and I suspect most of us would have been tempted to pay £5 to have had it finish an hour earlier…

 

On your own?

Probably the biggest issue with the figures I’ve created is player-scaling. If I buy a board game, it’s cost me the same whether I play it solo, with 2, with 3 or with 4 (5-6 often requires an expansion…) Cinema Tickets by contrast are explicitly linked to the number of people attending. I might only pay £10 for a theoretical solo cinema trip (or more probably a trip with friends who don’t share my bank account), but mostly I go with my wife, and that’s then a £20 evening out. Should I be using £10 as the hourly figure instead? That would probably bring things much more in line with going to a gig, or the theatre and (of course) instantly prove that all Board Games are much better value than we previously thought.

elder-sign For games played in the last not-quite-two-years, I do have player-number information, and adjusting by player-number, the list of games that are “bad value” shrinks from 9 to 4, with the remainder looking far healthier: Carcassonne and Dominion remain victims of their old age and recent quiet,  Race for the Galaxy a little closer to looking like good value, and might even fall of the list entirely in a few months.

Of course, even scaling up for player-count does no favours for some games – for Dice Masters the problem is that it doesn’t really get played at home. If I play a handful of games down at the store, and the other guy is using his own cards and dice, paid for out of his own pocket, then it hardly seems fair to count his play-time towards my budget. Realistically, I’d only be able to add a handful of games by scaling for player-counts.

 

No Dice

booster Throughout this exercise, Dice Masters has been the big blot on the landscape: it’s the only game showing a (small) value “shortfall” based on the figures for this year alone, and the historic numbers are even worse.

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the only game which comes out looking bad whichever way I measure it is also the only Collectible (i.e. randomised purchase) game that I play. I really enjoy Dice Masters, both as a game to play, and as a collecting exercise (there’s something very therapeutic about sorting dice) but this spreadsheet raises some fairly serious questions.

Collectible games, done well, offer a fairly low barrier to entry, but they also offer a dangerously open-ended upper ceiling to spending. There’s something dangerous in the human brain (mine at least) which sees sets and wants them to be complete (I’ve told my wife that I don’t mind whether our first child is a boy or a girl, but that the second has to be whatever the first one isn’t). I fairly quickly gave up on attempting to get a full set of the Super Rare or Chase Rare cards, but I know I’ve spent money on cards and dice as a collector that I’m unlikely to ever actually use as a player.

foilarrow With most of the casual sessions having dried up, most opportunities to play are in tournaments, which generally have an entry cost – always less that the “value” of the games the tournament will add, but still, something which slows down that process of catching-up: I did a Rainbow draft last weekend, in which I added £15 of “value” but paid £12 to participate. Of course, being a draft event, I came away with new cards and dice, and am hoping that if I can sell the Foil Ultra-Rare Green Arrow which I drafted, that that will actually wipe out the 2016 deficit.

Beyond that, the model for this game is designed around constant consumption – new sets come out all the time, and they bring in mechanics that can leave old teams behind if you’re not keeping up with the new releases. Draft formats are, arguably, the most enjoyable way to play the game, as well as the way that puts the most emphasis on player skill, but there is cost involved.

finest As I mentioned last time out, theoretical value and what I can actually liquidate things for tends to be a very different matter. If I’d known how quickly the player-base would evaporate, I wouldn’t have bought the World’s Finest set at Easter (this is the main set that really feels like a failure cash / play-value wise) – but selling it now might well not recoup the sorts of figures I’d be looking for to make things value for money.

The hourly rate for Dice Masters still doesn’t look too bad. The sheer number of plays spreads that shortfall gets spread pretty thin, and it works out at under £7 an hour. Still, I’ll have to be very careful moving forward.

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the picture that this exercise has given me seems fairly accurate (if kind of obvious): Free games are great value. Free games that you then go mad and buy stuff for can still be good value if you play them a lot, but it’s easy to get carried away.

Games that require an ongoing, regular investment will easily rack-up the costs over time: if you play them a lot, they can still offer good value, but it’s easy to get lured into a false sense of value. Lastly, your old games will look like a poor deal, if you make calculations based on what things you bought 5 years ago would cost you now, but not on how much you played them.

Summarised like that, a lot of this looks blindingly obvious, but for me, this exercise has been helpful: I’m expecting some fairly major financial changes on the horizon and as Board Games are (apparently) a luxury item, the gaming budget is likely to get fairly well decimated. I’ve already given up the Game of Thrones LCG in order to free up some room/cash, and this sort of stop-and-reflect has definitely given me some useful food for thought as I make plans for the future.

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