Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Streamlining a boardgame collection.

Over the last couple of years, I have been working towards trying to streamline my wargaming collections and gaming activity in general.

Whether to rescue some shelf space, bring order to chaotic collecting or simply to reduce the distraction that comes from a mind that is all over the place in terms of gaming interest, my collection needs a tighter focus if I am to spend more quality time playing and less time reading rules and other related games distractions.

Taking the number of games that get accrued over time, sometimes covering the same battle or theme, the density of many rules, the numbers of counters that need punching and clipping, the time and convenience needed to get just one game onto the table, the collecting and painting of figures in too many periods, in too many scales and also being fought under too many systems - then unsurprisingly a time and an age has come to get some order in all of that. I have had a few false starts, but it is an unkind process and it’s too easy to default back to buying the next shiny thing ..... and the next one and so it goes!

Anyway, of late my resolve has been more determined and so this post is just looking at a re-assessment of the boardgames side of things and how the last two years of changes have brought my collection to a much more tailored reflection of gaming needs and given a much tighter focus to those things that will have a better chance of actually getting played more often. It is a process that other gamers might find helpful (or not) if facing their own dreaded games cull!

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

I can look back at over 40 years of historical boardgaming and collecting and during that time, I have bought countless games and punched and clipped a mind numbing number of counters. But even so, the collection that I have today is fairly trim and does not in any way reflect that huge back catalogue that I have owned at various stages over that period.

Partly, this is because when starting out, money, for pretty much everyone I knew, was tight and so for me to buy the next great thing, I would often have to trade one or two things away. Over time, that has probably become a natural behaviour, the consequence being that the collection has never really become unbearably large or unmanageable, but also of course, on reflection, I know I have parted company with some real gems.

It is also partly due to the fact that I am all over the place with regards to interests, so what I intensely get involved in one month, will have pretty much burned itself out some months later and will lay unplayed and indeed seemingly unloved, so it becomes an easy casualty to be move on. The downside is that an interest is often re-ignited and I can end up on the expensive route of buying back stuff that I had already once owned.

I ‘suffer’ the character trait that my games have to be kept pristine to be enjoyed, I mean it, the slightest biffed box is a spoiler for me. That is fine because I look after my stuff, but it does mostly exclude me from buying from the back catalogue of the used market. That’s just me and I pay a price for that mindset, but there we are. It does mean that if I see a series, then as a bit of a completist (is that another trait?), I need to get it while it is in production, to get a good copy - it is no good coming late to that party.

So anyway, over the last few years, I have become a bit fatigued by the cycle of getting something, prepping for it, playing it once, liking it or not liking it, but probably not having the opportunity to replay it often enough to become good at it or to get the best from the system and to appreciate the nuances. This has been reflected in the collection, which has been looking rather ‘bitty’, with lots of different games, designers, themes and topics or in other words, lots of different rules that become a barrier to getting some of these things onto the table.

I rather like how I remember the old classics, that were often played to death, gamers really did wear their copies out and consequently they were well understood and so with that partly in mind, I have been working to re-organise the collection. Things need to work harder for the space they occupy on the shelf, so they actually get played rather than distract.

I have three main aspects that I need my boardgaming to serve;

Some shorter, easily accessible games that will suit our weekly face-to-face sessions. These should really be able to play to conclusion in a single session.

Some meatier games that take more than a typical session to play and may require a greater investment in rule preparation. These need to be suitable for soloing and be able to be left set up over a few days and give a higher level of wargaming satisfaction. I consider these will generally sit in the realm of 5 to 12 hours playing time. Hopefully will be one mappers, but two map treats would be a nice thing to do now and then if play is straightforward and moves along nicely.

Finally, there needs to be a much greater emphasis on series games, so once the rules are known, only the special rules for the current game / scenario in hand needs to be jacked up. If possible an era should be represented by a single series.

So with this in mind and my wide interests forever drawing me to the game that is not on my table, this is where a period of wheeling, dealing and consolidation has got me so far;

Ancient warfare - Great Battles of History by GMT. Or rather more specifically, the new 3rd printing of SPQR (think Rome v Carthage), which is rammed with content. It originally came with 5 scenarios. This has been expanded to include a further 9 battles from subsequent related modules and a last minute addition meant that a 2 battle Barbarians module was also included. So that is a lot of action in one box under one set of rules. I did own several parts of the series a looooong time ago, when grey cells were aplenty, so to make this work for me today, I also bought GBoH Simple - this is a 16 page lighter version of the rules that totally replaces the rules in the system and re-jigs the scenarios accordingly, which should make this very accessible as a series game. If it works for me, I will add other parts of the series.

1066 - This is a fave period of mine and of course I have my own two fairly simple boardgame designs, so I will say no more about that. I am also painting two 1066 figure armies in 12mm to go on my hex terrain, so there may be a link up of systems there and hopefully something pretty to look at!

Wars of the Roses - A big area of interest, but at this point, I don’t see a series game that will scratch this itch for me. GMT will soon be doing their Men of Iron series as a Tri-Pack and in the absence of anything else, I may well end up taking a closer look at that.

English Civil War - GMT are about to re-publish This Accursed Civil War, which rather like SPQR has been expanded to offer more in the box. I owned the first edition many years ago and found it a bit more complicated than I wanted, but in my search for series games, this may well prove to be the only boy in town for this period. We shall see and who knows, delivering the mantra of repeated play might help me break into it properly this time.  

American War of Independence - I would love something just at the right level for this (whatever that means for each of us!), but there just isn’t anything in series format that suits me. I had been collecting GMT’s Battles of the American Revolution series, but though I loved the maps and counters, the D10 powered CRT, with its modifiers just made the wild swings of outcomes too random for my tastes, so that series has been a casualty of my cull. I have got a couple of the Decision Games small folio games (Germantown and Saratoga) in their Musket and Sabre series, but the rules are awkward, even in their cut down light version. Still, for now, I will hang onto them and Perhaps this is another itch that is ultimately best scratched with 12mm figures on my hex terrain.

Napoleonic - Without any hesitation, I have made Hexasim’s ‘Eagles of France’ system my go to series. So far there is Waterloo, Austerlitz and Ligny in the company line-up. Quatre Bras (a real favourite of mine) is due for release shortly and there is another design on the blocks, so this looks like a series with a future. It has a slight miniatures feel to play, though to the space strapped gamer is awkward from the point that the full games use two maps and can take in the region of 11 hours to play, but this is a game that feels right and it makes me use cavalry properly instead of it just being a fast counter to get a combat factor into a useful place!

American Civil War - Well there is a short term quandary here while I try to choose between two series systems. Firstly I have Battle Hymn from Compass Games that contains Gettysburg and Pea Ridge. The designer is Eric Lee Smith of Across 5 Aprils fame and in fact these two battles featured in A5A, as did the next promised pairing in the series, Shiloh and Bentonville. At the same time, there is Revolution Games producing their ACW series using the Blind Swords chit pull system. To date they have  Stonewall’s Sword (Cedar Mountain), Thunder in the Ozarks (Pea Ridge) and Longstreet attacks, 2nd day at Gettysburg. Promised, probably for this year, is First Bull Run and Kernstown. So both systems promise a supported series going forwards. I have not played either of the systems yet, both are chit draw (which I like) and both have maps that I am not madly keen on, but I need to actually play them before I can choose one, The Blind Swords seems to have the steeper learning curve, but of course the reason why I want series games is to negate this being a barrier to play and I would really like a good 1st Bull Run game! But we shall see.

WWI - I am neither knowledgable or that interested in WWI, but Hexasim have recently released Great War Commander (very similar to GMT’s WWII Combat Commander) and the box is crammed full of goodness with particularly well done tactical maps, it is a lovely production, though it is a card driven game, something I really dislike and usually avoid, but it looks to be a good game and will be ideal in terms of session length and entertainment value for our face-to-face sessions.

WWII tactical - Oh Boy! This is my favourite area of gaming and so the great choices available drives me mad :-) mainly because it is easy to get confused between systems and also supporting several systems is an expensive indulgence. Several of the currently available tactical games can properly be described as well supported series systems. But in an effort to stream-line, I have sold quite a bit tactical stuff off and I am left with three systems, each delivering something different, but I think even one of these ultimately will also need to go. My three current candidate systems are ASL (and the starter kits) by MMP, Old School Tactical by Flying Pig and Panzer by GMT. The three systems are actively growing. ASL has just released Red Factories and the British reprint ‘For King and Country’ will happen this year, Old School Tactical has just released Ghost Division (Bulge) and their Pacific module is due this year as is a re-print of the Stalingrad module and GMT have just added to the Panzer line-up with the release of France 1940.

As an aside, I know that Compass Games has the old ‘Tank Leader’ game that was produced by West End Games (a John Hill design) in re-development and that will almost certainly catch my’s all just too good!

Modern -  I am not particularly a fan of modern and being too modern gets a bit close to that thing of being a questionable subject to game because of the rawness of the subjects (that’s just me, it is not meant to be a moralising position). I recently sold my MBT, BAoR, FRG series games and don’t really have any plans to replace that tactical element of gaming, though the revival of the old GDW ‘Third World War’ series now by Compass Games does hold a flicker of interest for me. Again there would be a series element to the various games in that line-up, with a lot of potential play. I will wait and see.

Sci-Fi - This is not a prime interest area for me, but I do have GMT’s Talon, which is a ship-to-ship combat system and will likely meet all my needs. There looks to be a ton of game time in that box and there is a mounted large hexed space map, so it should stand the test of time.

Naval - I suppose in some ways, the above Talon game is this! I would like some ship and sail type gaming and have White Dog’s Master and Commander game with the AWI expansion. The rules look brief and I have not played yet, so cannot attest to flavour, I can see, over time, this spot perhaps being catered for with some blue Hexon terrain tiles and some nice models with rigging, that would probably hit a sweet spot for me.

One-off game systems for meatier solo play - My games dealer, who knows my ways well, said that I should try stuff that is a bit more strategic, playable, but with a depth that will hold interest. Taking that advice to mean some meatier games, I looked at some operational games instead, this being a gaming level that does interest me, I have selected some titles that I would like to see on the table often, so that I can get to know them well. They typically play at the 6 hours plus mark, so fall outside of our face-to-face sessions, but it will be a good indulgence to play something over several sessions, perhaps just by having it on a large pinboard that can be moved around.

For these, in addition to any already mention systems above, such as the napoleonic Eagles of France series, I am interested in the Red Typhoon, Konigsberg and the Narva east front games from Revolution Games. Barbarossa Deluxe from Decision Games has an interesting scope and again, later this year, we will be seeing Bears Claw (Kiev and Smolensk) and the old classic ‘The Russian Campaign’ released. Oh and I have Guderians War by One Small step, with a nice mounted board, winking at me. I don’t really want too many of these games, because the objective of playing individual titles regularly will get diluted and defeated. To keep a lid on numbers, I can revert to what I have always done, that is, if something special comes along then my least loved game (the one that can’t earn it’s keep!)  is almost certain to get the chop!

Shorter face-to-face games - in addition to any already mentioned above, such as Great war Commander and some of the smaller scenarios from any of those series games that do such things. The Napoleon 20 series is always fun and I have invested in Flying Pig’s Platoon Commander Kursk, which looks very playable, plus the tactical WWII games typically have a plethora of smaller scenarios, so I don’t think I will have to work too hard on defining this part of the collection, as I think it will just happen to exist.

Solitaire only systems - Despite much of my gaming being solitaire, I have never really been a big fan of dedicated solo systems, which for me are a bit like having a bath with your wellies on. I would rather when possible just play each side well, so that there is a real human intelligence (stop laughing at the back!) being invested in both sides. So unsurprisingly, anything solitaire based in my collection has gone and I can’t really think of anything that I want. I have retained one item, Mrs. Thatchers War by White Dog, simply to see how this plays out and I have bought Max Hastings’ Falklands book to benchmark it against. As already stated above under the Modern War section, even this is a bit too close to home and my interest perhaps sits on the side of academic  rather than of joyful dice rolling!

There are other oddments in my collection that fall outside of the above lists, such as the original S&T 65 Cobra, the game that brought me into wargaming and items of interest to me from MMP’s  ‘Storm Over’ series, Oh and the re-make John Edwards ‘The African Campaign’ and the 1977 4th Edition Squad Leader game. These sort of things are there not just for potential play, but also to be able to pull down off the shelf and sit with for 20 minutes or so and just enjoy them for their own sake.

And so there we are, perhaps something of a self indulgent post, but I find these sort of things do help me take proper stock, while the compartmentalisation aspect does put some order in the collection, in which each item is judged on whether it can earn its place ..... or else it goes! I hope at least some of it has been of interest. If only I could be so pragmatic and decisive about my space robbing figures!

Resource Section.
COMMANDERS is my other webspace that is a bit more snippet based than here. LINK

BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a fantastic resource for wargamers, great for trying to make buying decisions and asking questions. LINK.

Consimworld, another dedicated boardgaming forum site, but really giving focus to historical gaming and with a lot of knowledgeable gamers who are happy to chat and help. LINK

Grognard, the ultimate resource for the historical gamer to link you to a wide range of articles, errata lists and reviews from a respectably large archive. LINK


  1. Like you, I have a diverse and broad set of interests both in era and type of gaming. Time is definitely a limiting factor and a constraint I wrestle with continually.

    I pared my boardgame collection down significantly during the 90s only to see the collection explode over the last several years. Not only have I reacquired many of the old games I sold off 25 years ago but a steady stream of games (new and old) continues winding its way to my door. Four arrived today. There may be no hope for me but you look to have it in hand. Perhaps I am kidding myself that one day I will be able to pull each off the shelf for concentrated play?

    If I were to downsize the boardgame collection again, I am at a loss as to where to begin and what to cull. So many interesting games to consider. Often I justify the purchase and keeping of a game as "research material" the same as I do my large library. Stop laughing. It works for me.

    I agree that series play offers great economies of scale. Once the core rules have sunk in, other games can be quickly added. I have a large number of games in this genre covering multiple periods and all levels of operations. Some of my favorites are series especially many of the excellent series from MMP.

    Interesting topic and I wish you well. If you want to try one of these via VASSAL, let me know. It might be a good way to get some of these games in play.

  2. Hi Jonathan, A few years ago, we moved to a small apartment and were there for three years, which forced lessons of serious downsizing on us. I lost a lot of my game collection and pretty much all of my books, the process of which is a ruthless culling with little room for sentiment and it massively reinforces the notion of when buying something new, that something else had to go - or 'one in and one out' as we called it. It does though bring a mindset of selectively buying and only really buying if you need something enough to get rid of something else, an interesting experience in an age of consumerism.

    Looking at the boom in boardgaming in general, with a strong interest coming from a new generation and a never ending stream of Kickstarter offers with a mind boggling amount of content, there is sure to be a similar situation of too many games and not enough space / time not too far down the road for the general games market.

    Once it seemed that people used to describe themselves as either boardgamers or figure gamers, but I sense a much greater co-existence and cross-over these days with both formats having a wider shared appreciation, but probably a greater pressure on storage and finances.

    Thanks for the offer of VASSAL, it is one of those things strangely that I have never done, probably because I have a regular face-to-face opportunity and lack the time for even more screen time and these days, I only have an iPad and Chromebook, which pretty much puts paid to it anyway. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  3. As always Norm, an entertaining and thought provoking read. I've never really been a boardgamer, other than a brief foray at Uni due to cost and space issues, but I feel your thoughts equally apply to miniature wargames. I am as guilty as the next gamer in being lured by the latest shiny new rule set, an instance of which occured last night!

    However over the past few years I have been trying to focus on some core rulesets, so when I do have time to game, I can focus on the task in hand rather than constantly having to check a rulebook. I still have some way to go, but it is very liberating.

    At my local wargames show table top sale in May I hope to off load a lot of stuff that, although I enjoy having it, will in all honesty never get played. At least it will free up space for more relevant books etc, or at least that's the plan.

  4. Hi Steve, yes, it's rather like BKC II (and soon IV) so successfully hitting your WWII sweet spot, that it is difficult to see how another set for that period / scale would ever get a look-in, so why keep them!

    There does seem to be a wave of gamers at the moment who are slimming their stuff to a reach a more sustainable point and if a that is a trend, will it feed into supply overall supply and limit future buying from the manufacturers / supplies, to the extent that there is some shrinkage in the chain - or are we too committed to the new and shinny for that to become a concern?

  5. I know what you mean about having things pristine. I recently purchased a copy of Panzerblitz on line which was sent from America completely mint but in a slightly yellowed cellophane wrapping. (so God knows where it had been stored). I didn't really want to open it but when I did it was the smell of 1980 something that came wafting out from the box and all those wonderful and amazingly still unpunched counters. Panzerblitz was the first board game I bought way back when. Time travel in a box!

  6. That sounds like a really lucky drop and of course it is a game, rather like basic Squad Leader that really hits the nostalgic spot for a whole generation, more-so with it being THE game :-)

    I seem to remember reading that in those days Avalon Hill would do a print run of 100,000 games!

    1. Ahh Panzerblitz. I might have to play a commemorative game and post my results on the blog. I love Panzerblitz! Like others, ive probably owned and sold numerous copies. This is my 3rd and i will not part with it again.

    2. Compass Games have got an incredible production schedule going on at the moment, in part fuelled by their return to some of the older games in which the rights have returned to the designers, allowing new 'Designer Editions'. I recently got The African Campaign and it is just lovely to see some of these old classics with that 'new game smell' when you open the box :-)

  7. Nice post Norm.
    I’m a big believer in downsizing. I’ve done it a couple of times myself with miniatures and overall I’ve found at the end, it produces more freedom to get on with gaming. Everyone has their own criteria for what to keep and what to jettison, and this post does a good job of displaying your thinking process.
    Unsolicited advice:
    You’re right in thinking about how often are you really going to play a game. If it’s not in the top 5 then it goes. Maybe a top 5 in each genre for you.

    You’re entirely correct that with less games on the shelf the more times you’ll actually play the ones you have. 😀

  8. A top 5 etc is exactly right. I was thinking about doing a sort of 'game of the month' in which you intensely look at a game and get the best out of it, only to realise that is just 12 different games a year and against a big collection leaves a lot of unplayed stuff. Unless collecting for its own sake, which of course has a value, then thinking in terms of top 5, 10, 50 or whatever makes sense for creating space, both physical and mental as much as anything else.

    1. I would enjoy seeing a "Game of the Month" from you. Would you take requests?

    2. On the face of it, it initially sounds rather an interesting thing to do and in some regards is not a million miles away from some of the posts that I routinely do ..... however, the question of sustainability and the issue of feeling compelled to do 'that' months new gaming, without regard for what else was going on, would I think, put a dampener on spontaneity and enthusiasm and even in the short term, I could see things turning to being a chore.

  9. I don't really play boardgames much,I got rid of my SPI lord of the rings games a while ago and GWs Apocalypse "the game of nuclear destruction"(?!) Nice game,anyway haven't really missed them but I can see relevance both to my figure collection and books and magazines. Like you I moved into a small apartment for a few years and all my gaming stuff lived under the bed in a couple of 84ltr really useful boxes,but I did have two lock ups(!) where I stored my books. I also ran a policy of next to no book purchases for a number of years until I built my 22m2 shed room for all my books, all my tools and most of my little men (the 40k stuff is now in the loft) but I still have a big collection of white dwarf magazines that I really have to just get rid of,at some point,when I have time! I'm also trying to stick to one game system (warlord pike and shot) so that I actually know what Im doing,at least a bit!
    Best Iain

  10. Iain, I do love the idea of 'one system / one period' ideal or at least something close to it.

    Apartment living formed this blog, with its 'wargaming in small spaces' sentiment and I became acutely aware over that period just how many gamers have real world restrictions on their gaming that are not always widely appreciated.

    I think most gamers of whatever interest, could do a lot worse than have one small boardgame squirreled away somewhere that uses a quarter to half size map and low counter density and is perfect for vacations, or table use when recuperating from illness or just for that midweek or weekend game when the figures can't make the table.

  11. I too started playing and buying way back with Tactics II and bought way too many games at auctions in the 70s through the 00s. I admire all of you for your resolve in becoming practical and logical with games you will never be able to play. But I will get to keep all of mine (700 plus including magazine games) because of my son, who implored me not to sell anything. He has a huge house and 2 sons and an impractical nature like mine so he sees my library as an inheritance worthy of preservation. There is enjoyment in just opening a game from 1977 and perusing the map, the counters, the rules, then heading to the magazine articles from all those mags I've collected.

  12. Ken, it sounds like you have a win-win there. There are games that I wish my original still sat on the shelf.

  13. I can so relate to this post.

    My acquisition of boardgames has largely stopped (and I can thank Vassal for that, plus computer games), but I suffer with miniatures and the curse of dabbling in the same period in multiple scales, although I am slowly getting that under control.

    SPI's Cobra was one of my favourite games that I played many times.

  14. It is such a difficult nettle to grasp! even since writing this post, I have a greater influx than clearing out, though it is slowing down, so maybe a sense of control is emerging.

    I hope that Cobra will make it to these pages shortly.

  15. My collection has taken over two rooms. I have slowed down my rate of acquisition and ideally would sell off some games but at the moment I just can't face the sales process. I had a couple of hundred sales that went smoothly but two or three bummers left a mark. A couple of aspects of the game publishing business really annoy me; shiny new editions with enhanced components appearing even before I've got the shrink wrap off, "expansions" which really ought to have been included in the core game, rule revisions and errata. If I was starting out now I'd be far more circumspect with purchases.

    1. I think that is a position that a lot of gamers have come to.

  16. Norm, forgive me for a second bite of the cherry but I read over your post again and realised you too have a copy of Master & Commander. I played a few scenarios including one that seemed wrong in that it was (so far as I could judge) impossible to catch the enemy fleet before it "won" by reaching the board edge. It inspired me to buy several other Age of Sail games - none of which I've yet played - plus the Tumbling Dice 1/4800 Trafalgar pack which I painted up and hope one day to fight on my mousepad Ocean game mat.

  17. I have not actually looked at M&C, but bought it with a view to getting some Kallistra blue hexes and ships from Tumbling Dice. I bought a starter pack from Tumbling Dice, but it remains in the lead pile and I also have the Osprey age of sail rules, so at some point something with get done with all of this.

  18. Norm, how strange. Last month I also bought a box of Kallistra blue tiles although I have a 6x4 Ocean mousepad mat. I did this with the specific intention of getting my 1/4800 naval stuff on the table including the TD Trafalgar set. I have not yet decided on rules but thought I'd probably use one of my Napoleonic boardgame rulebooks. Something suitable for big fleet actions and not too complex.

  19. The advantage of the blue tiles is that they can also be used for stacking under the grassed tiles, when raising the surface to mate with their slope sections.



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