As 2020 continues on in its 2nd full week, I still find myself reminiscing about and analyzing my board gaming year of 2019. In late 2018 and throughout 2019, as my interest in the board gaming hobby took off to new heights, one aspect that I have continually struggled with internally is the value of board games.
This is not unique to the hobby, though. In various aspects of our lives…and in any hobby, we may find ourselves asking the same questions. Was that meal worth it? Do I want to see that movie at the theatre or wait until Redbox/Netflix? Should I get this new video game now at full price or is it only worth a buy later on when discounted?
Most of us find ourselves with limited budgets for our hobbies of some sort and probably also find that the volume of items (in this case, games…) that we want to own or experience far exceeds the limits of said budget. So, I get very curious about the thought process that goes into one’s purchasing decisions (I am an accountant by alter-ego).
Throughout this past year, I’ve been working on how to best assess the value of a board game, in general…and thus, how to estimate the purchase-worthiness of a game. Some key elements I have considered:
a) Player count. Is it appropriate to factor in the amount of players involved during a game session? The thought is that it will cost me X dollars to go see a movie. It will cost me X dollars times 6 (me, my wife, and four kids) if I take the whole family to a movie. From that mindset, if I play a game with three of my family members, the game’s value is getting quadrupled. This gets tricky, though. Is it appropriate to consider the value of an in-law, or a friend, or just a fellow gamer at a convention / game store? Generally, they would pay for their own activity if doing something together. This method also instantly makes a 4-player+ game instantly more valuable at far fewer plays than a great solo or two-player game. I like the concept, but I’m going to set it aside for now.
b) Play time. Should I factor in the average length of a game? If I play Star Wars: Rebellion five times and Kingdomino five times — is that equal value or disparate? In most areas of my life, time matters. It frustrates me to pay $5+ for a bite-size snack (I love chocolate-covered strawberries, but come on!). It’s a bit annoying to pay the same $10+ for a 90-minute movie when an Avengers or Lord of the Rings movie (itching closer to 2.5-3 hours) costs the same. As you can probably tell, I have definitely landed on the side of play times matter…and thus, I factor them into my decision-making.
c) Time value. For my numbers-crunching-mind, what I really want is a way to quantify the value of my “entertainment” time. I would love to be able to say, “I played BLAH for one hour and that was worth $X.XX of my entertainment time.” The idea being that I was doing something fun and entertaining — I was able to do that because at one point the board game had been acquired — I could have spent that time doing something else that would have cost some amount of money.
At one point, there was a board game café not too far from me. I would pay $6 for a day’s worth of using their tables and playing games from their library. My initial thought was to make this my basis for the value of an hours’ board game play. One trick was to figure out the time length that $6 was worth. Normally, my son and I will go on a Saturday (a couple times each year) and play from noon to 9pm. That’s a long time — and thus a very good value. What if I had less time, though? How much time would I need to have (let’s say I just went for an evening) to justify the $6 cost? There’s more involved, though — part of what you are paying for is the quality of the location, the environment, their games, etc… In fact, I have recently found a game store with a smaller library, but doesn’t charge to play from it.
So, for the moment, I have decided to turn to other entertainment options. In my region of the United States, I came up with the following average cost per hour of several fun alternatives. If I were a focused video gamer (not board gamer), I believe my hourly cost would be about $1.92. To go to the theatre and watch a movie (utilizing the Regal Unlimited pass) would average $2.94/hour. My hourly expenditure to go out and watch a musical or play is roughly $15.00. Assuming I lived near an amusement park like Six Flags and bought a season pass, my cost might only be $1.13/hour. Bowling is roughly $6.25/hour and a local golf course would cost me about $10/hour. If I went with the conservative options (video games, movies, Six Flags), I’d be looking at roughly $2.00/hour for entertainment. If I look at the group as a whole, I’m a little above $6.00/hour. Thus, for now, I’m going to call $4.00 (the median of the two averages) my hourly entertainment cost.
If I think back to the local board game café, that would mean I get my “money’s worth” after 1.5 hours of play. And I think about it this way. If there was a 90-minute game that I was interested in playing, but didn’t want to purchase blindly — just going to the café and playing that one game would be “worth it.” $6 to try a new 90-minute game.
d) Enjoyment level. This is not something I had initially put much thought toward, but as I continue to think about this topic, I believe it is also important to quantify the enjoyment a game provides. Once again –> think about movies. When you walk out of a theatre, having just seen a movie you loved, my guess is that you rarely think about the cost of the ticket at that point. You are just excited that you were able to see something that you thought was great. On the other hand, when you leave the seats after a bomb or a disappointment, you may be more likely to think, “Well, that wasn’t worth the ticket price.” In other words, two hours of fun is more valuable than two hours of boredom, monotony, pain, or torture.
I will gladly spend plenty of money to spend a day at a Walt Disney World park, but I become a bit of a penny-pincher when that day would just be spent at Six Flags or my local Frontier City.
With these things in mind, I have decided to also start using my game ratings (fortunately stored for posterity on BoardGameGeek) in calculating the historic value of my games.
Okay, sorry if that was way too much text, but hopefully you enjoyed hearing my thoughts on valuing games, especially in regards to decision-making related to potential purchases.
Now, for the top 10 list. Based on the criteria above, this week’s list is a report of the games I played in 2019 that generated the most “Entertainment Value” in dollars. I am going to list the total number of plays of the game, along with my EV calculation. Here we go!
Edge of Darkness (2 plays, $26.40 EV) – I received this game early December and quickly got value out of it. This is a game I would love to get to the table at least once a month in 2020.
Wingspan (4 plays, $27.90 EV) – Each game plays out a little different and my family game group has had a blast with this one. I expect more plays in 2020 now that the expansion is out.
Marvel Champions: The Card Game (10 plays, $29.17 EV) – My first play of this new living card game was on December 20th. This much value out of 12 calendar days. I will make an early January prediction that Marvel Champions will be #1 on this particular list for 2020.
#10 – Dice Masters (12 plays, $30.00 EV)
My son and I got into Dice Masters back in 2016, I believe, and still have fun putting together themed tournaments. It is great to see that in our 4th year of play, we are still getting good value from our collection.
#9 – Gloomhaven (6 plays, $30.00 EV)
My wife and son hit a “wall” with this game early in 2019, but we still managed to progress our campaign. With burn out in the past, there is hope to get our characters back out in 2020 and start crawling in some dungeons again.
#8 – Legacy of Dragonholt (12 plays, $30.10 EV)
I received this game as a Christmas gift in 2018 and did a full solo play-through of the story during 2019. My enjoyment of the game started high and slowly decreased as the story progressed. I like the system a lot and would gladly play something like this again, but in the end two things really bugged me: some of the unnecessary content (I was hoping to play this with my kids at some point, but that will not be the case) and the ending…well, specifically my ending. It definitely soured my feeling for the game, which was already starting to get a little moldy.
#7 – Root (4 plays, $31.47 EV)
I really enjoy this game. It is a tough one to get to the table, but I get excited whenever someone shows interest in it. I have thus far played as both expansion groups, plus the Eyrie and the Woodland Alliance (no Marquis yet and no Vagabond). The Underworld expansion should be headed my way in the coming weeks, so I expect to continue getting solid value out of Root in 2020.
#6 – Tapestry (3 plays, $33.75 EV)
Tapestry seems to be a Love it or Hate it kind of game and I definitely land on the Love it side of the fence. In my three plays, I have yet to win (including a horrible outing in my most recent session) but I really enjoy the gameplay. I have plenty more civilizations to try, thus I’m hoping to get many more plays of this game in 2020.
#5 – Carcassonne (9 plays, $37.13 EV)
2019 was my first time to play this veteran game and it was one of the first games I played in January, one year ago. I love the tile-laying in this game and the constant action of placing workers, picking them up, scoring points. During the year, I acquired a few expansions and have enjoyed adding them in here and there.
#4 – Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game (8 plays, $39.33 EV)
In 2018, my son and I were working through a fan-made campaign and got a lot of plays in of Marvel Legendary. In 2019, we only managed to play a couple times, but I love the game and thus made time to get in some solo plays, using the online-created Golden Solo rules. Towards the end of the year, I started creating some of my own comic-story themed setups and look forward to continuing that into 2020.
As we move into my top 3, the EV takes a solid bump up — these last three games were definitely my “Value” stars of 2019.
#3 – Space Base (14 plays, $55.65 EV)
My son and I first played Space Base back in February. We both really enjoyed the game and I can recall rushing to acquire a copy shortly before some friends came over for a game night in March. My wife became a big fan of the game and so we picked up the Emergence of Shy Pluto expansion and played through it over the summer / early fall. That mini-campaign lasted six plays and now we have an even better, expanded version of Space Base to play. This managed to be one of our New Year’s Eve game plays a couple weeks ago and continues to be a hit.
#2 – Vindication (8 plays, $60.00 EV)
Outside of my oldest son (who just can’t stand this game for some reason) Vindication has become a big hit in my gaming sphere. I enjoy every single play I’ve had, which includes the full spectrum of player counts — from a solo play to 2 players, 3 players, 4 players, and a full 5. Vindication is on my short list of strategy games that I’m striving to get to the table monthly in 2020.
#1 – Charterstone (7 plays, $68.83 EV)
If you have been following my top 10 lists, then you know that last week, Charterstone showed up as #1 on my Top 100 games list.
There’s a good reason why Vindication and Charterstone ended up at the top of this list for 2019. One thing they have in common is that I personally enjoy every moment of each play I have of these games. Looking ahead to 2020, will Charterstone continue to provide value now that the campaign is over? Depends on a) how much we enjoy the post-campaign version of the game and/or b) if we manage to break out our Recharge Pack and start a new campaign on the other side of the board.
Well, there you go — I hope you enjoyed this list as I personally loved taking a dive into my plays of 2019 and mathematically working through this idea of Value derived from board game play.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments or over on Twitter. What value rationale do you use to help with the decision to buy new games or not?