Single-Use Games – the board game hobby’s throw-away attitude (Topic Discussion)

Let’s be honest. Most of us in the hobby buy games that we play once or twice or in rare cases, three or four times. In fact, the term “shelf of shame” is a thing, describing games that people have bought but not yet played. The thing is, these games sit there unplayed for months on end and may never see the welcome sight of a table, let alone a board game table. So in this article, I want to look at this a bit further and investigate why we don’t play the same games more than a handful of times.

New and Shiny

Using “throw-away” in the headline is probably a bit attention-grabbing, maybe even click-baity. I was trying to highlight the fact that most of the games we own don’t get to the table much. Of course, it’s rare that any of us actually throw away any games. Chances are we sell or pass them on. At least that’s the case in my experience. So please share in the comments below, if you see this differently.

Still, the fact remains that many of us play our games maybe a handful of times. Often this is due to the fact that we’re attracted by the next new (to us) game. I mean, it’s nice to get a brand new game in the post, take off the shrink-wrap, punch out the tokens, organize everything into baggies and settle down to read the rulebook. It’s part of the fun of the hobby for many of us. The smell of fresh cardboard is alluring. The potential experiences a new game offers are exciting.

Yet, the harsh light of the board game table seems to make everything fade into grey. As wooden tokens hit cardboard player mats, what was new and exciting when we first opened the box, becomes done and dusted. Maybe we need to play it a second time, just to make sure we got the rules right. A third game will settle who the better player is, but very quickly, the latest crowdfunding alert on our mobile phone diverts our attention.

coloured, wooden cubes and cardboard coins and tokens from Lords of Waterdeep

Repeated Review Play

I can really understand all of what I have described so far. I am also often attracted to the next game, especially if it seems to offer something new. Maybe a new mechanism or a new twist on something. As a reviewer, I have to think about what game I want to cover next. At the same time, I have to play games often enough so that I can talk about them with enough authority to write a critical stance on my and my game group’s experience with the game. Even so, I play many games no more than half a dozen times, especially if they are longer, heavier ones.

There are very few games I have played 10 times or more when compared to the total number of games I have played. Out of the almost 300 games I have recorded plays for on the BG Stats app, only around 45 have 10 or more plays logged against them. That’s only 15% and many of these games are quite short and quick.

Yet, I’ve made a point of trying to play games more often for the last few years. I have tried to hit the 10×10 board game challenge of playing at least 10 games at least 10 times in a year. I’ve made it easier for me by not deciding in advance which games I want to play that often. Even so, my h-index for 2023 is 8, meaning I played at least 8 games 8 times. That’s not bad, but it’s also not good.

So while I have the excuse that I have set myself the goal of reviewing around 50 games a year, that is one a week, except over Christmas and New Year’s, for many of us in the hobby, that excuse isn’t there. The question remains therefore why people have shelves of shame and keep talking about the next game, when they have played their current game maybe once or twice.

Collected Games

To be honest, I think a lot of it has to do with a good number of people in our hobby being collectors, if not completionists. The fact that hobbyists swear by Ikea‘s Kallax shelves as the perfect board game storage solution just shows that we love collecting games. So while the smallest Kallax offers four compartments, allowing room for three to four average-sized game boxes, many people in the hobby have bigger versions of these shelves and often multiples of them.

People are proud to post their shelfies on Instagram. We love sharing on social media the latest board game haul. We want to tell everyone about this amazing game we found or that we are going to back in an upcoming crowdfunding campaign. While we kid ourselves that we will play these games at some point in the future, the reality is, and deep down we all know it, we won’t get them to the table. Owning games and having their gorgeous box art on display is really what it is about for many of us. We just don’t want to publicly admit that.

There is nothing wrong with collecting and you never know – maybe if we keep our games in mint condition, they will be worth a lot of money some time in the future. After all, if it worked for the Rocket Launcher Boba Fett that we should have kept but that our parents threw out after having kept it in the loft for decades, maybe it’ll also work for our deluxe edition of this amazing 3kg large box of wooden cubes, custom meeples, metal coins, linen-finished cards, dual-layer cardboard player boards and beautifully illustrated quadruple-fold game board.

the plastic vertical grid with tiles in My Shelfie

Throw-Away – I Think Not

So while I still think we should all play the games we’ve got more and get rid of those that we don’t, I do understand the appeal of collecting games. I have decided it’s not for me though. I’m slowly getting rid of games that I won’t play in person. The advent of online gaming and in a small way by my hand being forced because our games group has moved online, doing so is easier. I know I can still play these games with my friends, even if it’s on a digital platform.

I want to get to a point where I mostly own games that I know will get to the table a lot. That means I’ll still have a game collection and that collection will change over time, but I am going to be harsher and get rid of games if they’re not getting played. All right, I’m allowing a few exceptions. I do keep some games purely for nostalgic reasons, even when I know they probably will never get played again and that’s fine.

So, yes, there we are. Whatever you decide for yourself, as long as our hobby makes us happy and brings us together, it’s all right.

What About You?

So what have you decided for yourself? Are you proud of your shelf of shame? Do you love just collecting games or do you still kid yourself that you’ll actually play them one day? Have you come to the conclusion that it’s time to reduce your collection and only keep games that get played? Or do you simply throw games away once you’re done with them? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Useful Links

Audio Version

Intro Music: Bomber (Sting) by Riot (https://www.youtube.com/audiolibrary/)

Music: “Pleasure” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Music: “Walking” by AShamaluevMusic.
Website: https://www.ashamaluevmusic.com

Playlist

These are the songs I listened to while I was writing this topic discussion article: