Is board gaming affordable? (Affordable Gaming, #1)

Recently, I have read in various places about the problem of conspicuous acquisition and consumption in board gaming (see for example the excellent article from Meeple Like Us here). In short: The culture of board gaming, especially in the forms that people put online, revolves a lot around excessively purchasing and obsessively playing many different games. This can deter board gamers, especially those new to the hobby, from engaging in it because it puts up an implicit barrier who is a real board gamer. If you’re just starting to play board games, seeing other people who have spent thousands of euros (dollars, pounds, Republic credits, …)[1] on their collections and have played apparently every board game there is on the market might make you feel a bit less than accepted and welcome. That is an important thought, especially in a hobby whose members are very excited about taking pictures of their full shelves. In addition to this cultural threshold to board gaming, there is however also a financial threshold. Even if you don’t care at all what other people on the internet do, board games still have a significant price tag on them. So, how do board games compare to other leisure activities in terms of affordability and what can you do to get the most out of your limited buck?

First, board gaming comes with a low starting cost. You only need to acquire a game. You might want to use a table, but some space on the floor works, too (at least if you are young and physically healthy). While there are high-end gaming tables for several thousand euros, all tables that are big enough for your preferred games work – couch or coffee tables, dining tables, I even emptied my work desk for gaming once.[2]
Now, how much do you spend on board gaming in comparison to other activities? Here’s a little table with some examples and their typical costs:

Activity Price
Movie 10,00 €
Theme Park 40,00 €
Book 10,00 €
Laser tag 30,00 €
Museum 6,00 €

Of course, there are also other activities that are effectively free (like going for a walk) or free after you made an initial investment (like watching TV), and the cost of the aforementioned activities can widely vary (e.g., between a mass-market paperback novel and a richly illustrated hardcover book). Additional costs (for gas, parking, meals while out etc.) can add up as well, but those are even harder to quantify. In comparison, here are some games from my board gaming collection (purchased somewhen in the last 20 years).

Game Price
Friedrich 40,00 €
Mice & Mystics (+expansions) 140,00 €
Twilight Struggle 55,00 €
Viticulture 50,00 €
War of the Ring 100,00 €
Wir sind das Volk! 25,00 €
A Game of Thrones 50,00 €
Star Wars: Rebellion 80,00 €
Catan 20,00 €
Deterrence 2X62 15,00 €

The games come in a variety of prices, but there are definitely some not-so-expensive ones among them. Now, playing a quick filler game is not quite the same as playing a full-evening epic game, so let’s adjust these prices for the typical playtime of one game:

Game Price Game Length (h) Price per hour
Friedrich 40,00 € 4 10,00 €
Mice & Mystics (+expansions) 140,00 € 2 70,00 €
Twilight Struggle 55,00 € 2 27,50 €
Viticulture 50,00 € 1,25 40,00 €
War of the Ring 100,00 € 3,5 28,57 €
Wir sind das Volk! 25,00 € 2 12,50 €
A Game of Thrones 50,00 € 3 16,67 €
Star Wars: Rebellion 80,00 € 5 16,00 €
Catan 20,00 € 1 20,00 €
Deterrence 2X62 15,00 € 0,25 60,00 €

For comparison, see the respective table for the other activities:

Activity Price Activity Length Price per hour
Movie 10,00 € 2 5,00 €
Theme Park 40,00 € 8 5,00 €
Book 10,00 € 5 2,00 €
Laser tag 30,00 € 3 10,00 €
Museum 6,00 € 3 2,00 €

So far, board games are much more expensive than other activities. However, they have the huge advantage of free and fun repetition. If I want to watch a movie the second time, the theater will charge me again. I can re-read books, but often I wouldn’t want to and even if I do, I’ll probably not do it all that often and the experience might be not quite as good as the first time because I already know what is going to happen. Board games, on the contrary, get often even better when being replayed. Playing a board game for the first time is often fun, but I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. The journey to learning the intricacies of a game and finally getting a grasp on which strategies to pursue in which situation is a joy of its own. So, here’s the table adjusted for the time spent not only on one game, but on all the games I played with my copy:

Game Price per hour Games Played Price per total hours
Friedrich 10,00 € 55 0,18 €
Mice & Mystics (+expansions) 70,00 € 30 2,33 €
Twilight Struggle 27,50 € 15 1,83 €
Viticulture 40,00 € 2 20,00 €
War of the Ring 28,57 € 20 1,43 €
Wir sind das Volk! 12,50 € 35 0,36 €
A Game of Thrones 16,67 € 10 1,67 €
Star Wars: Rebellion 16,00 € 4 4,00 €
Catan 20,00 € 20 1,00 €
Deterrence 2X62 60,00 € 6 10,00 €

This is already much better value for the board games. You will also see that there are some games which still have a rather high price tag on them because I haven’t played them all that often (yet). Now, as the last factor to consider: Board gaming is normally a social activity (solo gaming aside), so playing a board game is not only fun for the owner of the board game, but also for the other players. Most of the other activities above get more proportionally more expensive when more people participate, but the price of a board game stays the same no matter if you solo it or play it with the highest possible player count. So here is the last table, adjusted for the average player count I played the respective game with:

Game Price per total hours Number of Players Price per total player hours
Friedrich 0,18 € 3,5 0,05 €
Mice & Mystics (+expansions) 2,33 € 2 1,17 €
Twilight Struggle 1,83 € 2 0,92 €
Viticulture 20,00 € 2 10,00 €
War of the Ring 1,43 € 2 0,71 €
Wir sind das Volk! 0,36 € 2 0,18 €
A Game of Thrones 1,67 € 5 0,33 €
Star Wars: Rebellion 4,00 € 3 1,33 €
Catan 1,00 € 3 0,33 €
Deterrence 2X62 10,00 € 2 5,00 €

You’ll notice an immense spread here. Board gaming is a very affordable activity if games are replayed, but can be rather pricy if games just sit on the shelf (be that because you don’t feel like playing them or because you cannot catch up with all your games due to your voracious acquisitions).[3] So, the takeaway here is: Less is more! Having just a few games which you really like and get to the table repeatedly makes board gaming financially very accessible.[4]
There is just one tiny little question left at this point: How do you select these great games for you? So far, all we did was the assessment of the replay values in hindsight, but we didn’t have any prognosis what makes a good game. More thoughts on that will follow in a few weeks.
Which game did you get a lot of replay value out of? Let me know in the comments!

Footnotes

1. Whatever will do fine in your place.
2. At home, not in the office.
3. Which, of course, is fine if you see yourself not only as a gamer, but also a collector.
4. On a side note, it also decreases the time you need to spend with a game initially before you can play it – all the hours reading and explaining rules, punching out counters, and, if you engage in these practices, card sleeving and counter clipping.

3 thoughts on “Is board gaming affordable? (Affordable Gaming, #1)

  1. Pingback: Identifying Games You Will Like (Affordable Gaming, #2) | Clio's Board Games

  2. Pingback: Farewell 2017! | Clio's Board Games

  3. Pingback: How Not to Buy More Games (And Still Have Fun With Them) (Affordable Gaming, #3) | Clio's Board Games

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