A copy of Arkham Horror, circa 1987. Until reprints of this game showed up, it to be worth $150 or more.
Over the past 10 years, board game collecting has seen tremendous changes, particularly in the hobby sector. As the Internet has made both buying and researching games easier and more accessible than ever, the demand for out-of-print games increased dramatically in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Prices for classic titles from publishers such as Avalon Hill, Games Workshop and any number of niche hobby imprints from the 1970s and 1980s skyrocketed.
Thrift stores and antique shops were largely unaware that a copy of the Dune board game, published by Avalon Hill in 1979, could be worth $100-$150 or that a full set of the original Future Pastimes edition of Cosmic Encounter (with expansions) could go for close to a thousand dollars at auction. Rights for many of these out-of-print games were in flux, often due to the legal malfeasance or even laziness of publishers. For a time, most of the games regarded as classics were unavailable except in the aftermarket.
But around 2004-05, a sea-change in game collecting began to occur. Fantasy Flight Games—now one of the largest manufacturers of board games in the world—reprinted a highly sought-after game called Arkham Horror, based loosely on the horror stories of H.P. Lovecraft. The original version had been out of print for nearly 20 years and was known to carry substantial value. The new edition featured updated gameplay and modern production values, and practically ended demand for the original version outside of collectors who specifically wanted the earlier version. Its current value is, on average, half of what it once was.
More reprints, many from Fantasy Flight Games, followed. It used to be impossible to find a copy of Stephen Hand’s brilliant Fury of Dracula, and when you laid hands on a copy, it’d set you back a hundred bucks or more. Fury of Dracula received the Arkham Horror treatment and demand for the original vanished. Other companies, such as Stronghold Games, Z-Man Games and others got in on reprint fever, and many of the most desired collectible-class, out-of-print “holy grail” titles could now be easily obtained by walking into a game shop or placing an order online.
There was a time when everybody into the gaming hobby wanted a copy of the seminal Hannibal: Rome versus Carthage. Now there’s an edition widely available and in print that makes the 1991 printing completely obsolete. Games that I never thought I’d see reprinted in a million years have either been returned to currency or are scheduled for release in 2012.
A copy of the reprinted Arkham Horror, circa 2004. This game is still in print and retails for $60.
There is also the issue of homemade reprints. Many gamers—the players more so than the collectors—will often make copies of games using files online and going so far as to have them printed at print-on-demand houses overseas that are able to print decks of cards, boards and other components at reasonable prices. If you’re more worried about playing a game than having it as a collection showpiece, making your own “print and play” copy may be the way to go, but it has also negatively impacted the value of some titles.
These changes, however, have had some beneficial effects for gamers. Reprints have put some very important games into a new generation of players’ hands. The awareness of these games has increased, and there is a greater sense of the medium’s history. These games are now current and in circulation, rather than sitting on a speculator’s shelf, waiting for the right time to strike on eBay. For collectors, sellers and traders, the change hasn’t necessarily been an absolute negative, but it has changed the dynamic of these sides of the hobby.
The doors have been blown wide open and, in general, board game collectors are more cautious about what games are considered “investments” and which will have lasting or increasing value. In the current climate, almost any title could be announced for reissue. If anything, most games are actually depreciating over time due to increased availability.
Still, certain kinds of games are retaining value and are actually becoming more valuable. Games such as Milton Bradley’s Dark Tower, which I wrote about here in my last column, will almost certainly never be reprinted due to legal issues and the relative impossibility of producing its unique (and very dated) components. The very sought-after Warhammer Quest from Games Workshop is from a company very reticent about reissuing games, and it requires specific miniatures that are no longer in their line of produced figures. Games that are published in strictly limited (and very expensive to begin with) collector’s editions, such as the Lord of the Rings-themed war game The War of the Ring, are seeing substantial demand and appreciation. Imports from Europe, Russia, Japan and other countries will continue to have value—especially when print runs are small and availability is restricted.
A homemade, wooden version of Avalon Hill’s classic Dune board game. Because of legal issues with Frank Herbert estate, a reprint of the been completely rethemed in a proprietary science fiction setting and substantial changes have been made to the gameplay. The original Dune game’s value should hold up because of the appeal of the Dune theme.
There are also circumstances where a reprint may have very different gameplay, theming or other elements that cause demand to remain with previous editions. Earlier this month, Fantasy Flight Games released a new version of the Dune board game, but due to rights issues with the Frank Herbert estate, it’s been completely rethemed in a proprietary science fiction setting and substantial changes have been made to the gameplay. I’m anticipating little to no change in the original game’s value because of the appeal of the Dune theme, and the fact that many will still want the game as originally published.
With these facts in mind, it’s important for anyone in the business of buying, selling or collecting aftermarket games to be aware of how reprints affect value and also how that value can change with new editions. Usually, it’s a downturn. But values can actually increase. As with all things collectible, you’ve got to know what you’re looking at and understand that with games, the first edition isn’t always more valuable than the one that came out last week.
Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.
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