Shall We Play a Game? An Interview with a Board Game Über-Collector
Über board game collector Dan Baden and about $2,000 worth of the board game Jati.
Dan Baden is a published board game designer who has a multiplayer simulation of United Nations negotiation coming out in 2012 from Stronghold Games. He also owns a lot of board games, and chances are, he owns more board games than you even realize ever existed. I’ve often wondered if there are any games out there that haven’t—at some point—passed through his collection.
His collection is broad, including a huge number of hobby games from every decade beginning in the 1960s to the modern day and also mass-market movie tie-in games, kid’s games and everything in between. I first met Mr. Baden back in 2004, when he was a customer at my game shop, Atlanta Game Factory. It wasn’t until a few years later that I got to see in person his legendary collection, which inspires awe and wonder in all who see it. He definitely qualifies as an “über-collector,” even though he is currently in the process of downsizing his collection—and reclaiming entire rooms of his North Atlanta home. I asked Dan a few questions about collecting board games at this rare level.
Michael Barnes: First of all, let’s get a snapshot of your collection. How many games do you currently own (estimate) and how are you storing them?
Dan Baden: I’m down to about 4,000 now. I just sold off somewhere around 3,000 and I’ve cycled a few thousand in and out over the years.
Barnes: What would you estimate your collection to be worth?
Baden: All told, I would say that what I have in the collection now is worth around $50,000.
Barnes: What’s the most valuable piece you currently own?
Baden: A lot of collectors have managed to get their hands on Sid Sackson prototypes after he died, but most of them tend to be of unpublished or more obscure games. I’m lucky enough to have the prototype for Executive Decision, a political game that he did for 3M in the 1960s that is recognized as one of his bigger hits. I really don’t know what it might be worth, but it’s the kind of thing that is priceless for a collector or a Sackson fan.
I also own four copies of Jati, which is one of the rarest board games out there.
Baden is lucky enough to have the prototype for Executive Decision, a political game that Sid Sackson did for 3M in the 1960s that is recognized as one of his bigger hits.
Barnes: At what point did you realize that you had “more than a few” games and were becoming a supercollector?
Baden: I purchased a couple of tractor-trailers filled with board games from another collector several years ago. He had gotten divorced over the games, and his new fiancé had given him an ultimatum. When I opened the back of one of the trucks and the entire thing was packed floor to ceiling with games, I realized that I had crossed some kind of threshold. Then I realized that the truck didn’t have a ramp, which made bringing them all into the house a bit of back-breaking labor. But I’d say that’s when I became a “supercollector.”
Barnes: What are some of the best ways to build a board game collection? How’d you do it?
Baden: Well, I started out by trying to find games that I loved as a child. EBay had just launched when I started collecting, so I was in heaven tracking down all of these old favorites. Then I got into collecting the 3M games, which morphed into collecting any bookcase games. I, like a lot of collectors, became obsessed with completing sets, so I would say that was really when I became a collector rather than just an enthusiast or gamer.
I started digging through thrift stores, yard sales and antique shops. I continued buying games for a couple of years, but then I started trying to pare down the collection by getting rid of things I didn’t want or had multiple copies of. I made a lot of donations to schools and to thrift stores. Funny enough, some of the things I gave away to thrift stores wound up in the hands of some of my friends who would tell me about their great finds, only to find out that it was formerly in my collection. I got into trading games rather than buying, and now I’m much more selective about games I buy. No more tractor trailers.
Barnes: Collecting games is an odd thing to me because you can’t possibly play them all, and games are (usually) meant to be played. Where is the line between collecting and hoarding?
Baden: I’d say you’re definitely a hoarder when you hold on to multiple copies of games you never intend to play or to use for parts or prototyping materials.
Barnes: Let’s talk selling and trading. What are some of the best ways you’ve found to liquidate or pare down your collection?
Baden: Selling at conventions and other events where gamers get together to play games is a good bet because you’re selling right to a target market. There are a couple of online retailers that I’ve sold 3,000 or so games to as well. I’ve probably given away some 2,000 games to thrift stores or schools. There’re a lot of things that just don’t really have much value in terms of resale.
Barnes: What kind of games would you consider to be a good investment rather than ones to hold on to for sentimental, play value or other reasons?
Baden: The first game I bought as an investment was a copy of Avalon Hill’s Alpha Omega, a science fiction game. I thought it would be worth something one day. I paid $10 for it, and after 20 years it’s worth about five bucks. I don’t buy games as investments anymore; there are very few games that appreciate enough for you to really make any money on.
Baden paid $10 for a copy of Avalon Hill’s Alpha Omega, a science fiction game as an investment. It is now worth about $5.
Barnes: What advice can you give to collectors in terms of retaining and maintaining large collections of games?
Baden: Marry a librarian or come up with some kind of organizational system for yourself. A database on the computer helps. Come up with a shelving system to keep everything in order, whether it’s by alphabet, numbering, publisher, designer or whatever. You’ve got to always put the games back where they belong or the whole thing will collapse.
Barnes: Finally, what five games out of your collection would you save from a fire?
Baden: The first one I would save would be Arnold Palmer’s Inside Golf. It’s a favorite from when I was a kid, my dad actually drew up nine additional holes on the nine that were in the game so we had a full 18-hole course.
Next would be Green Ghost. My brother bought me this in 1997, since we had it when we were kids. This was probably the game that got me started on collecting childhood favorites.
Third, Big Boss. This is a more recent game from the German designer Wolfgang Kramer. It’s similar to Sackson’s Acquire but with big, chunky building pieces. It’s a great, great investing game that’s long out of print and very valuable—it used to sell for anywhere from $250-$400, I’m not sure if it still does.
Fourth would be Flophouse Fire. I can’t let the irony of losing my collection in a fire win. This is a prototype I’ve developed that I’d like to get published some day.
Please Hammer, don’t hurt the game! But would you save this from a fire?
Finally, MC Hammer’s Rap a Round Game. This is a great example of a really bad licensed game, but it’s also such a one-of-a-kind piece. It includes a cassette tape of MC Hammer songs and players attempt to finish songs with their own lyrics. It’s the only game I know of that encourages terrible rapping as a game mechanic.
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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