How Much Is That Game in the Window?

The first thing I look for when I stroll up someone’s driveway to a yard sale or as I’m rummaging through the detritus of material culture at an antique retailer or thrift store is board games.

Usually, my treasure hunt ends in disappointment as I excavate a ratty, worn-out copy of Trivial Pursuit or an antediluvian edition of Clue with the lead pipe missing. I’m not looking for a board game based on the “Mork & Mindy” TV show, and I’m not in the market for novelty games themed after the fads and trends of decades past—I think I’ll pass on that copy of MC Hammer’s Rap-a-Round, thank you. And no, I don’t particularly care how old that copy of Scrabble is, either.

I am a hobby gamer. I play and write about games, both as a hobby and professionally, and many in the antiques-and-collectibles business might be shocked to hear me say that a lot of the board games I find in their shops are practically worthless to anyone with a serious interest in board games.

3M edition of Acquire

3M edition of Acquire

Sure, character-themed games may carry value to certain collectors. Examples of particular rarity or significance might tickle the fancy of someone interested in purchasing a game to stow away in a display case. But the kinds of games other hobby gamers and I are casting the dragnet for are those that we’re actually interested in playing—chiefly nonmainstream strategy games and war games from the 1970s and 1980s. Most of them you’ve probably never heard of, but in the board-gaming community, the arcane might turn out to be the mundane.

Dungeon

Dungeon

There’s no telling how many hobby games have been sold at antiques dealers and secondhand shops for well under their actual value. It was just recently I bought a copy of Dungeon, a 1980 Dungeons and Dragons-style board game, for five bucks at a local antiques shop. The game regularly sells for $50 to $75 in hobby circles and in online auctions.

A friend answered an online classified ad posted by an antiques collector who had gotten his hands on a lot that included several boxes of board games. He was giving them away. My friend picked them up and aside from the almost-condition copy of Dark Tower, an electronic board game from the early 1980s that regularly fetches upward of $200 from hobbyists, the lot included at least $1,000 worth of exceptionally rare war games from classic publishers such as Avalon Hill and SPI. The guy simply thought they were worthless.

Dark Tower

Dark Tower

Dark Tower laid out

Dark Tower laid out

I have also seen the flip side of the coin where sellers will price older games at outrageous prices seemingly founded solely on the vintage of the item. Last week, I was in a local antiques mall where a dealer had a copy of the 3M-edition of Acquire—a common (but great) game that can be found for around $10 easily. The dealer had it stickered at $60.

Just because a game is old doesn’t mean it is in demand, rare or worth anything to a hobby gamer. Good games do tend to be worth more to players, and that is often reflected in market prices. Of course, finding out what those good games are can be an odyssey into esotericism just as in any other collectibles market.

There is definitely a market for collectible, out-of-print hobby games—I know because I’m part of it. But in order for the uninitiated to assess value properly and to identify trash from treasure, it does require a little research work. A simple survey of online board-games sources and public auction sites might reveal some shockers in terms of value. You may be surprised when that box of games that your nerdy brother used to keep in the closet turns out to be a treasure chest.

WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles

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  1. Jeb Adams says:

    There is a robust element of the boardgaming hobbiest clan that enagages in “thrifting” as a nigh-weekly ritual. They track their finds, and crow long and loud about their successes. If a neck-bearded man with a fanny pack sweats visibly while handling your obscure Ravensburger game from the beach house–go ahead and ask for $20–he’ll cough it up.

  2. Bobbie Gardner says:

    So, I am not sure by this article what board games are worth buying to resell, except maybe the war games. Can you clarify? Thanks

  3. Jill says:

    It is amazing what people will pay for vintage games. We often run across old board games at auctions and will buy a whole stack for a few dollars, knowing that at least one or two will be worth something to somebody!

  4. Ken Gottlieb says:

    It is refreshing to see this article; I have a slew of old boardgames (Victory in the Pacific, Kingmaker, Squad Leader (plus all the gamettes), D-Day, Arab-Israeli Wars, etc…) and was wondering if there was a demand for these old boardgames. Apparently there still is…

  5. Steve Hoffarth says:

    And so…….the games my brother tried to get me to play (Panzer Blitz, et al), are really worth something? I was just trying to be a good brother when I agreed to play with him. I was not a very good opponent because the game involved far too much preparation and understanding of the maneuvers, etc. Recently I saw a War Game, I think it was an Avalon Hill, at a thift store, and passed it up due to my earlier experience. I had expected no one would want to buy it because of the extremely detailed instructions for the game. That is, I depend on the resalable qualities of the game. I now know to buy, if it is the right price. Thanks for the primer.

  6. BILL CARROLL says:

    SO WHERE DO YOU FIND OUT ABOUT BOARDGAMES?I HAVE ONE THAT IAM UNABLE TO LOCATE IN ANY BOOKS OR ON LINE MADE BY MARVEL COMICS.

  7. Michael Barnes says:

    [i]So, I am not sure by this article what board games are worth buying to resell, except maybe the war games. Can you clarify? Thanks[/i]

    That’s a BIG question. Firstly, be on the lookout for games by publishers like Avalon Hill, SPI, and Victory Games. Other publishers like West End Games, Future Pastimes, 3M (yes, that 3M) and TSR are often responsible for particularly valuable games, but it is kind of a touch-and-go thing. Some AH games are worth hundreds of dollars while others are worth five bucks if you’re lucky. It requires a little finesse, for lack of a better term. Fortunately, you can get that finesse by doing a little research online. Ebay auctions are a good barometer.

    [i]It is refreshing to see this article; I have a slew of old boardgames (Victory in the Pacific, Kingmaker, Squad Leader (plus all the gamettes), D-Day, Arab-Israeli Wars, etc…) and was wondering if there was a demand for these old boardgames. Apparently there still is…[/i]

    Absolutely. I want your Kingmaker if it’s the 2nd edition! ;-) (But always check the value of something before you sell it!)

    A large Advanced Squad Leader collection just sold on Ebay for over $2000. A good-sized Squad Leader collection is probably worth several hundred dollars.

    [i]And so…….the games my brother tried to get me to play (Panzer Blitz, et al), are really worth something?[/i]

    Oh yeah, man…Panzerblitz is still widely played and appreciated.

    [i]SO WHERE DO YOU FIND OUT ABOUT BOARDGAMES?I HAVE ONE THAT IAM UNABLE TO LOCATE IN ANY BOOKS OR ON LINE MADE BY MARVEL COMICS.[/i]

    The primary source for board game information is a site called Board Game Geek (www.boardgamegeek.com). There is an extremely useful database there that lists practically every game ever made. Unfortunately, the social part of the site is a disaster, filled with nonsensical banter and a shocking degree of elitism and trivial discussion that will likely drive away casual enthusiasts. In short, go to see what your game is, then run away.

    Or you can just post the title here and I can give you some information. If it’s a Marvel game, chances are it isn’t worth much unless it’s either extremely old or it’s one of the X-Men games released in the 1990s by Pressman Toys- they were done by a “known” designer and are in some demand.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I have a sealed, new in box Dungeon! (1980 i think) and I’m doing research to see if it is worth anything…I’ve seen $20 and I’ve seen one on Ebay that was $2000 but had 0 bids. If you could help me out I would appreciate it.

    Jennifer