Many board games found in antiques shops and other secondhand retailers may not be as valuable as some might hope. More specifically, there exists a subculture of board-gaming enthusiasts such as myself who are not necessarily looking to collect old editions of Risk or Parker Brothers rarities.
So what makes that copy of the Avalon Hill “Dune” board game that turned up at an estate sale or the local charity thrift more valuable than a pile of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” board games from the 1970s?
There are a number of factors involved in what makes a hobby board game valuable. Being able to identify a worthwhile, desirable board game can empower the dealer to price such an item more appropriately while enabling the buyer to determine if a price is fair or not.
Because most aftermarket hobby-board games are bought to be used as practical, playable items, a few key factors serve to determine value—I call them the “Five Cs” of evaluating a hobby board game’s worth.
• Criticism—Hobbyists are very aware of critical opinion and assessment of hobby games, and certain titles that have a longstanding reputation for quality or design significance, such as “Cosmic Encounter,” “We the People” and “Up Front,” command higher prices than poorly regarded or rarely played titles.
A simple Internet search for reviews of a particular title will likely provide a good idea if a game is in demand among hobbyists. Most laymen outside of the hobby may be unaware that critical evaluation of board games even exists. Nonetheless, it absolutely behooves appraiser and buyer to understand that games, as an authored medium, command critical attention from those within the hobby community. Simply put—good games are worth more money.
• Commonness—If the game is long out of print, then value naturally increases. Because of the age of many hobby games and the fact that many smaller publishers and boutique manufacturers produced relatively small print runs, some games are extremely rare. Further, if the game was never available domestically, it could carry an even higher value. If the game is seldom seen in online auctions, then it will also tend toward a higher price due to a lack of supply. Exceptionally rare games, such as 3M’s “Jati” or Ludoliere’s “Full Metal Planete,” can command prices upward of $300 based on their extreme rarity alone.
• Completeness—Most hobbyists will purchase a game with intent to play it, so making sure that every piece is present is essential. That being said, some incomplete but component-dense games, such as Milton Bradley’s early 1990s game “Heroquest,” will often be bought below assumed market value as a “parts set” to complete another incomplete game. Most hobby games will include a manifest of components in their rulebooks with which a prospective buyer or seller can audit its contents and identify any missing components. Component lists and photographs are also widely available on the Internet for most hobby games.
• Condition—Box condition is significant, and since games are principally paper and cardboard, many of the barometers of condition for those materials apply. Cards can be damaged, boards split at the creases and plastic figures broken. Moldy, stained or torn games tend to be valued lower but may still be quite desirable. With the advent of PDF scans and downloadable content, some hobbyists will accept less-than-perfect copies if they can find adequate replacements for damaged components online.
• Currency—Popularity of certain games rises and falls in the hobbyist community. There are a number of factors that drive a game’s relative currency. For example, if at a large game convention, there is widespread play of a game such as “Dune,” then prices at online auctions may spike while availability declines as copies are snatched up by interested parties. Likewise, if a game is the topic of current discussion or debate at one of the online community forums, the value can increase or even decline.
Older game reissues affect value of originals
Currently available or scheduled reprints and reissues of older games also directly affect value as modern publishers have discovered that making older games available again can be quite profitable—but not for those selling the original editions on the secondary market. When Valley Games reissued the highly regarded “Hannibal: Rome Versus Carthage” in 2007, average online prices for the original Avalon Hill edition plummeted from $200 or more down to less than the retail price of the latest edition—$60.
There is a lot of hidden value to be found in the hobby-gaming market. Tapping into it does require a little more research and awareness than typical when valuing an old TV-show board game or an early edition of a popular favorite. It falls on sellers and buyers to become more educated and aware of how this particular niche stands apart from mass-market board games in order to tap into it.
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