Collecting and Completion, a Collecting the SDJs special
Those of you who have been following this blog closely will know that just to bedevil myself I’ve chosen to collect and review all the Spiel Des Jahres. You might also know that I arbitrarily decided that I’d do it without paying full price myself for any of them. As such, with bring and buys at conventions and charity shops being out for what feels like forever now, I’m down to Birthdays and Christmas for ticking that list off. It recently rolled around to the inevitable birthing day celebration, so its also a time for a round up of the quest, but before that this time I thought I’d voice a few thoughts it bought up in me about the nature of collecting and being a completionist.
Now, I’m a collector, I always have been, and having found my people in the hobby world it really doesn’t make me stand out. But I am a little odd in that I’m not really a completionist. I like hunting things out and the feeling that since they slot into a series it makes a certain sense to them, but I have no issue with walking away from them when they stop being interesting or fun. For example, I’m typing this looking at a shelf of my DVD collection, and on it are (among others) series 5-7 of the Big Bang Theory. We (my wife and I) used to have series 1-4 at one point, but donated them to charity because we didn’t like them as much. Now, to put this into context, I played through the entire Warhammer End Times books, long after they stopped being fun, and I have a boardgame collection well into three figures. But for me, collection is about giving a shape to your curiosity while completionism is about giving it neuroses. I say that with all the love in the world, I understand the itch that can exist when you’ve nearly got the complete set and the drive to pick up the new volume, because you had the complete set until they bought out the new one. I think it got burnt out of me as a small person thanks to only ever wanting sticker albums that no other kids were interested in.
Why bring this up?
Good question, if a little rude. I bring it up for a few reasons. For one, I was recently having a conversation with some developer/designer friends while working on Mystic Skies, a game based loosely on the old EA game Magic Carpet. Early on we were working on putting in an early game section where, like in the EA game, you had to pick up mana so that you could unleash your real world shaking spells, until it occurred to us that what we were doing was putting grinding into the tabletop game and it sucked. It got me to thinking about one of the significant differences between digital and tabletop games which is, you really can’t put grinding into tabletop games. I’ve played digital games where after a session of maybe an hour or more I’ve realised that I didn’t actually like or enjoy any part of what just happened, I just found a way to switch off my brain and enter a sort of fugue state for a few hours, which is still valuable, but I didn’t actually gain joy or excitement from it. It’s a lot harder to get away with that on the tabletop, just as I suspect that it would be a lot harder to get away with it in ‘couch co-op’ or multi-player digital games, because we value a level of non-engagement in our solo entertainment activities that we don’t in our group ones.
Now, I’ve got no problem with grinding in games, I actually think that there is a place for it in solo tabletop games, although it’s a lot harder to re-create it can occur. It provides a chance to escape mentally to a valuable lower state level while avoiding straight up falling asleep. The problem is that we have built into us a drive to occasionally find that lower state and its quite a strong drive. It’s a safety mechanism that stops us from burning out, and one of the things we like to do in that lower state is catalogue, list and ultimately collect. Again, that’s fine if that’s what we’re choosing to do, we’ve all re-ordered a collection from one arbitrary order to another and it can be very soothing. When its not totally fine is when a company tries to monetize that safety valve. The point is, there is something in us that drives us to make collections, because it lets us switch off our brain and grind for a little while. It’s quite a deep and entrenched drive because switching off our brain occasionally is good for our brain and our brain entrenches deep things that are good for it. When a company places a breadcrumb of collectibles before us they’re getting us to pay out in order to get the reward from our brain for letting it have some time off, and that’s pretty insidious.
It’s a tough question to answer, and one of the other reasons its been in the forefront of my mind is that I’m building up to a Kickstarter release of an expansion for SSO (or I was when writing this, its now finished and did pretty well), part of what could be seen as a collectible range. Now, I’d love to be able to put out the whole of SSO as a single range or a big box game, but I can’t afford to do that, so instead it’s a series of collectible decks, and I’m comfortable with that. What I find myself wondering about is how I’d feel if I released additional decks as stretch goals during a campaign, which I could easily do, but have so far been resisting. I don’t have a carefully outlined series of time released add-ons that hook into those collecting drives that I’ve been taking about, and I’m not certain they’d pay off even if I did, but I do wonder how healthy it would be for my backers if I did, and whether I’d be offering them for the right reasons (more funky fun for folk) or the wrong ones (more cash in my pocket because your lizard brain is driving you to upgrade). Its something that I think is best thought of carefully, and hopefully by being aware of it we manage to remain on the side of the angels.
That said, I return to the scheduled round-up of recent SDJ acquisitions.
Tell us about SDJs dammit
Okay, so as I said, its not been a great year for the collection. Lock down has eaten away at the main channels of my self-imposed conditions. Happily, those who love me know me, and the anniversary of my arrival on this planet bought its usual happy haul:
Villa Paletti was one that I was happy to receive, since I suspect that it might be some time before I spot it at a convention as it does not have a strong reputation among the gaming community. This might seem sacrilegious then, but I really rather like it, its not complex or deep, but it is fun.
Keltis from Prof Knizia also arrived, which is another good one for me to get as a gift. Never having been published in English I also suspect it might be a while until I saw this in an English convention or thrift shop. I suspect this won’t be particularly up my street, but we shall see.
Zooloretto was published in English, but for whatever reason the version that I received on my special day was in German. The rules are both widely available and not particularly complex, so it wasn’t too much of an issue, especially since the game itself (as with most SDJs) is totally none language dependent. We have played it and despite a victory for my wife (usually the only criterion needed for her to like a game) it was universally decided that it was more than a little boring.
Torres was last of the haul for this year’s birthday, it doesn’t feel like the most revolutionary thing in the world, and having recently bought my mother-in-law Santorini probably doesn’t do it any favours by comparison, but it does have a lovely clattery box when shaken.
That drops the remaining list of un owned SDJs to 11 games, so some time next year I’ve got a decent chance of having the whole set down. Which makes me wonder how many KSDJs (of either type) I’ve got in the collection…