Our hobby is one filled with great excess; huge games, buckets of miniatures, deluxe editions, and thousands of releases a year. Many try to stay on top of the treadmill of games, constantly hankering after the latest hotness, their collections ever expanding. That’s not me.

I have a small collection. I curate for my group and buy very few games in year (outside of my noted obsession with the Arkham Horror LCG). I have never really understood the compulsion to own hundreds, or thousands, of games, but I do not judge those that do. I am not here to cast aspersions on those who choose to become collectors in the hobby. I am here to talk about shame.

We talk about ‘shelves of shame’ a lot in this hobby: those unplayed games that lie, unloved, unopened, and unplayed on our shelves. They judge our lack of time, of players, and will to play them. I would like us to stop thinking of these things as shameful.

Maybe we say this mostly as a joke, but all comedy comes from a kernel of truth. We dismiss our unplayed games with a smile and a chuckle, but actually it does bother us. We ask ourselves why we have so many. Why can’t we stop?

Ships passing in the night

The hobby pressures us to buy. “Look at this new game” says Kickstarter, “Look at its exclusivity. Look at all the extras. You’ll be better than other people if you have this version over the plain old retail one. “

Part of this pressure comes from the fleeting nature of most boardgame releases. A given game may only have one print run and people fear that they will never be able to get it again. We buy because of that fear of missing out, that belief it will never be available again. We dream of the perfect game and wake up to the nightmare of piles of shame.

Unless you are a pure collector, an unplayed game should be the anathema of our hobby. Games are designed to be played, touched, and interacted with. We should feel some degree of discomfort that they instead lie sealed in plastic tombs. It does not need to be this way. We can break free of this cycle of consumption and shame.

Redefine the Issue

Let us stop talking about shame for a starter. Boardgames are objects to be joyful for. Each box is potential entertainment, laughter, battles, and co-operation. Stop being ashamed of your unplayed pile of game. Instead anticipate what each box will bring to the table. You can open those boxes that are close to hand right now, lay your hands on the components, dive into the rulebook, smell the new game smell (I can’t be the only one who likes that, right?).

Language is powerful. Words can change our perception of a person, warp our thoughts, and control our path. So many of our legends and myths revolve around the power of words, because there is truth there. Let’s consign the idea of Shelves of Shame to the annals of gaming history. Anticipate playing those games you have, don’t lust over the ones you don’t.

If we look upon our games like this I honestly think that something shifts in our minds. I have unplayed games, of course I do, but no more than 2 or 3. I keep this so low by looking upon each game as needing to be played. I don’t like to leave games with that need unfulfilled for too long. Anticipation can only be tolerated for so long, eventually you have to give in and experience.

Anticipation is an emotion of proximity, of the sensation before the moment. Distance and time cause this to fade. A Kickstarter is more likely to be reviewed positively by those who backed due to confirmation bias. When Kickstarters arrive I wonder how many of them actually get played, rather than just ending up another game on the unplayed pile. By the time they get to us, our excitement can have abated, distracted by the latest hotness once more. That is just human nature. Instead of looking so far into the future to sate your desire to play, look closer to home at your unplayed games you already own.

I saw someone on social media recently saying they had bought a particular designers new game, and they also had all the other games by that designer but hadn’t played any of them. How do you know you like that designer’s style? Another admitted to having more unplayed games than I have in my entire collection, 43 games. There is no judgement here, just bafflement on my part. I’m not going to tell anyone not to buy games, but I would ask you to think about why you are buying games. Is it just to keep up with the hotness? That’s fine but you aren’t keeping up with anything by just buying games, you have to play them as well.

Trust your feelings

If you feel genuine remorse or worry over your unplayed games, then maybe you should pay attention to that feeling. All of us are great at ignoring things that make us feel bad, hopeful that pushing those feelings away will somehow make them stop. That is never the solution. Your boardgames shouldn’t cause you anxiety. Take them out of their plastic. Invite your friends round. Get those games to the table now rather than thinking about when you’ll get that KS you just backed to the table in a years time.

Big collection, small collection, no collection. All these states of being a board gamer are fine. We shouldn’t judge anyone for however they choose to consume boardgames, even if it is not our preferred modus operandi. All I ask is that we think about the language we choose around unplayed games, and that each of us takes a look at ourselves and asks what we really want out of our boardgames.


If you enjoyed this article then please consider donating to our Patreon. You can find other ways to support us here.

Iain McAllister

Tabletop games reviewer and podcaster based in Dalkeith, Scotland.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Glenn Ford says:

    The Japanese have a word “Tsundoku” which is the sadness of a stack of unread books. That said, I have a friend whose father has a phrase which is “books don’t count”. That’s a round about way of getting to the point that there are certain things that enrich your life and having them in your life should never be a source of shame. It feels to me that we are far more inclined to see books as an object which the possession of which is a source of enrichment than games, which I feel a little sad over. I agree that we should drop the word ‘shame’ but I feel we should just drop it. If buying games and owning them as objects brings you joy, then feel that joy without embellishment or regret, if to you they are not always things to be played, the playing of a game is not an objective rule of life. Just be joyful.

    • I was trying to get to that point, maybe unsuccessfully, in the article. If you feel negative emotions from your unplayed pile of games, that’s a bad thing. If you want to collect for the joy of collecting, fair play to you.

Leave a Reply