Compared to a meal at a good restaurant and a night at the movies, board games certainly seem like an inexpensive way to keep the family entertained for an evening.
But while you can pick up a brand new version of Monopoly, Clue, or Scrabble for a mere $20, what if you wanted to spend a little more? Turns out even the regular, plastic-and-cardboard variety board games can hit some shocking totals under the right circumstances -- and that's before you factor in Collectors Editions and specially crafted one-off versions that easily top a staggering seven figures. The wallet-draining board games typically fall into one of three categories:
Though you might associate board gaming with the big name classics you played when you were a kid, there's a lot more to the hobby than just the traditional workhorses. A recent swell of interest in independently designed works has brought the market breakout hits like Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. Often produced in smaller numbers and at higher prices than more familiar games, good ones can stay popular long after their initial print run is gone from stores.
How popular? Even opened, played games can deliver a 200-300 percent return if or when they go out of print. For example, a copy of Tolkien strategy epic War of the Ring could easily be found off-the-shelf for around $50 in 2008, but now goes for as much as three times that on eBay -- and that's not an uncommon situation.
But tempting though they might be, don't sink your retirement savings into out-of-print titles; some publishers reprint old games from time to time, which causes used prices to hit the floor.
The Collector's Editions
Now we're coooking. Some collectors editions -- limited or extra-fancy versions of recognizable games -- also have what it takes to make your jaw (and savings account) drop.
Franklin Mint Monopoly Take the Franklin Mint edition of Monopoly, which sports a luxurious hardwood frame, built-in drawers, and 24-karat gold accents on the playing tokens. Retailing for a cool $650, you can actually find it for about half that if you're penny-wise (and if you're a Monopoly pro, we're guessing you are).
So if one Monopoly special edition can be so valuable, how about the three or four that are sitting at the back of your closet? Sadly, you're not the only one with a stack of old board games littering the house. A staggering 2,000 different versions have been produced, according to one list. Most are common and don't fetch high prices; even historic versions from the 1930s often fetch as little as $75 or so. That moldy box crammed into the back of your garage isn't likely to deliver an Antiques Roadshow "Oh my God!" moment, we're sorry to say.
So what will? According to Guinness, the most expensive board game special edition in the world is one that's a little less familiar to U.S. audiences. It's a deluxe edition of "Outrage," a British steal-the-Crown-Jewels game that takes place on a plan of the Tower of London...which is made out of mahogany. By hand. And uses solid-gold, jewel-encrusted replicas of the Crown Jewels themselves. Tempted? $20,000 and it's yours, guv'nor.
Think that's excessive? It's pocket change compared to the real board-game royalty: one-off custom pieces that are worth a genuine king's ransom.
Jewel Royale chess set And as far as we can tell, the most expensive of all is the Jewel Royale chess set. Constructed of gold and platinum and spiked with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, the outrageous chess set made by storied British jewelers Boodles is worth over $8 million. Heck, just one king piece on its own costs around $160,000. Imagine losing one of those in the couch.
Charles Hollander Backgammon In comparison, Sidney Mobell's glittering Monopoly set, which you can see in the Museum of American Finance on Wall St., is comparatively middle-class: it's worth a "mere" $2 million. And if you're really looking for a bargain, check out the Charles Hollander backgammon set; made of over 60,000 diamonds and taking over 10,000 man-hours to build, it's a steal at about $1.5 million. Similarly ostentatious versions of many other familiar board games exist, but you'll probably find fitting all that bling into your decor nearly as hard as fitting their enormous price-tags into your budget.