Do you have a closet full of dusty old board games? Ever wonder if any of them are rare enough to set up you up with a nice pad on Millionaire Estates? Or should you just assume they're only worth Monopoly money? Read on for some tips to tell the trash from the treasures.
- Older isn't always better
With a documented history stretching back well over 5,000 years, board games are as old as civilization. But you're unlikely to have a 3,500 B.C. copy of Senet propping up a shelving unit in your garage, unless your garage also happens to be an Egyptian archaeological dig. As far as us Westerners are concerned, the world of antique board games starts around the turn of the twentieth century, with the era of mass production.
And sadly, mass production isn't the way to inflate prices. Take Monopoly: it's been the world's biggest selling board game for years, so it's the one you're most likely to find in the depths of your attic. But even if you happen upon a very early version of the game -- say, from the 1930s, when it was first printed on a commercial scale -- you're probably going to be unpleasantly surprised at its value. Or lack thereof. Even in the best of condition, a 1930s Monopoly set is highly unlikely to be worth more than $100 or so.
So if antique board games aren't necessarily a ticket to riches, is all hope lost? Not at all. You just have to find the right game -- and in the right condition.
- Think mints
You'll be unsurprised to hear that collectors, as a rule, want collector-grade stuff. Take a critical look at your find. Is the box dog-eared, torn, stained, or faded? Is it complete? Are all the cards, playing pieces, and dice still there? Are the pieces free from markings or notes? Has it been repaired? If the condition's not up to par -- and it's a common game -- it's unlikely to be worth selling anywhere but a yardsale.
Take care, though: there are a couple of tell-tale indicators that might mean you're looking at something a little more significant.
- What's in a name?
For a start, anything bearing the "McLoughlin" moniker is likely to be worth significant cash. Don't be surprised if that's not a familiar name -- the New York-based company was only active from about 1830 until being bought by Milton Bradley right before the Great Depression. Find one of those, and you're looking at anywhere from three to five figures.
Another good indicator of value is a box bearing the name of a children's franchise from a bygone age. Comic book superheroes from the '40s, '50s, or '60s, cowboy-branded games, or games licensed from old-timey TV shows are often great finds. Why? Because even if that Cowboy Bob board game isn't worth much to a board game collector, it could be a rootin', tootin' goldmine to an aficionado of classic Western memorabilia.
Still not sure whether you're looking at trash or treasure? A few carefully worded searches should lead you to one of the web's many online vintage board game dealers, but keep your expectations reasonable. It's rare indeed to find a vintage game from the last sixty or so years that's worth more than $50 or so.
War of the Ring Collector's Edition- Collecting collector's editions
Ah, the "collector's" edition. Chances are, even if you're not a collector as such, there's probably one or two of these somewhere in your board game closet -- and that ought to clue you in on their value to real collectors.
But there are a few that actually merit the title, and have vastly inflated price tags to go with them. Witness the special edition of popular strategy game War of the Rings: yours for north of two grand. How's that for precious? We're guessing there isn't one of those sitting in your closet, though. Given that it weighs something like ten pounds, you'd likely have noticed.
Even if you don't have that bad boy, collector's editions of some more familiar games can fetch surprisingly good prices. Risk's 40th Anniversary Edition -- which included die-cast soldiers and other nice extras -- is worth well over $100, for example, and certain Franklin Mint-produced versions of Monopoly can easily go two or three times higher than that.
These are the exceptions rather than the rule, however. Even the vast universe of Monopoly "collector's editions" -- of which approximately eleventy billion different versions have been printed over the years -- have yielded a mere handful of boxes that are worth anything significant.
- Profiting from the out-of-print
Just like books, board games don't necessarily stay in print forever. While the classics -- Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble et. al. -- can be counted on to stay in continual production, that's not necessarily true for games from smaller publishers. Lacking the up-front capital to risk on an unproven game, they'll take a conservative estimate of its likely sales, print that many, and stop. If the game's a surprise success, they'll often sell out -- and prices can skyrocket.
Mostly, these games are worth money to people who are actually looking to play them, rather than collect them. So they tend to skew towards the geekier side of board gaming. Classic Games Workshop marines-versus-aliens hit Space Hulk is a perfect example: a combination of limited supply and high geek appeal have pushed prices well into the hundreds for a pristine example.
More recently, 2011 fantasy adventure Mage Knight, a massive hit by underground board game standards, is currently nigh-impossible to find without braving price-gougers on eBay.
So is snapping up in-demand board games as they go out of print a good investment? Heck no. You never know when a manufacturer is going to wind up the presses again, and just as a new printing is good news for board game fans, it's bad news for anyone hanging on to copies of the last version. If you think your Enron shares sank fast, just wait and see what happens to used board game prices once one sniff of a shiny new reprint hits the airwaves.