Tuesday, October 9, 2007

TimothyP's Board Game Buyer's Guide

I have ordered a lot of board games in the last couple years. I personally don't spend time in “friendly local game stores” (FLGS) because there are none in my area, and because I wouldn't have time to hang out there anyway. So I order all my games online. Most sites reward large orders, so here's how my gaming group does it:

At any point in time, I accept requests from the people in my gaming group, and any other family and friends they might have. As these requests come in, I add them to our buy list. Once we have enough for free shipping, we order. Every so often, I will ask around to see if anyone wants anything, just to remind them that we're always building an order.

I have ordered from 3 different game stores myself. But I eventually chose one that always seemed to be cheaper, in every comparison I did - Thought Hammer. Here is what I value most in a game store, by order of importance, assuming all stores are established, professional sellers:

1. Low price
2. Diverse and constant inventory
3. Good support and quick response

Every store I've had experience with nails #3 very well. #2 is an ever shifting tide across the board. The stores are often at the mercy of publishers, and so some games will inevitably be out of stock or on pre-order. But in terms of variety - not all stores are equal. And finally, the biggest issue of all - price. This is the reason for today's post: I wanted to find out for myself which store really is the cheapest of them all. I need to look out for the budgets of all the people in my group, as well as my own. I figured this test would be valuable for many gamers, and so I'm recording all my results here for you.

The Test

First, I decided on 5 online stores, and then added “Local game store” as a generic 6th option, since some people shop there. The online stores are the ones I believe to be most prominent in my own research and experience.

Next, I came up with three types of game orders:

1. single game
2. medium size order (less than $100)
3. large order ( $130 or higher)

My goal was to compare all 6 stores in these three tests to see which was the best option for buyers in each case. I'll show you the results first, then add comments after. So here you go!

The Stores

First, I'll mention each of the 6 stores and briefly note relevant information in terms of prices, shipping, benefits, and downsides. In no particular order:

1. Thought Hammer


30% - 40% off
Discounts for damaged box games
Sales tax for Texas


$8 flat Fedex
Free for orders $125 or more


Personal wishlist, can email to a friend


No imports, no used games
No price matching

2. Fair Play Games


Approximately 30% - 35% off
Discount codes for orders over $75 and orders over $150
Clearance items
Discounts for damaged box games
Sales tax for Michigan


UPS ground (base price of $7.50)
Free for orders $125 or more
Free for orders of 3 or more damaged box games totaling at least $85


They have imports and used games
Price matching

3. Boards & Bits


Approximately 30% - 40% off
Discounts for damaged box games
Sales tax for Washington (I'm assuming)


Flat rate determined by ZIP code - Fedex ground
Free shipping for orders $125 or more


They have imports and hard-to-find games


They might not always have the free shipping offer

4. Time Well Spent


Discounts for damaged box games
Sales tax for Colorado


UPS ground
$5.00 off shipping for orders over $100
$7.50 off shipping for orders over $150
$10.00 off shipping for orders over $200
Sometimes offer free shipping for orders $150 or more


They have imports and used games
They accept special order requests
Price matching
They show how many are left in stock

5. Funagain Games


10% - 20% off
Discounts for damaged box games
Sales tax for Oregon (I'm assuming)


FedEx Ground
USPS Priority Mail for shipments under 2 lbs.
Free shipping for orders $150 or more


They have imports and used games
Lots of customer games reviews
Rewards program called “Funagain Points”
Exclusive games sold only by their site (also a potential downside)
Public wishlists

6. Local game store


List price


None. You go over and pick it up with your own hands.


Interact with other players onsite


Costs much more than online stores

Large Order

The goal of this first test was to see which store was cheapest when you are ordering enough games to qualify for free shipping on sites that offer it. For all three tests, I created a virtual shopping cart on each site and ran through the process far enough to find out the total with shipping costs. Here are the games included in the Large Order test:
  1. Battleground Fantasy Warfare starter deck
  2. Bohnanza
  3. Caylus Magna Carta
  4. Lost Cities
  5. Thebes
  6. Ticket to Ride
  7. Zooloretto
Rather than list the detailed cost line-up for each game from each store, I'll just give you the totals. Here's what I found:

*They were out of stock on 2 games, so this is an estimate. Actual cost would probably be another $7-10 for shipping.

Single Game Order

The next test was run to find out: what if I was just buying a single game for someone? How much would that cost me? For my test, I used Ticket to Ride, simply because it's a game that many people buy. So, here are the costs, by the time all shipping and discounts are considered:

Medium Order

The last test was run to answer: What happens if someone orders multiple games, but doesn't qualify for free shipping? The games: BattleLore, Citadels, Thurn and Taxis, No Thanks!


Well, having completed the test, it was interesting to see that Boards & Bits has slowly raised themselves up to the king of game stores. The one thing that worries me is that, at the time of writing, their free shipping offer is marked as “For a limited time only!” That's one advantage of Thought Hammer - you always know that you have guaranteed free shipping over $125. Fair Play Games shares this benefit.

One of the great benefits of Fair Play Games and Time Well Spent are their price matching. That alone brought their base prices down to the level of Boards & Bits. The shipping was another story. In the case of Fair Play Games, as long as you qualify for their free shipping, you have the chance of getting the same great deal as you would have gotten on Boards & Bits. There's just one caveat - the price matching sites are not required to match the prices you find. They have the right turn you down if they think they will lose money on the deal.

So, one thing I'm certain of: for any online game order I would only ever shop at Boards & Bits, Thought Hammer, Fair Play Games, or Time Well Spent. Who I bought from would be determined by who had all the games I wanted in stock for the lowest price. I can tell you from experience: pre-ordering and waiting for ages for your order to ship can be mental misery. In my case, an entire large game order was stalled for weeks waiting for - get this - the Ticket to Ride 1910 expansion. Sure, I realized this possibility when I put in the order, but I certainly didn't expect the game to never come into stock. So, on behalf of the people participating in the order, I cancelled and switched to a different seller. The order was shipped next day for a better price.

The only reason I would ever order from Funagain Games would be if they had a Funagain exclusive that I was really interested in. It hasn't happened yet.

I would never buy from a local game store unless the price was lower than I could get it online. I don't think this is ever going to happen to me. The one benefit of a local game store is that you might find people to play with right there in the shop. As I mentioned before, I don't have time to spend in stores, so this is not a benefit in my case.

At the end of the day, Boards & Bits turned out to be the champion of all game stores (by cents, mind you). They are always slightly cheaper than Thought Hammer. I would have no hesitation buying from Thought Hammer if Boards & Bits was out of stock on an item though. That was the one downside I found in my testing - Boards & Bits was out of stock on several games. Common games like Coloretto and No Thanks weren't even showing up in my searches! I know they must sell those games, but they could at least mark the games as “Back Order” or something. Thought Hammer tends to have a better stock of standard games.

On the other hand, Thought Hammer, despite their many strengths, lacks imports. I have searched for many games on their site only to find that they aren't in stock because they are imports. I asked Thought Hammer support about such a game and they mentioned that selling imports would not be good for their business, which I think is fair. I don't know how other sites can afford it.

One other cool feature of Thought Hammer is that they also sell a bunch of roleplaying books and accessories. That expands their field of usefulness in a way that other stores don't offer.

The two features no sites offer, which would be great, are registries and rewards programs. It would be great to be able to publish a wishlist to which you could direct friends and family. They could order games for you, essentially crossing it off the list so no one else could get it. So when Christmas time came, you could link your wishlist to everyone for easy buying without having to worry about duplicates.

I have seen online stores which offer some form of rewards for frequent and dedicated buyers. Back in the day, I bought enough
Pirates CSG items to gain rewards from CoolStuffInc. That really adds buyer incentive to stick around. As far as I can tell, none of the tested board game stores offer any sort of frequent buyer rewards.

So there you go. Hopefully this research has aided you in thinking through which seller to buy from in your future game orders!


After posting this article, I have had more thoughts on the subject. As I continue to come by them, I think I'll add them here, unless someone proposes a better way to track updates.

1. Today I looked for Winner's Circle on Boards & Bits and it didn't show up. That's the 3rd or 4th game like that. I mentioned this downside in the article. Fair Play, Thought Hammer, and Time Well Spent all had Winner's Circle in stock.

2. Since B&B's free shipping seems temporary, I decided that the best overall way to order games would be through Fair Play Games, as long as all games are in stock. Get all the best prices from B&B, Thought Hammer. Have Fair Play Games price match. Then, just order enough for free shipping ($125). As of now, this is what I consider the best long-term surefire method of ordering games for the best price.

UPDATE: 10-13-2007
This topic has been receiving discussion on Board Game Geek. Read the discussion here.

Tom from Boards & Bits has spread the news that their free shipping over $125 is now permanent! This is good news. Tom has also mentioned that they are working hard to keep their stock up. His involvement in the BGG community is all the more reason to order from B&B - he's listening to the community and working to make B&B offer the best buying experience for board gamers.

It has also been brought to my attention that Superhero Gameland and Boulder Games have very competitive prices and should have been part of my testing. I don't recall ever hearing about Boulder Games before, and I didn't realize that Superhero Gameland sold so many board games. Thanks to those who informed me of these points. Even besides these sites, I know there are more. I couldn't list them all, so I chose to test the ones I had encountered in my own quest for good prices.

In addition, I was reminded that Board Game Prices.com is a useful resource when looking for good prices. I haven't checked the site for a long time. When I last looked, their site didn't give me the answers I was after. I think they weren't searching all the stores Maybe they have improved. I don't know well enough to give an opinion. I looked up a few games quickly on BoardGamePrices.com. Boards & Bits didn't show up for any of my searches, even though I have verified them to have the best prices for most games.

I ran a couple tests on Boulder Games, just to see what my immediate impression would be. First of all, they have great prices. The counterbalance is that their shipping is a bit higher than some other sites, similar in cost to Time Well Spent. I also found that some games didn't appear when searched. I'm not saying that this is the rule for Boulder Games. It's just my notes after some basic testing.


Yehuda said...

This is an excellent post. Thanks!


TimothyP said...

Thank you, Yehuda! That's really meaningful coming from you. I can't imagine how you get the time to write a blog to the extent that you do!

Tom Powers said...

I thought I would point out a couple of things.

First, I decided a while ago that I would keep the free shipping (as pointed out in this post, to remain competitive). I have updated the banner on my site and removed the "limited time".

Second, I feel that price matching is lazy and should never be rewarded. I was the first online retailer to offer 40% off across the board on Rio Grande and 36% across the board for Mayfair, Z-Man, etc. So for my effort of bringing the best prices for board games, other "price matching" shops are essentially riding my coattails and counting on people "not" finding other lower prices.

Why not reward the shop that has decided to offer the best price? And why should you, the customer, do all the work of finding the best prices? Why not shop at the store that has consistently had the lowest prices?

Look at it this way: if all stores offered price matching, but none of them had low prices, what kind of prices would you see?

Boards & Bits

Stephen said...

I find it odd that you did not include Gamesurplus or Boulder Games in your analysis -- not that I think that it would have changed anything since, in general, they charge for shipping. However, Gamesurplus does have a wishlist feature that allows you to email your wishlist to those you designate. Boulder also uses some rebate coupons (for shipping and price-matching) that can be used on future orders.

Allan Goodall said...

Thanks for the post! Very, very useful.

I just placed an order with Boards and Bits. I hadn't heard of them before. This post, and BGG, sold me on them. We'll see how the order turns out.

I agree with Tom at Boards and Bits. I never do price matching. It's a cheat. It allows a company to stick with higher prices unless they're caught out, then they'll steal the sale from a lower competitor. If they want my business, they'll have lower prices and not force me to beg for them.

Smart said...

Just a note about the original post - readers ought to know that there is no sales tax in Oregon.

Game stores that ship to Oregon do not charge Oregon residents sales tax either. So although I'm not a fan of Funagain games, sales tax is non-existent in Oregon - and I don't think they will charge sales tax to customers out of Oregon either, but I'm not positive.

Great article! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting read, Yehuda.

When I do a comparison with shipping included Though Hammer's international shipping rates doubles the cost of purchase, even on large bulk orders. Boards & Bits (and some others) have more reasonable international shipping rates for patrons overseas.

Cheers, kanoe.