Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My collectible dilemma: Pirates CSG

A few years ago, when Wizkids' Pirates CSG was new, and the Crimson Coast set had just been released, I happened to discover the game while walking out of Target. My love of the pirate theme instantly had me giddy over the game. I looked the game up online, viewed the flash tutorial, and before 2 days had passed, I had stopped by Toys R Us to pick up my first two booster packs. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Up to this point in my life, I had never invested in a collectible game before. My only experience with collectible games had been from playing Magic: The Gathering with my friends who had collections. One thing I know now that I didn't know then is that there is a certain type of person who should invest in collectible games, and there is a certain type of person who should not. Here are some features of a person who should invest in collectible games:

  1. Being a kid or teenager
  2. Being single
  3. Having expendable income
  4. Having friends who want to play the game with you
  5. Having friends who also collect the game
  6. Having time to play
  7. Having time to keep up on the news and events surrounding the game
The more features that apply to you, the better suited you are for collectible games, in my opinion. Herein lies the first problem: when I became interested in Pirates CSG, the only items that applied to me were 4, 6, and 7. This would have been a warning sign, had I known what I know now.

I lacked everything but time and friends. When I bought my first packs, my friend Jack bought a couple packs as well. We were both fascinated by this new "constructible" idea that Wizkids had introduced. The character art was interesting and somewhat spooky; the little ships looked amazingly cool; there were stats and abilities and 4 factions to choose from - everything about the game was a draw for me.

Back then, my wife was also willing to play with me, while the game was as simple as two packs. At the time, I only had one very small child and much more time for following the Pirates community forums. I was up on every hot topic and found lots of answers to rules questions. I was not yet into much board gaming beyond Settlers of Catan, so Pirates was my main game.

Jack and I continued to buy packs and receive them as gifts, growing our collections. Jack, a maximizer of value, decided to focus on just one faction (Pirates) to keep things simple, while I was intent on collecting everything in the game. We bought batches of singles online and searched ebay regularly for decently priced "money" rares. Jack, already being an avid collector of Magic: The Gathering, soon decided to quit collecting Pirates. He felt he could only comfortably and reasonably manage one collectible game. But he assured me that he'd still play with me. By this time, my wife had also begun to turn down my requests to play Pirates. The Pirates game had become too big for everyone but me.

And yet I continued collecting. Looking down the road, I saw my familial posterity benefiting from my full-bodied collection - surely my children would play with me when they were older. We would have a blast carrying out pirate battles! Wizkids released new set after new set, rapidly throwing new factions and mechanics into the Pirates game. Soon, I found myself overwhelmed. I was playing with no one, and had no money to invest in keeping up with each new season.

Then, when I finally did have some money to blow, I bought a booster box for Pirates of the Barbary Coast, hoping to sell them on ebay, as I had made a habit of doing with my extra Pirates cards. My goal was to flesh out my Corsair faction before selling off the doubles. Unfortunately, I seemed to be one of the only people actively collecting Barbary Coast. I couldn't get much to sell and ended up with a load of unused Barbary Coast cards (which I still have).

At this time, the reality of my wasted time, money, and effort was becoming heavy upon my conscience. How was there any wisdom in amassing a dust-collecting lot of game pieces? When was the last time I had actually played the game? Who was I kidding? Pirates had become nothing more than a collectible item, like bottle caps or shells. I had designed my own custom islands, and put together sizable collections for every faction up through the Barbary Corsairs, and was working on my stash for the Cursed faction. It was like anything else: if you don't have anyone to share it with, it quickly becomes worthless.

So where am I today? I still have my collection, boxed up in official Pirates tins, each item sleeved, organized by faction. I have all my custom homemade islands stashed in a closet, and a length of fabric that my wife cut and sewed for me to use with Pirates as a table cloth that looks like an ocean. Most of my efforts in the last year have been to keep my collection of trade items up to date on MiniatureTrading.com. Every once in a while people have contacted me about trades. Even those are rare now. I'm just a chump with a sweet, barely-used Pirates collection.

Some of you who experienced similar or dissimilar adverse experiences with collectible games such as MTG are probably chuckling at me now, and with good reason. Back when I got started, you are certain, had you been there, you could have tried to steer me clear of the fascination that led me to my current predicament.

What am I going to do? First of all, I will keep waiting for people to contact me about trades and buys. I need to get rid of my excess Pirates stuff. Then I'll eventually need to decide what to do with my personal collection. Do I keep it to play with my kids - even in light of the huge board game collection I have to keep us occupied? Do I sell it for far less than I spent on it? It's a collectible game after all - it doesn't hold its value. And when you don't have friends investing in their own collections, that just takes away from some of the fun of the game. Collectible games are designed so that each player can piece together their own competitive collections. As it is, anyone I play with with just be using my collection.

I really don't know the best answers yet. I still like browsing the collection. I somewhat enjoy building fleets. I like playing, as long as we don't build big fleets - then the game just takes too long. Over the years, my interests have shifted, I have more kids to invest time and energy in, and I have an adequate supply of interesting board games to keep my family engaged. I just don't know what to do about the Pirates stash.

Feel free to comment and advise. I'm interested to hear what readers have to say.

All pictures are pictures I've taken and posted on BGG. They all include items from Jack's and my collections. The dark tablecloth is his, the light-colored one is mine. The 3D islands are the ones I constructed and painted myself.