In Which I Justify the Board Game Habit

When you start collecting board games, you don’t realize how the money adds up; especially when you buy games one at a time. Many online shops offer free shipping around $100, but that always feels like “so much money” to be spending on games at one time. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to build a collection worth many times that amount. An outside observer, or even a well-meaning friend might say, “Can you really justify spending all that money on cardboard and plastic?”

For a game that costs $10 or even $25, the answer is usually simple. But once you get into games that cost $50, $60, even $100 or more, it does seem like a lot of money for what comes down to plastic and cardboard pieces, plus a book of rules. Yet we all buy them and rarely regret it.

A common justification is what I call the Movie Rationalization. The Movie Rationalization is as follows: It costs about $8 per person to see a movie these days (which seems low, but that’s what Variety tells me). Many people factor in a drink and popcorn, but since a board game doesn’t supply these, we’ll skip those. Consider an average movie lasts 2 hours – that’s about $4 per hour of entertainment.

It works with other mediums as well. An average video game takes 13.25 hours to beat (based on the stats of the top 10 submitted games on HowLongToBeat). Let’s say half of those games are worth replaying once, so the number goes up to about 20 hours. Games typically cost $60 on launch, so about $3 per hour of entertainment.

The equation is roughly this: Cost / Hours = Rate of Fun. You can do the same with gambling, sports, amusement parks, etc. and get your average amount of cash per hour of fun.

So, how the Rationalization works is if you play the game enough times, you will have gotten more entertainment out of it for your money than other options. The key to this is that a board game is a one-time cost, so CCG/LCGs and miniatures games don’t fit this mold as well. But with the right game and the right group, a board game will easily pay for itself – in fun at least. Because multiple people can play, you can add one more divisor: number of players.

Piles of money (Source:
Not a typical gamer. (Source:

A few examples:

Love Letter’s MSRP is $12 (you can usually find it for less, but I like to make it difficult when I’m proving a point). It plays between 2 and 4, and I tend to play two-player, so we’ll go with 2 players. An average game will take around 20 minutes. So, if you play one two-player game, you’ll get a Rate of Fun of 12 / 2 / .33 = $18. Not a good return, but we also have replayability to factor in as another divisor. With every play, the rate gets better. In order to reach the $4 margin of a video game, you need to play 5 times, less if you have more players.

In the mid range, Small World debuted as a $50 game, playing 2-5 players (4 is optimal, if you look at BGG) that takes about 80 hours to play, also according to BGG. With these numbers, you get 50 / 4 / 1.33 = $9.34/hr on a single play. And you hit the Movie Margin at 3 plays.

Let’s travel back in time to Friday and look at $100 Eclipse (now $60). We’ll stick with our group of 4 players, which according to the game itself takes 2 hours to play. That’s an ROF of 100 / 4 / 2 = $12.5/hr on a single play. Again, 3 plays gets you to the Movie Margin. One commenter on Reddit claimed he and his friends played Eclipse 14 times in a few weeks when they first got it. That would bring their RoF down to about $0.90/hr.

I guess the point of all this is that a game is an investment, but if you’re willing to play it even 3 times, you’ll generally get more out of it than you would filling that time by going to a movie. Plus, you’ll have that game for as long as you want it. So next time someone asks why you’re spending so much money on that game, tell them it’s an investment in ROF.

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