It is true to say that I am no longer an active games collector. Another big sale will come along soon to get rid of another couple of hundred games that I've lost interest in and then I'll be down to the hardcore of games that I wish to keep. Some would argue that still makes me a collector (or an anal retentive!) as the hard core contains over 700 games, but the acquisitive phase is over. Granted, I am looking for perhaps a dozen old games and magazines that may or may not turn up in the future, but the craving of two years ago has thankfully passed. That is not to say I won't track down games for friends, but this is now a low key activity.
So, for the first, and probably the last, proper Collector's Corner I thought I'd jot down a few personal views on the collecting field and also compile a list of the sources from where I find most of the games for my collection and for Messrs Knauth and Moon, the other corners of our trading triangle. These are not exactly trade secrets, just a summary of some contacts and sources I've built up over the years and which will hopefully be of use to you in tracking down that elusive game.
The reasons behind my collecting games remains a hard one to pinpoint. Those of you who have seen my collecting article or are collectors will know what I am getting at. My intention then is to assume you are familiar with the reasons and talk around a few issues such as where I find games and how I, as a private collector, see the market in general. My brother often watches with interest the ever growing and changing piles of games here at Chez Sumo. He knows I go out and buy them ('from gullible old men', as he quaintly puts it) and post them off to some exotic address. He presumes (using his plumber's sharp, Daley-like brain) that I get a chunky profit back in a bulging envelope. Despite his kindly offers to chip in a 'monkey' and get me to double it for him by punting games around, I have to tell him I can't help because I actually don't make anything out of the deals. Needless to say, he doesn't believe me but for once in this money-grubbing world I am afraid I have to disappoint him.
As a rule, if I find a game for someone I pass it on at cost plus postage. In fact, if you build in the time taken to look for games, telephone calls, letters, cheques and parcelling up it rapidly turns into a loss situation. It was a good job I enjoyed the searching, because I certainly don't enjoy wrapping parcels. Additionally, Mr Knauth, Mr Moon and myself work on a strictly equitable trading basis. I buy games here in England, post them over to the eager recipients and charge their running balance with whatever the games have cost me. The balance is in Sterling so we have fixed at DM 3.00 and USD 1.50 = £1 for the sake of simplicity. Alan and Ernst do the same for me at their end, so we all get the benefit of domestic market prices and any real bargains that may be around. So, if I were to find a copy of Homas Tour for a fiver, I would only charge the same in DM. What a hero. In reality, I would of course keep it myself and stick it up my bum.
In any event, it is very difficult indeed to make any real money from buying and trading games unless you are doing it full time and professionally. Even then I suspect you have to shift big volumes to make a decent salary. Low unit cost and sheer bulk of the items aside, it is a real pain to have to keep boxing them up and posting them all over the world. If you have designs on buying low, selling high and turning a profit, it is essential to dig out real bargains and then sell them in markets that will pay over the odds. The classic example is to track down old British games and sell them in Germany - most of the Intellect line, for instance, will now fetch £30-50 for a game in good condition. Alternatively, find rare 'third world' wargames and ship them off to the States. There are other combinations, but the effort and risk is hardly rewarded.
I suppose around 75% of all my finds are from private individuals who seem very willing to part with their untouched-for-ten-years Games & Puzzles collection, especially when it is for hard cash (the recession has helped, I'm sure). On the other hand, there are of course many people who don't want the game at all, but still won't part with it. Or even worse, demand ridiculous prices. Quite often this latter phenomenon is a result of having seen a list from one of the more expensive dealers and feel they can get the same. In fairness, they are welcome to try to hold out for the big money and good luck to them, I do the same on certain items, though this often means I'd prefer to swap rather than sell it for cash. A high price is a dissuading factor rather than an attempt to cash in bigtime. My response to sellers is normally to offer what the game is worth to me and let them come back if they don't sell it elsewhere. I know from experience that a game will turn up eventually at a reasonable price and I'm prepared to wait.
Sadly, much of the market is now underpinned by knowledge of the prices asked by Weekend Warrior, Second Chance and, to a lesser extent, the German Dealers and collectors. The people aware of these lists will ask silly prices and some, I'm sure, get them. The fallacy here is that the sellers believe the games are worth that on the 'market'; the truth is that there is no market as such. What there is is shallow, severely lacking in volume and dominated by in an oligopoly of dealers. There is not an open market out there on which you can buy and sell freely; there are no Reuters screens showing two-way prices for Homas Tour, so the dealer margins are correspondingly high. In fact, if you sell the games to even a high- charging (and hopefully paying) dealer, you will only get 50%, 33% or even 25% of the nominal market 'value'. This means tapping into a market where you will need to find gullible, or desperate, purchasers who will pay a private seller a dealer price.
On the other hand, those sellers that are unaware will ask what they consider they can get away with or, painfully, ask you to make an offer. The moral question of what to offer someone who has no idea of 'value' is a tough one. My policy when buying, and I feel comfortable that it is an honest one, is to offer around 40-50% of dealer prices on all except the most expensive games. This is normally a reasonable level for me to pay and is usually accepted as a fair price. The art of a fair trade is for both parties to feel happy and I haven't had anyone back to complain yet.
My criteria for inclusion here is anyone who I have seen catalogues from, bought from or traded with over the last three years who provides good quality games, books and magazines as opposed to tatty, expensive rubbish. I have found all of those listed to be reliable, helpful and, in the main, very friendly. Chatting to most of them is good fun and often enlightening, as some are collectors themselves or have substantial knowledge of the field. I'll start with the 'professional' dealers who are either in this full time or are making at least a partial living from it. Most issue lists or catalogues and one, Cold Morning, runs a publication with sale and wants adverts. Prices range from cheap/very reasonable (Spielfreaks, Cold Morning, RS Games) through the moderately expensive middle range (BB, Second Games Galore and Second Chance) to downright ripoff merchants (Weekend Warrior, Zocchi and many other US dealers). Many of these contacts are firmly in the Roleplay field, but I always find their lists useful as the small non-RPG sections are often surprising and inexpensive.
BB Wargames are rather quiet these days, restricting themselves to miniatures shows and the odd list. I get the feeling that he manages to sell all he buys at shows so doesn't have a need to do mail order as well. Sounds good to me. 95% board wargames, some magazines and RPGs, prices are far lower than Second Chance but the stock and sometimes the quality of games is relatively poor.
Cold Morning Enterprises Having recently tried, and sadly failed, to set up the gamer's equivalent of Exchange & Mart, Thomas Sudall still puts out an interesting list which covers RPGs, general games, magazines and other odds and ends. Prices are very reasonable (this seems to be a trend among the RPG dealers) and there are many unusual items up for grabs each time. Recommended.
RS Games produce a frequent list with a very wide range of games. These are mainly (80%+) RPG but there is always a good range of boardgames and magazines which tend to be cheaper than normal as this isn't strictly their field. Prices are good to downright cheap and if you are lucky enough to find what you are looking for it will not cost you much at all. The proprietor is very helpful, will actually look over your wants list when he buys in stocks and will phone to let you know a game has arrived. Like me, Mr RS is looking for an original copy of Monday Morning Manager, and it is a race to see who finds one first.
Second Chance Games are the UK's nearest equivalent to Weekend Warrior and his secondhand prices are sometimes more than a little exploitative. You will note that the list does not include early copies of S&T because their prices are considered too high for UK consumption - they are reserved for export! That said, Andy Ashton will almost certainly have a game you are looking for if you want to pay the asking rate and bargains are occasionally to be found if you look very hard. Andy also carries a surprisingly wide stock of new games at competitive prices (and he gets them fast), is one of the few dealers who regularly supply American magazines and he does often have very weird games (and All Star Replays) tucked away in his frequent lists. Not many people know that Andy also carries a good range of sports, fantasy, SF and RPG games and his strategy computer games range is one of the best in the country. Andy is expensive in the main, seems to have a constant hard time with life and remains positive about the hobby (well he has to, doesn't he?) but is a useful point of reference. Expensive, dour and occasionally absent minded but a comprehensive service.
Second Games Galore is a recently founded concern and its proprietor is Colin Wheeler. Colin's stated aim is to keep dealer prices to human levels and in that he seems to be succeeding. The list is growing to be an excellent one and there is a high turnover of titles. Be warned though, the popular items can go very quickly so ring as soon as you get the list if that copy of Election or Arabian Nights appeals. All sorts of games are covered and, as I mentioned, the prices are mainly good to cheap. Well worth a look, I have used SGG a lot recently and look forward to the next list.
Spielfreaks is run by Eamon Bloomfield and issues an excellent monthly list of secondhand and new games. Prices vary from ridiculously good value to absurdly high. His current list carries After the Holocaust for £46 and Eamon has sold a copy of The Warlord Game for £150 in the past. But people buy them, so who am I to complain? Nevertheless, bargains easily outnumber the silly price tags and the real strengths of the list are their frequency, variety and the number and range of games covered. The sections are wargames, sportsgames, business games, family games, abstract games, RPG's, card games, dice games, magazines, TV related and so on. The list is long (hundreds of games every month) and interesting and features a good selection of European games. Seldom does a month go by when I don't see something to buy. Over the years, through his shop and the list, Eamon has been responsible for inspiring and supplying a goodly chunk of my collection and I am sure his list offers the best fit for the likely interests of Sumo readers. Recommended.
The Weekend Warrior is notorious for being the prime mover behind the ridiculous dealer mentality pervading the hobby at all levels. Unaffectionately known as The Hollywood Bandit and credited with starting the trend for 'collector' prices, the rot has spread to the UK and elsewhere and it has now got to the point where many adverts, auctions, private sales and shops have got wind of the supposed high prices attainable on your copy of Panzer Battles (mint, naturally). There is a marvellous irony though which always brings a smile to my face. The rub is that the man who tried, and partially succeeded, in ramping prices and claimed to be selling SPI games to Japanese 'investors' at $500 a throw (for future sale!) has apparently ridiculously overbought certain lines and now can't shift them. He is heavily long of SPI, S&T, GDW and Avalon Hill bonds whereas the shrewd money is in Chaosium shorts, Fusilier futures and Green Planet options. Arf Arf. The saving grace is that in order to catalogue his depressing prices, he has to compile comprehensive lists that are great reading for anals everywhere.
Zocchi has long run a second hand gameservice but only comparatively recently did he become a me-too operation to shadow Weekend Warrior. Prices are again high to silly.
Game Shops Surprisingly, some UK shops maintain very old stocks and have deep warehouses which can yield some discoveries. Whizz them your wants list and you might be surprised. Games Workshop are famed for their ridiculous sales of GW and non-GW product. Worth trying around the school holidays and at Christmas when they trawl all their old crap out of the warehouse (or re-print a batch, I'm told) and sell it off for 50p. SDVM have an excellent range of games they've not managed to sell, especially sports and wargames. Worth a phonecall, they will usually check there and then. Beware getting excited about their adverts though, they often list items that they've never even heard of! Leisure Games have an amazing back room where all sorts of stuff can be found including early '80s games, obscure British games, old magazines and so on. Just ask the owner what he's got or where to find it, his memory is encyclopaedic. Just Games, Westgate Games, Spirit Games and any shop in the wilds that has old stock are well worth asking for that one-off, but in general their stock has a high turnover and most games are strictly in-print.
Auctions and Markets Auctions are another productive area for rare games and you can often pick up real bargains. Just try to avoid an auction where another collector is bidding! There are currently auctions at Hexacon, Origins, Atlanticon and most big American cons but antique auctions around the UK will occasionally have toys and games in lots. Phillips and Sotheby's do have specialist sales but this is for the true collector market at the Antique Roadshow end of things (and prices). A good source for specialist boardgames is the bring & buy stand at gaming events, especially those at miniatures conventions where the market is concentrated elsewhere and most items represent bargains. A couple of recent but very effective sources for all sorts of weird games are charity shops and car boot sales. I have lost count of the stories of mint Intellect games and other gems that have been snapped up for 50p or so. I've never been to one but Master Sniffer Paul Jefferies proves that a steady stream of interesting, cheap and saleable games can be found in your local field on a Bank Holiday!
Other Countries An interesting trend is that if the game you are looking for has recently disappeared, it will go from the country of origin first but will linger on in other countries which are further down the supply line. Games long gone in the States can still be found in the UK and even longer in Germany. A friend has recently come back from Australia and reports normal stocks of games from the early eighties, long gone from UK shelves. Good job I'm going over later this year!
Other Sources Never be put off trying the publisher of a game that appears to have disappeared from the shops. Publishers, especially amateurs, carry odd copies or even complete garages full of their games. Chaosium sold me some Wyrms Footnotes at cost when all the dealers over here were ramping the prices, Avalon Hill have stocks of many of their old games and spares can also be found. The other lifeline is dealers who have overbought a line as they sometimes have stocks that would surprise the collector.
An excellent source for finding unusual (and often inexpensive) games is the private sale list. These can come unsolicited, but in the main you have to read the small ads where you can find them and write (or phone) for the lists quickly before a dealer or another buyer gets in there and snaffles all the good ones. Ads appear in most American magazines, Strategy Plus, the miniatures press, RPG magazines, in fanzines and on gameshop noticeboards. This is quite a labour intensive way of tracking down games, but is more likely to be productive and cheap.
Wanted ads are also a good way of tracking down games but it is important to change the target audience whenever possible. The chances of finding anything on my list from the Sumo audience is now quite remote. There is also no problem in advertising in apparently non-related fields. Where there is crossover interest in fields such as RPG and science fiction, adverts will often bring a good response. As an example, I got many of my old magazines from an ad in the BSFA Journal.
Overseas contacts are the best way to get hold of inexpensive new and old games published abroad and usually you can set up a mutually agreeable trade. For instance, American gamers have access to Toys R Us and numerous game shops that sell at heavy discounts and in return you can send British games and Games Workshop items (these are far cheaper here). Most useful are contacts who are involved in the local collector circuit and can locate items fairly quickly by word of mouth or letter; they are usually working the same tricks in their own country and have access to lists, dealers and so on. It is also a good way to make a new friend on the other side of the world.
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