Matt: Contrary to popular belief, I am not a man of infinite luxury. Paul has an entire cupboard just for games – Quintin has a cavernous loft to explore. Many have climbed that ladder and never been seen alive again, fading away to become a new addition to the dark and dusty collage of cardboard and bones. Basically those boys have space to play with. I however, have a shelf.
But it’s a big shelf! Oh my. There’s plenty of room in the rest of my flat, but my wife is a bit of a cheery dictator when it comes to interior design – so the sins of the husband must be tidied away. It’s occasionally annoying, but it does mean I get to live in a genuinely beautiful, tidy place? Swings and roundabouts, life is compromise.
This limitation is strangely useful: it ensures that my collection stays svelte, tight, and carefully curated, like a gymnast forcibly held in a museum. I don’t operate the same one-in one-out system as Quinns, but I also don’t make new additions lightly – in theory it’s like I’m continually brewing a vat of soup, constantly balancing out different flavours.
OH MY GOD THE SOUP HAS GONE EVERYWHERE. Alright, so my impeccable system is currently broken – there isn’t enough room in the cupboard. This is partly because shifting stuff around is like a complicated game of 3D tetris, and partly because the shelf has been invaded by files of important paperwork and an assortment of novelty hats. I think it’s time for me to sort this out, LIVE, and work out what needs to be culled in the process.
Let’s hop into the most-loved part of my collection: the small-box crowd pleasers. This small stool of games is a versatile toolset for easy, instant fun in pre-boozed situations. Love Letter should need no introduction, but I think the true staple of my collection has to be Skull. It’s one of few table games I can think of that you can both teach and play whilst exhausted or drunk. Most of these boxes have travelled the world possibly more frequently than they’ve been played – anything bigger than these feels like too concrete a commitment, while a few of these can pop along with me in case the mood suits.
I’m be tempted to swap out Ultimate Werewolf for the One Night version at this point, but it’s still the best option for when you’ve more than 8 people and don’t have the energy to explain Mascarade. I still adore this game of massive cards and massive lies, but it also requires a massive table – and so frequently doesn’t get played these days. The Resistance: Avalon remains my favourite hidden role game, and also the best-documented example of me being a truly evil git. Coup didn’t blow me away at the time, but it’s grown to be very much one of my favourites – such a tight design, such a tiny box, great art, lovely tokens. Alongside Skull and Love Letter, it’s the least controversial of the choices here – a solid silvery crowd-pleaser.
Funemployed can be hit-and-miss, but it’s by far my favourite party game. When played with a group of witty people, it’s genuinely the funniest thing in the world. Almost every time I’ve played we’ve had to stop prematurely because everyone was physically exhausted from laughing. With the right people it’s very much the nuclear option, whereas Monikers is a much more reliable option – a solid, funny party game in a genuinely gorgeous box. If you’re thinking about picking it up, we’d recommend maybe holding off for now – keep your eyes peeled for news about that in the future…
FANTASTIC NEWS! I have compressed all four novelty hats into one hat, saving myself huge amounts of cupboard real estate. I have also decanted Hey! That’s My Fish into a tiny plastic bag, to sit alongside a small number of other family-friendly games that I don’t really play but keep because they make me feel fuzzy and warm and aspirational. Next up are the games that fit into the category of “Hey buddies come and play a serious game let’s be serious”.
Last Will I loved when I reviewed it with Quinns, bought it, and have yet to play it since. It sits alone in a category I refer to only as “Worker-Placement & Personal Shame”. Evolution I really liked but might be nearly done with, to be honest? Lords of Vegas is going nowhere, even though the dice really rub some players up the wrong way, and Arctic Scavengers gets mixed responses too – I really want to dig deep into all the potential variants in the box, but whenever I sit down to suss it all out it feels like I’m learning to swim in treacle. Cosmic Encounter sits atop all else, King of the Games, and still an all-time favourite. My copy is rough and slightly mucky from so many late-night sessions over beers, and it will always hold a reserved parking spot in my heart.
This part of my collection is the bit that needs the most work. Quinns said he’d give me Imperial Settlers but I keep forgetting to pick it up, and aside from that my current collection is lacking in options for glorious conflict. I really wanted to pick up Inis, but it sold out remarkably quickly. I think that’s partly our fault to be honest, so it’s about time we got stung for it too. I have fond memories of Kemet, too? And I also liked Warhammer 40,000: Battle of the Space-Bastards (I think in some territories it was called Forbidden Stars).
OH MY GOSH WHERE DID YOU ALL COME FROM? OK so to be fair, it turns out that shelf is bloody massive. Why did you make me take all of these games out? It’s such a mess!? Top and centre is what I’m hooked on right now – the Arkham Horror LCG. You’ll hear more about that very, very soon. Imperial Assault is one the fattest boxes I own, but I’m still weighing up the idea of hosting another mini-campaign. Pandemic and all of the expansions are still sitting pretty, even though I’ve not touched it since playing the superior but one-shot Pandemic Legacy?
Many of my newer favourites in this chunky pile are actually found in smaller boxes – Machi Koro is lovely for slow afternoons, Paperback is clearly brilliant but I keep struggling to find wordy people as psyched as me to sit down and play it, and Burgle Bros – another one from Tim Fowers – has on my list of games to review for a shamefully long amount of time. It’s a simple thing, but I really do adore it – well worth a look if you enjoy “COOL CAPERS”.
Nestled around the edges though are a couple of boxes that – whilst I love them – have almost become problem games. The problem is, people ask me to explain why board games are awesome, so I tell them about Sheriff of Nottingham or Ladies and Gentlemen. They then get excited – which is great! – and then specifically want to play those games. I mean all of these games are good games, but gosh look at all of these other games I’ve got? I want to play some of those. Please. Please let me play some of those.
Now that we’ve paused to observe that tiny imaginary violin playing the world’s saddest tune, it seems only fair to point out that my “tight ‘n’ svelte” game collection is simultaneously bigger than I thought it was, and contains a fair amount of stuff I’m no longer sure I still even want. But my gosh, what a strange and broken meritocracy?
Little games can happily live in my life rent-free purely on the basis that they aren’t intrusive, while larger boxes have to really impress me to hang around for the long haul. Space Hulk doesn’t pass the test, and whilst I do really like Mechs vs. Minions I’m unsure how long I’ll be able to make space for a box that could easily store half of my clothes.
Seeing the space that many Americans and Canadians have set out in their homes for the storage of games, it strikes me that this may be more of a European problem – but the end-result is a messy collection which naturally leans towards lighter experiences, and makes it harder to commit to real big-boy joys. But I’m also in the weird position where mostly, I play games other than these – I just don’t tend to keep most of what we review.
I’m always jealous of anyone who has room for a library of games, but there’s definitely something wonderful about keeping it small. New entries come and go, but the oldest members of this exclusive club have seen an absolute ton of action. When you’ve less new stuff to keep trying all the time, you end up really leaning into the staples that you do have, and developing a real relationship with those games – one that binds together with memories of those friends, those moments.
Part of me wishes I’d taken better care of my copy of Cosmic Encounter, which has become particularly dog-eared and dirt-flecked after many slightly-wild sessions of play. But another part of me – and I think it’s the part that really knows best – can see that the damage is just texture for those memories. When you keep a smaller collection, these boxes more easily become sordid time-capsules, objects of sentimental value you could never be without.