Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dead collectible games -- what are they good for? Part I

With the possible exception of Magic: The Gathering, which seems immortal, there comes a time in the life cycle of every collectible game when it "dies." That is, it's discontinued by its maker, official company support comes to an end, tournaments and sponsored or "sanctioned" events are no more and the would-be collector/player is faced with the question of "now what?"

It's in the nature of collectible games that they're much more dependent on the continued support of the game maker, a steady flow of new material and some sort of tournament style venue for play. This is much less true for other types of games. Indeed, an ordinary boardgame can "live on" almost indefinitely once published. A good example are the old Avalon Hill games Dune or Up Front which, due to licensing and rights issues, seem highly unlikely to ever see print again despite proven long-term popularity. It's hard for new players to break in, sadly, but both games have a devoted fan base and the existing copies of the game (undoubtedly carefully treated) will see many more years of play despite the demise of official support.

On the other hand, collectible games that, even though popular, fail to meet market goals and are discontinued by their game maker leave the collectors and players who sank their treasure into the game in a quandary. While it's possible that demand for their collection will increase eventually (because, after all, no new ones are being made) over the short term so far the usual pattern has been for the bottom to more or less fall out of the market for most games.

The lack of official support means the end of tournament play, which is problematical for games that are highly competitive. The lack of official sponsorship means that playing opportunities will quickly dry up and opponents will be hard to find.

Finally, the end of the line usually means that the game is still incomplete in important ways unless it's had a long run. There may be pieces, powers, factions and aspects of the game that are left high and dry because the planned follow-ons will never materialize.

So what now?

The answer will vary depending on the game and the collector, but here's how I see what's in MY collection and how I answer that question.

Axis & Allies Miniatures:

This game system hasn't been declared officially "dead" yet, but there's been no announcement of when the next set (Late War) is scheduled to appear and in my opinion there's a good chance it will never come -- or if it does, it will be the last expansion. This game has had a good long runs, however, and there aren't too many critical holes in the lineup. This game is much less dependent on the tournament scene than most collectibles because a large part of its market is made up of purchasers who are buying it purely for collection or to use the miniatures in other games. Wisely, the miniatures are easily usable in other games and with the scale change in the second half of the run are mostly compatible with other military miniatures. I expect to keep these and find them useful while playing other games and for the occasional game of AAM, itself.

Axis & Allies War at Sea Naval Miniatures:

This is not dead yet and it looks to have several more sets of life in it, BUT as a history-based line there are natural limits on how long it can go on, as opposed to a fictional setting. There's already been some trouble filling out the Axis fleets because they simply weren't very big. As an expedient some what-if ships have already appeared and some ships that appeared earlier in the series are being reissued but at some point the well will run dry. Like its AAM, however, A&A War at Sea miniatures can easily be used with other wargames and while it's a unique scale, the line has gotten large enough that it includes nearly every important ship from th war and if it goes on for 2-3 more sets there's not going to be naught but odds and ends left out. This is a real keeper. The War at Sea game is a good lite wargame (rather better than the land game, in my view) and is always be useful for more traditional gaming as well.


Dreamblade is both quite dead and yet still pretty popular. While the plug was pulled a little early (after just four expansions after the base set) the existing universe of product is just big enough to make it a workable game for the long haul. This game has been hurt by the collapse of the tournament scene, so opponents with their own sets are scarce, but if you own a big enough collection (I have a few hundred figures) so that you can provide a drafting pool then you can get some reasonable gaming in. I've had some success getting people to play. It's really a pretty good game, fundamentally, so I expect to keep it for occasional play. The game pieces aren't really usable for any other purposes, though, which is limiting.


This game was 'dead" and then resurrected in a new incarnation. From what I can see, there's less vitality in the new version, but there's still some life. It's no thanks to me, however. I bought and played the game when it was WizKids. largely because it was the most gaming action I could find locally for a while, but when that sanctioned game scene evaporated I cut way back on my collection. I now have about 200 or so, left, mostly DC and I can't see re-entering the tournament scene by buying new product. For me what I have will have to last me as fodder for casual play. The game isn't bad, but it's also not one of my top interests. It's another game where the pieces aren't really usable for other purposes and I haven't been ale to generate much interest in scenario-based play in my local area. Nearly everybody who plays this seems only interested in playing it competitively -- and I'm not getting back into that scene. So this game's future on my shelf is very much up in the air. I've been chipping away at the edges of the collection through eBay sales for a while and if I ever have to move this is probably the first or second collection to go en masse.

More to come .... .

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