Games Are Fragile

1267258922_fragile_tape_big[1]By Mario T. Lanza

I baby my games. Perhaps I’m a little too obsessive compulsive about keeping them in good shape–they are only games right? Still, I can’t help it. If one card is torn, one tile dog chewed, one pawn lost, the game just feels “broken.” I’d easily pay $5 to replace a single lost/damaged component. It removes the metaphorical thorn from my mind and frees me to play and enjoy the game without being bothered by the “kludge” of using some other bit.

Games are unduly fragile this way. Most games come with just the right number of bits and no spares. That being the case, how can you even begin to properly play a game when a bit is damaged or lost?

Attika: I’m very conscientious about putting my games away, even glancing around the floor to make sure no bits were dropped. Sometimes I take my games to club or tournaments and I allow them to be used by all. It’s scary, because there’s no way of knowing that those who use my games will be as meticulous as I about returning a complete set of bits to the box. I took Attika to one such tournament and never got around to checking the contents until months later when I went to play it again. During set up I was frustrated to discover that one of the green building chits was missing. After a thorough search of the box and the floor, the game had to be put away — I mean, what could be done? There was no way to properly play the game with four. It was broken.

I try to treat other people’s games like gold. I have a sense of responsibility that says I need to treat other people’s stuff doubly as good as I treat my own. I don’t like it when people carelessly treat my games, and so I do my best to treat their with care.

Some people just don’t get it. I watch as they eat greasy chips. I even saw one woman newcomer scrape plaque from her teeth with Princes of Florence profession cards. I’ve since learned to be vocal (but polite) about these offenses.

Tigris & Euphrates: I took T&E, one of my favorite games, to the home of my best friend, the owner of 2 beagles. Having the dogs at the foot of the table, I was continually anxious and distracted from playing. I was certain that any dropped bit would instantly be mauled. After the game ended, seemingly without incident, we began putting it away and surely enough a quick glance to the floor revealed a chewed tile. The owner did the kind and honorable thing: he bought the game. He later took one of the blank tiles and created an excellent replacement using a printer and sticker paper.

Most games do not include blank bits, but they should. It at least provides a repair option. Still, as particular as I am I would rather buy a new replacement bit. I would fret, especially in games of hidden information, that the doctored component could potentially unbalance the game. During a real game of T&E, anyone knowing about the doctored tile, namely myself, might note the different feel when fishing through the tile bag. I don’t like it. It wouldn’t be half as bad, if the doctored piece replaced an open-information component. Also, doctored bits diminish the aesthetics and I’m all about aesthetics.

I learned one thing from the T&E episode. Although dogs are my favorite pets, I won’t play games with them nearby.

Atlantic Star: I used to allow drinks on the gaming table — that is, until the one time an acquaintance accidentally knocked over his drink while we were setting up Atlantic Star. It was to my good fortune that he was only drinking water and that it only spilled onto the player mats and not the cards. So, the mats are a little warped, but otherwise the game works. Since that episode, I require all drinks to be placed safely away from the board and components.

As fortune has it, I have a great table for gaming. It’s round with a center leaf that can be added if necessary. It has for heavy legs with an under table connecting them. Drinks can easily be stored within reach just below the playing surface.

Collating Errors

Never wait to unpack your latest order of games. After opening and discovering that at least 4 games that I purchased within the last year were incomplete, I’ve realized that a publisher’s best effort will not always result in a copy whose components can be accurately reconciled against the rules manifest. This prompted me to unpack and check my ever growing backlog of unplayed titles. Sure enough, I discovered a few collating errors. In most cases the publisher has gladly corrected the mistake. However, this is not always possible. Surely, I am not the only one who has shrink-wrapped games that are over 3 years old. Obviously, as a game ages, it becomes more difficult to replace.

Lesson learned: don’t wait. Unpack your game and check the bits against the manifest. It affords you the greatest opportunity to correct collating errors.

Bit Rescue

Sadly, there aren’t many good options for solving the issue of lost or damaged components.

Publishers can:

  • Provide spares. Spares come in two flavours: a) extra components that can be set aside until needed and, b) blank components that require a little doctoring. Though the former is preferred, making a spare for every kind of bit is not always practical. In this case, blanks are acceptable.
  • Use generic bits. Some games make use of generic pawns, cubes, dice, wooden houses, etc. While these bits are nothing special, they’re much easier to replace. Not every game benefits from fancy sculpted components. Settlers, for example, works just fine with its generic wooned houses and roads.
  • Be prepared to provide replacements. Most publishers are great about correcting collating errors as they should. A publisher that really wants to shine should provide a replacement service — for a time — for a fee.

Customers can:

  • Contact the publisher. Hopefully, your request is timely enough that the publisher is able to replace the bit.
  • Search the Internet. I know there are few websites that supply bits to older titles. I haven’t tried it because it seems like too much effort (and perhaps money) for replacing a single needed component.
  • Hand craft a component. I hate even suggesting this, but it can sometimes work. I would only suggest this be done to replace an open-information component. It’s the last alternative with which I can come up in lieu of buying another copy…
  • Buy another copy. I really can’t help it. If I lost or damaged a key component to one of my favourite games, I would strongly consider biting the bullet and buying another copy. It’s a last resort, but it beats having to “kludge” through the game every time it’s played.

I wish some savvy publisher would invent a truly useful solution to publishing games that are not so fragile, but I don’t see any practical means other than the aforementioned. Today, games are fragile: just one lost or damaged component and the whole thing is potentially broken. I guess the best and most practical solution I mentioned is for publishers to include spares. It’s one of those perks that we customers receive quite well.

This article was originally posted on my long-defunct blog: Boardgamers’ Pastime.

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