I will admit that I have a problem. I own approximately 250 board games.
That is probably more games than anyone you know, unless you know one of only a couple locals with even larger libraries than mine.
Chances are it is more board games than you can name. It can be a little intimidating.
Most folks just stare for a while when they see the wall of shelves filled with games in my living room.
After they recover from the shock, they all have one of two questions. One is: “You know the rules to all of these games?”
The answer is that I know some better than others, depending on how often I play them, but with a quick review, I know them all.
The other question that comes up is some variation of how often I play each game, or if I even have played them all.
I already noted I play some more than others, but with one exception, I have played all of my games multiple times.
After all, there is a reason I referred to it as a “library” earlier and not just a “collection.”
Collections, to me, call up images of stuffy rooms with examples under glass, with little plaques that ask you to please not touch the display.
A library is there to use, to explore and to enjoy.
Applying Jones Theory
All of the questions I receive have a similar core. What really is at the heart of the issue is, “How do you manage all this?”
Whether that means how I keep track of what I do and do not have, keep track of the rules, keep track of the pieces, or decide what to buy or not to buy, it all is an aspect of managing the library.
I actually use a simple system, known as the Jones Theory in board game circles. Named for Cody Jones, a former board game podcaster who proposed the system, it is in truth a system and not a theory, for those who are nomenclature sensitive.
The system works like this: Your collection should consist of a series of buckets that represent your gaming needs and should be filled by single board games. Each bucket represents a type of game you desire to be in your library and is exactly the size of one game.
Any other games you acquire to fill the bucket overfill it and are seen as wasteful, which eliminates having one game always sitting on the shelf. Whenever you might play that game, another game is picked because it fills the same need and is more enjoyable.
This aspect alone ensures the games in a library all are played.
The thing that really makes the Jones Theory work is that it is unique to each person using it.
Both the number of the buckets that constitute your library and what need each represents is entirely up to you.
For the most basic set, you might need only four buckets — a party game, a family favorite, a two-player game and a serious strategy game.
It can be that simple: Four buckets for the four different needs you see in your gaming life.
Now a set of buckets this small might, in turn, see more turnaround of games.
With so few buckets, the amount each game is played increases, which risks games growing stale from overplay faster.
So that party game bucket might change its contents from Scattergories to Apples to Apples, and then to Code Names in just a year’s time.
On the other side, you might find folks with buckets of such narrow specificity that they quickly develop into a complex taxonomy inspired by the Dewey Decimal System. This allows for a great deal more games to stay in the library, but ensures that each one will see far less play.
After all, if the Penny Arcade deck builder has two currencies and Dominion only has one, then they are different and I should keep both, right?
How my game library works
My own board game library falls into a middle ground between the two extremes. One friend described it as a series of fountains, where one larger category overflows into a grouping of smaller subcategories, and he was fairly accurate.
I keep a small variety of party games that cover a group of themes and player counts, but also diverge according to how raucous they tend to become. Some parties just need a loud game fit for 20 players; others, just a quiet game for seven or eight people.
Next is a set of two-player games, subdivided by theme and length of play.
The third bucket consists of a moderate selection of complex head-scratchers that I keep for a small group of friends who prefer that experience. They are subdivided almost entirely by subject. That way, I can make my brain hurt in a science fiction, fantasy or historical setting.
Last is the largest section of my library — family games.
I love games that I can explain to anyone in a short period of time and we all can have fun playing.
They are my favorites, so I have made more specific buckets for them than I have for party games or any of my other game categories.
There are subcategory buckets that cover theme, length, player count and how pretty the game looks on the table.
You see, that is the secret: I set up my buckets to make me happy, and for me, that means general buckets for parties and two-player games, and specific buckets for the types of titles I prefer.
Reviewing, revising buckets
The only other part of the Jones Theory system you have to implement is a periodic review of your shelves.
No, you are not looking for wear and tear on the physical shelf, but a physical inspection might reveal something important.
Is dust accumulating on a few boxes? Then they are not being played, and you need to give them some thought.
Ask yourself, “What bucket does this game fill,” and when you have your answer, decide if that is a bucket you really need at all.
I recently reviewed my own shelves and I am getting rid of some games for that exact reason.
It turns out I don’t need a long, direct conflict, two-player game, so I got rid of that bucket all together.
And somewhere along the line, I had double-filled a couple of buckets. Time to trim the library!
Hopefully, the non-scientific Jones Theory can help you to keep your library under control before it overflows your space and budget.
Just remember: You set your buckets — there is no definitive list of what should or should not be in your library.
I have one bucket that is simply: “That game that a friend who no longer lives near me gave me for my birthday that one time,” and even though it is the only game in my collection to only have been played once, chances are something else will not ever fill that bucket.
You also do not have to keep meticulous track of what is being played and when, even though some players love to do so.
Just occasionally check for dust!
Remember, your library exists for you to enjoy and have fun. As for that problem of mine, I need a label maker for all of these buckets!
The Game Is Afoot is a column written for Ark City Daily Bytes by Ark City native and guest contributor Dustin Ward.