Most of us don’t have the luxury of surplus cash that we can earmark for investment — we’re too busy paying bills, saving for deposits, putting aside wages for a pension scheme or, if we’re lucky, paying off a mortgage. Even if we did have funds to spare, chances are the quantities would be too low to afford the usual investments of fine art, antiques, vintage cars and property portfolios.

These are almost exclusively money-making investments for already super-rich, and besides, they usually take decades or even generations to achieve a respectable appreciation.

So what if I told you there were relatively low cost items to invest in that would give you returns of two, three or even four times your outlay in as little as two years? Surprised?

How much more surprised would you be if I told you I’m talking about board games?

This copy of Diplomacy looks a lot less boring when you find out it’s worth over $5000…

In March 2017 an item appeared on eBay that aroused some interest: an original 1959 copy of the board game Diplomacy, that was not only #1 of a first edition print run of only 500 copies, but also belonged to Allan B. Calhamer, the game’s inventor.

Now most won’t have heard of Mr Calhamer, but many might have heard of Diplomacy, perhaps the granddaddy of continent-wide political/military control and negotiation games. Back in 1959 a copy of the first print run would have set you back the princely sum of $6.95 — a not insubstantial amount of money back then, perhaps worth as much as $70 today.

However that’s small beans compared to the $5,234 that was paid in 2017 for this relic (or museum piece, depending on who’s judging.)

It’s a little warped with age, but so would you be after living in an attic for 50 years or so. Collectors don’t care anyway.

Obviously this game had the provenance of belonging to the inventor, and was #1 of a limited run of 500, but even so, considering that you’d be parting with upwards of $500 to secure yourself a more mass-market, yet nonetheless “vintage” 1970s copy of the game, any one of the other 499 copies of the 1959 edition would set you back thousands of dollars.

That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what use is that unless you’re lucky enough to be bequeathed a copy of such an antique, or be old enough to have snagged one the first time around? Well, none of course, although it probably won’t stop a few of you rifling through your grandparents’ games cupboard.

So where is the money to be made for the would-be game investor?

We’re actually living in a Golden Age of tabletop games, the market for which has seen impressive growth in recent years. The US market in 2015 saw a 29% growth across the industry, with certain categories boasting even higher figures: card & dice games up by 75%, roleplaying games growing 40% and hobby board games by 56%.

Incredibly, growth increased in 2016 and looks like it will again in 2017. This is a billion dollar industry.

[Source: Euromonitor International]

Popularity equates to demand, and demand means those games that are difficult to get hold of (either because they’re out of print or intentionally limited releases like Kickstarter Exclusives) are liable to be worth many times their original asking price.

This isn’t anything new — demand and rarity always increase value — but what’s novel about the tabletop gaming market is you don’t have to wait decades for that rarity to occur and your initial investment to substantially appreciate in value.

This means you can make investments now that could see a healthy return within a year or two.

For example, let’s look at the game Blood Rage, released in 2015/16 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. At the time you would have paid $75 for it, which many people not familiar with the modern board game market might consider an absurd price for a board game (it’s actually fairly average for a game of its type.)

Fast forward to 2017 and if you want one of those Kickstarter pledges (with its exclusive content not available in the retail release), you would have to be willing to part with up to $500, perhaps even more if you bought the exclusive content piecemeal. That’s not an estimate, it’s what people are paying for it right now on eBay.

You don’t need to be a genius to recognise that’s a good profit margin in a relativity short period of time.

This kind of appreciation isn’t rare in the realm of crowd-funded tabletop games, and games themselves now account for more of Kickstarter’s pledged revenue (from its founding in 2009 to May 2016) that any other product:

The “Games” category does include video games but they only account for around a quarter of the overall figure. It’s tabletop games that are taking the lion’s share. [Source: Quartz/Atlas]

Obviously in any market this successful there are going to be band-wagon jumpers that are neither as good nor as successful as the market leaders, so you’ll still have to do your homework, but it’s not a case of pumping your money into an unknown start-up with an unproven track record.

Many of the most successful tabletop game Kickstarter campaigns are actually initiated by established, successful companies that have a proven track record, both with crowd-funding and more traditional means. Why? Because crowd-funding allows them to control stock levels, run an intensive short-term marketing campaign, effectively promote add-on sales and expansions, wring additional funds out of the consumer in the form of exclusive content, plus of course let Joe Public foot the bill for their initial production costs.

In other words, it makes good business sense.

Therefore if you want to hedge safer bets then plump for the established companies like CMON, the team behind the successful Blood Rage campaign that netted almost $1M from less than 10K backers. 2017 saw what many consider the spiritual successor to Blood Rage launched on Kickstarter. Viking longswords were swapped for Samurai katanas and the hugely successful Rising Sun went on to raise $4,228,060 from just over 30K backers.

Between Blood Rage and Rising Sun, there were also a number of other successful campaigns from CMON, all of them achieving multi-million pound pledge support and all of them worth considerably more on eBay than the initial Kickstarter pledge amounts. And that’s just one company (albeit the most prolifically productive of the lot).

So that’s Kickstarter, but is that the only place where money can be made from board games? Thankfully not.

In fact most enthusiast board games are released in limited quantities, due to conservative print runs for a relatively niche market. Unless a game is Monopoly or Catan, or the latest, hottest party game around Christmas, then it’s unlikely to be printed in in large numbers. Even if the print run sells out, unless that stock was allocated as pre-orders before it hit the shelves, then chances are the publisher won’t immediately do a reprint. They’ve made their tidy profit and don’t want to risk turning that into a possible loss with unsold stock taking up warehouse space.

So many of the board games we’re talking about — the ones you won’t readily find at your local Toys’R’Us — are limited editions, and therefore will be worth more than their original list price within a year or two of release. A good example of this was Fantasy Flight Games’s co-operative Lovecraftian horror game Mansions of Madness.

Within two years of release you couldn’t get a copy of Mansions of Madness outside of eBay, where you had to part with around twice the original MSRP. This disparity was even larger for the expansions, which seem to have been printed in even smaller quantities, and sold for well over $100 having originally been sold for around $25.

Beware though, because this story also highlights an issue with board game investment: wait too long to cash in and the chance may be gone. In 2016 a 2nd edition of Mansions of Madness came out of nowhere, with expansions that recycled the old expansion content. Overnight those eBay treasures were worth perhaps a quarter of what they had been before. On the bright side, at least they didn’t depreciate.

But this (along with the knowledge of what to invest in to start with) is a case of knowing your subject, the same as art, antiques, property or any other “investment opportunity”. The more you know, the more you stand to profit. The main difference with games is you can have a huge amount of fun playing them while you learn!

So what are you waiting for? You don’t need a huge inheritance or unexpected windfall to start investing in games. It’s low investment, low risk, quick return and potentially high profit. All you need is a little market knowledge. In fact the only danger at all is… that you’ll get hooked on having fun with the games themselves and never want to part with them!

Thrifty Business

As a foot note there are a couple more areas where you can potentially make a decent profit from a small initial investment in gaming.

The first is the thrift store/charity shop, which you’ll often pass but usually ignore. Most of these shops have a pile of unwanted games stacked in one corner in various states of (dis)repair. The majority are the usual suspects of family gaming: Monopoly, Cluedo, Risk etc. but now and again you’ll find a gem, sometimes even still in its shrink wrap because the recipient of this inspired Christmas gift wanted Pie-Face instead.

“What’s that you say? £1? Well, if you insist.” Behold the wonder of game nerd thrift shop tunnel vision. [Original Image: Will Skellorn]

Their loss is your gain. Snap it up and either give it a good appreciative home, or stick it straight on eBay and quadruple (or more) your money.

The other is eBay itself (or other general auction and sales site — Craigslist and Gumtree work too) where you’re looking for the Job Lots. They’ll usually be listed as such too: “Job Lot of Games Workshop” or “Job Lot of board games” etc. and usually represent an exasperated parent clearing the attic of the possessions of their nest-flown or university-living offspring, who no doubt will have an apoplexy when they return home to find that mum has sold their treasured Magic the Gathering collection for a pittance.

With a little product knowledge you can separate the wheat from the chaff and spot that highly desirable game expansion or miniature figurine that might fetch ten times the asking price of the job lot when properly advertised to the right discerning buyer.

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