Shelf of Shame (A Collector's Dilemma)

We're All Collectors

It's human nature to collect things. Children might take jars down to a small creek in order to dip them in the cool waters and snatch up minnows or a group of tadpoles. Go to the beach and you'll see swarms of children picking up and examining the smooth, water-worn shells with brilliant colors glistening in the sun and placing them disorderly in a sand bucket. My five year old will go out of her way to pick a small bundle of flowers, usually to give to her mom. There's just something in us that desires to have a cache of something we find desirable.

And we tend to collect anything and everything! We collect everything from animals to Zippo lighters. We collect comics, coins, and cars- stamps, stationary, and spirits. If it exists, someone, somewhere probably has a collection of it.

Many children collect Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars. 

Personally, I've collected a few things over the years. As a young boy, I collected baseball cards. In my early teens, one of my favorite possessions was a complete set of miniature baseball cards in a long cardboard box. Each card was about the size of a postage stamp, and every player of that year, '94, I believe, was present and accounted for. I would spend so much time finding star players and creating my own two super-teams and have them play against each other. Of course whichever team had the players I liked the most would always end up with the victory, but there was a lot of variety.

In addition to baseball cards, I've collected: Lego sets, stuffed animals, guitars, Legend of Zelda games, and Optimus Prime toys. And, eventually, I've abandoned all the things I've amassed, usually for the same reason- space.

Not only are the animals stuffed, your room can be stuffed if 
you own too many of these adorable toys.

All those Lego pieces filled containers that took up space. Most of my old stuffed animals are currently taking up space in one-to-three storage units. There was a time when I had a half-dozen or more guitars, and when you only have a bedroom space, you run out of it rather quickly. 

My Optimus Primes were only ever decorations for my room. After I got married, I saved them for an office or a classroom. Didn't happen. First they were stored away, and then I had them displayed on a high shelf in the closet where no one would see them but my wife and me. 

I had this grand idea to own every Legend of Zelda game ever made- including the horrible Phillips CD-i trilogy. But what for? Even some I owned were never played. And it seemed I couldn't keep any copy of Ocarina of Time. I loaned my original Nintendo 64 copy out to a high school friend. When I asked about getting it back (granted it was over a decade later), I was told that her dad had either sold it or thrown it away. I also had a disc for the Gamecube that had a port of the game along with the Master Quest. Silly me, let a kid borrow it. He was a student at the daycare where I worked. He moved two weeks later. Sayonara to that copy, too. 

But of all the things I've collected, I've been the most excited about board games. Perhaps it's because I have more spending money to use. Perhaps because the cost of many of the games are cheaper than my earlier endeavors. Maybe it's because I can justify buying them more easily because they are social activities that bring families and friends together. Whatever it is, board games can end up performing the same thing as all of those other collectibles- sitting on shelves, taking up space. 

Many in the board game community have one hundred or more board 
games.  Shelves that are bursting at the seams, such as this one, are a 
very common sight in game rooms around the world. 
(Picture courtesy of Eric Balis.)

Shelf of Shame

In the gaming community, the board games that one owns, but has never played make up what is called a "Shelf of Shame." That has to be the most depressing sounding name associated with such an enjoyable hobby. Some try to fancy it up, put a positive spin on it, and refer to it as a "Shelf of Opportunity," but they aren't fooling anyone. 

So, we're back at the end where are collections seem to arrive at- useless objects clogging up shelves or closets or cabinets. Insert sad music here.

This is an example of a fairly small "Shelf of Shame."
(Picture courtesy of Eric Balis.)

The Culprits

Why do some board games sit unplayed? Why do some stay embraced in cellophane instead of the loving arms of its owner as it gets to the table again? I have an idea. Or three.

Certain games that don't get played tend to fall into one-of-three categories: Participation, Intimidation, and Collection.

Participation is perhaps the biggest offender, at least for me, of these three. There are two separate sub-categories that fall under Participation. These are not having people willing to play with you, and not having enough players to start a game. 

Sometimes people don't want to play a game. They simply might not be in the mood. Not everyone is as enamored with gaming as you or I might be. Their preference to spending a nice, quiet evening might be a movie or a warm bath. Even if you purchase a game that you think they will absolutely adore doesn't guarantee or warrant a play. As difficult as it might be to admit, there are those who don't really care to play board games. And that's okay. Even if it hurts.

Then there are those games that have high player counts required to play the game properly. Social deduction games are the worst about this. If you have three other willing participants, but the game requires five to play, you're out of luck. You're one day and a body short. 

Some games can be played at lower player counts, but aren't optimal at that number. Many would rather wait and let a game sit idly on a shelf for the perfect time and amount of players than to play it with less than it was intended for.

Games on my "Shelf of Shame" that fall under Participation are: Resistance and Forgotten Waters.

Maybe these games could get off the "Shelf of Shame" if only
someone would sit down and play them! And that was before
a global pandemic. Covid has made it even more difficult to 
solve the Participation problem.
(Picture courtesy of Noe Anton)

Intimidation might not be something that affects you as a player, but it definitely can cause potential opponents to not want to play. 

One of the biggest obstacles to gaming for newcomers is rule books and not understanding how to play a game. There can be a palpable apprehension about engaging in a game the first time because they find the rules confusing. Not being confident about how to play a game can cripple the confidence of even the most ardent gamer and prevent the game from being played. 

Luckily, there are many great tutorial videos, particularly by Rodney Smith on Watch It Played. But even then, I know I have struggled with exactly how to play, and if I'm not sure how it's done, you can guarantee that the people in my house aren't going to want to play. I can read a rule book a dozen times, watch a good tutorial on repeat, but if I am still uncomfortable with how it all works, it's going to stay on the shelf until I muster enough courage and determination to get through and learn it.

Games on my "Shelf of Shame" that fall under Intimidation are: Terraforming Mars and Oh, My Goods.

Some games are intimidating to their owner. This can
prevent them from ever getting off the shelf and to the table.
(Picture courtesy of Carrie Pickering Miller)

Collection possibly seems like a strange reason not to play a game, but hear me out. As exciting as it is to buy a game that you just know you're going to love, and if you ordered it online, that feeling you get when it's delivered, if you have too many choices, some are going to remain un-chosen.

Picture this- it's a nice, peaceful evening. Your partner decides that he or she wants to play a game with you. Exciting! They asked you about playing a game! This is a major win. But what to play? 

It's the Netflix Effect (which I totally just made up now). When there are so many to choose from it can be difficult to choose. Options seem like a great thing, but it can also be a hindrance. Spend too much time in choosing, and you'll end up spending all the time you could use for playing a game just trying to make a decision.

Look at all these options! And these are 
just the unplayed games!
(Picture courtesy of Kyle David White)

This is actually a real condition called "overchoice," or "choice overload." When we are presented with many options to choose from, it overstimulates our cognitive processes and we tend to be unable to choose anything. And if you find yourself in this state, you know what's going to happen? You're not going to set up that poor, abandoned game. No, you're going to grab the tried and true that you both know and love. In my house, that means Ticket to Ride or Run, Fight, or Die: Reloaded. Both are great games, but those can be disappointing choices when you want to play your new copy of Unmatched or Chronicles of Crime. Having too many choices can lead you to continue playing the games you're comfortable with and not engaging in that one (or dozens) that you've yet to get to the table. 

Games on my "Shelf of Shame" that fall under Collection are: Word on the Street, Space Base, Star Realms, Champions of Midgard, Chronicles of Crime, Pandemic: Rapid Response, and expansions for Clank!, Quacks of Quedlinburg, and Coup.

Cellophane around a game box is a sure way to know that it hasn't
 been played. Another sign of "Shelf of Shame"resident is 
the slightly darker half circle on the side of the box.


Maybe it's just my opinion, but I believe that Participation, Intimidation, and Collection are the reasons you have a Shelf of Shame. It's the reasons I do! And when you put those words together to create a cute little acronym, you get PIC.

So PIC a new game already! 


  1. I know the feeling! I have always been a collector of sorts. I have a very (very) large Steam library of video games, an entire rack of PS3, PS4 and Xbox 360 games (plus the digital ones), my home studio is full of gadgets, cables, speakers, headphones, a bunch of guitars, basses and even an electronic drum kit. And I'm totally with you on the entire article, there are some games that I just haven't played because it's not easy to find someone to play with. I love (and own) a bunch of Lacerda games, but those can be quite daunting, so it's hard to get one of those to the table.

  2. I have a range of collections. From video game consoles to board games to trading card games to books. Now that we have a house and not living in an RV, I’m still trying to figure out where it’s all gonna go

  3. Could you launch a Dear Abby for gaming related relationship drama? I really need to help my wife understand that the shelf of shame has a place in our lives and doesn't need to be thrown out just yet... because I'm still, obviously, going to get to them.

  4. I like this article. I was searching over search engines and found your blog and its really helps thank you very much. Board game stores (NEAR ME).


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