It’s a joke around our house that board gaming started out as our “frugal” hobby. We figured it was cheaper than having cable TV or buying video games. We weren’t into the hobby more than a few months before we looked at each other and said, “Frugal? Ha! We’ve spent a freaking mortgage payment on games!” Fortunately, we’ve reined it in over time and have perfected some techniques for getting games cheap. Or free.
Any gamer knows that games aren’t cheap, particularly if you’re chasing the cult of the new. A retail price of $50+ for one game isn’t uncommon. It can be downright challenging to build a good gaming library unless you have a ton of disposable income. (Or win the lottery.) The good news is that you don’t have to pay full retail for every game you buy. If you’re patient, creative, and into shopping off the beaten path you can significantly reduce your costs. Here are some places and strategies you can try to bring your gaming costs down.
- Thrifting/yard sales/flea markets. Goodwill stores and other thrift shops can be good sources for games, particularly children’s games. The same holds true for yard sales and flea markets. Sometimes you get really lucky and find “gamer’s games” in these places. Even if you don’t find something you want, you might find something that you can trade for something that you do want.
- Win them! BoardGameGeek.com (BGG.com) hosts contests where publishers give away copies of their games for promotional purposes. You have to be a registered user of the site (it’s free) and then you can enter all of the contests free of charge.
- Trade. There are groups on BGG.com, Facebook, Craigslist and other sites dedicated to trading unwanted games. If you’ve got something you don’t want, it can be a good way to get something you do want without spending additional money. You may also be able to trade in person at your local game store, as some host trade days.
- Shop the sales. The best board game sales happen around Christmas, Easter, and in the summer around GenCon time. You can find sales at other times, as well. The major online board game shops offer daily deals and sometimes games pop up on Amazon’s lightning deals.
- Ask for gifts/gift cards. Gift cards to your favorite retailers can be a great way to defray your costs. If you can trust people to buy the right games, asking for games as gifts for holidays and birthdays is another way to save some money.
- Do some side work that pays in Amazon gift cards. There are lots of survey sites and other programs on the Internet that allow you to accumulate points that you can then trade in for Amazon gift cards. Just be careful not to get sucked into a scam site.
- Use credit card rewards. Use your cash back or Amazon rewards that you get for your everyday purchases to buy games. (Just don’t overspend on the card in order to get more rewards. That’s just digging a deeper hole.)
- Shop the ding and dents. Many retailers offer ding and dent sales. The damage is usually very minor, cosmetic only, and limited to the box. However, the retailer can’t sell it as pristine so they knock off 10% (sometimes more) of the retail price.
- eBay/Auctions. If you’re willing to bid for games, you can try auction sites or the auction function on BGG.com.
- Amazon.com. Amazon doesn’t always have the cheapest prices on games, but they do occasionally price drop games or run them on their lightning deals. Third party sellers may get into price battles, as well. It’s also one-stop shopping where you can check new and used prices on one site.
- Shop Amazon’s Warehouse deals. Deals vary widely, as does the condition of the games. Some are used, some have only minor cosmetic damage, and some are heavily used or damaged. If you’re willing to take a risk, though, you can score big (and if it’s sold by Amazon, their usual return policy applies, so your risk is small).
- Subscribe to BGG’s Hot Deals forum. This one’s a bit dangerous because you can blow a wad of money on “deals” if you’re not disciplined. However, the Hot Deals forum is a great place to keep apprised of price drops on Amazon and sales at both online and physical retailers.
- Shop the BGG marketplace. BGG users sell new and used games. Sometimes the prices are a bit high, but occasionally you’ll find a motivated seller and a good deal.
- Hit the conventions. No, spending a ton of money to get to a convention won’t save you any money. If you’re going anyway, though, many conventions have space set aside for the sale or trade of used games.
- Set price alerts. CamelCamelCamel.com tracks prices on Amazon and will alert you when a game you’ve specified drops in price.
- Craigslist/Freecycle. You may be able to find someone locally who is just looking to unload games either for free or super cheap just to get rid of them before a move or for some other reason.
- Overstock stores. Stores like Tuesday Morning, Ollie’s, and Big Lots sometimes offer board games as part of their inventory.
- Groupon. Board games occasionally turn up on Groupon. I picked up the DC Comics Deck-building game there for a little over $19 (including shipping).
- Use coupons. Whether you’re shopping online or off, don’t forget to check for coupons or coupon codes you can use to lower your bill. Barnes and Noble offers many coupons that are good both in-store and online. Other online game stores offer coupon codes from time to time. Your local game store might offer coupons in your local paper or money mailer, particularly around the holidays. It never hurts to do a quick Google search or hit a site like Retailmenot.com before hitting the buy button.
- Hand me downs. Make it known among your family and friends that you’d be happy to take their cast offs. Some people would just rather re-home their games with friends than go through the trouble of a yard sale, trade, or auction.
- Take up reviewing. This isn’t for everyone, but if you are a good writer and can write game reviews, it’s possible that publishers will send you free review copies. You need to become fairly well known, or work for a site that is before the freebies come your way, but it’s certainly a viable option.
The key to most of these strategies is patience. If you have to have a game the day it comes out or you can’t wait for a reprint of an out of print game, you’re going to pay a fortune for your games. There are some grail games for which you’ll have no choice but to pay big money if you want the game. However, most games can be found significantly cheaper if you’re willing to hunt for the deal and exercise some patience until the used market opens up for the games you want.