Determining the Value of a Rare Board Game

What are your old board games worth to a collector?

Livingstone board game
Livingstone. Image courtesy of Playroom Entertainment

While some board games are valuable collectibles, others are worth no more than the cardboard they're printed on. Determining the value of a particular board game can be a tricky proposition; it's certainly more of an art than a science. Board games are not likely to make you a fortune; the most valuable are worth perhaps $5,000 while others "collectibles" may sell for as little as just a few dollars.

Factors to Consider

To start pricing your collection of old board games, you'll need to consider:

  • The Age of the Game. Some very old board games made in the 1800's and early 1900's can be worth quite a bit of money. Well-known games from the mid-10th century, however, are worth much less. For example, games like Monopoly or Scrabble, even if they date from the 1950's, are worth very little (though you may be able to sell pieces and parts to complete sets, and make a bit of money in that way).
  • The Rarity of the Game. In general, the rarer the game the greater its value. Monopoly sets from the 1950s generally are not worth much at all, because there are so many of them available. Meanwhile, a seller on eBay turned down $700 (in December 1999) for a copy of the 1963 Hasbro Creature from the Black Lagoon game, one that's much less common. (The seller also claimed another copy of the game had sold elsewhere for $1500.) There are even some games that were created only for a single special event; Agent of Change, published in 1991, was a special edition published only for the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia, during a specific exhibition. Thus, while it's relatively new, the game is so rare as to make it worth $400 to a collector.
  • The Initial Cost of the Game. Some games, such as the War of the Ring Collector's Edition, sell for very high prices (around $5,000 or more) in part because it is a deluxe game that initially retailed for $400 and was made in limited numbers. Other high-end games include a ritzy version of Trivial Pursuit made with silver-edged cards and Swarovski Scrabble, a crystal-encrusted Scrabble board worth $20,000.
  • The Condition of the Game. A game that's missing pieces or is in poor condition will, of course, sell for less than a game in mint condition. It's possible to purchase pieces to complete a game, but that can be a pricey process.
  • The Venue in Which the Game Is Being Sold. Fireball Island can sell for less than $5 at a thrift store, but it can go for $50 or more at an online auction. Some games (especially those with cult followers) can cost a great deal of money at the right Con or on the right website but may be ignored on generic auction sites.

How to Determine the Price of Your Game

If you have a particular game that you'd like to sell, you'll need to do some research before pricing it. Price guides are a good place to start; among the best is Bruce Whitehill's American Boxed Games and Their Makers, 1822-1992. It's an encyclopedic work required for any serious collector. In addition to pricing information, it includes many related topics, including tips on how to store your games and a chapter about the game industry during the 1900s. Another good choice is Board Games: With Price Guide by Desi Scarpone.

Another good way to develop an estimate of your game's value is to search eBay's completed auctions. Doing so will give you listings of prices that were offered for board games at previous auctions, but keep in mind that not every transaction ended in an actual purchase.