Tomorrow is one of the highlights of my year — the Spring Auction at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Illinois, one of the finest game stores in the Midwest, about an hour’s drive from my house.
I’ve written about the Spring and Fall 2012 auctions (in “Spring in Illinois brings… Auction Fever” and The Paris Fashion Week of Fantasy Games, respectively) and I’ve been looking forward to returning this year.
The Games Plus auctions are just about the friendliest I’ve ever attended. The store is run by a group of dedicated and professional gamers who know their stuff and they keep the proceedings running with an experienced hand — and a quick wit. Even if I were unable to bid, I think I’d enjoy sitting in the audience, just for the entertainment value.
Of course, it’s a lot more fun to be able to bid.
As I mentioned in the previous articles, it’s important to have a budget for these things, and to conserve funds for those items you really want.
Ha, ha. A budget! Excuse me while I regain control of my writing limbs. A budget — that’s a good one.
Let me put it another way: It’s important to keep a running total of your purchases and always to be aware of how much money you’ve spent. Why? All that constant arithmetic will distract you from non-stop bidding. Eventually, you’ll crumble up the sheet and abandon it as futile, but for a while it will help you keep a lid on things.
Last year, I made a list of games I was seeking in advance of the auction (which I itemized here), but this was really just an exercise in wishful thinking. It’s not that items on my list didn’t come up — they did, and frequently — but if you want popular new games like Mansions of Madness and Descent at auction, you’d better be prepared to go up against some very determined bidders.
No, the real reason to attend an auction like this is to seek out bargains. Those unusual items that deep-pocketed buyers aren’t looking for and aren’t expecting. If you’re bold and lucky, you can snap up some marvelous treasures while everyone else is still puzzling over just what the auctioneer is holding.
Last year, there were plenty of cases where I was insufficiently bold. I faltered in the final stretch of bidding for a beautiful copy of Monsters! Monsters!, the 1979 Flying Buffalo edition, letting my bidding card drop at $14. So did every other card in the room. The auctioneer asked if anyone wanted it for $13. I was too slow and someone in the back of the room snapped up a rare copy of Ken St Andre’s brilliant early RPG. Instead of typing this, I could be playing the role of a monster coming up out of the dungeon to terrify humanity right now, if I’d been half a second faster.
But overall I think I did fairly well. I rarely overpaid for items (if you don’t count that used copy of Tannhauser which cost me $24) and I bid with conviction on those I really wanted.
That last part is important. The most common comment I heard, murmured in the break room or in the back by the Coke machine, was bidders lamenting that they had dropped out too soon.
It was easy to do. You didn’t have long to consult your want list or mull things over. On average, each item was up for bid for less than 15 seconds and the skilled auctioneers rattled off hundreds every hour.
Have a glance at the images accompanying this article to see why they kept up such a ferocious pace: there were literally thousands of science fiction and fantasy games, old and new, waiting to be auctioned off in tantalizing stacks at the back of the room. It took fortitude and determination to get through them all and that’s exactly what we did, over slightly less than six hours Saturday morning and afternoon.
I’m not going to detail all the ups and downs of the auction. But I do want to highlight some of the surprises. Because, in between the rapid bidding and the inevitable triumphs and losses, there were some amazing moments that showcased just how much is changing about modern gaming — and how much is staying the same.
The first big surprise occurred within minutes of starting. Several lots of FASA’s BattleTech books found their way to the auction block and the crowd responded enthusiastically. That in itself was a surprise — BattleTech was popular in the 80s and 90s, but its popularity waned over a decade ago and FASA closed up shop in 2001.
I have virtually all of the FASA BattleTech books — a consequence of my early days at SF Site in 1997, when I phoned FASA looking for research materials while working on a series of articles. Two days later, an enormous long box arrived in the mail, crammed with every BattleTech and MechWarrior book in print. I wrote a dazed trio of posts, cramming in as many photos as I could, and was careful not to call FASA again unless I was fully committed.
I haven’t paid much attention to BattleTech since. I know that FanPro took a license to keep some of the early books in print in 2001, and a few years later the license fell to Catalyst Game Labs, who’ve been producing new books ever since.
But I hadn’t realized just how much in demand the earlier material was. In an auction where older RPG books routinely sell for under five bucks, I was startled to see a lot of five FASA BattleTech books ring up an impressive $50. That turned some heads. A few moments later, a second lot of six books — bundled together with twine — sold for $76.
The rest of the auction sorta followed this pattern. Me minding my own business, bidding stealthily on priceless gaming artifacts, until an unexpected item ignited a fire under the crowd and I scrambled out of the way to watch the action.
When that happened, I jotted down the name of the item and the sale price… usually. Unless I was too busy gawking.
One of the early pleasant surprises for me was winning the sole copy of the DM Rewards edition of Tomb of Horrors up for bid, for a measly 7 bucks. This edition — a faithful conversion of Gygax’s 1978 original, modified for 4th Edition D&D — was never offered for sale through normal channels and the only way to get it was to join the RPGA. Or go to an auction and outbid a bunch of weak-willed BattleTech fans, apparently.
Anyway, I won it fair and square, for a good deal less than I expected to pay for a shrinkwrapped copy. I wasn’t able to bring myself to tear open the shrinkwrap, but that didn’t stop me from writing a review. (You need mad skillz to assess a book by peering at its airtight edges, let me tell you.)
Another promising title I recently wrote about is the gem-hunting game Valdora, one of the earliest items auctioned. This was one of those serendipitous finds that really keeps the bidding interesting. I’d never seen the game before, never knew it existed, but it was visually appealing enough to risk 15 bucks.
Turns out that was a good call — the game was in perfect shape, is very nearly new, and has a cover price of $74.99. And it looks like a genuinely fun family game.
The next item to generate an excited reaction from the crowd was the Parker Brothers version of Dune. I was only dimly aware of it, but I’m a big fan of the Avalon Hill game from 1979, also based on Frank Herbert’s classic SF novel. The Parker Brothers release looks like it was inspired more by the movie than the book and it was released the same year (1984).
Still, it’s something I’d love to add to my gaming collection and I was happy to raise my bidding card. Unfortunately, there was no shortage of people with the same idea and I dropped out long before it was sold for $25.
I stayed in a bit longer for the used copies of Ascension: Chronicle Of The Godslayer ($30), which Bradley Beaulieu reviewed for us back in 2011, and its three expansion packs: Return Of The Fallen ($18), Storm of Souls ($28), and Immortal Heroes ($16). But all to no avail — I didn’t win any of them. Someone out there is having more fun than I am right now.
As I’ve written a few times, I’m a huge fan of Jolly R. Blackburn’s brilliant gaming comic Knights of the Dinner Table. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Several early issues came up in bulk lots and bidding was fast and furious. Despite my determination, I was outbid every time.
The lots included six copies of KoDT #3 (sold for $60), five copies of KoDT #2 ($88), a second batch of five KoDT #2′s ($75), and finally a second batch of KoDT #3 (5 copies for $40). As disappointed as I was to be deprived, I was delighted to see that early issues of KoDT were still a hot commodity.
If you’re a gaming fan and you haven’t discovered it yet, I urge you to check it out. Start with the free online comics — you won’t be disappointed.
The KoDT back issue lots were some of the most expensive items to come up. The only items that gave them a run for their money were, as you might expect, very early D&D collectibles.
A fine bundle of all four Basic D&D boxed sets sold for $80. Shortly thereafter, I was very startled to see a lot containing the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Unearthed Arcana, and a bundle of fairly common adventure modules likewise sell for $80. Neither the DMG or UE are particularly rare (and in fact, both were recently reprinted), so I’m not sure what all the excitement was about, but it was good to see fan interest in early D&D / AD&D texts is still high.
Not all the items that triggered spirited bidding were a surprise. Some were hard-to-find titles that always generate interest. I saw one copy of the original Planescape boxed set ($40), Games Workshop’s massive Horus Heresy ($62), and a used copy of the Warhammer deluxe boxed set ($62 — pretty much what it cost new). A first edition boxed set of Runewars topped out at $44.
Early boxed sets from TSR were a popular item with this crowd. It seemed that half the audience had their bidding cards in the air when a bundle of two Star Frontiers sets came up for bid (final price: $46); TSR’s Conan RPG also generated a lot of attention ($21).
I really wanted a copy of Earth Reborn, the massive post-apocalyptic battlefest from Z-Man Games, but it was not to be. An unpunched copy went for $44 — not bad at all, considering the game retails for $79.99.
Finally, there were the oddities that flashed past and left me wondering, “What the heck was that?”
They included Little Dead Riding Hood (um, what?) from Twilight Creations, which sold for $22, Scrappers from Privateer Press ($12), Gentlemen Thieves from Asmodee, Bridge Troll by Z-Man Games ($10), and the very intriguing Raiding Parties Golden Age of Piracy card game by Nick Pace Entertainment,
And then there was a real eye opener: an early TSR game titled Elixir ($26). I thought I’d seen every TSR game ever made, but apparently not.
That’s just a few of the tantalizing treasures that got away. In between, I did manage to win a bid or two. Click on the image at the top of this article to see a sample of some of the games I brought home.
And that brings me to the end of my 2013 Spring Games Plus Auction report. Tomorrow morning, I return to Mount Prospect, checkbook in hand, to grab an early seat for the 2014 event. I’ve learned from my past adventures to be a little less focused on my game list and a little more open to those mysterious delights that flash by all too quickly.
All the same, if another copy of Monsters! Monsters!, Earth Reborn, or Gentlemen Thieves shows up, I’ll be ready.
Hope to see you there!