Friday, November 6, 2009

Math Trades: What They Are and Why They're Awesome

This post will be all about board games and trading them with strangers on the internet. If you have no interest, turn back now. After all, there's plenty of internet out there for you to see.

Still here? Good. Now, I'm gonna get a little rambly here. But not too rambly. Long story short: I found a game on Xbox Live called Catan. Months later I bought the Settlers of Catan board game at Gen Con. The following year I bought a game called Gangsters. I decided to search online for more information about it, which led me to BoardGameGeek. And that was that, I was hooked.

Catan on Xbox Live.

First of all, let me say that these games are nothing like the board games most of us grew up with: Life, Monopoly, etc. Many of these traditional games don't have much depth and simply aren't very good. There are, of course, exceptions. Games like Scrabble, Yahtzee and Battleship are respectable, if not outstanding, games. The last 15-20 years have seen a huge amount of new, terrific board games released. This surge in new games originated in Germany, where board games are much more popular, and are a common family past time.

Scott Alden and Derk Solko have made an amazing website in BoardGameGeek. It's a database of photos, reviews, articles, questions, answers and information about pretty much every board game there is. Best part is, all of the content there is created by the users, so the site is extremely community-oriented. And it's free to all, though they do accept donations.

Through BGG, I found a website called CoolStuffInc that buys Magic cards and sells board games. Their prices are excellent, they offer free shipping on orders over $100, and they offer an extra 15% in store credit when you sell them Magic cards. So I had an expensive new hobby, a place to turn in the remains of my old hobby for a solid foundation of a new hobby, and a site where I could research these new purchases to my heart's content. So long story long, I ended up with a shitpot of new games.

For the most part, we end up enjoying the games I choose, but sometimes all the research in the world is no substitute for actually playing the game in question. There is a trade manager at BGG that involves emailing users with trade propositions. It's a very clumsy system, and while I had a few successes with it, it was a lot of work and not very user-friendly. I started reading up on math trades. They sounded intimidating.

Phat lewts.

And at a glance, it is intimidating. Even the name sounds like a lot of work. After reading a couple of well-written articles and having some questions answered by friendly gamers, I decided to try one. It turns out they're really not complicated at all. They're also a lot of fun. Here's how they work:

- Whoever is awesome enough to operate a math trade announces that they are doing so. They announce a starting date an ending date. He begins a post where people may list games for trade.
- People who want to participate list the games they are willing to trade away.
- Once the ending date arrives, no new games may be added to the trade list. Those participating typically are allowed 2-3 days to decide which games on the trade list they'd be willing to trade FOR.
- Here's where the math comes in. Once everyone has submitted their lists of which games they'd be willing to trade for, a computer program analyzes everyone's lists and spits out a list of who should send which games to who.

The result is a huge trade involving dozens of people and hundreds of games. Here's why it's awesome:

- You can trade games you don't want for games for games you do want. One man's garbage and all that.
- You never, ever receive a game you didn't ask for. If you make a bad trade, it's your own fault.
- If you don't see anything listed that you want, you don't have to trade your game.
- It's exciting when the results are announced to see what you got and didn't get.

Why they're potentially not awesome:

- You have to pay shipping costs. It's inevitable that there are costs involved. Shipping games within the US usually costs between $8 and $15. This extra cost has to be factored in when deciding which games are worth trading for.
- I have yet experience any problems, but if a user decided to shaft you and not ship their game to you, you'd have little recourse. Of course, that user would be ostracized and banned from future trades. Traders are rated much like on Ebay.

Math trades are great fun to participate in. I've sent unwanted games to people who will enjoy them, and in turn received games that my family, friends and I have had a lot of fun with.