This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
I recently participated in my fourth or fifth math trade, and I thought I would write about it. There isn’t anything earth shattering in this post, it’s just my story of a math trade and some general thoughts on how the whole process works.
Board Game Geek has these things called Math Trades. Depending on how you found this page, you may or may not have heard of them. For the unfamiliar, a math trade is a concept where a bunch of people list games they want to trade, wait a little while, then go through and choose which other games on that list they would want to trade each of their games for. A computer crunches the millions of possible combinations and spits out an answer which has long strings of trades where you will ship a game to a person in Idaho and end up receiving a game from somebody in Florida. It’s a great concept, it allows people to find trades for their games without having to find a perfect one-for-one match which is always tricky.
Up For Trade
The first portion of a math trade is listing the games you want to part ways with. Have a game that’s been collecting dust on the shelf or cause too many friendship ending backstabbing scenarios? List it! For this round, I had four games to list: Ghost Stories, Istanbul, Tiny Epic Galaxies, and Mr. Jack.
One of the first things I do after listing games is rank them in my head about my own perceived value they should hold. This is informed, very informally, by some super mushy combination of Amazon prices, game newness, general buzz the game had upon release, condition, and, later, the number available in this trade. For this trade I ranked as follows:
- Ghost Stories: Popular with co-op and solo players, but never reached huge saturation point, so there aren’t countless copies for trade at all times. Game in great shape, decent Amazon price.
- Istanbul: In great shape and a popular game, but probably too popular, it had a ton of buzz when released, nominated for SDJ, etc…
- Tiny Epic Galaxies: Good, well liked game in great shape, but it's a super small box and just not very expensive.
- Mr. Jack: Old game that has been re-implemented and improved on both with newer editions of the game and with better revisions (Mr. Jack in NY). Also the seller I got this from in a previous trade busted the corner of the box during packing it, so the condition was poor. (That seller was kind enough to throw in a freebie for me, I feel like I should point that out)
Depending on when you added your games, you may have to wait a few days, or a week, or more before the next step. That’s okay though, the longer the listing phase is open, the more chance for people to add games. More games = more chances for you to get what you want!
Online Want List Generator
The Online Want List Generator (OLWLG) sounds like a monster, and it sort of is, but mostly it’s just a really, really, really dated looking webpage that does wonderful things so shut up about it’s looks already, okay?! After the listing phase, you get ushered over to the OLWLG. This is where you choose the games you want and which of your games you are willing to trade them for. The OLWLG isn’t the prettiest, but it does a lot of cool things like allowing you to submit multiple trades for different copies of the same game and ensure that you don’t end up with three copies of Carcassonne when all is said and done. For example, if I wanted to trade any of my four games for Pandemic and there were eight copies of Pandemic in the trade, I would want to make sure to accept trades for any of those eight copies in exchange for any of my four games (32 total, separate valid trades). The OLWLG allows you to be smart, though, and will only complete one of those deals so you don’t end up with four copies of Pandemic.
Enough about that, more trades! I always have a game or three in mind when I go into a math trade, and this time those were Mission: Red Planet and Libertalia. I’m specifically looking for medium/medium-light games that can handle 5 or 6 and play in under an hour. Those two stood out while doing research. So the first thing I do once I login to the OLWLG is search for those two games (using CTRL+F, because you have to). I’m in luck on Libertalia, there are 8 or 9 copies! Mission: Red Planet only has one. Having one copy of a game essentially means you aren’t getting it, from my experience.
The fun part about math trades, besides getting games, is that it always makes me do more game research. I wasn’t planning on getting Mission: Red Planet and I had four games to trade, so I had to find more games I’d be willing to trade for. The research is slightly tedious, however. I scan some BGG list (top 100 family games is a good start for my group) and click on any game that catches my eye. I check the player count and play length, if it passes the bar there I CTRL+F in OLWLG and see if there are any for trade. Don’t need to waste time if I can’t trade for the game. If the game is listed, I then watch a review/rules video and try to make the call as to whether I would be happy trading for it. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
For this particular deal I ended up liking the looks of The Quest For El Dorado and Century: Spice Road. El Dorado looks like a fun, quick, super streamlined deck-builder (a favorite mechanic of mine) and Century: Spice Road looks like the Splendor-killer I didn’t know I was waiting for. It’s a funny thing, I had no interest in these games prior to the OLWLG, but I always become quite enamored with them through my research. Now I’m really rooting for El Dorado and Spice Road! Luckily, there are a lot of copies of both and neither are super expensive. I think I’m in luck.The fun part about math trades, besides getting games, is that it always makes me do more game research. I wasn’t planning on getting Mission: Red Planet and I had four games to trade, so I had to find more games I’d be willing to trade for. The research is slightly tedious, however. I scan some BGG list (top 100 family games is a good start for my group) and click on any game that catches my eye. I check the player count and play length, if it passes the bar there I CTRL+F in OLWLG and see if there are any for trade. Don’t need to waste time if I can’t trade for the game. If the game is listed, I then watch a review/rules video and try to make the call as to whether I would be happy trading for it. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
For this particular deal I ended up liking the looks of The Quest For El Dorado and Century: Spice Road. El Dorado looks like a fun, quick, super streamlined deck-builder (a favorite mechanic of mine) and Century: Spice Road looks like the Splendor-killer I didn’t know I was waiting for. It’s a funny thing, I had no interest in these games prior to the OLWLG, but I always become quite enamored with them through my research. Now I’m really rooting for El Dorado and Spice Road! Luckily, there are a lot of copies of both and neither are super expensive. I think I’m in luck.
Last Few Days Panic
I always end up going through my list multiple times. This is usually because I question my trade values or because I realize that I really just want these old games out of my house and if I don’t like the new ones I can trade them later so no harm done. I noticed a copy of Isle of Skye (which has a pretty good app version), and also became interested in Royals. Ticket to Ride with an area control component? Sounds good.
I run out of time trying to find new games I want as the trade ends. The next part is where the magic happens.
The person running the trade then kicks off the magic OLWLG algorithm cruncher to see what pops out. I’m not super well-versed in what goes on, but form what I gather the algorithm is kind of dumb. Well, it’s really smart at connecting a bunch of trades which is the whole point so a lot of people get trades for games they want. However, it is kind of dumb in that it will end up with cases where one person trades a $10 gift card and, through a series of trades, ends up with a $30 gift card in return. That might make perfect sense if you track every trade in the line, but is definitely against the spirit of the Math Trade. The person running finds these cases after the algorithm runs, remove that person’s deal from the trade, and reruns. Wash, rinse, repeat. Note that even accepting these uneven trades in OLWLG is discouraged, so if you do that and make more work for the kind person running the thing; shame on you.
Normally, the morning after the trade ends results will be posted. In the discussion thread the person running will say something like “these will be final in 8 hours if I don’t find anything wrong.” In all of my prior experiences, these ended up being the final results. Note that they aren’t the first results, the organizer runs a handful of times to get there, but in my experience they have been universally great about doing so at odd hours to get a potential final set out by the next morning.
In this particular trade there was a hiccup. It was noted that one particular seller ended up on the hook for trading something like 20 of his/her games and receiving $10 gift cards back for each. That doesn’t seem terrible except that most, if not all, of these games will cost more than $10 to ship. That seller would be paying to give away their games. After some discussion on the BGG thread, it was decided to remove these trades and re-run.
This one was an emotional rollercoaster. I checked the results after the first “these will be final in a few hours” message. I had received Libertalia and Mission: Red Planet! What luck! Unfortunately my two cheaper games didn’t find deals, but I got the two I was after, so no complaints.
Then I saw the results were being re-run. Doh. To my great surprise, however, after the re-run, I had the exact same trades. Ghost Stories for Mission: Red Planet, and Istanbul for Libertalia. The inevitable downside of researching a bunch of other games is the slight disappointment when I didn’t land any of the games I found during the trade process, but I got the two that seemed like the best fit, so I’m happy.
Now, the trade shifts back to BGG. The sellers find the recipient’s BGG account and propose a trade of the game being shipped out in exchange for nothing. Shipping addresses are given, games packaged, and positive reviews are left.
One kind of funny snafu on my part explains a lot about my ability to snag the only copy of Mission: Red Planet. Once it arrived I realized it was the first edition. I don’t pay attention to editions because they generally aren’t a big deal for the games I look for, but the second edition of M:RP was a fairly major overhaul, not just some minor tweaks. Luckily, I don’t think it will matter for me, but whoops for not paying closer attention. It certainly explains how I was able to get the trade, though.
Overall, another successful Math Trade for me. I was able to snag two games I’m looking forward to try out with my group, and it only cost me a couple of games I don’t play anymore and shipping costs. I’m not sure what my collection would look like right now without Math Trades, it is the best way I’ve found to prevent collection bloating by finding fair trades for games you are interested in. It’s been invaluable for me cycling out the old and getting to try new games.