Let’s talk numbers – beautiful, beautiful numbers. To be precise, let’s talk about return on investment.

Return on investment (ROI) can sometimes be difficult to calculate, and yet it can also be so important. Sometimes something seems so worthwhile, only for it to fall flat on its face. Occasionally, the opposite happens. Something that doesn’t seem worthwhile turns around to surprise us and be the greatest thing ever. Knowing the difference can really save or squander money.

Usually, a return on investment goes along the lines of money spent versus money gained based on various projects or activities; however, it can also be used to calculate enjoyment as well. This is the thing we will look at with tabletop games, by working out how much a game is actually worth to us by the hour.

We can do this with a fairly simple formula. To do so though we do need to understand one thing first. Board games are not one off spends…I mean technically they are (we purchase them once…but we shouldn’t see them that way. We need to see them as continual investments. The more we play the more our money is worth.

## What Are The Calculations?

There are three main elements when working out the return on investment from various tabletop games. It’s important we understand these before we work out the ROI. These are:

- The amount initially paid for the game upon purchase.
- The number of players and the number of times that game has been enjoyed by those players. To calculate this we take the average number of players usually playing the game and multiply it by the times the game has been played.
- The length the game takes.

For ease let’s call these:

- M for money spent to purchase (or be able to play) the game.
- N for the average number of players playing.
- T for the number of times played.
- L is for the length of each game.

To work out the ROI, we simply look at the following equation. To make this slightly more mathsy, we’ll call ROI “X” purely to make it sound better.

X = M/((N*T)*L)

To explain the above, the ROI is the amount of money divided by the number of average players times by the number of times played. This is then multiplied by the length of each game. This gives the cost per person per hour, making it far easier to understand the cash spent to the theoretical cash value in return.

## Let’s Put It To The Test

Okay, so let’s look at putting it to the test, and to do that we are going to take Settlers of Catan as an example. Why? Well, the number of players remains fairly constant. I haven’t played with three players all that much so we can make a safe assumption it is usually a four player game. Each game tends to last one and a half hours on average, and that is also fairly universal. We’ve also probably played the game around twelve times. The game cost £35. So, with that in mind, we can work out the calculations and get a cost per hour per person.

The calculation becomes:

X = M/((N*T)*L)

ROI = 35/((4*12)*1.5)

What this means is the cost per person per hour only works out at 48p. That is 48p per human hour of play. The best thing is – the more we play, the cheaper it gets. When we’ve played it 15 times, the game would have only cost 38p per hour per person – now if that isn’t great value for money, I don’t know what is!

If you’re not convinced, let me use another example. We have played Mysterium eight times, with an average of five people each time. It cost £30 when we bought it, and takes an hour to play. This time the calculation is like this:

X = M/((N*T)*L)

ROI = 30/((5*8)*1)

This works out at Mysterium costing 75p per person per hour. Pretty good, ey?

## What About Understanding a Bad ROI?

Okay, so so far we have explored two pretty awesome games; however, that is not always the case. We’ve all bought those games we only play once or those games that didn’t quite live up to expectations and have sat on a shelf ever since.

One of those games for us is Jump Ship, a 15-minute decksploration game. The problem we found is that you can only play it once due to the fact that once you have seen all the cards then you have kind of seen all of the cards. There isn’t much exploration after that.

The game cost us £9, and three of us played it together. Since then it has been sat on our shelf.

In this case, the calculation is:

X = M/((N*T)*L)

ROI = 9/((3*1)*0.25)

What this results in is, due to the short nature of the game, £12 per person per hour. £9 actually delivered a negative ROI.

## An Imperfect System

Okay, so let’s address the elephant in the room. There is something that this does not take into account, and that is the other enjoyment associated with games that aren’t necessarily gaming. For games like Star Wars: Destiny or Magic the Gathering, collecting is a large part of the hobby, and this needs to be taken into account. Miniature war games are another such example where the painting, assembling, and playing are three different aspects of the game.

For this, the simplest solution is to assume two different formulas. The first is the standard game. For instance, each game of Warhammer: Age of Sigmar costs me the petrol it takes to get to my mate’s house, plus the cost of a takeaway when I am there. This may be a formula like:

ROI = 15/((2*1)*8)

That is two people, spending £15 between them, having one eight hour game (we’ve all been there).

The core hobby is calculated differently. For this, we assume it is enjoyed by one person, and we take the entire cost put in (you can also work out by regiment).

One army may cost £200 worth of minis, giving you 80 models. Those 80 models may take 5 minutes each to assemble (on average), and 30 minutes to paint (again, on average). That’s 4 hours of assembling, 40 hours of painting, plus (let’s say) 4 hours reading the Codex (yes, I know) and 10 hours looking at your work (in total) to admire it. That is £58 hours in total. This results in:

ROI = 200/((1*58)*1)

Or, £3.88 per hour. This less than 1/3 the price of a cinema ticket. How’s that?

There is an argument that says that without your army the other person won’t have as much fun as well, but then the maths starts to become a bit crazy.

## What About Enjoyment?

A few people reading this article may question not having enjoyment factor in the equation. We discussed this and decided to leave it out. Why? Well, there are three reasons.

Reason number one is that enjoyment, unlike time and money, is not standardised. There is no agreed scale, which means that comparisons can’t be easily made. For example, we may score one game out of 5, and another out of 75. This means they can’t be directly compared.

Secondly, it is possible for the factor used to be so large or so small in regards to the rest of the calculation it just swamps it. If we measure money and time normally, but enjoyment out of 20,000 then the 20,000 swamps everything else making the other factors irrelevant (unless the game is very expensive and has been played A LOT). Of course, some people may agree this is a better way of doing things – after all, that is why we review board games in the first place.

Finally, whilst time, money, and times played are constant, enjoyment is too variable. Even if all the players use the same scale (1-10 for instance) they may not be able to agree on how enjoyable something is. This would mean a potentially meaningless average will have to be generated.

Overall, these add up to mean it is safer just to leave enjoyment out of the calculation – at least until we all become a hive mind and join the Borg.

## A Compelling Argument

Using a formula like this it is possible to work out the ROI of any given game, and gives us all an excuse to spend more money. Let’s hope this comes in handy for all those lucky folk at Gen Con!

I’m curious to hear what you think though – what is the best value for money game you have ever purchased? What is the worst? Let me know in the comments below.

Good way to look at things mate, and the main reason why Zombie Dice is such a win in my mind 🙂

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I’ve never played it, but I have played similar games. Would you recommend it?

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I would – dead cheep, good fun, and easily transported

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First let me say I absolutely love your attention to detail Luke. Outstanding job assessing the ROI. However I note one minor flaw in your formula.

It is as follows: the number of players either has to be a divisors integer, or a null value. Allow me to explain.

A game designed for 1-2 players based on this formula automatically has a lower return on investment than one that accommodates 4,6,or even 8 players.

Eg: Twilight Imperium 3rd edition, can handle up to 6 players, but I would argue a more enjoyable expenditure of time and greater value at 3-4 players.

Likewise Star Wars Rebellion which is clearly designed for 2 players is a capital game.

Therefore ROI keeping with a quantitative should be calculated with times played, duration of play, and dollar value, not number of players… thoughts?

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Thank you for the compliment.

I hear what you are saying about the ROI in regards to fewer players (and more enjoyment). It’s always a tricky one, as technically (purely technically) a game for one person, that costs the same as a game for two, will deliver a worse ROI – but I definitely get what you are saying.

The only problem with leaving out number of players is you miss out the multiplier on the duration of play. It’s worth thinking about how it can be more representative of enjoyment though, as if we could quantify that we would have a solution. In fact, that would solve the whole equation 🙂

Any thoughts?

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