The 5 Stages of Math Trades

I’ve participated in numerous Math Trades on BGG including the 1st, 2nd, and most recently, the 5th largest (total number of games) in BGG’s history. For the uninitiated, Math Trade bring together lots of people who have items they’re willing to trade for other items. In general people offer and receive games in trade but it’s not uncommon for trades to involve other products like gift certificates, DVDs, electronic equipment, tickets, magazines, second born children, etc. You name it, somebody has probably offered it in a Math Trade. BGG only provides the listing mechanism through its support of “GeekLists” but other 3rd-party software is used to align wants with offers, organize and maximize trades, etc. To make it more interesting, the trades are not necessarily 1:1, but indirect. I may ship a game to a different person than the person who sends me the game I wanted in trade. Take a moment to let that sink in. Hundreds of people, all trusting one another to ship games (and other stuff) to one another. It only works well when everybody plays by the rules and everybody plays the role of a good citizen of the trade. It all hinges on the honor system.

Entering into a Math Trade, especially the really big ones, is daunting to newcomers. Here’s a little guide to the Five Stages of a Math Trade.

  • Denial and Isolation
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

I. Denial and Isolation

I subscribe to the Math Trade Announcements forum so any time there is a Math Trade, I get a subscription notice and I jump out to BGG and see what kind of trade is being hosted. I like the big trades in hopes of being able to choose from thousands of offers, the smorgasbord of goodness.

However, many times I don’t see what I want to see so I have to resort to posting items to the trade’s “request” list in hopes of finding someone who will offer the items I want. Without good trade offers, I feel lonely, left out in the cold. I only offers the really good games. Who can deny that goodness. My “like new” is like, well, like really new, hardly played, sure…punched, but just a little dusty. Why don’t I see hundreds of dollars in gift certificates being offered for these games! Why should it matter that my copy of Oasis is the 5th copy being offered; my copy is the good one, right?

II. Anger

I subscribe to the “request” and the “offer” geeklists so for the big trades, I receive hundreds of subscription updates every day and I can see the lists grow by leaps and bounds and like a hungry dog seeing a line of Beggin’ Strips, I follow each subscription to the end reading every comment, update, and reply.

But as every trade progresses, I start seeing the eccentricities of users kick into full force and I have to refrain from commenting. Some people are rude. Some people don’t recognize how far out on the bell-curve of normality they are. But then again, I remind myself that I’m on that bell curve of behavior myself and the curve is different for everybody.

BGG attracts all flavors of gamers and it’s readily apparent when you see people commenting that they want pictures that depict exactly how the shrinkwrap has split on an “in shrink” game (that must matter some how?), or exactly the version/release/month of manufacture (this one I do relate to – there can be huge difference from one release to the next), or what someone really means when they say “free shipping to the lower 48” (with comments like, “What?! Why do you hate Minnesota?!”)

In my next Math Trade I’m going to strive not to trigger comments where someone thinks I might be more comfortable in Nazi Germany. Godwin’s law must apply to Math Trade Geeklists as well.

III. Bargaining

After the offer deadline passes, participants enter into the phase of using a tool called the OLWLG, the Online Want List Generator. The OLWLG allows users to align their offers with other offers. This intersection of offers represent your “wants” and all of them together represent your “want list”. Using this tool is a bear and it takes patience, experience, hope, despair, and yes, even prayer (and I’m not even religious.)

The process of creating your want list splits you into two personalities. On one hand, you want those good games that others are offering and on the other hand, you’ve got these good games you have to give up to get them. Getting these two independent entities to work together is difficult. One side points out shipping costs and some sentimental memories of playing a game, the other points out practical facts like you’ve not played the game in four years, your group hates it, there’s a small tear in one corner, it’s got no box fart. Meaningful stuff! You’ve got to consider everything!

IV. Depression

Finally you submit your want list and then the trade comes to a close and the OLWLG is locked down. With great anticipation I wait for the results but the big trades take hours to obtain results, and then there’s validating them and checking for cases of arbitrage. During the lock-down period my mind wanders, “Oh for crying out loud, why did you not add another game to that one trade and why did you offer your old grail game for that piece of hyped crapola!”

I start questioning my wants and begrudging my offers. I’ve even read the small print that what I thought I was trading for wasn’t exactly what I thought I was trading for. What?! there’s no expansion with that?! That’s the first edition that had mold problems?!

V. Acceptance

And the results are in! And you just have to bend over and take what you get. But if you enter into it knowing that since you’re in complete control, you shouldn’t ever be disappointed in what you do get. It’s not unlikely that you won’t be disappointed in what you don’t get but at least you’ll hang onto your old crappy games that looked so bright and shiny about 2 stages ago.

Regardless, I love a good Math Trade. Let’s be careful out there though, and don’t take any wooden nickels. Unless of course they’re those Kickstarter kind that were part of the stretch goal when offered them in their second pre-order and they came in that really cool, enameled metal tin. Not the thin tin, but the thicker one that had “V2” stamped on the bottom and were made with more copper…and the black velvet, promo, draw-string bag…

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