Forming a Collection Catalog: The Organized Gamer

Buying the pieces of your gaming collection is the easy part of starting to play a game. It’s much harder to keep track of everything you’ve got (and everything you want that you don’t have yet)…especially if you’re like me and have a habit of leaving your room in a mess of sizable magnitude. XD

I’m likely the last person anyone would suspect to be organized when it comes to gaming, given the usual state of my room and my purse. XD But indeed, I keep my gaming collections all divided up and even indexed in a few files on my computer. This article will show you how to build a collection database of your own, using spreadsheet software.

Step 1: Sort Your Collection into Sections

Are you collecting Magic: the Gathering cards? Sort them first by color (White, Red, Artifacts, Hybrid, etc.), or by type (Creature, Enchantment, Instant, etc.). Got a heap of HeroClix cards and figures? Sort them by comic universe (Marvel, DC, Indy), by point values (below 50 points, 50-100 points, etc.), or even by combat values, like range (0 range figures over here, 6 range over here, etc.). Whatever system works for you is best.

Sorting your collection is key–it gets you physically interacting with all of the stuff you have, so that you’ll remember it better when you begin to catalog it all. Through sorting my Magic collection one afternoon, I discovered no less than 20 cards that I had bought and then promptly forgotten about–they were cards I still had on my “want list,” even though I had already bought them months ago!

Now, once you have everything sorted out, don’t just cram it all back together in one box or shelf when you need to put it away for the night. Have several different boxes or dividers for your collection, no matter how big or small it is, so that you don’t ever have to sort it completely out again. Trust me, this saves a lot of time and relieves a lot of frustration when you have to add to, delete from, or edit your collection.

Step 2: Figure Out Which Section is Your Smallest, and Start There

Once you’ve got everything sorted, it’s time to catalog. But you need to determine which section of your collection is the smallest, so you can work with it first.

Why do I say to start with the smallest section? So you don’t get discouraged about the size of the task in front of you–for instance, I started cataloging my section of HeroClix figures over 100 points first because I had so few of them (around 20 at the time). This was a very manageable number to start out with and helped me feel better about trying to tackle it.

Starting with a smaller section also ensures that you can iron out any problems with your cataloging before you get too deep into it to turn back. When I started cataloging my Magic collection, I started with my Black section (the smallest), and quickly discovered that if I was to have a complete catalog, I had to list all the sets that my cards were from, as well as the number of each card I had, the condition it was in, etc. Because I’d started with a small section, I didn’t have much to go back through and add. If I’d started with the White section of my Magic collection, and had to go back and edit it all over again…I probably would have just sat in front of my computer and cried. LOL

Step 3: Begin the Cataloging Process

With your smallest section spread out in front of you (whether it’s miniature figures, cards, etc.), start noting all the important details about each item. Ask yourself: “What do I really need to know about each item?”

This process can take many different forms (and have very different timetables), so I have included three examples of cataloging from my real-life gaming databases.

Exhibit A: Robin’s Magic: the Gathering Trades Collection
With a good bit of my massive collection of M:TG cards sitting useless in boxes at home, I decided to make up a comprehensive database for them so I could remember what cards I had. That way, if anybody asked me if I had certain cards, I could tell them right away without having to search through endless boxes at home.

For my M:TG collection, I noted the following pieces of information about each card I owned:

  • Color
  • Name of card
  • Rarity (Common, Uncommon, etc.)
  • Type of card (Creature, Enchantment, etc.)
  • What expansion set(s) it came from
  • What condition my copies of the card are in
  • How many I have of this particular card

These are the things that I most needed to know, because when people trade for cards, they are usually after a certain expansion set’s printing of the card, and they want it as Near Mint in condition as possible.

The following screenshot shows part of the White section of my M:TG Trades Database:

(click for larger picture) I went with very simple formatting for my Trades Database so far, since I don’t want to flood it with colors and styles it doesn’t need. This would be a good style for a table you will often search with the “Find” function rather than visual search.

Time It Took to Complete: 6 months (because of collection size and health)

Exhibit B: Robin’s Magic: the Gathering Decks
Once I created my Trades Database, I realized that I also needed a way to digitally keep up with the changes I was making to my active M:TG decks. So I turned to Excel once again to create a database for all my active decks’ decklists.

For this project, I needed to know the following:

  • What types of cards were in my deck
  • How many of each named card I was running

Because I only needed to know a few details about the items I was trying to catalog, my decklist spreadsheets are much simpler than my M:TG trades database or my HeroClix database (later in this article). Below are a couple of examples of decklists:

(click for larger picture)This decklist is for my Elvish Piper deck, which has mainly Creatures in it; thus, the Creatures section (closest to top) is the largest.

The four main columns represent how many of each card I’m running. For instance, Elvish Piper herself is in the rightmost column because I’m running 4 of her in the deck, while Silvos, Rogue Elemental is in the leftmost column because I’m only running one of it. This visual arrangement made the most sense to me while cataloging, and it makes it easy to see where I can increase or decrease the number of a certain card I’m running in the deck.

(click for larger picture) This deck has mostly artifacts and creatures, being an Artifact-heavy Life-Gain deck, so the Enchantments, Instants, and Sorceries categories are nonexistent. Here again, I make use of four columns to show how many of each card I’m running.

Time It Took to Complete: 2 days of consistent work

Exhibit C: Robin’s HeroClix Database
My HeroClix collection used to be all jammed together in a fold-out makeup box, which worked okay, but didn’t let me see all the figures I had at one shot. I ended up playing certain pieces over and over again because they were the ones I could most readily find. That left me frustrated–I KNEW I had more figures than just the 30 or 40 I was playing every week! I needed some way to sift through them faster. Thus, the idea for my HeroClix Database came into being.

With my HeroClix collection, I needed to know the following data about each figure I owned:

  • Name
  • Experience Level (Rookie, Experienced, etc.)
  • Point Cost
  • Range Value
  • Targets (# of opponents the figure can target with one attack)Team Symbol
  • Whether they are Flying or Grounded characters
  • Keywords
  • Which of my five HeroClix trays it’s stored in
  • When it was last played
  • Complete dial, with power colors, special powers, and stats

Looks pretty involved, right? Well, when I’m building a team, I don’t always feel like hauling out the whole collection and methodically clicking through each piece I own to find the ones I want to play. This very detailed list helps me know as much about the figure as if I was holding it in my hand!

And if all this detail looks scary, don’t worry. Actually, once you get the hang of it and you’ve done several individual items, it’s not all that bad. Here are two examples of what my HeroClix Database (in Excel) looks like:

(click for a larger picture) This shows a small selection of the figures in my collection ranging from 20 to 34 points. Here, each of the Rookies is denoted with the yellow color behind its info; each of the Experienced figures has blue, etc.

(By the way, the reason Scarab (the only red one) doesn’t have any Keywords listed is because I haven’t gotten off my proverbial posterior to find out what they are yet. XD )

(click for a larger picture) This is a selection from the largest-point-value Clix figures I have (73 points and up). Lot more red (Veteran) and even a silver (Unique) figure listed in this section, because more of the higher-point-cost figures are Veterans or Unique figures.

Time It Took to Complete: 5 months (because of collection size and detail)

In a Nutshell: Cataloging
Determine what you need to know about each item you want to catalog. Is it just a few points, like my M:TG decklists, or are you going for a super-detailed database like my HeroClix one? This will determine how long cataloging takes (it took me 5 months to finish my HeroClix database, versus 2 days for my M:TG decklist), as well as the usefulness of your catalog once you’re done.

Step 4 (optional): Format Your Data

If you want your data to be easily read visually instead of just searched by the “Find…” option, it’s important to format what you have just cataloged. Using color, bold, and italics to good effect, as well as a big enough font size, will ensure that you won’t be cursing yourself months later when you refer back to your database.

With my HeroClix database, I formatted it so that entries could be read left to right along rows. However, when I got to the “dial and stats” portion, I was stymied: how could I combine one row of data on each figure’s basics with four rows of data on its stats?

After a while, I figured it out–the Merge and Center command in Excel is my best friend. Basically, for each character, I took four normal rows and merged them together everywhere that I just needed one row for data, like character name, keywords, etc. Then I left the other part alone so that I could fill in the HeroClix dial stats. Result: a pretty sweet-looking database, if I do say so myself.

Similarly, for my M:TG decklist, I wanted it to be visually easy to read and understand (at least for me), so I used both row names and implied column names to help me sort through each deck. The result is neat and clean without looking like an info overload.

Formatting my data was optional for my M:TG trades collection, however, because I mainly just search it digitally rather than visually. I still wanted it to be readable, but I didn’t have to worry so much about info overload per spreadsheet page.


Cataloging does not have to be a drag–in fact, once you do it, it can make you freer to do more things with your gaming time than fruitlessly search for things that you know you have but can’t find. If you have a gaming collection of any size, it does make a difference.

I will admit, it is a good bit of work at the beginning and does require a bit of upkeep (adding new, deleting old, editing, etc.), but the payoff (building teams without ever handling a figure, and changing decklists on the fly) is amazing to me. (Plus, it makes my all-too-obvious OCD happy. XD )

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