Early Adoption is Smart Money
Buy now, dear gamer, or regret it later.
Okay, so here's my thesis: The widespread availability of information regarding the nature and quality of board games, coupled with the limited production runs and instability of the small companies producing the games makes it economically advantageous to be an early adopter of games. Or, in short, if you research a game enough to be reasonably sure you'll like the game and you can afford to buy the game, it is to your advantage to make the purchase the game sooner rather than later.
In days of yore (i.e., pre-mid 90's), being the first on your block to buy a game was very risky. Operating on limited information, you could easily end up with a game that wasn't worth the cardboard it was printed on. One had to rely primarily on advice from the FLGS, local friends, biased company magazines and marketing material in deciding which games to purchase. Today, with the wide resources of the gaming websites, podcasts, postings of game images, replays, and rules, and other on-line information, in most cases you can have a very good idea of whether you'll like a game before you shell out the dollars to buy it. While you'll never truly know how good a game is until its sitting in front of you on the table, the odds of a huge disappointment are dramatically less today.
Even the risky practice of pre-ordering on a P500-type of list today is heavily mitigated by the visibility and availability of designers to their gaming public through forums such as Consimworld. Companies have, in some cases, helped gamers accept this higher level of risk by offering early shipment, price discounting, and even bonus features such as extra scenarios to entice gamers into semi-blind ordering.
The risk of not picking up during its initial print run presents an economic threat of its own. A sizeable portion of games, even the good ones, are slow to be reprinted if they are reprinted at all. If you miss out on the initial print run, chances are you're going to be waiting a while or paying a significant premium. Even games which will be reprinted can experience temporary spikes in market value while they are temporarily out of print. If you wait to long to buy a game, you're probably going to pay more for it if you can still find it.
In most cases, assuming you've avoided the purchase of a stinker game, the main true cost in the purchase of a game is the transaction costs associated with the purchase (i.e., shipping, sales tax) and the opportunity cost of tying up your money in a game while you own it. Good games almost never go down in value and can in fact have huge increases in market value in a relatively short period of time, starting at the end of print runs. Even average games, assuming they are well maintained, have a good chance of fetching at least their original market value once they go out of print.
This phenomenon of prices escalating the longer the game has been released seems among the gaming hobbies to be somewhat unique to board games. In general, with video games, RPGs, and CCGs, the longer you wait to pick up a game, the cheaper it will be. After CCGs go out of print, they can usually be picked up by the caseload at deep discount prices. Computer games get cheaper until they eventually become shovelware or even abandonware. RPGs, once abandoned by their publisher, are usually archived electronically and available in the fan community.
So, while I'm sure there are exceptions to every point I've made above, in general I think it is to a gamer's advantage to buy sooner rather than later. There's many an out-of-print game I would like to get my hands on now that I just can't bring myself to buy at inflated aftermarket prices. Please note this thesis was dreamed up by me while jogging in the San Antonio heat today, so I'm sure there some logical leaps present in my reasoning. Thoughts?