v2.01 (updated February 2008)
My advice summed up in one sentence:
Decide what you want to buy (Boxed/Loose) (Mint/Used) (Standard editions/Variations), and set yourself realistic goals.
What are "realistic" goals?
Remember there are only 60 "Game and Watch" games to collect in total (not counting box art variations), so there is a clearly defined "finish line". That said, BE CAREFUL: Once you buy one, you'll want them all! This is an expensive and addictive hobby. Always keep track of how much you're spending otherwise you could end up in serious debt (and buying the games is much easier than selling them)!
Do Toy Shops still sell "Game and Watch" games?
No (sorry). Nintendo stopped producing the "Game and Watch" Series in 1991 (and Toy Shops stopped selling them around 1995). The only way to buy the original games now is on the open market (which in reality means auction sites like Ebay, Yahoo Japan, Tradera and others). Other Collectors have told me that "G & W" games appeared quite often at Car Boot sales in the 90s, but owners have now got wise to ebay, and most games find their way there instead. Nintendo have released a series of games for the Nintendo Gameboy, called "Game and Watch Gallery", but they are widely available and not collected, as such.
How much do the original (1980-1991) games cost?
£1000 will buy you up to 40 different loose "Game and Watch" games (but no extreme rarities), OR 10 medium/rare boxed examples, OR 4 quite rare NIB games, OR one "extreme" rarity (eg c10 boxed Mickey Mouse Panorama, or c10 boxed Egg).
A complete "New in Box" collection (60/60) will set you back in the region of £12,500. Glad you asked now, aren't you?
Why are "Game and Watch" so expensive, when the technology is so basic (compared to modern games)?
The electronic gadgetry may be "basic", but in the 1980s they were "cutting edge". Add to that the superb design (and packaging), they were - and still are - desirable "design classic" objects in their own right.
Every Schoolboy wanted to own a "Game & Watch" game when they were "new" (first time round). Now those schoolboys have grown up (most hardcore collectors are aged between 25-40) and are usually men. They have the funds and the desire to feed their collecting addiction!
What are the really rare games?
"New in Box" games (especially rare ones) live in their own special world where there is no such thing as a "set" price. It all depends on who is willing to dig deepest in their pockets for any given auction. A lot of online bidding happens seconds before the auction ends, so you can never tell how much an item is going to go for until it has sold.
A rare NIB game will never sell cheaply. Buyers and sellers on ebay are very, very aware of the rarity value of "Game and Watch" items now. This is a not a sport for the fainthearted.
All "Game and Watch" games are, relatively speaking "rare", but NIB games are the rarest of all, and therefore the most prized.
The Top 10 rarest, and therefore most expensive, games are:
1) Flagman (2nd Edition) - I have NEVER seen a decent one, let alone a NIB one, for sale on ebay - in 6 years of collecting!!
UPDATE (July 2009): Correction - I have now seen ONE for sale on ebay:
It sold for £697.77 (Approx. $1150) - Auction ended: June 30th 2009 !! Incredible.
2) Mickey Mouse Panorama
4) Donkey Kong Circus Panorama
5) Super Mario Bros Crystal Screen
6) Super Mario Bros Special Edition (not sold in shops, only available as a competition prize)
7) Judge (Green or Purple Version)
9) Balloon Fight Crystal Screen
10) Ball (1st or 2nd Edition) - Plenty of them about, but have you ever seen a c10 one? I haven't...