The Opinionated Gamers Top 1000 Project – Introduction

A few months ago, one of our writers, Patrick Brennan, sent along a self-congratulatory message proclaiming that he had just figured out that he had rated (and therefore played) 700 of the top 1000 ranked games on BGG.  After a fair amount of good-natured joshing that we didn’t think 700 different games had made it all the way to Australia, we started a serious discussion about how many games we thought we had played.  I asked him to write down his thoughts on why he even wanted to know how many of the top 1000 he had played:

When I first started gaming as a hobby back in 1999, I’d often lay awake at night after a gaming session thinking how cool was that. The new games I’d just played would swirl around my head. I’d be engaged and excited over the competitive challenges they provided. And then I’d get to wondering if those games were the best I’d ever play. There always seemed to be others out there that I hadn’t tried yet that could be even better!

Thus began a drive to play as many games as I could, to find a peace of mind that I really knew what I enjoyed the most in gaming – that I’d found all the best games for me, that I wasn’t missing anything. (It was easier back then with fewer games being produced each year.) After playing 2000+ different games now – all of them commented with a mini-review at BGG btw – I reckon I have surety of mind over what I like in a game. I still have the drive to play new games, but the drive has changed over the years towards discovering “interest” in a game.

Most games I play now are one-and-done. I can see how the mechanisms link together. I can see what learning curve the game is offering. I can see where the game sits on the spectrum of how much my performance will contribute towards victory, how much will other players’ actions determine the result, and how much will luck contribute. I’ll have enjoyed the game, I always do no matter how good or bad, but I just don’t “need” to play it again. I’d rather explore something else and find something new again. At the start of my gaming journey, the prospect of riding the learning curve was enough to earn it replay. Nowadays, after riding so many learning curves, that’s not enough anymore. If I can see what the learning curve will entail, I generally have no need to explore it – I can anticipate what the game will provide already. The game has to provide something else, a spark of something new and unexplored which I can’t anticipate.

Usually that’s in the form of something of “interest”. It might be a new mechanic, a twist, a new combination of mechanics we haven’t seen before. I started looking at BGG’s top 500 as a guide to help me find these new games, because if it doesn’t crack top 500 it’s probably not got anything new of interest. Or if it does, it doesn’t do it well enough to bother with. As long as I keep targeting and playing stuff in the top 500, I’ll feel I’m on top of the new stuff coming out and staying relevant in the hobby – after all, I enjoy being able to answer comparison questions and provide guidance on purchase for friends.

Of course, it’s just a guideline and there’s no hard and fast rule. What you really want to do is look at the top X games in each genre that you really enjoy playing. But I like how the top 500 encourages me to game widely and diversely, keeping open the potential to find gems in genres I don’t usually rate. And then I gradually drifted out to the top 1000 to try and catch interesting games in genres that don’t rate as highly as others amongst BGG gamers.

These days, to earn repeat play, a game has to create a positive social experience above all. As a result, my gaming preferences have drifted towards more luck and more theme. Ideal is that blend of luck where your actions increase your chances, but where anyone might win on the day without take-that kingmaking. My first gaming love was the tactical challenge of E&T, understanding it, drilling it, killing it. While that’s one means of gaming satisfaction, it doesn’t exactly engender a fun time with laughs and groans and cheers. There’s still a place for it, for that type of challenge game, but it’s no longer a preference.

I’ve also drifted towards co-operative games and their cousins. After playing so many “competitions” against my friends, I’ve come to enjoy the sense of shared camaraderie at exploring a game together, sharing the good and the bad results equally, working as a team, learning with each other.

I still have a need to exercise my intellectual kahunas given that the playing of games doesn’t really satisfy that scratch as well these days (there being too much “been there, done that” in allegedly “new” games). I get it nowadays by playtesting and editing LCGs – finding broken combos, fixing rules holes, re-balancing killer decks. All of which can be intellectually satisfying, setting yourself the goal of finding the best decks 9 months ahead of time with no one helping. There’s a satisfaction to be found in crafting, trialling and exploiting a killer deck that no one else has ever discovered. And then seeing it get fixed.

LCGs are an example of how a game can provide new learning curves, theme and luck all blended nicely together. Games that are scenario driven are also attractive, providing a new learning curve for each scenario. Euros that have X rounds, where you’re mostly playing the same game X times, go straight to the bottom of the disappointment pile – if I’ve just played the same game 5 times within one playing, why would I want to play it again?

If anything comes from this article, I’d hope that it might encourage designers not to limit themselves to standard by-the-numbers Euros – to dream bigger if they want to reach a market larger than newbies who don’t yet know better and are willing to splash cash on anything shiny and new as they commence their own gaming discovery journeys.

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to figure this out from BGG.  You can easily pull up the games and see if you have rated them, but there is no way to aggregate that data.  You pretty much have to count with hashmarks on paper as you scroll through the lists of games.  After reading Patrick’s claim, I guessed that I had probably played 450-500 games out of that top 1000.  Of course, I had no idea as I no longer keep records on the games that I played – on BGG or anywhere else for that matter.  It seemed like a fun idea to see how I would stack up to Patricio.  I had recently spent a bit of time earlier in the week musing over my current thoughts to the Top 40 ranked games on BGG – so I was already poking around in my gaming memories when this all came about.

Using my magic powers as a BGG admin (which means that I really just asked some of the smarter, more technically gifted admins) – I downloaded the top 1000 games from the XMIAPL (or something like that) and made a spreadsheet out of it.  I then simply went down the list of games and marked which ones I had played.  The magic of the spreadsheet made it easy to tabulate my numbers.   Once I did that, I then posted it to our mailing list and asked the other OG members to give it a go.  There are a number of special guests who were also asked to participate, including Scott Alden, the head honcho over at BGG.

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Dale Yu: Report from GenCon (somewhat tardy)

Well, this was supposed to posted from my phone while I was at GenCon, but due to some unknown phone failure/gremlin, my report never posted from the WordPress app.  To make things worse, the whole report disappeared – so I’m having to reconstruct this from memory – because as I was writing on the fly, I didn’t take many other written notes!  Ah – the first world problems of trying to use modern technology in real time…

As usual, I had a single day to devote to GenCon – fellow OG writer John Palagyi and I jumped in the car early and made it to the convention hall right around 10am – theoretically in time for the opening of the dealer hall.  For once, though, the organization of the GenCon volunteers was less than stellar. The line to pick up badges was all the way down the hall!  It took me 20 minutes to just get to the desk to show my ID and pick up a badge.  It appears that there was a little snafu on how to process the press badges, and this gummed up the line severely.  Of course, being GenCon, about every three minutes, someone stopped by and asked “What are you in line for?”.  Because, people love waiting in line at GenCon.

To wit, once we acquired our badges and headed it, we were forced to thread through lines everywhere in the hall as gamers patiently awaited their chance to throw money at companies to get the new releases.  Paizo, Fantasy Flight, AEG and IELLO all had long lines that snaked through the corridors of the dealer hall.  In some places, you could barely get through as two lines were right next to each other.  Some of the congestion eased later in the day when Paizo’s line ended up located outside the dealer hall.

yeah, this guy stood there all week and got paid just to show people where the end of the line was

yeah, this guy stood there all week and got paid just to show people where the end of the line was

First stop was the Bezier booth – one of the games that I’ve been working on, Subdivision, was making its debut at the show.  Designer Luke Hedgren (also an OG writer) was there showing off the game.  It‘s a tile-drafting, subdivision building game that was well received.  The Gencon allotment sold out during the show, so that’s a good thing!

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The Opinionated Gamers Top 1000 Project

We are nothing if not opinionated.  One of the benefits of playing lots of games is that you form opinions about them that seem harsh or lukewarm by the light of day.  The Top 1000 is an attempt to give some context to where we are coming from.

 After you have played lots of games, more and more fit within a standard deviation of the bell curve.  But the important part of that is the sample size is large.  In a side discussion, we wondered how large the sample size was that we were bringing to the table.

 Some idiot suggested we take the top 1000 games from BGG and note which ones we had played.  This was an insane idea.  Who in their right mind would spend their spare evening(s) annotating a huge spreadsheet?  Us.  Yes, we can argue about whether we took the highest 1000 by average, Bayesian average, or Dale’s favorite 1000 games, but in the end, we must have filled out/not filled out over 25000 checkboxes.

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Freedom: The Underground Railroad

Design by Brian Mayer
Published by Academy Games
1 – 4 Players, 2 hours
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

Freedom - cover

There are some subjects that many game designers feel are taboo, as they are likely to prove far too sensitive for a sizeable segment of the population.  The holocaust as a game theme would undoubtedly be offensive to nearly all folks of the Jewish faith, as well as many others.  Games featuring the Nazi party as a central element would likely be upsetting to many folks, and from my understanding, would be banned in Germany.  The terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers would likely prove offensive to many Americans if used as a theme.  Even though  these topics are historical, using them as a subject for games would be a risky venture and likely incur the wrath of a large segment of the population.

Included on this list is a game about slavery in the United States.  This subject understandably touches a raw nerve in anyone of African ancestry in the U.S.  The institution was so brutal and deadly that even more than 150 years after its abolition, it is still an extremely sensitive subject, even when examined in a scholarly manner.  Making it the subject of a board game is close to anathema.  Yes, it has been a small aspect of a few games in the past, but it is usually handled in a very abstract manner.  To my knowledge, it has never been the central subject of a game…until now.

Freedom: The Underground Railroad by designer Brian Mayer and published by Academy Games breaks new ground in focusing on slavery in the United States, particularly during the 1800s.  Fortunately, players are not required to assume the role of slave traders or plantation owners.  Rather, they represent benevolent forces attempting to guide the slaves to freedom via the shadowy “underground railroad” network.  The cooperative game is largely card driven and expertly interweaves historical persons, places and events into a challenging and, dare I say, fun game.

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Essen Preview-Onitama

Onitama will be seeing a general release this year at Essen. This my first impression of this great little game.

First off, I am a fan of abstracts, particularly abstracts that can be played in under 15 minutes. Onitama is definitely an abstract, but like Let’s Catch the Lion, I think it’s short enough and simple enough to have a broader appeal. It is pure, other than a random set up it’s a perfect information game.

The game is won by either capturing your opponent’s Onmyo (think king) or by moving your Onmyo to your opponent’s home square. Each player has 4 pawns to assist in this.

The game has variable setup. Basically movement of your pieces are determined by 5 cards that are randomly chosen (out of 15) at the beginning of the game. Each card is named after an animal with an associated movement. Some cards have specific movement to the piece, Onmyo vs pawn. Each player is dealt two face up in front of them and the fifth is set to the side also face up. On a turn a player executes one of their two cards and then takes the set aside card into his hand. The played card is then set aside to be taken during the next player’s turn. Since the 5 cards are randomly determined at the beginning of each game, each games plays quite differently, so no favorite or set opening move. Really adds some nice variety.

Eugene-Springfield-20140825-00216 (2) Eugene-Springfield-20140825-00217 (2)

The game is a little brain burning as you try and figure out the best moves. Since your possible moves are limited it doesn’t take too long per turn.

I like the variable set up. The game is easy to learn and can be played fairly quickly. The limits set by the cards can be extremely challenging. In one of our games lateral and diagonal movement was extremely limited so the game took a bit longer but it was fun trying to solve the problem.

The production quality is nice, the cards are of good stock and the board and wooden pieces mesh well. If you are a fan of games like shogi or chess but want something shorter this could fit your needs or if you are like me and like a good puzzle, Onitama makes a great filler. I am anxiously looking forward to playing it again as soon as possible.

I love it: Lorna

I like it:

Neutral:

Not for me:

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Liga: SecuenzooS review. The best memory ever

SecuenzooSDesigner: Roberto Pisonero Trapote
Publisher: Blauberry
Time: 30-60 minutes
Players: 2-5
Age: 8+

Review based on several sessions thanks to a review copy by the publisher

Modern boardgaming is built on some pillars made of classical mechanics/games. One of this pillar is, for sure, Memory. A lot of games ask for “memory skills” but few of them really use memory-like rules as core engine. Until now my best were Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Bonbons and Sherlock (Ilopeli 2011). SecuezooS beat all in a big way with 3 different 2-5 games and solo rules in the same nice little box.

There are 25 animals cards, 5 different animals in 5 different colors, 10 restrictions cards (one for each animal and one for each color) and finally 60 trails cards (30 color trails and 30 shape trails).

The 5×5 grid of face-down animal cards is built in a way that each player already know, in the beginning, 4 different cards. The same grid stay the same in the different rounds of the same game allowing players to become confident with it.

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Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Eclectic

Gexhibit iconenCon is split into three roughly comparable parts.  We’ve already talked about the boardgaming side of things, but there are also a host of gamers there to compete and play in trading card games.  Possibly the largest segment in attendance are the role-playing game hobbyists.  Way back in the past, I’ve done my time with trading card games, but the lure of role playing games is still there.   Here’s a summary of “what I did in my off-hours” of covering the convention.

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Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day Two

exhibit iconBright and early Saturday morning I headed down for day two.  Armed with my inferior back-up camera, I had a series of appointments to attend.  Sadly, this reduced the overall games examined, but had the advantage of a deeper discussion about each one.  As a bonus, I even set aside time in the early morning for a bit of gaming with friends – more on that tomorrow.

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Matt Carlson: GenCon 2014 Mega Rundown – Day One

exhibit iconSerendipitously, GenCon and I moved to Indiana at the same time.   Since then, I’ve managed to attend every year as my once-a-year delve into all things “current” boardgames.  This year is no different.  Thursday, after sending my middle child off on the bus to his first day of kindergarten, I rushed down to Indianapolis to join over 56,000 people participating in all sorts of gaming.   Saturday I returned for some additional gaming as well as  a host of gaming appointments.  Since GenCon is my primary gaming convention, I find many things of interest that may be old-hat to the hard core Essen/Origins/etc… convention-goer.  Pick and choose what you like, just Keep Calm and Read On.

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Soup’s On! Point Salad Games: A Roundtable Discussion

One of the hot terms being bandied about a lot these days in this wonderful hobby of ours is Point Salad games.  Unfortunately, it’s not obvious that there’s anything close to consensus about exactly what that label means.  To try to shed some light on this, several of the OG writers recently held a roundtable discussion about this very subject.  It was organized as a quasi-Socratic dialogue, with questions being asked and each writer free to respond however they liked.  Here is the complete record of what was said.

The participants in this free-for-all included Larry Levy (who composed the questions), Jonathan Franklin, Fraser McHarg, Ben McJunkin, Mark Jackson, Greg Schloesser, Matt Carlson, and Jeff Allers. Continue reading

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