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.