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.
Note that all of the rankings here were taken on March 19, 2014 – and games may have slightly moved since that point. The rankings on BGG, are of course, very fluid and quickly change! This project has taken us awhile to get done on our end, and then there were a few technical delays that kept me from posting this info to the blog here…
This is clearly not a scientific study… For the most part, the responses here are done from memory alone. This is less about being exact and more about giving people a feeling for what they have played. While we’ll be talking about this list all week – here’s a quick overview… For the Opinionated Gamers as a whole (31 participants), on average, we have played:
- 507.8 (51%) of the top 1000 ranked games
- 298.8 (60%) of the top 500 ranked games
- 161.5 (65%) of the top 250 ranked games
- 67.8 (68%) of the top 100 ranked games
- 28.4 (71%) of the top 40 ranked games
- The highest totals go to Patrick Brennan at 709 – which is fitting as he is the one who started this whole thing – and Dale Yu at 708.
Here is our full spreadsheet (in case you really were interested!):
Some interesting tidbits about the Top 50 games
Collectively, of the top 50 games – there are 11 games that every responder had played. That list includes:
- Agricola (3)
- Puerto Rico (4)
- Power Grid (8)
- 7 Wonders (17)
- Dominion (20)
- Race for the Galaxy (22)
- El Grande (23)
- Tigris and Euphrates (28)
- Crokinole (36)
- Stone Age (41)
- Pandemic (50)
The least played games for us in the BGG Top 50 is Paths of Glory (38) The next 3 are tied – Each with 8 (26%) people having played it out of 31:
- War of the Ring, 2nd Edition (18),
- Mage Wars (25),
- A Game of Thrones Board Game, 2nd Ed (30)
Also, interestingly, only Joe Huber and myself have played a higher proportion of Top 100 games than Top 40 games.
Joe H: And I’m still the only one to have played more of the top 1000 than of the top 40.
This little project also brought to light some interesting thoughts about the rankings themselves –
Looking at the Rankings
The ranking formula on BGG is a well kept secret. In fact, I’m not sure that anyone truly knows the formula as it self-evolves. For our project, it seemed like a decent reference point. Looking at the ratings, there are a few things that strike me… (and please note that these three points are all my own personal opinions only) – and before this starts a flame war, let me be clear in saying that I don’t really think that the rankings are worth arguing about. They are neither good nor bad, they are generated by accumulating the votes of many many users – each with their own reason for ranking games.
1) There is a cult-of-the-new bias to the rankings.
23 (almost half) of the Top 50 games are published no earlier than 2010. Of course, one could argue that maybe the newer games are just better, but I don’t know if I subscribe to that.
Mark: corollary? The cult of the gaming snob effect: if it’s becoming popular in the mass market, it can’t be good. (Settlers, Carcassonne, etc.) That may just be my perception.
2) There is a complexity bias to the rankings.
The top of the rankings trend toward the more complex games. Why? I’m not sure, but I would contend that it may have to do with the fact that the more complex games aren’t played as often. And as a result, they aren’t re-rated as often as shorter games.
3) Rankings cause a lot of contention/grief/argument, but in the end, they’re just an number. There was a bit of fury recently because Carcassonne dropped out of the top 100 by Rank. My response to that? YAWN. To me, it doesn’t really matter where a game is on the rank list – that number doesn’t change how much I like or dislike a game.
Some surprising facts I saw from running through the ranks
1) As I mentioned earlier, Carcassonne is now out of the top 100. I would have guessed that this was a top 20 or top 50 game, but apparently it is not. Again, the significance of this fact is probably not that large.
Joe: If you’re going down this route, the rankings for some of the most revered games of the 20th (and early 21st) centuries might be worth noting. Settlers. Bridge. Civilization. Acquire. Go. (OK, not _from_ the 20th century, but revered then). The number of games released before 2000 in the top 100? 11.
Larry Levy: Yes, there’s a huge bias towards very new games in the Geek ratings. Whether that’s an unfair bias or not is open to debate. I think it’s clearly unfair–it’s the only way I can justify the fact that over 40% of the Geek 100 was released in 2010 or later. Game design may have improved over the years, but not that much!
If you haven’t had a chance to participate – download the empty excel file and try it yourself!
OG#1 on this chart is Larry Levy
OG#2 is Greg Schloesser
I’m not sure what you mean by unfair. The BGG rankings rank how much the people on BGG enjoy playing a game (from “Always Want to Play It” to “Won’t catch me dead playing it”). BGGers enjoy playing new games more than old games.
There’s often talk in the forums that there should be another ranking about how objectively “good” a game is, but I don’t even know what that means. All I can personally say is how much a game matches my tastes and how much I enjoy it right now. 10s are the only ranking that has a temporal element (“and I expect this will never change”). As such, I try to avoid rating a game a 10 until after I’ve played it at least ten times over a period of several months.
Jimmy, if people truly rate games based on how much they want to play them RIGHT NOW, then yes, I would say that the rankings just show that folks like playing newer games more than older ones. But I doubt many people routinely go through their ratings and knock a game down from an 8 to a 6 because it’s no longer the newest hotness. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d think most folks would keep their ratings fairly stable once they’ve played a game enough to decide how they feel about it.
When I say there’s a bias, I’m speaking mathematically. There appears to be a process in the rating system that causes newer games to be higher rated than older ones. It may be that with older games, there’s been more time for them to be played by gamers less inclined to like them; that would artificially lower the ratings of the older games in comparison with the newer ones. Or maybe there’s been some kind of ratings creep for newer titles. As I said, I’m not CERTAIN that the bias isn’t due to the games simply being better, but my feeling is that there’s something going on that causes a newer game to be higher rated than an equally good, but older game. If I knew precisely what it was, I’d send an email to Aldie and try to get him to change the rating system to eliminate it!
There are more members now rating the newer games. They get more higher ratings. The newer stuff shuffles out the old. It doesn’t mean the older games are any worse.
I chalk in at 71% of the top 1000 (705 titles). I have to play some stuff to get past the evil Brennan.
Interesting, Larry. I guess we all see everyone else through our own eyes. I do update my ratings (particularly of games I own) pretty religiously based on how much I want to play them (which is why I own all of my 9s and 10s and almost all of my 8s). That’s why, in general, by the time I get rid of a game, it’s rating has dropped at least to a 7 if not a 6. My only 8s that I don’t own are Finca (trying to get a copy of), Through the Ages (play online and will by the 4th edition), German Railways (looking for the Winsome edition),Key Market (good but not great and I couldn’t turn down the cash), and God’s Playground (which bounces regularly between 6 and 8).
I’m not even sure how I’d go about rating a game apart from current desire to play it. I recently saw a thread about Diamonds and how it’s only Hearts with some additional rules and bits. Honestly, 90+% of the new games are an old game with some additional rules and bits. I don’t know how I’d rate a game besides by my desire to play it. Is Metropolys a great game? I don’t know. All I know is that when I’ve got someone new that I want to introduce my hobby to, Metropolys is great. It’s got 3-d objects that you can hold in your hands. It’s easy to teach and relatively easy to learn and after several years of playing it, I’m still struggling to “get it”. Plus, I have fun and get to bitch at other people. Does that make it a 10? a 9? an 8? I don’t know. I just like it and am always happy to play it and don’t think that will ever change.
What is about OeL that makes it a 10 for you? How can you quantify the difference between that and Twilight Struggle to decide if one is a better game than the other?
Thanks for posting this. I loved it. This comes up just 1 day after I subscribed to the list (I know!)
I have promptly gone through the excel sheet. Unlike Patrick, I am in the phase where I want to pick some good games and try to play them to death, something that is difficult when some amount of luck is involved. But in general I am definitely more for strategy which is at least somewhat theme based (so that I can find others who will also want to play).
I agree that there is a bias in the top 100, exactly like the top 100 movies in netflix. Partly advertising, and partly availability. older games may be available in less places (of course there is the internet, but …)
Thanks again for the list and the initiative It will be fun to compile responses from the readers. Are you planning on doing that?
As for the complexity rating, I think the more complex a game is, the more selectively it gets played. I haven’t played Paths of Glory because I’m not sure I’d like it. But I will play a lighter game with even less confidence that I may like it.
By way of comparison I’m at 49% of the Top 1000, but 79% 73% , and 63% for the Top 00, 250, and 500.