Peak Position, Part 3: Ranking the Designers

The past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the Peak Position of a game, which is the highest rank it has reached at any point in time on the Geek 100.  I contend this is a better measure of the “quality” of the game than its current ranking on the Geek (particularly for older designs).  The Peak Positions I’m using are based on research carried out by JonMichael Rasmus, who summarized his results in the following Geeklist:  I’ve been personally maintaining these results to ensure that they stay current.

Yesterday, I introduced a way of assigning points to different Peak Positions (they range from 50 points for a Peak of 100 to 500 points for a game that reached #1).  I then modified this point value by a multiplier that reduces the value of older designs, since they are competing with considerably fewer games than recent titles, making it easier (in theory) for them to attain a high rank.  The end result is a point value for each of the 338 games that have been listed in the Geek 100 since August of 2001.

So what better way to use this data than to rank the hobby’s game designers?  There have been many rating systems proposed in the past, but I feel that Peak Position gives us a fresh perspective on this, neatly eliminating the considerable bias against older designs found in Geek ratings.  I’ll use the rest of this article to show which designers fare the best when the Peak Positions of their games are considered.

Before I get to the data, there are a couple of caveats I want to bring up.  The first is to point out that these rankings have an unusually narrow focus, since the only games being considered are those that ever cracked the Geek 100.  There are many fine games (particularly over the past few years) that have fallen short of this difficult goal.  Designers with a lot of solid games to their credit, as opposed to a few blockbusters, will be hurt by this measure.  All that can be said is that a rating system that focuses on great games, as opposed to those that are merely very good, may not be the worst thing in the world.  If you’re anything like me, you know that it isn’t hard to find very good games to play, so what you really want to get to the table are the great ones.  Still, it is a potential weakness of the system.  Even if there was a way to extend the analysis to the top 150 or 200 games, these additional titles wouldn’t have high point totals anyway, so we may not be talking about a major effect for most designers.  So while I’d like it if more games were under consideration, the rating system should still be able to give us meaningful results.

The other thing to consider is that it isn’t all that unusual for closely related games to be ranked by the Geek.  So if you look at that list of 338 titles, you’ll see several Age of Steam spinoffs, a bunch of Pandemic and Ticket to Ride games, a lot of the Commands & Colors designs, and so on.  A number of games are represented by two, or even three editions.  That’s just the way it is.  JonMichael chose to follow the Geek’s lead on which versions of a game are separate entities (if the Geek lists them separately, then he did as well) and I’m doing the same thing.  I acknowledge that the Geek is not a paragon of consistency when it comes to determining which games get their own entries and which are folded in under the parent game.  I further acknowledge that downgrading a game because it’s similar to a previous title by the same designer is a reasonable approach, but I chose not to do it because of the difficulty of deciding where to draw the line.  Similarly, with co-designed games, I give every person with a design credit full value for the game, as opposed to giving sole designers more points, because they did all the work.  It’s impossible to figure out who did what in game design, including contributions by those not listed as designers, so let’s just go with the facts we have and give everyone all the points.  Feel free to downgrade some designers if you think they have a lot of similar games to their credit.

With that out of the way, let’s rank some designers!  There are three measures I’ll look at:  most games with a Peak Position of 100 or better; most Base Points (which don’t take the game age into effect); and most Modified Points (which do include the game age modifier).  Let’s start with listing the designers with the most games that have broken into the Geek’s top 100 since 2001.  Here are the 26 men who have had at least 4 games with a Peak Position of 100 or better.  I’ve also listed, in parentheses, the number of those games that fell within the top 10, the top 25, and the top 50.

          Most Top 100 Games

1  Reiner Knizia – 19  (3,10,15)
2  Martin Wallace – 14  (2,7,10)
3  Corey Konieczka – 11  (2,5,8)
4  Alan Moon – 10  (2,7,8)
5  Uwe Rosenberg – 9  (3,5,8)
6  Vlaada Chvatil – 8  (3,4,7)
6  Wolfgang Kramer – 8  (2,6,8)
8  Richard Borg – 7 (3,5,5)
8  Klaus Teuber – 7 (1,2,6)
8  Kevin Wilson – 7 (0,0,5)
11  Kris Burm – 5 (3,3,3)
11  Bruno Cathala – 5 (1,2,3)
11  Rob Daviau – 5 (1,2,3)
11  Rüdiger Dorn – 5 (1,2,3)
11  Stefan Feld – 5 (1,1,3)
11  Mac Gerdts – 5 (0,2,3)
11  Eric Lang – 5 (0,1,3)
11  Christian Petersen – 5 (1,4,4)
19  Jeroen Doumen/Joris Wiersinga – 4 (0,2,2)
19  Richard Garfield – 4 (1,2,2)
19  Michael Kiesling – 4 (0,1,4)
19  Matt Leacock – 4 (1,2,3)
19  Andreas Seyfarth – 4 (2,2,3)
19  Jamey Stegmaier – 4 (1,2,2)
19  Klaus-Jürgen Wrede – 4 (2,2,4)

Doumen and Wiersinga, of course, are the Splotter designers.

Knizia’s dominance over the rest of the field (5 more games than any other designer) might be a bit surprising to those new to the hobby, but trust me, his productivity and brilliance during the 90’s and the 00’s was remarkable.  His games were extremely popular during that time and that is reflected in these ratings.  His impact over the last decade has certainly been much lower, though; the most recent of his games to peak in the top 100 was Blue Moon City, over 11 years ago, and only one of these 19 games remains in the top 100 (Tigris & Euphrates).  But you can’t write the history of boardgames without devoting a huge chapter to Knizia and the Peak Positions his games achieved serves as a reminder of that.

The names at the top of this list are pretty much the ones you’d expect:  Wallace (with 3 more games than anyone except Knizia), Konieczka, Moon, Rosenberg, and Chvatil.  Kramer is probably being shortchanged a bit, since he was one of the leading German designers during the 80’s.  Had Geek ratings existed earlier than they did, his numbers would probably be considerably higher.  The same can be said, perhaps to a lesser degree, about other great names from gaming’s early history, including Sid Sackson, Francis Tresham, Alex Randolph, and Rudi Hoffman.

16 designers have had two or more games make the top 10 on the Geek.  Knizia, Rosenberg, Chvatil, Borg, and Burm are the only ones with three games.  In addition to the other six shown in the list, designers with two games include Jens Drögemüller, Dirk Henn, Helge Ostertag, Richard Ulrich, and Donald X. Vaccarino.  As you can see, ten designers in the list have broken into the top 25 at least three times; the only other ones are the team of Marco Maggi, Francesco Nepitello, and Roberto di Meglio, who accomplished this with three versions of their War of the Ring games.

Next, let’s look at the designers with the highest total of Base Points, which doesn’t include any modifications for when the games peaked.  This method probably gives too much credit to older designers, but it’s still of interest for its raw data, allowing others to modify the results to take game age into account as they see fit.  Here are all the designers with more than 750 points:

          Most Base Points

  1. Reiner Knizia – 4072
  2. Martin Wallace – 2784
  3. Uwe Rosenberg – 2349
  4. Wolfgang Kramer – 2344
  5. Alan Moon – 2332
  6. Corey Konieczka – 2281
  7. Vlaada Chvatil – 2086
  8. Richard Borg – 1924
  9. Klaus Teuber – 1411
  10. Christian Petersen – 1297
  11. Kris Burm – 1256
  12. Klaus-Jürgen Wrede – 1108
  13. Andreas Seyfarth – 1099
  14. Rob Daviau – 1082
  15. Maggi/Nepitillo/di Meglio – 1004
  16. Matt Leacock – 984
  17. Kevin Wilson – 952
  18. Jens Drögemüller –925
  19. Bruno Cathala – 922
  20. Richard Ulrich – 900
  21. Rüdiger Dorn – 849
  22. Helge Ostertag – 840
  23. Dirk Henn – 838
  24. Friedemann Friese – 828
  25. Stefan Feld – 819
  26. Jason Matthews – 812
  27. Donald X. Vaccarino – 800
  28. Jamey Stegmaier – 797
  29. Richard Garfield – 784
  30. Michael Kiesling – 764
  31. Mac Gerdts – 762
  32. Sid Sackson – 760

Knizia’s dominance continues, with Wallace holding second place by a comfortable margin.  Rosenberg, Kramer, Moon, Konieczka, Chvatil, and Borg are all grouped reasonably closely together.  Teuber is another designer who would probably have fared better had the Geek ratings started earlier, as several of his pre-Catan designs would no doubt have been ranked highly.

Finally, let’s look at the designers with the highest total of Modified Points, where older games have their point values reduced to take into account the lower level of competition for the Geek 100.  If we want to use Peak Positions to determine which the greatest designers of all time are, this is the list that I’d cite.  Here are all the designers who scored at least 450 points:

          Most Modified Points

  1. Reiner Knizia – 2886
  2. Martin Wallace – 2210
  3. Corey Konieczka – 2086
  4. Uwe Rosenberg – 2067
  5. Vlaada Chvatil – 1911
  6. Alan Moon – 1635
  7. Wolfgang Kramer – 1621
  8. Richard Borg – 1412
  9. Christian Petersen – 1058
  10. Klaus Teuber – 973
  11. Rob Daviau – 968
  12. Matt Leacock – 928
  13. Andreas Seyfarth – 889
  14. Jens Drögemüller – 875
  15. Kris Burm – 865
  16. Maggi/Nepitillo/di Meglio – 826
  17. Bruno Cathala – 812
  18. Helge Ostertag – 811
  19. Jamey Stegmaier – 781
  20. Klaus-Jürgen Wrede – 779
  21. Kevin Wilson – 770
  22. Stefan Feld – 728
  23. Jason Matthews – 716
  24. Donald X. Vaccarino – 664
  25. Mac Gerdts – 663
  26. Eric Lang – 654
  27. Richard Garfield – 650
  28. Antoine Bauza – 640
  29. Richard Ulrich – 634
  30. Dirk Henn – 632
  31. Rüdiger Dorn – 618
  32. Friedemann Friese – 617
  33. Michael Kiesling – 581
  34. Glenn Drover – 532
  35. Sid Sackson – 519
  36. Isaac Childres – 500
  37. Simone Luciani – 497
  38. Jeroen Doumen/Joris Wiersinga – 476
  39. Ananda Gupta – 470
  40. Tom Dalgliesh – 461
  41. Tom Lehmann – 461

Knizia is still on top, but his lead is much reduced.  Konieczka climbs up to third place, reflecting his more recent success in a more crowded field than some of the other designers.  The rest of the top 10 includes just about every historically great designer you could think of, with the possible exception of a pioneer like Sackson, which is satisfying.  Best of all, when you look at the entire list, the greats of the past get their due, while the excellent designers of today are represented as well.  That was what I was hoping to see from this rating system.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds, particularly for the top 10 in Modified Points.  The top 8 spots in the list look pretty safe.  Daviau and Leacock might well supplant Petersen and Teuber fairly soon.  After that, it isn’t obvious what other changes in the top 10 could occur.  Stegmaier might be one big design away from crashing the list.  The way Lang is going, he could well sneak in, although it might take multiple blockbuster games to do it.  With so many new designers hitting the Geek 100 seemingly every month, it might be tough for the more established names to claw their way up, but you never know where the next big thing is going to come from, so there are quite a few names on this list who could quickly rise towards the top.  If there winds up being much movement, I’ll report back on the state of the list in a year’s time.

So there you have it, an (almost) new way of measuring the popularity of games, using Peak Positions, together with some refinements that allow us to give each game a point value.  I want to thank JonMichael Rasmus for the huge amount of research he did to establish these values and for publicizing it in the first place.  Hopefully, the additions I made lived up to the great potential of this statistic.  So the next time you look at the Geek ratings and marvel at how insanely good the games of the past few years must be, just keep in mind that there is more than one way to evaluate a design and that ten or twenty years ago, there were some pretty amazing games around as well.

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