June 28, 2005 was a fateful day. I played Balloon Cup and the Settlers of Catan Card Game, which was nothing new. But then something unprecedented happened. I logged onto a website that I had discovered a few months earlier, BoardGameGeek, and I logged my plays. I recorded the fact that I had just finished playing Balloon Cup and the Settlers of Catan Card Game, and my weird animal brain got a strange sort of satisfaction out of this bizarre recordkeeping exercise. Two days later, I played Alhambra… and I did it again. I recorded my play of Alhambra in the BoardGameGeek database. And then a funny thing happened — I didn’t stop. I kept doing that month after month, year after year.
Today, 14 years have passed since I started this strange and wonderful habit. Perplexing to many, I have gotten great joy over the years in looking back at this archival record of my experience in the hobby. I’ve written about “Quantifying your Fun” and “Falling Stars and Evergreens” before, but something remarkable happened recently. I surpassed 10,000 recorded plays! Ten thousand? That’s mind boggling. My 10,000th play was a fantastic game of Splotter’s Antiquity by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga, one of my all-time favorites. Such a long and winding road it’s been from that first game of Balloon Cup… although of course that was far from my true first. As I told Chris Wray last year, I started fairly young with Diplomacy and Fireball Island, before diving headfirst into Settlers of Catan in the mid-1990s (which I played countless times throughout high school and college).
As a lover of data, and an amateur statistician — emphasis on the amateur — I’m excited to dive into the numbers that make up my last 14 years of gaming.
My top 11 most-played games are:
- Android: Netrunner – 1597
- Crokinole – 232
- Dominion – 153
- Magic: The Gathering – 149
- Loopin’ Louie – 121
- Star Wars: The Card Game – 110
- Tigris & Euphrates – 101
- One Night Ultimate Werewolf – 88
- Carcassonne – 83
- Through the Ages – 77
(of course this ignores my many plays of Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne, not to mention Bohnanza, Elfenland, and Mississippi Queen, from before I started tracking)
According to this, it turns out that I’m really more of a card gamer than a board gamer! Since its release in 2012, Netrunner has definitely dominated my gaming time. I even switched from attending BGG.CON in the fall, which I had done for 7 years straight, to attending the Fantasy Flight World Championships for Netrunner. I have decorated my wall with Netrunner, dreamed about Netrunner, written diaries about Netrunner, and apparently devoted roughly 798.5 hours to the game (at an average of 30 minutes per play) — well more than the roughly 231 hours that I’ve spent on Through the Ages (at an average of 3 hours per play). That’s equivalent to 20 full-time work weeks, and it doesn’t count all of the time sleeving and un-sleeving cards to build different decks!
But Crokinole is no slouch, coming in second place. I still remember December 2006 when I first told my friends and family that I wanted a giant wooden board to play an obscure Canadian dexterity game, which cost around $150! They looked at me like I had grown a second head and a third arm. Of course, after this bizarre and enormous contraption arrived, we proceeded to play it THIRTY-FIVE times between Christmas and New Year’s! Everyone was in love, not just me. I had wanted (nay craved) the game due to reading all of the reports from BGG.CON, which I could not attend at the time due to law school, and it did not disappoint. Thank you to everyone that writes BGG.CON reports for teaching me about this truly special game. And thank you to the Hilinski brothers for creating such incredibly special works of art.
50 Plays or More
Rounding out the list of games that I have played at least 50 times or more are 17 additional games (aside from the 11 games listed above). Those 17 games with 50+ plays are:
- Innovation – 70
- Mr. Jack – 70
- StreetSoccer – 70
- Summoner Wars – 67
- Fairy Tale – 64
- Hey, That’s My Fish! (affectionately Pingvinas, from my BSW days) – 63
- Ra – 63
- Diplomacy (thanks in large part to BOUNCED) – 61
- Ingenious – 60
- Neuroshima Hex – 59
- Pandemic – 59
- Ghost Stories – 58
- KeyForge – 55
- Ultimate Werewolf – 53
- Caylus – 52
- Reef Encounter – 52
- Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation – 51
(and an honorable mention goes to one of my all-time favorites Galaxy Trucker with 48 plays and the only game that I’ve ever written a strategy article about, Hansa with 47 plays)
I love to play games at least 50 times. This is what tells me that a game has been truly well-designed and is worth a proud place in my collection (along with the hundreds of others that I keep so that I can always “pick the perfect game” for the player count and the amount of time available). There are plenty of good games that I can play 10 or 20 times, but eventually tire of, whereas it takes a very special design to stand up to a full 50 plays. It takes a design that is robust, variable, and satisfying. These are all games that I will almost never say no to, and that I rejoice in teaching to new players because I know that I am getting to introduce them to something truly special.
I have fond memories of playing these games over the past 14 years. I can distinctly remember learning Summoner Wars at my one and only time attending the Origins convention in Columbus (along with the tasty lunch that followed). I can fondly recall learning about the two-player variant to Ra and discovering that this (the best Knizia auction game, of course) worked remarkably well as a two-player game. I can think back to the time that Innovation brought me welcome distraction and relief while in the hospital, and the time that I met the joyous Debbie Ridpath Ohi at BGG.CON over a game of Ghost Stories. I remember the time that Richard Breese visited my game club at Columbia and taught us the prototype expansion to Reef Encounter, along with the sheer joy of experiencing the 17-game narrative arc of Pandemic Legacy – one of the most incredible and brilliant designs of all-time!
This is the sort of list that reminds me why I go through the trouble of logging my plays. This is the sort of list that captures a lifetime of memorable experiences with friends and family.
Quarters, Dimes, and Nickels
It is a tradition in the gaming world to end the year by recapping one’s quarters, dimes, and nickels from the previous year. That is, the games that you have played at least 25, 10, and 5 times. It is common wisdom that reaching 5 plays means that you’ve really given a game a fair shot and found something in there of value that kept you coming back that many times.
Since I started recording my plays, I’ve got 74 quarters, 141 dimes, and 194 nickels. That means I’ve played 409 different games at least five times! That’s a remarkable number of games that I’ve had the opportunity to play enough times to really get a good feel for them.
Some notable quarters that haven’t been mentioned above include: Twilight Struggle (46), War of the Ring (46), Hansa Teutonica (45), Antiquity (35), Risk Legacy (30), Stephenson’s Rocket (30), Root (28), and San Marco (27). This list includes most of my April Showers games, which was one of the most intriguing phenomena throughout my personal gaming journey — games that I really disliked the first time I played them, but which grew into some of my favorite games of all-time! This list also includes a game that I only learned back in September 2018, Root, but which quickly found its way into my heart.
Exactly 30 plays of Risk Legacy reminds me vividly of the two full campaigns of this game that I did in 2011 and again in 2014 with two different groups. This also reminds me that I have two more sealed copies of Risk Legacy in my closet, just waiting for my child to get old enough and hopefully want to play this game with me. Lastly, this game contains my three favorite three-player games (Stephenson’s Rocket, San Marco, and Hansa Teutonica), which reminds me that first impressions can be very wrong because I initially lambasted Hansa Teutonica upon its Essen 2009 release as seeming incredibly bland, when in fact I have since learned that it is anything but and an absolute joy to play!
Highs and Lows
In the 5,113 days since I started tracking my games played, I have played 10,604 games, for an average of 2.1 games per day, 14.6 games per week, 63.1 games per month, and 757.4 games per year.
2013 was my year with the most played games at 1,066, while 2017 was my year with the fewest played games at 259.
December 2013 was my busiest month with 173 plays, including tons of shorter games like Summoner Wars, Timeline, Netrunner, Werewolf, and Resistance — along with my favorite Japanese Duo, Dazzle and Khmer!
March 2017 was my slowest month with 2 plays, both of Pandemic: Iberia. After having a child, Pandemic was a great way to find gaming time at home when there was no time or energy to go out.
One Hit Wonders
Despite my love for playing games 50+ times, there are a staggering number of games that I’ve only played once or twice. In fact, there are 647 games that I’ve only played a single time and 220 games that I’ve only played twice.
That means that of the 1,449 different games that I’ve played, 60% have been played 1-2 times, while the other 40% have been played 3+ times. I’ll console myself with the fact that 141 games have been played 10+ times (and that makes up just under 10% of the number of different games tried). I think I’m reasonably satisfied with a 10:1 rate of finding games that I enjoy playing often enough to reach ten plays, although I certainly have a renewed commitment to focusing on old favorites rather than the new hotness in recent years.
Some of my favorite games in the group of those that I’ve only played 1-2 times and that I’d love the chance to play again someday include:
- I’m the Boss – Fond memories of a rousing and raucous game of this at BGG.CON
- Castles of Mad King Ludwig – I’ve toyed with buying this so many times, but it has never quite made the cut even though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both of my plays
- Draftosaurus – A new game that I learned at the Gathering in 2019 and have pre-ordered, with delivery scheduled for tomorrow
- Piece o’ Cake (aber bitte mit Sahne) – A classic that deploys my favorite cut-and-choose mechanism in a cute manner
- Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients – What seems like a solid expansion for a fascinating game, but just hasn’t made it to the table enough (even though I’ve played the base game 13 times)
- Reef Encounter of the Second Kind – Ditto
- Chateau Roquefort – Lovely children’s game that I haven’t been able to find a copy of since actually having a child!
- Ad Acta – Bizarre German game about being an office worker, using actual paper clips as a component
And some of the games from this group that I’ve only played 1-2 times and that I hope to never spend precious time playing again include:
- Antike – Reminds me why I love Nexus Ops and despise games that reward turtling (also looking at you Twilight Imperium)
- Steel Driver – Reminds me why Martin Wallace is such a brilliant and flawed game designer that I can endlessly debate with Larry Levy
- Rum & Pirates – Reminds me why I stopped collecting the Alea big box series, despite those tantalizing and ingenious numbers on the sides of the boxes
- Lewis & Clark – A deck-building race game? Two of my least favorite mechanisms combined with miserable downtime between turns is not on my list to try again
- Fist of Dragonstones – Please stop making games that revolve around blind bidding!
- Glass Road – Like Martin Wallace, I really wish Uwe Rosenberg would make fewer, greater games rather than having such a hit-or-miss oeuvre
- BasketBoss – Corne van Moorsel designed the incredibly wonderful StreetSoccer and the abysmal BasketBoss — the world is full of contradictions
- Legendary – A deck-building Marvel game? My least favorite mechanism with a tedious and mind-numbing theme is something I can hopefully avoid going forward
- Botts and Balls – Reminds me that the hunt for grails can well and truly end in disastrous disappointment!
From Above and Below to Zopp: There and Back Again
Game names are a mysterious thing. They come in all shapes and sizes, all sorts of languages, and all manner of literal or figurative thinking. From the evocative 51st State, to the classical Descent: Journeys in the Dark, to the supremely direct Hey, That’s My Fish! — game names tell you a lot, while often telling you nothing at all.
The beginning of the alphabet for my gaming journey (not counting all those cheating Jason Matthews number games like 1960 and 1989) has been Above and Below, Acquire, Ad Acta, Africa, and Africana. Acquire is notable for holding the #2 spot on my list of games that I recommend not buying in order to save yourself some money. Africa is a 2001 Reiner Knizia Goldsieber game, not to be confused with Africana, which is a 2012 Michael Schacht game. It looks like I rated Africa a 5 when I played it in 2011, and Africana with a 4 when I played it in 2012, so I suppose Africa must be the better of the two — although it doesn’t appear that my historic self from a hazy past is heartily recommending either to you.
The end of the alphabet for this journey has been Zendo, ZERTZ, ZhanGuo, Zooloretto, and Zopp. Zendo is one that I’d love to get to the table more often if I could find the right group for this quirky inductive reasoning gem, whereas ZERTZ is one that I sold in favor of keeping YINSH and DVONN from the Project GIPF series. Zooloretto is of course the game that stole the Spiel des Jahres in 2007 due to the irresistibly adorable panda on its cover (resulting in one of the best easter eggs in the artwork of Jaipur).
At the very middle of my alphabetized list of games played, you will find Last Will (with 9 plays) and Le Havre (with 24 plays). This is a solid pair of games, with the former being one of those clever CGE designs that is humorous and entertaining, and the latter being my favorite Uwe Rosenberg design due to its wide-open sandbox feel.
Looking back over this data collected over the past 14 years makes me excited for the next 14 years and beyond. I’ve enjoyed my first 10,000 recorded plays more than I ever could have imagined as a little kid always on the lookout for a Monopoly, Life, Risk, or Clue opponent. And now I’m excited to see what 20,000 plays has in store for me. I’m sure it contains plenty more Root, some Draftosaurus (arriving tomorrow), and lots of “Unpublished Prototype” as I continue working on my first ever game design. I’m also sure it contains plenty of surprising twists and turns, like my child’s recent love of Gloobz, my completely unexpected enjoyment of Roll for the Galaxy, and my quest to devise the perfect (antithetical) drafting variant for KeyForge. This is a weird and wonderful journey that gamers and the board gaming hobby are on, and I’m glad we can go on it together.