Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Cardboard Olympus: Prologue

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Although Boardgamegeek is not the “be all end all” of gaming, it is an amazingly large community of gamers both passionate about their hobby, and ready to expand their collections. For this simple reason, placing a game in the site’s top ten is desired by both ambitious designers and prudent publishers alike. But how does one include one of their own products in the formidable company that promises prestige and profit?

Designing games is not an exact science and although when it comes to creating and selling the fun-filled cardboard boxes there are some rules one really should follow, sometimes foreseeing a possible smashing success (or a painful failure) is simply impossible. This is why we – the makers, reviewers and players – of games try to constantly learn. As playing a new game is a learning experience, so is the complicated process of designing a playable system and transforming it into a marketable product.

Thus, we try to learn what a good game is and how to create one by making both good and bad decisions, and investigating the choices and circumstances that made other games succeed or fail. And this is exactly what this short series of articles will struggle to perform: I will try to analyze some of the games currently in the BGG’s top ten, hoping to find out what put them there – and what knocked some of the champions of old off their prestigious positions.

Top Ten Board Games on BoardGameGeek sorted by Average Rating

Climbing the Mountain 

In order to embark on such a journey we first need to make some preparations. Specifically, we need to know how a game climbs the BGG ladder to reach the Cardboard Olympus. The rating that puts a game in the top ten (or in any other position of the game ranking) is what is called the Geek Rating. It deviates from a regular average rating in two important aspects.

Firstly, for a game to become eligible to receive a Geek Rating (and be ranked), it needs at least 30 ratings. That means that it is not enough for a designer and a bunch of her friends to give a game a set of tens to suddenly dethrone Through the Ages or Puerto Rico.

Top Ten Board Games on BoardGameGeek sorted by Geek Rating

Secondly, a Geek Rating is also a mix between the actual ratings given by actual BGG users and a number of “dummies”. This effectively makes it impossible for any game to ever reach a perfect ten – and for any designer with a family as vast as Bilbo Baggins himself to actually circumvent the system and seriously influence the ratings of her game.

Top Ten Board Games on BoardGameGeek sorted by Number of Voters

Strife among the Olympians

The list of the top ten games (according to their Geek Rating) fluctuates slowly but constantly. It even seems that the changes are happening faster nowadays than ever before. Five years ago it took a significant amount of time for a newcomer to be welcomed among the Olympians. Now it seems that more and more games enter the top ten and leave it after a year or two, as opposed to the strongest contenders, which have occupied (more or less) their position for the last seven or eight years.

The quickening of the process should not surprise anyone: games are becoming more and more popular. More people play them and, as a consequence, buy them, congregate to discuss them and, finally, rate them, which directly influences the main BGG ranking. And although some perceive it as a negative trend and dismiss the passionate but easily swayed gamers, filing them under the “Cult of the New” label, one thing is certain: we will constantly witness more movement in the Boardgamegeek’s top ten, until the gaming hobby reaches its inevitable decline.

Who are you again?

Since this is the first time I have the pleasure of posting on the NSKN Blog, let me shortly introduce myself. My name is Błażej Kubacki and I am a translator, interpreter and writer by trade. I have also been a keen gamer since the age of nine, which led me to start reviewing games about six years ago, as well as finally trying my hand at game design.

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