Before I get started on this one I need to almost do like little a disclaimer here; I have no problem with any individuals, persons, groups or businesses which may or may not be linked to this post… This is entirely my own view on this matter.
Now we’ve got that out of the way let’s get rambling! So, I’ve got a question. Do you have a favourite or least favourite boardgame? One that you either adore and hold in high esteem or one that you regret purchasing/playing. Of course you do, having a preference or an opinion on something is part of why you may (or may not) be passionate about boardgames! And, if you were to order the games you’ve played from best to worst you’d have made a rating system that is subjective to you. Even if you don’t have a game you dislike you’ll definitely have a game you’d rather play over another and you’d be able to explain why. But how much do you actually trust boardgame ratings? Do you base whether you buy or play a game on its score value on BoardGameGeek or how funded it was on Kickstarter? And don’t lie, the numerical value means something to you and will affect your opinion of the game; even if you then see it as an underrated or overrated game, the score has had an impact on you.
It’s a touchy subject because some people make a living off of rating things, and these people are given these jobs because they do them well… You’d hope! And the top 100 games on BGG is changed regularly and shifts based on people’s opinions (there’s an algorithm to ensure games with one rating of 10/10 don’t jump ahead of those with 624 ratings of 7/10, but I don’t know the math!) Anyway, there are going to be people who are asked to play, build an opinion of, and rate games, and they’ll add justifications for their opinions in the form of a review. But I know there are some people who base their entire games library on the top 100; the best of the best. Does that mean their game’s selection is going to appeal to everyone? No. Does it mean that it will appeal to them? Probably not. Basing your own opinion on someone else’s rating alone is a poor way to build experience in playing games, it’s sheep mentality. I personally don’t think the rating system works because a numerical value doesn’t explain anything!
I’m not innocent of this either. The reason I’ve gone off on this ramble is because I recently found myself making a wish list for new games based on BGG’s ratings for genres and play styles I like. I found myself looking at the same games as those that were in the top 100 or close to it. Initially I thought it’s because I had exquisite taste in boardgames… It wasn’t, I was sheeping, following other people’s ratings without understanding why they’d put that rating. I then looked at a few games I already owned and quickly jumped to the ‘this game is well underrated!’ mentality, which probably didn’t help, but when I looked at the actual reviews I could see people who had similar opinions to mine which further justified my own opinions and helped my understand why I hold games like Betrayal and Sub Terra in such high regard. Another example, I don’t enjoy 7 Wonders. It’s not my type of game, I don’t enjoy the style or concept. I’ve played it a few times and it’s one of those I never clicked with, it doesn’t make it a bad game just because my opinion isn’t entirely positive, but according to BGG’s ratings it is 44th best out of every game. There could be innumerable reasons for this; it’s been out a while, it’s a brilliant game etc… But I think the most obvious one is that people only rate games when there’s something good to say. Which is ironic, usually people love to talk about the negatives and moan (or is that just me?). I haven’t added a rating to 7 Wonders as a numerical value from 1-10 wouldn’t help someone understand my opinion, and I’m not going to review it as I haven’t played it in so long I couldn’t be fair. Were I to play the game enough to get a solid understanding of how I feel about it then yeah, I could easily add a rating and a review to it. But the caution I have is that some people who might be pretty hyped on a game add a rating to it without understanding it, owning it, or even playing it! But their numbers add up and build ratings for a game which may not reflect its quality. Were I to only base whether I bought a game on its BGG rating I’d probably own 7 Wonders but I still wouldn’t enjoy it. BGG itself is at no fault, the community on there is generally amazing and very good at recommending games and helping others understand and build a passion for the hobby, but the ratings without reviews wind me up!
I’m a strong believer in always taking ratings with a pinch of salt; the driving factors behind a rating is often experience and preference, but can also be hype which can be misleading. Anytime I want a game I’ll always try to look for recommendations from real people whose opinions are going to be completely based on their own experiences (boardgame reviewers are real people). It’s impossible not to recognise the weighting a game’s rating has on its popularity, but that doesn’t mean you should buy the game without first having a solid understanding of why people hold it in such regard.