Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Good Game, Good Game

There's a couple of places that I'm aware of that do a ranking of popular designer games. One is boardgamegeek and the other is the internet top 100 games list. If you look at the two listings what immediately strikes you is how similar they are - six out of the ten are the same. Those that are the same are all German-style boardgames.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Well probably the obvious answer is that the voting on both lists is dominated by fans of German-style games. This is interesting in itself because I'm not aware particularly that these sorts of games outsell other kinds of mass-produced (to differentiate them from niche wargames) designer games. There's plenty of publishers for other game styles (Fantasy Flight, many Days of Wonder games etc) and I'm not aware of any game store owners who are suggesting they sell a ton more Eurogames than other styles of game. Fine - the lists are dominated by people that like Euros - why should we care?

The easy answer is because unfortunately they beguile people into believing that these sorts of games have become the one true grail in the gaming hobby. A new visitor to one of these sites isn't likely to stop and think about the possibility of a certain fan type dominating the voting, or about the statistics involved in building up these profiles or indeed about the self-re-enforcing nature of "top 10" lists of anything. They're going go to look, and believe that games like Puerto Rico and Tigris and Euphrates are just way ahead of the competition in terms of design and enjoyment. I know this because I've been there and done it and bought some games I didn't care much for as a result. Not, I hasten to add, PR and T&E which are both fine games. But are they really such fine games as to justify their exalted status in the gaming community?

This point also allows Euro-fans to justify their belief that the German approach to game design is better than other approaches (look, it results in the best games ever made!) again without recourse to analysing the mechanisms and sociology that got them there. It leads to the top ten lists being completely dominated by games of the same style because the biggest voters are fans of those games whereas I'd suggest what most gamers are looking for is a good mix of gaming goodness.

This is a great shame because I firmly believe that a good game is a good game, no matter what style or genre it comes from. In the past, before the advent of German games we only had Ameritrash games and wargames to choose from. A lot of crap got published and justly forgotten. But a few games have survived the test of time to become out and out classics. Give it a few years and I reckon exactly the same thing is going to happen to the Euro phenomenon - the very best of them like PR will stay up there in peoples collections and memories and keep getting played whereas the rest, many of which are currently highly ranked and regarded, will get forgotten and gather dust in attics. If you look at the 'geek top ten you can already see some evidence of this happening. Crossover games that appeal to large sections of the gaming community like Twilight Struggle and Battlelore are starting to make an appearance.

The point of all this is to justify why we get angry when we get told that our favourite style of games are outmoded by modern Euros. They're not - you just happen to think that they are because they don't conform to your stereotype of game design. It's also why some AT fans accuse some in the Euro school of being more interested in design purity than having fun, because they're denying themselves the opportunity to try out some really different games that would offer new and exciting play experiences. I'm pretty confident I'll still be playing Ra and Titan ten years from now. Can you really say the same about Caylus?


Ken Bradford said...

I like to think of ATers as fans of GOOD GAMES.

We'll tolerate dice. We'll tolerate unbalanced scenarios. Just give us a good game.

We can recognize a good game when it comes from another genre. Ra is a "10" for me. I can play it with anyone I know.


At this point, I am wondering...just who DOES love Caylus?

MWChapel said...

I did play settlers 10 years ago, and yes, I can say for a fact I still love playing it today. I can't however say the same about Titan, when I played it 10 years ago. So I guess your analogy has broken don't with me.

Mr Skeletor said...

Great article. I think we are already over the honeymoon period though and people are starting to realize this. You can simply tell which Eurogames are going to make it and which aren't.
Stuff like Settlers and El Grande will be classics like some of the AH titles of old. Things like Thun 'n Taxis and St Pete's will end up as thrift store fodder.

Sean McCarthy said...

Ken, I'm pretty sure most people prefer "GOOD GAMES". That's kind of in the definition of the word "good".

"We'll tolerate dice. We'll tolerate unbalanced scenarios. Just give us a good game."

I guess what you're trying to say here is that other people don't tolerate dice or unbalanced scenarios. That's slightly accurate. I think most people prefer it when the game is balanced, and I think many see the randomness dice as a crutch that designers often used to use as a substitute for actual player choice and diversity through game balance.

Other people just don't like randomness at all. I think it would be fair to say that they consider the games they like to be "GOOD GAMES" too.

"We can recognize a good game when it comes from another genre."

Many people have this capability.

"At this point, I am wondering...just who DOES love Caylus?"

Well, I know several people who enjoy it. I used to play it two-player on BSW a lot, and it's really good for that. It feels very similar to Chess. I think most people who like it do so because it's a relatively complex perfect-information, non-random resource-management game without a runaway leader problem or a turn-order problem, and with interesting mechanics for player interaction. At this point I am wondering a bit about your claim that you "can recognize a good game when it comes from another genre". One big clue might be that a lot of people rate it highly on BGG. Do you think they're lying or something?

I do not wish to criticize your choice of games (which I share a lot of), but your post seems pretty self-centered while claiming the opposite.

Brian said...

I think that the overlap between BGG and The Internet Top 100 is simply due to the fact that the same people voted on both. The Top100 started around a decade ago (by me) back when was the locus of gaming information. I suppose some people keep updating their votes on both, but now that RGB has (basically) died and things have splintered to BGG, Consimworld, & blogs, I think a lot of it is chaff. I haven't updated my votes there in years.

I haven't played much Caylus over the last year, mainly because 130 games (mainly on BSW) leads to burnout.

Jon Oetting said...

I have direct experience with being "beguiled" by the euro-bias at BGG myself. In 2005 when I was getting bach into gaming, I was looking for a good pirate game. "Oh, nothing beats Pirate's Cove for great pirate flavor!" was all I heard, so I bought it. Pffffeh! What a joke! Later I played Blackbeard and found what I was looking for. That was the first sign that I couldn't take everything at BGG for granted.

I love BGG, it is a tremendous resource, but the euro-bias is a real issue and I for one welcomed the recent Ameritrash discussion. Shame it took the turns it did.

Anonymous said...

I can't see how claiming that Ameritrash games sell better reinforces the claim that they are somehow superior to Eurogames. In America as well as Germany the top seller, by far, is Monopoly.

Anonymous said...

You state that the top rated games at boardgamegeek and the internet top 100 games list are mostly German-style boardgames and that this is because the voting on both lists is dominated by fans of German-style games.

Do you have evidence or do you think so?